Beacon Hill Park History

By Janis Ringuette

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

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Chapter Six: 1889


The Beacon Hill Park Landscape Design Competition

1889 was a landmark year for Park development. John Grant, elected Mayor on January 16, 1889, signaled a major focus on the Park in “The Mayor’s Report,” published January 24, 1889. He stated:

"It is time, in my opinion, that a commencement should be made in beautifying Beacon Hill Park, which should be made even more attractive than nature has left it....a landscape gardener should be engaged to prepare a proper plan, so that what may be expended on it from time to time will be in the right direction." (Victoria Daily Times, January 24, 1889)

On March 17, 1889, the Victoria Colonist reported:

"The Board of Aldermen have decided to initiate a definite plan to be pursued in ornamenting the public park. Tenders are called for the best landscape design, taking into consideration the present improvements. For the paltry amount of money which has already been expended on the grounds, the public can now judge what an enchanting spot the park could be made with a proper outlay. The park keeper and his assistant must be complemented upon the decided improvement which they have brought about in the western part of the grounds. In addition to the rustic bridge and seats which they have constructed, trees and flowers have been planted on the picturesque little island in the middle of the lake, and when the grass borders are completed the effect will be decidedly artistic. Alderman Styles yesterday placed about one hundred gold fish in the waters of the lake..." (Colonist, March 17, 1889, p. 4)

The following advertisement was placed in newspapers on March 17 inviting submission of Landscape designs for Beacon Hill Park:

"Notice is hereby given that $200 is offered for the best Landscape Design for the Embellishment of Beacon Hill Park, taking into consideration the present improvement. Said design to be endorsed 'Landscape,' and to be received not later than 10th April next, at 4 p.m., at the office of the undersigned. The Council reserve the right not to accept any design. By order, WELLINGTON J DOWLER, C.M.C. City Hall, March 16th, 1889." (Colonist, March 17, 1889, p 1)

In March, a discussion of expenditures for 1889 for the Park mentioned only $540 to the Park Keeper. (Times, March 30, 1889)

On April 4, “Joseph Heywood offered to plant 600 ornamental trees in Beacon Hill Park under certain conditions. Referred to Parks Committee.” (City of Victoria Archives, CRS 4, 7E1)

On April 10, 1889, The Park Committee recommended “one weeks further time for Landscape design tenders to be sent in.” The Committee also thanked “J. Heywood, Esq.” for his offer of “shade trees for embellishment of Beacon Hill Park” but asked “the planting not take place until after the Landscape designs already advertised for have been attended to.” (CRS 4, 7E1)

Five men submitted designs to “beautify the park.” These designs were officially opened at a special City Council meeting on April 18, 1889. The Council considered “five propositions” with accompanying descriptive sketches, then unanimously selected the design of local architect Henry J. Cresswell “for the embellishment of Beacon Hill Park.” He was awarded the $200 prize. The other four contestants were “Mr. H.O. Tiedeman, C.E., Mr. George Wilder and Mr. A. Ohlsen.” (Colonist, April 19, 1889, p. 4)

The Colonist called Cresswell’s winning plan “decidedly the most artistic” of the five submitted and included a detailed summary:

"His proposition was to widen and improve some of the existing carriage roads; to open new drives through the park and in the western, northern and eastern parts of the park, the latter being necessary to prevent the cutting up of the turf; to form a footpath along the face of the cliff, with rustic steps at intervals leading to the beach, and rustic arbors overlooking the water; to fence in the whole of the race track around Beacon Hill, form footpaths across the hill leaving its main features untouched, terrace the face of the hill, and erect a pavilion upon the summit, with a grandstand and lookout tower. In the plan, it was proposed to form a large lake near the powder magazine and to lay out the low ground in the north-eastern corner of the park as a flower garden with terraces and a drinking fountain. The main entrance to the park, by Park road, was suggested to be by an entrance archway. In the plans, provision was made for drinking fountains, arbor, rustic seats, and every other necessity--even a pit for the pet bear....On motion, the plans presented by Mr. Henry J. Cresswell were accepted by unanimous vote of the council.” (Colonist, April 19, 1889, p. 4)

The next day, the Times printed a longer and more complete account: "Mr. Cresswell's plan for the beautifying of Beacon Hill and its environs, which has been accepted by the Council, is very elaborate. Accompanying the written plan is a large water color drawing of the park, showing it improved under the designer's ideas..." The article quotes a description of the plan by Mr. Cresswell:

"I have carefully gone over the site and noted the present features of the park and in the arrangement I propose, would disturb as little as possible any of the existing trees, exposed rocks or other natural beauties of the site, as I consider that much of the ground would be spoilt if cut up or greatly altered from its present appearance. The main features are as follows:

1. To widen and improve some of the existing carriage roads.
2. To cut new roads through various portions of the park.
3. To form new roads upon the western boundary of the park, extending from
          Superior Street to Simcoe Street; on the northern and eastern boundary
          extending from Park Road to Cook Street. These roads are, as I consider,
          a necessity to prevent the cutting up of the turf as at present by traffic
          to Agricultural Hall and to several buildings around the park.
4. I propose to form a good footpath along the face of the cliffs fronting the sea,
          to afford easy access to the various pretty bays and headlands, with
          rustic steps down to the beach at intervals; also rustic shelter sheds
          or arbors overlooking the three principal bays of this part of the coast;
          also a carriage drive along the top of the cliffs.
5. The racetrack to be fenced on the side next the hill to keep vehicles off the
          turf; a pavilion on Beacon Hill with grand stand and glazed tower or lookout
          with a lofty flagpole; new footpaths for easy access to summit of the hill.
6. To leave certain rocky parts untouched and planting a few shade trees
          and evergreen shrubs.
7. A new large lake in the swampy ground near the powder magazine. Swans and
          waterfowl to be kept here, and an island in the centre for breeding purposes.
8. The low ground on the northeast to be turned into a flower garden, in the centre
          of which to be placed a large fountain.
9. To plant a good avenue of trees along the side of Park road; in the future,
          erect an archway.
10. To erect three drinking fountains in various spots.
11. To arrange separate conveniences for ladies and gentlemen amongst the
          trees between Beacon Hill and the flower garden.
12. To leave the present wooded portions of the park untouched,
          except for the weeding out of decayed trees. In the swampy part
          to plant willows, birches, etc." (Times, April 20, 1889)

Cresswell’s watercolor illustration of the plan was put on view at City Hall and was well received. Defenders of a more natural park accepted this plan without protest because the Cresswell plans avoided three actions they opposed: building a road up the Hill, cutting many trees and criss-crossing the Park with a large number of new roads. Cresswell’s design limited development and promised to preserve most natural areas.

The Times noted this correspondence received by City Council: “From Henry A. Cresswell [sic], thanking the Council for accepting his plan for beautifying Beacon Hill Park. Received and filed.” (Times, April 25, 1889)

Little personal information is available about Cresswell. An advertisement under the newspaper classification “Business Cards” gives his profession and office location in Victoria at the time of his Park design:

"Henry J. Cresswell, Architect, and Real Estate Agent, 6 Bastion Square, Victoria, B. C." (Colonist, May 29, 1889, p.2)

In a recently published book on early British Columbia architects, a short entry by Gwen Szychter states that Cresswell immigrated from England to Canada in 1888 though “Nothing is known of his work in Victoria...” Cresswell had moved to Delta by 1903. (Don Luxton, comp. and ed., Building the West: Early Architects of British Columbia, Talon Books, Vancouver, 2003, pp. 458-459.

The winning design is replaced by the Blair Plan

The competition process concluded with Cresswell the unanimous winner on April 18, 1889. On May 27, 1889--just forty days later--Council replaced Cresswell’s plan with a design plan by John Blair. The Park Committee recommendation to City Council dated May 27, 1889, signed by L. Goodacre and Louis Vigelius, stated: “Your Park Committee would recommend adoption and purchase of Mr. Blair’s plan and Landscape design for Beacon Hill Park.” (City of Victoria Archives, CRS 4 1/12)

A special meeting of City Council was held that same night. The Times printed one vague sentence describing the committee recommendation: “A report of the Park Committee, recommending the purchase of a plan submitted by Mr. Blair, was received and adopted.”(Times, May 28, 1889) There was no hint “a plan” being adopted meant major change nor was there any indication Cresswell’s design was now defunct. As presented in Council, this item appeared to be a minor plan of a mundane nature. City officials did not volunteer any further details or point out a different direction in Park development had been chosen.

Defenders of a more natural Park were not particularly vigilant because development plans had already been settled to their satisfaction through the design competition process. Cresswell’s watercolour plan was on public view in City Hall and it remained reassuringly on the wall at City Hall after the May 27 vote. That it was still on view at City Hall a month later is confirmed in the July 21 Colonist article quoted below. Cresswell’s design apparently continued to be on display all summer while work progressed, so there was no reason to suspect it had been replaced. Only in September, when protests began, was the Cresswell plan finally taken down. Only in September was the Blair Plan put on public display.

The City engaged John Blair as Park Superintendent to carry out park development. The date he was hired is not recorded, nor is his salary. In fact, nothing about Blair’s life or career is well documented. Most descriptions of Blair rely on one source, Bill Dale, retired civil engineer turned avid Blair promoter. Dale’s assertions are repeated uncritically in countless publications. Dale claims Blair was a “genius” who not only won the design contest, but “easily won the competition.” The City of Victoria website states: “Scottish-born John Blair, considered one of the best landscape architects in North America, won the 1889 competition to design Beacon Hill Park.”

The Encyclopedia of British Columbia restates the fiction that Blair submitted the “award-winning design,” and says Blair “trained as a landscape gardener in his native Scotland.” The Encyclopedia claims Blair “moved to Chicago where he became superintendent of parks in the 1860's,” worked in Colorado and came to Victoria in 1881. Blair lived near Duncan, north of Victoria, in 1889. (Encyclopedia of British Columbia, Daniel Francis, Editor, Harbour Publishing, 2000, p. 79)

Fraser rhododendrons near Fountain Lake

Blair hired George Fraser to be “foreman” in the development of Beacon Hill Park. Fraser was trained at Edinburgh Botanical Garden and later established a well known nursery at Ucluelet. Fraser is credited with “planting a grove of five Rhododendron ‘Cynthia’ near Fountain Lake in 1889. These plants are now more than 100 years old. ...When in bloom [they] look like one very large plant which one can walk underneath and stand among the trunks.” (“State of the Environment,” City of Victoria, July, 2001)

This photo shows these impressive rhododendrons 119 years after George Fraser planted them. (N. Ringuette, May 24, 2008)

In June, 1889, the work already underway in the Park received an enthusiastic endorsement in the Colonist:

"When the board of aldermen gets through with the work of improvement at Beacon Hill Park, Victoria will have without any exception the finest public park on the continent. Just now the workmen are busy excavating for a new lake, to cover about four acres, which will extend along the new road, from the city end of the park to the residence of Mr. Leich [later written Leech]. This new lake will be studded with bower-covered islands, stocked with swans and other fancy water fowl, and provided with a gondola of regular Venetian style. The usual rustic seats and fountains will also be provided in abundance. As the water is to be found within a few inches of the surface all the year round it is thought that the winter rains will provide the lake with sufficient bottom water all the year. A stream carrying the water from “Alderman Lake” above will keep this water always fresh. The new road will shortly be opened, being a direct continuation of Churchway. It is to be 80 feet wide, with a double row of trees and a plank walk on each side. The aviary which has been built on the sunny side of the deer park, is now ready for the reception of native birds. After the feathered captives become too large for the big cage, their wings are to be clipped and they will be turned loose in the deer park..."(Colonist, June 22, 1889, p.4)

With the By-law election coming on July 23, Mayor Grant stated he “intended to vote with both hands for the Park Bylaw. The improvements made at Beacon Hill during the past eight months proves that more interest was taken in that work during the present year than was taken by other councils for the past twenty years.” (Times, July 18, 1889)

Two days before the vote, a positive report was printed in the Colonist, titled “A Few Notes About the Improvements Contemplated and Under Way”:

“Every day sees some new improvement at Beacon Hill Park. Every day something fresh is added to increase the attractions of Victoria’s most popular afternoon resort. There have been more improvements made during the last six months than in the previous thirty years. Just now rapid progress is being made with the new lake, which will be ready for the water in a few weeks. This lake, five acres in area [it is actually half that size], will be connected with Alderman Lake [Fountain Lake] from which the water supply will be drawn, by a serpentine stream crossed by rustic bridges, and descending from the higher to the lower lake by a series of miniature water falls...a Venetian gondola will be placed on the water for the pleasure of the public.”
(Colonist, July 21, 1889, p. 4)

Animals already in the Park zoo were “six fine deer, a bear and a wolf,” to be joined that week by “...sheep from Salt Spring Island, an eagle and two young swans, besides a number of pheasants.” Added next was a “hair seal,” two black bear cubs, a rock pheasant, and a “Bird of Freedom.”

“New carriage roads are being opened in the yet uncleared part of the park lying between the main drive and the C battery barracks and in this section it is intended to lay out an immense flower garden...the city aldermen have gone about the perfection of what nature has already done in the proper manner by calling for suitable plans which are now on view at the city hall and carrying out all the improvements in accordance with them.” (Colonist, July 21, 1889, p. 4)

The wording of the last sentence reveals the newspaper and the public did not realize Cresswell’s plan had been replaced. The Council was praised for following through on the design contest process and implementing Cresswell's plan. That is exactly what the Council was not doing.

Any one of the civic leaders involved could have volunteered correct information to the newspaper and the public after reading the July 21 article. None did. The three Council members bearing the most responsibly for choosing not to inform the public were Park Committee Chairman Larry Goodacre, Park Committee member Louis Vigelius and Mayor John Grant. Those three men, along with Joseph Heywood, father-in-law of John Grant, and John Blair, were involved in every step of Park development. They knowingly allowed the misunderstanding to continue.

By-Law Vote authorized $25,000 for Park Improvements

There was a very good reason to keep quiet. A vote on the By-Law authorizing $25,000 for Park improvements was to be held on July 23. Work in the Park began in June on the assumption the money would be appropriated. Avoiding controversy increased the chance of a positive vote. There would indeed be a great deal of controversy if the public found out Cresswell’s Plan was replaced by the Blair Plan. The process as well as the substance of the new plan would be challenged.

Council would be asked why, after promoting the design contest, selecting Cresswell’s design with great fanfare and paying him $200, the process was derailed and John Blair paid $250 for a replacement plan only forty days after the competition. Blair’s more ambitious design was certain to provoke controversy, as well. He planned precisely the developments vigorously opposed by many in Victoria: more acres developed, many roads, many trees cut, and a road up Beacon Hill. If the truth had come out in July before the vote, newspapers would have compared the two plans, there would have been editorials and heated letters to the editor. All that did not happen in July, but it did take place in September, when road construction up Beacon Hill at last made it obvious that Cresswell’s plan was not being followed.

A July 24, 1889 article in the Colonist reported “The Pleasure Grounds Loan By Law, 1889,” allotting $25,000 for Park improvement, had passed. The “Result of votes taken July 23, 1889: Pleasure Grounds Aye 271; No 116, Majority 155.” (CRS 4 l/12) [The population of the Victoria at the time was 16,849. The debt was paid off in 1919.]

Because the public believed another plan was being followed, both the work done and the vote authorizing money for the work took place under false pretenses. Not informing the public was short of outright lying, but can be politely described as "less than honest" or “not straight-forward." In spirit, if not according to the letter of the law, the vote was fraudulent.

“Improvements” protested

In August, the Colonist printed this account of progress in the Park:

"Two large gangs of men are at present busy with the work of improvement at Beacon Hill Park. The first squad, over thirty in number, are felling the veteran trees which stand in the way, and clearing the ground preparatory to grading the new roadway past Mr. Leech’s residence...The second gang, of over fifty, are clearing and excavating for the new lake. They have found it necessary to dispose of an immense number of grand old trees, but the result of their work, when seen in all its beauty, will abundantly repay the loss.

The seal, which has already become a great pet owning to his sociability, was removed to the little spur of Alderman Lake [Fountain Lake], on the city side of the rustic bridge yesterday. A screen of rustic work has been constructed under the bridge to prevent his entering the lake and lunching on the goldfish. The cage adjoining the one in possession of the ‘Bird of Freedom,’ also found an occupant yesterday in the shape of a fine rock pheasant, now the admiration of all visitors. Another donation to swell the ever-increasing list was also received yesterday, a pair of pretty little black bear cubs being provided with temporary quarters in one of the wire cages.

The pet seal is not of the variety which the great American republic has taken under its wing. It is of the kind known as the ‘hair seal,’ and is a rarity in the Pacific waters. They are found, however, in large numbers off the coasts of Greenland and Newfoundland, where they are hunted for their oil and pelts. The latter is manufactured into harness leather, and is also used for upholstering furniture. These seals in the east are worth about $4 each. No attempt has yet been made to utilize the few found on this coast." (Colonist, August 16, 1889, page 1.)

In September, 1889, the road being constructed up Beacon Hill came as a complete surprise to people who had assumed all summer Cresswell’s plan was being followed. F. C. Roberts was the first to sound the alarm in a letter to the Colonist:

"I was greatly surprised on going to the Hill last week to find a road being made right over the top of it. I cannot conceive why a road should be made upon that spot. To my idea it is cutting up and destroying that portion of the Hill entirely...Surely, a good road at the foot of the hill is sufficient for vehicular traffic where visitors or tourists can command the whole view...I would like to hear the opinion of some of our citizens...for I think the majority are for improvement and not destruction." (Colonist, Sept. 15, 1889, p. 4)

In the same paper, Mephistopheles Mossback wrote, “Indeed the park is to be no longer a park, but an ornamental garden or ground. Who is to pay the piper?” (Colonist, September 15, 1889, p. 3)

Two days later another letter to the editor asked,

"Where is the necessity for a road to drive over Beacon Hill?...Where is the necessity for riddling the park with roads...I am credibly informed that some of the magnificent oaks, the growth of 300 years are doomed to make room for a grand road which could as easily avoid them... "(Colonist, September 17, 1889, p. 3)

An article in the Colonist September 18, titled “Painting the Lily,” stated:

"We are not surprised that quite a number of our most intelligent citizens are disgusted with the ‘improvements’ that are being made in Beacon Hill Park...Are they spending a great deal of money to make the grounds, which nature left beautiful, ugly and inconvenient? We are very much afraid that they are. People go to the Park for quiet...cutting roads through the Park so that wherever the pleasure seekers go they are in fear lest the little ones will be run over, and they themselves be annoyed by the dust of carriages...will take from it much of its attractiveness. Nothing can be in worse taste than cutting a road to the top of Beacon Hill...Neither taste nor convenience requires the park to be cut up by carriage roads...We must enter our protest against rooting up any of the trees which are the park’s chief ornament. Not one of them that is healthy should be uprooted. To remove them is an act of vandalism...The fact is, the park needs very little ‘improvement’ indeed. Nature made it beautiful and the corporation need not expect to improve upon nature...A few ornamental trees might be planted where they are needed. The roads and even the footpaths need not be many...Appearances not indicate that a large amount of money is being spent to spoil Beacon Hill Park..." (Colonist, September 18, 1889, p. 2)

The Times defended cutting the trees, saying “...trees are too thick in many places in the park and are dying in consequence...” The newspaper scathingly dismissed all critics of Blair, stating regular people had no right to criticize him: “We have then in Mr. Blair a man who transcends criticism in respect to amateurs, mossbacks and cranks. No man has a right to pass criticism on his work who has not had the advantage of experience in his [Mr. Blair’s] line of work.” The Times hoped the plans would not be changed because of “carping criticism journalistic or individual.” (Times, September 19, 1889)

In a letter printed the next day in the Colonist, noted architect Edward Mallandaine wrote:

"I am...protesting against the work now going on under the misnomer of improvements, and which amount to positive destruction of the natural beautifies of the park and the particular enjoyment to be derived from its pristine state. Who is responsible? I am credibly informed that the prize plan of Mr. Cresswell has been set aside, which did not interfere with the hill nor the timber and another...adopted at a fresh cost of $250! I would respectfully call upon you to suspend the works, until at least a number of influential persons--property owners--shall have conferred with Council as to the operations in future. Three valuable oak trees, I am told, have just now been cut down... I may add that the plan at Campbell’s corner, while exhibiting a perfect gridiron of roads, is deceptive, the hill not being shown at all as a hill." (Colonist, September 20, 1889, p. 1)

Another letter printed on September 20, said "The colored plan of the proposed alterative--improvements they cannot be called--of the park is now on view at Campbell's corner and the labyrinth of unnecessary streets is enough to condemn it at first sight." (Colonist, September 20, 1889, p. 1)

Both September 20 letters refer to the Blair plan posted at “Campbell’s corner” and indicate it was not on view before. The second letter says it is “now on view”.

A September 21 letter, signed “Ratepayer,” praised Edward Mallandaine for his opposition to the Park development. The writer wanted to preserve Nature “as it existed on Beacon Hill prior to the invasion of the Goths and Vandals, with pick and mattock and match...” He called for Aldermen “ pause in their mad career of waste and destruction...The $25,000 voted by the taxpayers was for the improvement of the park, not for its destruction.” (Colonist, September 21, 1889, p. 4)

On September 24, a Colonist column titled “The Cheeky Improvers” blasted the “aesthetic Blair and his co-laborer Heywood” and those “high priests of good taste, Blair and Heywood”. Responding to the Times dismissal of critics as too ignorant to judge, the Colonist stated:

"The worshippers of the improver on nature, Superintendent Blair, would have citizens of Victoria believe that there is something mysterious and wonderfully difficult in this business of laying out the park, and, that it is the height of presumption in any of them who is not a trained landscape gardener, to find fault when he sees the ground cut up with roads and hears of trees being felled. But there is nothing about the matter which any man of ordinary intelligence cannot understand quite as well as Mr. Blair or even Mr. Heywood. The impropriety of cutting up the park with drives and of deforming Beacon Hill by a roadway must strike everyone who has the least idea of the uses for which the park is required. Everyone knows that the roads do not enhance the beauty of the grounds...We would like to see one good reason for cutting down the trees. We have not seen or heard even a decent excuse for such an outrage. It is, as we have already said, pure, unmitigated vandalism...Citizens everywhere are exclaiming against the injury done to Beacon Hill Park, and asking if something cannot be done to put a stop to it. Why not call a public meeting and allow the citizens to put in a formal protest against the vandalism of the improvers on Nature? It is a thousand pities to see the Park ruined without some attempt being made to put a stop to the miserable business.” (Colonist, September 24, 1889, p. 2)

Four main criticisms of Blair’s “improvements” were made in the press during September. Critics disagreed with the construction of a road up Beacon Hill, were against building so many other roads through the park, opposed cutting many trees, and protested that the $25,000 allotted for park improvements, while a realistic figure for the more limited Cresswell improvements, was not enough to complete the Blair design.

Park “improvements” and costs

Work continued in the Park despite the protests. Goodacre Lake was completed. The lake was constructed in a swampy area on the west side of the park and excavated to a clay base and outlined with a low rock wall. C. C. Pemberton protested in vain the dumping of soil excavated from the lake site on top of native plants on the rocky ridge north of the lake. A granite marker standing next to the lake today states Goodacre Lake covers 2.43 acres.

Goodacre Lake Bridge

The Stone Bridge at Goodacre Lake was completed in 1889. The plaque on the east wall of the bridge states: “Stone Bridge. This rustic stone medieval bridge was constructed in 1889, as part of John Blair’s landscape design for Beacon Hill Park.”

The plan to connect Fountain and Goodacre Lakes was delayed many years. The Colonist, on July 21, 1889, envisioned Goodacre Lake would “be connected to Alderman Lake [Fountain Lake] by a serpentine stream crossed by rustic bridges and descending from the higher to the lower lake in a series of waterfalls.” That stream was completed in 1932-1933.

Joseph Heywood, father-in-law of Mayor John Grant, arranged the donation of 2,000 trees and shrubs to be planted in the Park, 600 of which were donated by Heywood personally. The Colonist reported in November, “Two thousand ornamental trees, a part of Mr. Joseph Heywood’s donation to the Park, have arrived from Pennsylvania.” (Colonist, November 13, 1889, p. 4) Seventy five years later, Park Administrator W. H. Warren said the Heywood trees “...comprise the basic stand of mature trees around Goodacre Lake today.” Warren thought there were many more fir and balsam trees in the park in 1889 and that Cook Street was a forest of giant cottonwoods. (Park Files, May, 15, 1964)

The Annual Report for the year ending December 31, 1889, does not describe the work completed in the Park under Superintendent Blair, nor do committee reports contain that information. Instead, there is a lot of vague praise. A paragraph dealing with Beacon Hill Park in the 1889 “Report of the Committee on City Hall, Park, Public Library and Cemeteries,” signed by L. Goodacre, Chairman and Louis Vigelius, spoke of the “fame” of “this beautiful public resort” spreading to “the old land” as well as North America. They called “Mr. W. Blair” an “experienced and capable man.” The Report continues, “The greater portion of the $25,000 voted by the ratepayers has been judiciously expended with results already admired by all, results which by enhancing the value of residential property in the vicinity of the Park, will increase the revenue of the city and provide a free and fair advertisement of Victoria to the traveling public for all time to come.” The Committee strongly recommended “the desirability of voting an additional sum to complete this noble work of improvement which all so highly approve of and which is intended to be a lasting monument to the enterprise and good taste of the people of Victoria.” (Annual Report, 1889, p.71-72)

In the separate “Mayor’s Report” for 1889, Mayor John Grant wrote: “Much has been done through the liberality of the ratepayers to make this beautiful resort still more attractive...I feel sure that many of those who in the first instance characterized the past expenditure as wasteful, have now changed their minds.” (Annual Report, 1889, p. 8-9)

The “Report of the Assessment Roll Committee,” (later called the Finance Committee) consisting of Laurence Goodacre and S. L. Kelly, presented two Park accounts for 1889. One account, titled ‘Park - $25,000 Loan Account,” showed every cent of the $25,000 was spent. Expenditures listed were: Wages, $20,167.11; Grading Dallas Road, $989.47; Hack and Express Hire, $27.00; Hardware, brick and lime, $1,064.03; Hauling, $1,858.35; Trees, plants, fountains, keep animals, etc., $890.04; Band, $8.00. The total spent was exactly $25,000 and the account balance was zero.

The other account is titled “Park - General Account”. Expenditures under this account were: wages, $1,697.50; Hack hire, $21.25; Hardware, etc. $555.98; Hauling, $528.15; Plans, $425.00; Fish, Animals, Trees, $137.65; Band, $196.00. The total spent from the General Account was $3,561.48. This “General Account” appears to include some expenses from the Blair improvements.

Evaluating the Blair Plan

Cresswell’s winning design and his part in Park history were forgotten for more than a hundred years despite written descriptions of his plan published in both the Daily Colonist and the Victoria Times in 1889. No written description of Blair's plan has been found. The existing watercolour design map, accepted as Blair's for decades, is not dated or signed by Blair. There is a possibility that watercolour plan, which has the characteristics and style of architects drawings of the time, was created by architect Cresswell and that Blair inked additional roads and features onto Cresswell's plan. Forensic dating of the ink would be needed to confirm this.

The City of Victoria booklet Beacon Hill Park 1882 - 1982, A Brief History provides a centerfold reproduction of the plan (pages 16-17) along with an incorrect caption: “Original prize-winning plan by John Blair, 1888.” There is no evidence the Blair Plan was in existence in 1888. A microfiche of the plan is available for viewing at the B.C. Archives (CM/D53). A large black and white paper copy of the Plan is available in the McPherson Library at the University of Victoria (G3514.54, V5:2B4, Drawer SC6).

Viewing a copy of the plan directly one sees a typical English “pleasure garden” of the era, with ornamental gardens, non-native flowers, shrubs and trees. The plan shows a number of paths, a large number of curving roads criss-crossing the Park, and two roads up Beacon Hill. There are no sports fields in Blair’s original design but there was an oval labeled “Lawn Tennis.” (This could have been for a genteel game in vogue at the time played in fancy dress, like croquet.) A large number of acres were to be covered by two new artificial lakes complete with “rustic” bridges to islands. Blair included the large lake on the west side of the Park envisioned by Cresswell and drew in a much larger lake along the east edge of the Park near Cook Street. That lake, to be called Douglas Lake, was never completed, though some Cook Street residents still advocate building it. The existing four small lakes north of Circle Drive were not part of Blair’s design. Blair called for an astonishing number of buildings including seventeen “Summer Houses,” a Belvedere, a Pavilion and a Conservatory. Other features on the plan were a “grotto”, a “boiling spring,” and a zoological garden.

Five later assessments of the Blair Plan:

On November 23, 1976, Parks Administrator, C. J. Bate, wrote this about the Blair design: “The plan was a typical development for the 19th Century and an ambitious project for pioneer Victoria. In terms of current day needs and maintenance costs it would be a disaster. The plan had too many roads, no active space areas, and a built-in expensive maintenance requirement. I suspect City Council realized the cost aspects at the beginning of the 20th Century and by 1914 were no longer prepared to follow the plan. By 1920, a number of the carriage ways or roads had been removed from the Park.” (Park Office Files: “Renovation and New Development at Beacon Hill Park,” November 23, 1976, File: 1701)

W. H. Warren, Park Administrator from 1930-1970, said in a 1977 speech that the plan “called for carriage drives and kiosks all over the place, a typical Victorian approach...”

A 1992 City of Victoria Parks and Recreation Commission report said the Blair Plan had “an emphasis on creation of a carefully landscaped garden-park in the fashion popular in Victorian England.”

The “Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society Newsletter” (Summer, 1998) stated, “Fortunately, Blair’s plan was never carried to its conclusion, and some natural ecosystems with their bio-diversity were left: the Douglas Fir Wood, the Cottonwood Wetlands and the Garry Oak/Camas Meadow of Beacon Hill itself.”

The Blair Plan is described with worshipful praise by Bill Dale. In an article on the internet titled “Capability Blair’s Beacon Hill Park,” dated February, 2000, Dale writes “Beacon Hill Park, Blair’s major work in Canada, demonstrates landscape architecture at its best. It brings people together with landscapes through design that lasts and evolves, both in spirit and in form.” Though a devoted fan, Dale has no background or expertise in research or landscape architecture.

Other Park news in 1889

In February, Aldermen “hoped the police or Park Keeper would attend to boys fighting dogs on Beacon Hill...” (Times, February 28, 1889)

The guns mounted at Finlayson Point were used for practice in April, the Times reported. “On Monday a.m. at 7 o’clock, the city batteries will commence their practice with the 65-pounder gun at Finlayson Point. The Range will be about 2,000 yards. The targets will be placed inside Brotchie Ledge shoal.” (Times, April 20, 1889)

A special weekend celebration for the Queen's Birthday was held in Victoria May 25 and 26, 1889. Two days of special events were scheduled in Beacon Hill Park as well as a regatta off Dallas Road. Lacrosse, baseball and cricket games were played in the Park. Two bicycle races were held on the Beacon Hill Park horse race track while horse races were being run elsewhere at the Victoria Driving Park (in what is now Oak Bay). Another "Sham Battle" was enacted on the Hill. “The largest assembly of people ever known in the history of our fair city was on Beacon Hill to witness this really fine military display in which hundreds of military personnel took part. A long front page description of the mock “battle” as well as marching was printed in the Times. (Times, May 27, 1889, p.1)

HMS Swiftsure in Esquimalt Harbour

In this 1889 photo, three British Navy ships fire salutes to Queen Victoria on her birthday. The dark figures of countless sailors can be seen high in the rigging, lined up ceremoniously along the yards. In the foreground is the HMS Swiftsure, British flagship in the Pacific during the 1880s. The Swiftsure was stationed at Esquimalt. (Bill Wolferstan, Cruising Guide to the Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island from Sooke to Courtnay, Pacific Yachting, Interpress Publications, Vancouver, 1976, p. 95)

July 26, 1889, a By-law was published in the Colonist stating “No person shall suffer his horse, ass, mule, cow, cattle, sheep, swine or dog (except a registered dog) to run at large within the limits of Beacon Hill Park.” As the summer progressed, grassfires were reported in Beacon Hill Park. It was suggested “the Park Keeper should make an example of the miscreants starting fires” in the Park. (Times, August 6, 1889)

On September 5, 1889, Council instructed the clerk “to jog the memory of the Dominion government in reference to the powder magazine at Beacon Hill...the government had promised several months ago to take immediate action and they should be willing to obey the law in these matters.” (Times, September 5, 1889) [Despite constant requests from the City, the powder magazine was not removed until 1904.]

The Times reported on May 9, 1889, “The Park Committee recommended that Mr. Wagg be appointed Park Keeper and that he be sworn in as a special constable.” The caretaker lived in the park in a home near the present maintenance buildings. (Mr. Wagg was not the first person hired to live and work in the Park; there had been a park keeper since 1886.)

The Times reported a request was received by City Council to sell fruit and “temperance drinks” on Beacon Hill on the Queens Birthday and every Saturday after. This was referred to the Park Committee. No further details are available. (Times, May 16, 1889)

The sailing ship H.M.S. Amphion hit a reef on November 6, 1889 but was able to return to Victoria for repairs. The crumpled keel of the ship is exhibited at the northwest corner of the park at Douglas and Southgate next to the Beacon Hill Park entrance sign and a large anchor. The date of its placement in the Park is unknown. The plaque states: “Crumpled Keel Has A History. On November 6, 1889, Lord Stanley, Governor General of Canada, embarked for Vancouver following a visit to Victoria. H.M.S. Amphion carried the vice-regal party and, while travelling in fog, struck a sunken reef off Killett Bluff, Henry Island. The ship was extremely damaged but returned safely to Esquimalt. The bilge keel or rolling chock was crumpled like a concertina, as exhibited here.” (The “above information put on a plaque - December 6, 1974.” Park Office file) In 2003, Robert Amos, Victoria artist and critic, gave his opinion that the crumpled keel was “the most dynamic abstract sculpture in the city.” (Times Colonist, July 3, 2003, p. D9 2003)

The Invertavish Nursery Gardens, owned by J. S. Helmcken, located at Rupert and Heywood (now Quadra and Southgate), opened next to the Park in 1889. (In 1897, Helmcken offered to sell his Estate, which included the outstanding gardens, to the City to increase the size of Beacon Hill Park by five acres but the City declined to take out a loan to purchase it.)