Beacon Hill Park History

By Janis Ringuette

Copyright 2004. Limited excerpts are permitted but please credit the author.

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Chapter Five: 1870-1888

Birds-eye View of Victoria, 1878
"Birds-eye View of Victoria, 1878" (BCA PDP02625)

This lithograph views the City from the southwest. A bridge connects the James Bay area, in the foreground, to the downtown. (The bay was later filled and the Empress Hotel and Crystal Gardens constructed on the former mudflats.) To the east, the Beacon Hill Park horse race track can be seen circling the Hill.


In 1870, the Victoria Rifle Volunteer Corps continued to camp in Beacon Hill Park. They had organized in response to a perceived “Fenian threat” in 1866. Allegedly, Irish immigrants in the U.S. planned to invade Canada but were "thwarted" in the time period 1866-1870 by the efforts of both governments. (Ronald Lovatt, Shoot, Shoot, Shoot: A History of the Victoria-Esquimalt Artillery Defences, 1878-1956)

The City of Victoria population in 1870 was 4,208. This total did not include “Indians.”


Archaeologist James Deans reported “at least” twenty three burial cairns on the summit and sides of Beacon Hill in 1871, the largest being where the flagpole now stands. When he returned in 1897 many of the surface boulders had been removed and the area leveled. By the 1970's only one intact cairn and the circular bases of several others embedded in the hill could be seen.

Emily Carr (1871-1945) was born in her family home bordering Beacon Hill Park and lived most of her life near the Park. According to Emily Carr, her father, Richard, bought ten acres next to the Park between Toronto and Simcoe. One acre was sold at the northwest corner of Simcoe St. and Catherine St. and a hotel built on it. It was called the Park Hotel in 1882, as listed on the Blair Plan of 1889, but later renamed the Colonist Hotel. This hotel sold liquor to the men watching cricket matches and horse races in the adjacent Park. The Carr family was appalled and Emily called the inn a “horrid saloon.” (House of Small, p. 10)

Carr, a renowned British Columbia artist, spent many hours in the Park throughout her life and painted some park scenes. She dug clay from cliffs in the Park to make objects for sale which she signed “Klee Wyck.” In 1942, before her death, Carr allegedly instructed a friend to bury several boxes of mementos in the Park.

The Carr family employed an “Indian” woman to do their wash whom they called “Wash Annie.” It was common practice for white families at the time to employ a “Chinaboy” and “Indians”. Carr reveals the attitudes of her time with comments such as, “The white man more or less understood the childlike Indian...” (House of Small, p. 108)

Victoria’s population was down from gold rush levels to 3,270.

British Columbia became a Province of Canada in 1871.


The 1875 census taken by Mr. D. McDonald concluded the city population was up to 5,293, “inclusive of Chinamen and exclusive of Indians.”

A shortage of water had been a problem in Victoria since 1843. In 1875, at last water was piped from Elk Lake and Victorian homes could have indoor plumbing. Piped water to the Park came much later. In 1891, the lack of a water supply in the Park required extra work for Park employees and the Park Committee recommended “that a hydrant be placed in the Park for the purpose of filling the lake when necessary.” (City of Victoria Archives, CRS 4, 7E2)


“The first legislation concerning public parks in British Columbia after Confederation in 1871 was ‘An Act for the Management of Public Parks, 1876,’ which provided for the appointment of trustees by the Lieutenant Governor in Council. Under this enabling act the first trustees for Beacon Hill Park were appointed the following year. (Willard Ireland,“Title to Beacon Hill Park,” May 8, 1942, p. 7-8)

A special event called the “Grand Open Air Entertainment” was held in Beacon Hill Park. There was no charge for admission. A band concert and a barbecue were planned. His Excellency the Governor-General invited all to the entertainments and planned to attend himself. (Colonist, September 13, 1876, p. 3)


James Douglas funeral - 1877

Sir James Douglas died in Victoria on August 2, 1877. This August 6 photo shows the large crowd at his funeral. On the left is the Church of Our Lord (current address 626 Blanchard Street). On top of the hill is Christ Church Cathedral (current address Quadra at Rockland).

Two trustees to administer Beacon Hill Park were appointed on August 23, 1877 by the Colonial Government. For two years, the Park was under the management of Senator W. J. Macdonald and J. W. Douglas. J. W. Douglas was James Douglas' son. Macdonald first arrived at Fort Victoria in 1851 to work for the HBC. His “Reminiscences” have been quoted in 1851 and 1852 of this history. Macdonald was twice elected Mayor of Victoria. Both trustees resigned in 1879, when the City of Victoria was appointed trustee. (Ireland,“Title to Beacon Hill Park,” May 8, 1942, p. 7-8)

A “Grand Sham Fight and Review” was staged in October in Beacon Hill Park, witnessed by 2,500 to 3,000 onlookers. The Colonist reported the “battle of Beacon Hill” was fought between 150 marines and 500 sailors who “used cover well afforded on and around the hill” to maneuver and shoot at their rivals. Skirmishes began near Ogden Point before proceeding to the Park. The warring factions broke for lunch at 11:15 and resumed the mock battle at 12. “The ground chosen for yesterday’s operations was perhaps the best to be found anywhere near, being excellently adapted for skirmishing.” A march past included the battery, three field and one gattling gun, the sailors followed by marine artillery and Royal Marines in two companies, and the ambulance corps. (Colonist, October 24, 1877, p. 3)


Two four-tonne guns capable of shooting 29 kilogram (64 lb.) shells up to five kilometres were placed at Finlayson Point and named the “Finlayson Battery.” Two similar guns were mounted on a point now east of the south end of Douglas Street, named “Victoria Point Battery.” A granite marker at that location reads “Manned by volunteers from The Victoria Battery of Garrison Artillery.” The four coastal guns were installed in response to a perceived threat of war with Russia, which didn’t materialize. All guns were removed in 1892. The construction used an existing ditch built by local First Peoples. D. T. Irwin designed the battery. Irwin proposed constructing a battery on the crest of Beacon Hill as well. (“Guns of Empire,” Maritime Museum exhibit; Ronald Lovatt, Shoot, Shoot, Shoot: A History of the Victoria-Esquimalt Coast Artillery Defences, 1878-1956)

The installation of the Finlayson guns occurred sometime after June 18, 1878. The Colonist reported on that day: “Cannon--The second 64 pounder for the battery at Beacon Hill was brought up from Esquimalt yesterday by Stelly’s team and taken to the drill shed till the battery is ready for it.”(Colonist, June 18, 1878, p. 3) The powder magazine was not completed until 1879. Tenders were accepted for carpentry, brickwork and tin work for the magazine in February, 1879.

A Botanical Garden was suggested for the City by Colonist correspondent “Otium” on June 16, 1878. On June 18, a response from “Cum Dignitate” suggested “a portion of the public property to the north of Beacon Hill as a receptacle for growing specimens of the flora of British Columbia only, provisions to be made for representatives of her trees, ornamental shrubs, ferns, rock plants, etc...the care of such a place would cost very little, everything being hardy and native to the country would take care of itself; less meddling the better.” (Colonist, June 16, 1878, p. 2 and June 18, 1878, p. 2)


“The British Columbia Legislature appointed the City of Victoria Trustee ‘of the public park or pleasure ground, Victoria, known as Beacon Hill’ on March 15, 1879.” The Colonial Government trustees, Hon. W. J. Macdonald and J. W. Douglas, Esq., resigned. Legally, changes were needed before the City could properly administer it. To that end, the original Public Parks Act of 1876 was amended in 1881.

The powder magazine to supply the guns on the waterfront was built in 1879, after the guns were in place. The following newspaper notice states who was selected to build it: "Magazine, Beacon Hill Park -- Instructions have been received to proceed with this work, Mr. Mallandaine, architect. The following tenders were accepted at Ottawa for the altered plans: E. W. Davey, brickwork; John McDowell, carpenter-work; D. Heal, tin-work. Another architect will superintend the carpenter work." (Colonist, Feb. 18, 1879, p. 3)

The powder magazine was a brick building placed in the central area of Beacon Hill Park. Though this seems an undesirable location, it was better than the other proposed site, which was downtown Victoria. An Admiralty Chart from 1898 shows the Powder Magazine location to have been north of Beacon Hill and west of the road running north from the hill. After Goodacre Lake and the Stone Bridge were constructed in 1889, the magazine location was south and east of the Bridge. According to the memory of C. C. Pemberton, it was “a brick powder magazine on a knoll in the bush...this knoll is now the island to the east of the bridge.” His memory that the magazine stood on an island is incorrect.

Though the guns were removed from Finlayson Point in 1892, the powder magazine was not removed from the Park until 1904 despite urgent yearly requests to the military by the City of Victoria.


The City census was 6,364 “exclusive of Indians” and that of the Province of B.C. was about 25,000 “exclusive of Indians.”


The Legislature amended its original Public Parks Act of 1876 so that public parks could be granted to municipal corporations and cities could administer them. On March 25, 1881, “An Act to Amend the “Public Parks Act, 1876" was passed to empower the City “to make by-laws for the administration of public parks and to form a Parks Committee of the municipal council.” It cleared the way for Beacon Hill to be conveyed to the City of Victoria in 1882.

Willard Ireland states, “It was under provisions of this act that Beacon Hill Park was granted in Trust to the Corporation of the City of Victoria by an order-in-council, dated February 21, 1882.” (Ireland, “Title to Beacon Hill Park,” May 8, 1942, p. 7-8)

The 1881 census listed Victoria’s population as 5,925. The census estimated 50,000 people were in British Columbia. About 27,000--more than half--were Native, 19,000 White, 4200 Chinese, and 274 “Africans.”(Harris, Resettlement, p. 137-146)


Beacon Hill Park transferred to the City of Victoria in Trust

It was under the terms of the amended act of 1881, that the lands known as Beacon Hill Park were conveyed to the City of Victoria on February 21, 1882 by Province of British Columbia Order by Order In Council #35, “To be maintained and preserved by the Corporation and their successors for the use, recreation and enjoyment of the public.” (Ireland, “Title to Beacon Hill Park,” May 8, 1942, p.8)

The Trust

The precise wording of the Trust has been important ever since in upholding restrictions on commercial use and private developments of Park land. The Trust states:

“....Whereas...the public park or pleasure ground known as Beacon Hill have been set apart and reserved out of the Crown Lands of the Province for the recreation and enjoyment of the public... We...give and grant unto the said Corporation of the City of Victoria their successors and assigns ALL that piece or parcel of land known as Beacon Hill Park situate in the District of Victoria known upon the Official Map of the said District as Section 87 (Eighty-seven)....UPON TRUST to the express use intent and purpose that the said hereditaments and premises hereby granted shall be maintained and preserved by the said Corporation and their successors for the use recreation and enjoyment of the public under the provisions of the Public Parks Act 1876 and the said Act to amend the Public Parks Act 1876...”

This document, usually referred to as the Trust, established a framework for the City to manage the Park. The restrictions of The Trust have been challenged and upheld in two landmark court rulings: Supreme Court Judge Begbie, 1884, and B. C. Supreme Court Justice Wilson, 1998.

An important paper on the Trust and the legal history of Beacon Hill Park was written by Willard E. Ireland, Provincial Archivist, on May 8, 1942, titled “Memorandum re: Title to Beacon Hill Park, Victoria, B.C.” (BC Archives G V66 B35 I). This ten page report continues to be an important reference whenever controversies arise about commercial use of the Park. Ireland traced the history of the Park and discussed specific controversies since 1882, when the City of Victoria became Trustee. He described the Agricultural Association exhibition building issue in 1882, the 1908 Bowling Green objections and a 1913 proposal to rent chairs in the park for concerts. He concluded that: “In each case the objection raised was on the grounds that the City lacked ‘the power to appropriate any particular part of the Park premises to the use of any particular persons or class of persons to the exclusion of others of the public.’” (See 1942 for details of Ireland’s paper.)

In 1882, the size of the park was about 184 acres (approximately 75 hectares). ("Beacon Hill Park Management Plan, Phase 1," July 2001.)

In their new capacity as Trustee of Beacon Hill Park, the City passed a 1882 Bylaw stipulating:
                   ---no grazing cattle
                  ---no discharging of firearms
                  ---not permitted to use grass to clean carpets
                  ---no gambling

Despite the Bylaw, cattle continued to graze and wander over the Park for another seven years. This was mentioned in City Council meetings in 1888 as a continuing problem and Council considered the possibility of gates and fencing. Horse racing, which included gambling, continued in the Park.

As soon as the City of Victoria became the Trustee of Beacon Hill Park in 1882, a proposal was made to alienate a portion of Park land in the north east corner for the Agricultural Association to erect an exhibition building. The City of Victoria agreed. A building was constructed quickly--in three weeks--but this use of the Park was challenged with an injunction. (Ireland, “Memorandum re: Title to Beacon Hill Park, p.9)


Landmark decision by Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew B. Begbie

In 1882, the City of Victoria transferred twenty acres of the northeast corner of Beacon Hill Park to the B.C. Agricultural Society to build an exhibition hall called the “Agricultural Fair Building.” Alex C. Anderson, in a Letter to the Editor dated April 10, 1884, protested “the proposed construction of an ‘agricultural hall’ in the beautiful public park near Beacon Hill.” Anderson said “this barbarous proposal...will be strenuously opposed by many who have the improvement of the city and the conservation of its natural attractions sincerely at heart.” He described appropriate uses including “promenade ground,” “occasional race course,” “arena for cricket playing” and “other athletic sports.” He included a copy of the letter sent to the provincial secretary, which said in part, “The government...holding the property in trust only cannot convey to others a alienate any portion of the lands...” Anderson suggested that the agricultural group purchase land adjacent to the Park instead. (Colonist, April 12, 1884, p.3)

A Colonist editorial argued against Anderson and supported the Agricultural Fair Building, stating the hall would comply with the terms of the Trust because it would furnish the public with recreation and enjoyment. (Colonist, April 13, 1884, p.2)

The legal action against the City allowing the Agricultural Hall on Park land was carried to the Supreme Court. Judge Matthew Begbie ruled on August 30, 1884, that the building was not an acceptable use because it did not constitute public recreational use and enjoyment, according to The Trust, though he specified cricket and lawn bowling facilities as acceptable, as well as horse racing. Begbie specifically noted that, in his opinion, the following uses were also not permitted: a university, sanatorium, a barracks for soldiers a lunatic asylum, and a cemetery. Begbie’s ruling, “Anderson vs. Corporation of the City of Victoria,” concluded that the Park was not to be used “for general purposes of profit, or utility, however great the prospect of these may be.” (Ireland,“Memorandum re: Title to Beacon Hill Park," p.9)

Photographs show the agricultural building was a large two-story structure. Erected on stone piers, it measured twenty metres by thirty metres. Additional plans were to build a brick building for exhibits and cattle sheds, called “lairs,” plus a house for the reception of immigrants. The building was used to house unmarried soldiers for a time but was gone by 1905.

The Begbie ruling has been a foundation for decisions about the use of Park land ever since. Groups fighting development proposals in the Park relied on the Begbie ruling, as did the 1998 decision by Justice Wilson. A monument in the Park to honour Begbie as its savior has been proposed several times. To avert a convention center development in Beacon Hill Park in 1982, David R. Williams cited Judge Begbie’s statement that the city had no right to transfer “one inch” of the property. In a letter printed in the Times Colonist, Williams said Begbie would condemn the convention center proposal. “Sadly, there is no plaque or monument in Beacon Hill Park to mark Begbie’s role in preserving it,” Williams concluded, “Begbie was its savior.” (Times Colonist, August 20, 1982) Without the Begbie decision, Beacon Hill Park might be as covered in commercial developments as Vancouver’s Hastings Park. Despite having a similar Trust to Beacon Hill Park, Hastings Park was overrun with developments.

Millions of butterflies

In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, a spectacular number and variety of butterflies were seen in the Victoria-Beacon Hill area. George W. Taylor wrote in “Notes on the Entomology of Vancouver Island,” that “Nearly 40 species may be marked abundant” in the Victoria area. (The Canadian Entomologist, Vol. XVI, No. 4, London, Ontario, April, 1884, p. 61-62) In 1901, Pine White butterflies were so numerous that ”Towards the end of the season, in August, the dead butterflies may be seen in vast numbers floating on the sea around Vancouver Island or thrown up along the beach in windrows sometimes an inch or two in depth.” (Dr. James Fletcher, “Entomological Record, 1901," The Report of the Entomological Society, No. 19, 1901, p. 99-109) Evidence of this wealth of butterflies stretched along the Dallas Road beach.

The extensive native grassland meadows of the Park region promoted the growth of plants essential to those butterflies. Most butterfly species need specific native plants at certain points in their life cycle to survive; some require two native plants at different times in their life cycle. As humans changed the habitat and native plant species disappeared, Park butterfly species disappeared with them. In May, 1884, millions of butterflies filled the air but in May, 2003, a visitor to the Park was lucky to see one individual butterfly.

Painted Lady Butterfly
The Painted Lady, once extremely abundant,
is no longer found in Beacon Hill Park.


A Colonist editorial extolled the future possibilities of Beacon Hill Park. “The beautiful natural park of Beacon Hill has had very little attention for many years... [though it still offers a] grand and glorious view. It will prove a veritable gold mine to Victoria in the years to come when its great natural advantage are improved and walks and flower beds, fountains and arbors will render it the loveliest pleasure ground in the world.” (Colonist, March 10,1885, p. 2)

“John Lundy, from California, recorded a claim on the rock off the battery at Finlayson’s Point...In April he discovered a quartz ledge running from one side of the rocky point to the other and disappearing into the sea...he hired a couple of men to sink a present it is about 8 feet by 6.” Lundy had spent $80 in this effort and was out of funds. He wanted to form a company to sink the shaft 20-30 feet, certain that “precious metal would appear.” The Colonist reported the claim on July 17, 1885, and invited Victorians to view the dig: “the quartz can be readily examined by a trip to Beacon Hill.” This was later referred to as “Helmcken Mine” but the connection to Helmcken is unclear. There had been excitement about gold on the beach below Beacon Hill in 1859, too. Neither produced a thing.

“Accounts Expended” for Beacon Hill Park totaled $172 for 1885. (City of Victoria Archives, CRS 4 7E1)

“By 1885, the Indian population [of British Columbia] was reduced to 28,000 by the effects of disease, firearms and alcohol...Before the arrival of the Europeans, at least 80,000 people lived in British Columbia.” (Royal B.C. Museum display,“Demography Post Contact”) The huge decrease in aboriginal numbers led many in the white culture to believe aboriginals would die out entirely. This was a large part of the rationale for museums and other collectors removing artifacts and skeletons from aboriginal villages and sites for storage and exhibition elsewhere.


The Park Committee recommended to the City Council in March, 1886:

"That applications for the position of Park-keeper at a salary of $45.00 per month be received and read at the next regular meeting, such keeper to devote his whole time and attention to preserving the Park and Esplanade from destruction and spoilation, and to the general improvement of the grounds...[and] that the Park-Keeper be instructed to prevent the piling of driftwood on the Esplanade in future."(CRS 4 7E1)
The committee hoped to halt damage to shoreline banks and vegetation caused by people cutting and hauling wood from the beach.

There is no follow up in the file on whether a Park-Keeper was hired, but the money spent on Beacon Hill Park went up soon after and a Park-Keeper’s salary would account for this. Accounts Expended” for Beacon Hill Park in 1885 totaled $172. The total amount spent in 1886 was $433.00 and in 1887 the total was $679.08. (CRS 4 7E1)

The March letter of the Park Committee continued, “Your committee cannot impress upon this Council too strongly the desirability of beautifying and improving our Park, so bountifully endowed by Nature...but totally devoid of any artificial improvement, and in view of the embellishment and adornment of which we would recommend that a prize of $ [left blank] be awarded for the best scheme with plans and specifications upon which tenders could be called for if deemed advisable.” (CRS 4 7E1)

On July 14, 1886: “The Park Committee beg to recommend that a sum not exceeding $25,000 be raised as a loan for the purpose of beautifying and improving Beacon Hill Park.” (CRS 4, 7E1) Both the design contest with a monetary prize and the $25,000 loan, first suggested in 1886, were acted upon in 1889.

The City was lit by electric light in 1886. A new provincial jail was opened on the ridge of Topaz Ave. Inmates often worked on roads in Beacon Hill Park and in other Victoria locations.

The City budget states the total amount spent in Beacon Hill Park for 1886 was $433.00.


On September 7, 1887, the Park Committee recommended a pavilion or erected at Beacon Hill...for use of ...any band...” On September 21, the Committee submitted the plan and estimate of the cost for a bandstand, recommending “$500 be appropriated.” (CRS 4, 7E1)

Money spent on Beacon Hill Park in 1887 was $679.08.

A new, modern hospital to be named the Royal Jubilee Hospital, was planned for Victoria as part of the Queen’s Jubilee Celebration. A committee was formed in February, 1887 to select a suitable site, raise funds and plan construction. Many residents were adamant the hospital should be in the City, but few appropriate sites were available. Beacon Hill Park was a possibility; the location was ideal and the land free. The committee, however, decided on a twenty acre site at the corner of Cadboro Road and Mt. Tolmie Road (now Richmond Avenue) in July, 1887. The land was purchased but advocates for a closer hospital site did not give up. They said Richmond Avenue was a “distant and inconvenient site” which would cost extra in transportation and was unhandy for Doctors. The Colonist backed the Richmond Avenue site, however, praising its rural atmosphere and views of Mt. Baker. (Colonist, June 17, 1888, p.1) The controversy was still simmering the next year. In August, 1888, a letter from Dr. J. C. Davis pointed out anyone hurt “must be conveyed two miles to reach the hospital.” Anyone without a horse wanting to visit a patient would have to walk four miles (there and back). Dr. Davis had details of “four excellent sites within the city which can be purchased” instead. (Colonist, August 24, 1888, p.2) Tenders were accepted on December 4, 1888 and construction began with the completion date of December 31, 1889. That hospital has added many more wings, offices, and other buildings plus acres of parking so Beacon Hill Park was spared a major loss of land.


Park development begins

In campaigning for Mayor of Victoria, Coun. John Grant said on January 9, 1888, “This City should be made more attractive and a sum of money should be expended in beautifying Beacon Hill.” Retiring Mayor Fell, in his Annual Report to “City Council and Ratepayers,” printed on page one of the Victoria Daily Times January 10, said “Nothing has been done to Beacon Hill Park--not even the little which might have been done if more attention had been given it by the committee. There is a park keeper, but what is done by him no one appears to know or care. The Committee for 1888, I hope, will define the keeper’s duties and see that they are attended to.”

Grant won the mayoral contest with 544 to Mr. Higgins 402 and the stage was set for development in the Park. On January 25, Mayor Grant asked the Park Committee to consider beautification, with the assistance of the Water Committee. The City Council was involved in many other improvements as well. Wooden pipes on Fort Street were being replaced with cast iron, a brick sewer was being installed on Johnson Street, houses were being numbered and streets marked. The Water Committee was involved in meters, costs and irrigation regulations. There were special meetings on building the new hospital, funding schools and the public library.

The Park Committee recommended City Council buy 250 trees (at 20 cents each) to place in Beacon Hill Park. The problem of cattle and cows roaming in the Park led to a suggestion of gates at the hill. $500 was discussed to pay for the gates and trees but this was referred to the Committee. (Times, March 1, 1888) At the April 4 City Council meeting, Alderman Braden proposed a fence be placed around the race track at a cost of $200 (similar to the fence already near the grand stand). Alderman Kelly said $2,500 should be appropriated to make proper improvements on Beacon Hill. Alderman Styles thought it “a great drawback to climb over fences in order to reach the top of Beacon Hill.” Alderman Couglan said when water was brought to the hill, the sum of $20,000 could be properly placed at the disposal of the Park Committee and expended in beautifying Beacon Hill Park.” Two major improvements in the Park accomplished in 1888 were the construction of Fountain Lake and the construction of the first bandstand.

The first bandstand is constructed


The first park bandstand was constructed in 1888. This date is confirmed by the “Report of Park Committee,” comprised of George Powell, S. T. Styles and S. L. Kelly, submitted on January 10, 1889, for the year ending December 31, 1888: “We have removed the old pine stumps and levelled the ground, and erected a substantial and elegant band stand, which we trust will be used much more during the present year than in the past.” (City of Victoria Archives, CRS 16, “Report of the Park Committee,” Annual Reports of the City of Victoria, B.C., 1884-1892, 1888, p.51)

In December, 2009, a twenty-four page study titled “Heritage Impact Study: Old Bandstand, Beacon Hill Park” provided details about the bandstand not previously available. The study was prepared for the City of Victoria by Donald Luxton Associates, Inc. after Parks Department planners proposed repairing and converting the structure into an information kiosk.

The study reported the 1888 bandstand was designed by architect Leonard Buttress Trimen and built for $300 by contractor G. Mallette. After examining archival images, Luxton concluded the bandstand was originally located “close to the west side of the race track” [now Circle Drive] but was moved to its current location in 1900, “to enhance the picturesque aspects of the lake and Stone Bridge.” (Heritage Impact Study: Old Bandstand, Beacon Hill Park, Donald Luxton Associates, Inc., December, 2009, p. 2, 4)

It is likely the old aviary structure still standing by the Stone Bridge in 2009, shown above in this Jamie Druin photo, is the original bandstand. However, it is possible that it is a replica constructed later and that records of the project were lost. On page 2, Luxton provides room for some uncertainty by stating the existing building “appears to have been the very first structure that was built in the park.” However, by page 8, he states unequivocally: “The 1888 Bandstand/ the oldest surviving structure in Beacon Hill Park.” Luxton states the bandstand was one of the several improvements completed before the major park developments supervised by John Blair in 1889.

The heritage impact study concluded the 1888 Bandstand/Aviary has “great heritage significance” because it “is the oldest surviving structure in Beacon Hill Park; is the only surviving early bandstand in the City of Victoria; was a focus of social and cultural activities in Beacon Hill Park for many years; is an integral part of the picturesque design of Beacon Hill Park; and is a superior example of late Victorian-era design and Carpenter ornamentation.” (p. 8)

After examining archival images, Luxton concluded the original bandstand was an open, decagonal (10-sided) wooden structure with a shingle roof, supported on ten posts. He discovered the bandstand’s original colours by taking samples of paint from “various protected locations” on the existing building to analyze. He also examined coloured postcards of the time. A diagram in the heritage impact report pinpoints the location of three original paint colours (Pendrell Verdigris, Pendrell Red and Mount Pleasant Buff). Though no original shingles were available to analyze, Luxton explained it was typical of the era to stain roof shingles. “Most likely, the roof was stained red to match the drop slat valence: coloured postcards of the either a red or green roof.” (p. 22)

After a second and larger bandstand was constructed in Beacon Hill Park, the original bandstand was converted into an aviary in 1927. To accomplish this, the study explained, changes were made: “...a central wooden double-height pentagonal structure [was inserted], the centre of which is accessed through small doors, with access to the upper level loft by a ladder. A wire mesh, supported on a wood frame, enclosed the remainder of the structure into five partitions, each acting as a birdcage.” When the park's third and current bandshell was constructed in 1948, the second bandshell was destroyed. Herb Warren stated in his “Park Administrator’s Report” for the year ending Dec. 31, 1948: “Following construction of the Cameron Memorial Pavilion, the old bandstand erected in 1926 was demolished.” There was no mention of the first bandshell, which apparently continued to be used as an aviary until 1989.

Fountain Lake is created

A lake was constructed in 1888 by the park keeper and his assistant. It was usually called “Fountain Lake,” sometimes “Goldfish Lake,” and, after the much larger Goodacre Lake was in place, often referred to as the “small lake.” In the 1930's Park Administrator Warren called it “Lily Lake.” Lilies were planted in the lake in 1905. The first lake was completed before the 1889 Park design contest and before any over-all development plan was in place. When John Blair arrived on the scene in 1889, Fountain Lake was already there.

The City of Victoria booklet, Beacon Hill Park, 1882-1982, A Brief History incorrectly states that 1898 is the construction date of Fountain Lake (on page 23 and again on page 32). This date is actually ten years after Fountain Lake was constructed.

This quote from the “Report of Park Committee,” comprised of George Powell, S. T. Styles and S. L. Kelly, for the year ending December 31, 1888, is from Annual Reports of the City of Victoria, B.C., 1884-1892, available at the City of Victoria Archives:

“Considering the presence of the swamp in the park as a frog-pond, both unsightly and injurious to the public health, we have had the swamp excavated to clay bottom and have made of the same a lake, which will not become stagnant, as we have placed a small service with the city water works, in the same, also an overflow drain...Have also placed seats around the lake, which will be a comfort and convenience to the general public.” (CRS 16, Report of Park Committee, AR 1888, p. 51)

From this document, it is clear that the park keeper and his assistant constructed the lake, built a “rustic bridge and seats” and planted flowers nearby. They accomplished this development project on the west side of the Park in 1888. The Park Committee Report did not name the new lake. 1889 newspaper articles refer to it as Fountain Lake or Alderman Lake. (Colonist, March 17, 1889)

In an article praising additional improvements made in the Fountain Lake area in 1889, the Times refers to its existence and condition in the fall of 1888: “Last fall the Park in the vicinity of Fountain Lake was a jungle...It is notorious that in the vicinity of Fountain Lake the shade is so dense as to be positively chilly on the warmest days.” (Victoria Daily Times, September 19, 1889)

Before it became Fountain Lake, Emily Carr described the area: “In the woody swamp of the Park millions and millions of frogs croaked through the Spring nights.” (Carr, Book of Small, p.79) It was an ecosystem unrecognized and unappreciated. Most people in Victoria at the time (and perhaps even now), considered a wet, boggy area a useless “swamp,” a wasteland and a blight. Not recognized as a unique and interesting ecosystem, a swamp seemed a natural place to make a lake. Goodacre Lake and later Arbour Lake were also constructed in boggy areas.

Other improvements were noted in the Report of the Park Committee for 1888: “We have graded, gravelled and rolled the race track...Have built and placed in position two dozen seats in the park and along the water front.” (CRS 16, AR 1888, p. 51)

On May 26, 1888, a major event was held in the Park for the Queen’s Birthday Celebration. This was especially significant because it was Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. Events in the Park included Lacrosse matches, baseball games, horse races, cricket, and yacht races from the Brotchie Ledge Buoy to Royal Roads and back.

The Times printed a letter in December complaining about the “incompetent” Park Keeper who prevented one man from exercising his horse but allowed others to fire guns in the park “at all hours of the day.” The writer claimed the Park Keeper cut wood for other people in the Park. It was referred to the Park Committee. (Victoria Daily Times, December 27, 1888)

The expenditures in 1888 for the Park were $1,770.86. (Annual Report, City of Victoria, for the year ending 31, December, 1888)