Beacon Hill Park History

By Janis Ringuette

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

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Chapter Seven: 1890-1899

The Zoo in Beacon Hill Park history: An Overview

The Beacon Hill Park zoo began in 1889. The first animals were six deer, a bear, a wolf, sheep, an eagle, two young swans and pheasants. Added next were a seal, two black bear cubs, a rock pheasant, and a “Bird of Freedom” (a bald eagle). During the following one hundred years of zoo history, a huge range of mammals were displayed: bears, beaver, boars, buffaloes, coyotes, deer, lynx, monkeys, mountain goats, sheep, moose, porcupine, wolves, rabbits, raccoons, seals, rats and guinea pigs. Captive birds included bald eagles, hawks, owls, cranes, swans, pheasants, ducks, geese, peafowl, vultures, falcons, turkeys, quail, cockatoos, pigeons, jays and magpies.

A full listing of captive animals and birds in the Park is available for fourteen years: 1893-1895, 1898-1902, 1904-1907 and 1933-1934. In the some years, there is no mention of animals and birds in Park Annual Reports, in other years there is no Park Report. Annual Reports sometimes include paragraphs about gains and losses which give partial information. There is no record of any training provided to keepers.

The locations and numbers of the various cages, pens and pits varied through the years and is often unclear in reports. The deer pens, for example, were originally north of Circle Drive, then were relocated south of it. Aviaries were located in several places, including inside the deer pen. A September 19, 1898 map in Park Committee files proves two bear pits were in the southeast corner of the Park, near Dallas Rd. and Cook St. (City of Victoria Archives, CRS 4, 7E6, 6/9) Park Administrator Warren said evidence of the filled-in pits was still visible in the 1960's.

Deer, swans and peacocks deserve particular mention. Deer were among the first animals placed in the 1889 zoo and a deer was the last zoo mammal to leave the Park in 1990. Deer were the only mammals continuously held captive in the Park for over 100 years.

Two young Mute Swans were among the first captive birds in the Park by July, 1889. Numbers of swans in the Park varied through the next ninety years. One undated photo, possibly 1898, shows nineteen mute swans being fed next to the Stone Bridge. Park Administrator Herb Warren often included swan updates in his Park Reports (1931-1969), detailing numbers and trades with other Parks. Warren adjusted swan numbers in Beacon Hill Park by taking birds to and from Elk Lake. Warren pinioned young swans himself. This operation involves cutting wing tendons, permanently maiming the birds. Pinioned swans can not fly, thus assuring they remain where humans put them. When Warren stopped pinioning cygnets, every young swan flew out of the Park. Their descendants can now be seen in several salt water locations in the area. Christmas bird counts from 1999-2002 listed 2 to 18 Mute swans in Esquimalt Lagoon and 6 to 10 in Esquimalt Harbour. Swans are occasionally counted in Portage Inlet and Albert Head.

The first peacock in Beacon Hill Park was purchased in 1891. Though pheasant and swan numbers remained high during the following years, there were few peacocks, and in some years, none. In 2003, however, the situation is reversed. There are no swans or pheasants in the Park, but an estimated 35 Blue Indian Peafowl live free. This number is down from a possible 75 peafowl in 1985. (“Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society Newsletter,” July 2001.)

Though the peafowl are not confined, the Parks Department provides food and water for them in an open fenced area behind the Children’s Petting Farm. This fenced area also provides some protection for eggs and young, if peafowl choose to nest there. Dogs, raccoons and human activity destroy most nests, eggs and young outside the fenced area, which probably explains the population decline.

Peacock behind Children's Farm

The Beacon Hill Park zoo did not purchase animals and birds according to a plan. Instead, donated animals and birds arrived for free and often unexpectedly. This resulted in a motley collection. It is highly unlikely that Park staff were prepared to care for any of these animals. Newspapers and Park Committee records comment regularly on unhealthy animals and inadequate enclosures throughout the zoo’s history. Victoria’s animals were kept in miserable conditions, as were animals in other zoos in Europe and North America in the 19th century.

David Hancocks, zoo architect and historian, compared the grim zoo buildings of the time with buildings for tropical plants. The plants were in large greenhouses full of light because otherwise the plants died. Animals, on the other hand, were kept in dark, damp enclosures, apparently just because they didn't die right away. Though European designers sometimes did create magnificent looking zoo buildings, they knew nothing about the animals, their wild habitats, what they needed or how they normally behaved. (Hancocks, Different Nature, p. 55) Beacon Hill Park cages were minimal and inadequate and probably Victoria keepers knew little about proper animal care.

Around the world, zoo keepers made bizarre choices on what to feed animals:

"Bread and milk mixed with boiled rice was the staple diet for numerous species in most zoos. The daily ration for the elephant at the Jardin de Plantes was eighty pounds of bread, twelve pints of wine, and two bucketfuls of gruel...Fruit was for some reason considered generally unsuitable for monkeys." (Hancocks, p. 55)

If other zoos did not feed fruit to monkeys, it is likely Victoria did the same. We do know some of the animals in Beacon Hill Park were fed meat. Alderman Lawrence Goodacre, Chairman of the Parks Committee, was a driving force behind the zoo. He suppled free meat three times a week for seventeen years to the zoo animals from his butcher shop. Goodacre began supplying meat in 1890 or 1891 and stopped in 1907.

Zoo conditions did not improve very much in the 20th century. Hancocks labels the 1930's to 1960's, the “disinfectant era.” So-called “modern cages” meant,

"...clinically sterile cages, smooth concrete floors and cage furnishings reduced to a stainless steel pole and a cantilevered slab. Thus animals from forests and deserts, evolved over millennia for life in complex and environmentally dense habitats, were now to live in zoo exhibits designed principally for water hoses." (Hancocks, p. 76)

In Beacon Hill Park, a lone Kermodei bear lived twenty four years, from 1924 until her death in 1948, in this type of cage.

Though her cage was grim, the Kermodei was far better off than all previous bears in the Park. The bears were kept in deep, wet holes called “bear pits.” For years, Park records list ongoing problems with these holes and the resulting poor health of the bears. The last two bears kept in pits were killed in 1909 and the pits discontinued. Lamentably, bears are still kept in pits or concrete cells in Europe and many other countries today. The bear pits in Bern, Switzerland continue to be a big tourist attraction. Visitors still buy food and throw it down to begging bears in concrete holes. “Pacing and head-weaving are more prevalent in bears that are born or kept in a pit,” according to the website The Prague zoo is one of the few providing wooded areas for its bears to roam in this “enlightened” age.

As years passed, more of Victoria’s population became convinced it was inappropriate to hold large mammals in small cages. In 1907, a petition was signed and presented to the Mayor demanding better conditions. One signer said “...these poor animals [are] visited with half the tortures of the damned to delight the few children who visit the park... Kill them by all means but don’t torture them to death.” (Colonist, July 9, 1907, p. 8) Numbers of mammals in captivity in the Park began declining in the 1920's and 1930's and dipped further in the 1960's and 1970's. Rabbits, guinea pigs and other small mammals in cages were more acceptable to the public than larger wild animals. Park Administrator Warren (1931-1970) focused on exotic birds, acquiring many types of pheasants and cranes, as well as quail, ducks and other birds. It was a common occurrence for the City to trade exotic birds with Seattle, Tacoma, Vancouver and Calgary zoos.

In 1973, the “Children’s Farmyard” (also called “Garry Oak Farm” or the "Children’s Petting Zoo") officially opened in the same area as the deer enclosure, east of Circle Drive parking lot. From 1973 to 1985, it was completely run by Park staff. The transition to small, temporary animals and birds was complete. Today the only captives in the Park are animals in the privately run Children’s Petting Zoo, open seasonally.


Compared to the flurry of activity, developments and controversies in the previous year, 1890 was a quiet one. The Park Committee--Larry Goodacre, W. Wilson and Louis Vigelius--submitted a minimal report for the Mayor’s Annual Reports publication. It said “the excellent landscape design selected for the park has only partially been executed,” but included no details. They also thanked “the kind donators to the park and the zoo during the year.” (CRS 16, AR, 1890, p.30-31)

The first horse races apparently took place in the fall of 1890 at the new Willows Grounds race track, now part of Oak Bay. (James K. Nesbitt, Colonist, April 17, 1960) From this point, the use of the Beacon Hill Park race track declined. One of the attractions for races at Willows Grounds could have been that the entire race was visible. In Beacon Hill Park, horses disappeared around the hill. The last mention of the Beacon Hill horse race track in City of Victoria records was a note about track repair in 1894. (CRS 16, Annual Report, 1894, p. 53)

The Park Committee recommended building a keeper’s lodge and trying to get rid of “now abandoned powder magazine, which is a great eyesore to all visitors.” (CRS 4, 7E1)

Park wages paid were $2,702 in 1890. Cartage was $24.50, Feed for fish and animals $358.95, Hardware, Powder, $119.57. (AR, 1890)


Polo was discussed on several occasions by the Park Committee. On March 25, 1891, the Park Committee recommended granting requests of the Cricket Club and Polo Club “for the use of a portion of the Park adjoining the Agricultural Grounds...but no exclusive right to use any portion of the Park can be granted...” Later, on June 3, they said “the application of the Polo Club for the use [of] the eastern portion of the park in playing the game be granted on the understanding that the grounds are to be kept in good condition...” On December 9, the Park Committee recommended the Albion Cricket Club be allowed to play on the eastern side of the park but said they should reach “some understanding” with other Club users. The Committee suggested “the polo players..come to some arrangement with the cricket players...both parties are anxious to secure the use of the same grounds.” (CRS 4, 7E2) It seems unlikely that grass conditions after a Polo match would be compatible with cricket. The “History of Polo” website states: “In 1889, Victoria was already holding weekly polo matches between the garrison teams and teams of visiting British naval officers.” Apparently, these matches did not take place in Beacon Hill Park.

The lack of a water supply in the Park created extra work for “Park employees”, so the Park Committee recommended “that a hydrant be placed in the Park for the purpose of filling the lake when necessary.” (CRS 4, 7E2)

When the City Council voted $500 for band concerts in the park, an editorial headed “Pay the Piper” in the Colonist stated “...many not approve of...City five hundred dollars to the band for playing in the Park...the band is a luxury.” The editorial suggested raising the money instead of “depending on Governments for everything.” Some religious groups objected to Sunday music and thought they shouldn’t have to help pay for it. (Colonist, May 17, 1891) Pressure from religious groups against band concerts on Sunday afternoon continued in the following years. In fact, in 1896, there were no concerts in the Park as a result, apparently the only year in history without concerts. In 1897, Sunday concerts returned to the Park with a normal program in June and July but by August pressure by religious groups resulted in a program exclusively of hymns.

The Park Committee refused to allow “Salvation Army temperance lecturers and other speakers, whose intentions were to hold forth in Beacon Hill Park on Sunday afternoons.” The band could play but “preaching or public speaking of any kind” are not allowed on the grounds. Some protested this was a curtailment of free speech. (Colonist, August 9, 1891)

Bicycle races were held on the horse racing track around Beacon Hill. (Colonist, July 18, 1891)

A planned three story hotel to be built next to Beacon Hill Park, “almost facing the athletic grounds,” was described in the Colonist, April 7, 1891. Garvin and Campbell was the firm calling for tenders. The hotel would cost “upwards of fifteen thousand dollars” and was to be 50 feet by 70 feet.

"It will have fifty-three rooms altogether, thirty two of which will be bedrooms. The dining room, billiard room, wine room and parlor are to be all large and airy. There will be three dressing rooms for the convenience of sporting men and four bathrooms are shown on the plans. Besides other outbuildings there will be sheds especially for horses and traps on the premises. The roof will be flat, which is another attraction, as the view of the city and surrounding country could not possibly be seen better than from that point. On the centre of the roof a flower garden will be laid out...This will be a favorite spot from which to watch games. To render access to the top of the building more easy, an elevator has been decided upon."

The Zoo in 1891

The Colonist reported, “Now that the Park Committee have bought the much admired peacock, they have been promised a hen to keep him company, and the two will have a separate place provided for them...A handsome wild turkey is the latest bird attraction that Ald. Munn has secured.” (April 16, 1891)

A July article in the Colonist described the new bear pit constructed in the park:

"Grizzly, cinnamon, black and other bears that are owned by the City of Victoria will have a splendid place to disport themselves in the future at Beacon Hill. Out near the shores of the Straits, in the extreme southeast corner of the Park, a magnificent bear pit has been constructed that will accommodate all the species of the bruin family that are now tied up in the park. The new pit is about 12 feet deep, and 30 feet in circumference. It is encased all around with heavy two-inch boards, and has a tree about 20 feet high in the centre for the bears to climb. Around the sides of the pit are arranged holes for the bears when they feel like retiring from the public gaze. The pit has been constructed on the most approved principles and reflects credit on Chairman Munn of the Park the bears are all located in their new home..."(Colonist, July 18, 1891, p. 5)

The article states the location of the bear pit is in “the extreme southeast corner of the Park”. A 1898 map shows two bear pits, one larger than the other, and a proposed drain pipe running from the pits to the beach at Dallas and Cook. (City of Victoria Archives, CRS 4, 7E6, 6/9) C. C. Pemberton incorrectly remembered the pits being in the center of the Park between Goodacre and Fountain Lakes. W. H. Warren, said in a talk after 1982, "I recall as a boy seeing bears in two sunken round pits in the forest, near Cook and Dallas. A drain ran from the pits to the waterfront and it is still functioning west of the steps to the beach at the foot of Cook St." ("Notes from W. H. Warren," Park Dept. files) The drain is still visible on the beach at the bottom of the stairs.

The bears in the article are described as “Grizzly, cinnamon, black and other bears.” It is unlikely Victoria actually had a grizzly in captivity. “Cinnamon” is a colour phase of the black bear, as are “blue” and the white “Kermodei” bear. Bears are not social animals and range over a wide area in the wild. To be trapped in a hole with other bears would be stressful and unnatural. A later report described Park workers placing a new cub into the bear pit. By the next morning, it was killed and eaten.

On July 19, 1891, the bear pit received another paragraph in the Colonist: “The Park committee states that the bear pit in Beacon Hill Park was erected under the supervision of the park-keeper, Mr. Deakin, who has certainly made a good job of it.” On July 29, 1891, the Park Committee also reported “a bear pit has been built in Beacon Hill Park under the supervision of the Park Keeper, which fulfills all requirements.” (CRS 4, 7E2) It isn’t stated if the keeper had any guidelines on how a bearpit should be constructed.

The Annual Report for 1891 stated, “In respect to the maintenance of a zoo, your Committee submit that either the city should abolish the idea altogether or undertake the expense necessary to place and maintain it in a proper condition.” (CRS 16, AR 1891, p. 30-31)

Annual Report

The Park Committee report allotted $250 for erection of a flagpole. The Committee also reported, “After a great deal of correspondence on the subject, the Committee have received the assurance of the Minister of Militia that the powder magazine in the center of Beacon Hill Park will be removed as soon as a new magazine can be erected at C Battery Barracks.” (CRS 16, Report of Park Committee, AR 1891, p. 30-31) Alas, the removal of the powder magazine did not occur until 1904, after more than fourteen years of regular City requests, pleas and demands. Not only was it an eyesore in the middle of the Park but it contained explosives and ammunition until about 1896.

Expenditure for Park wages in 1891 was $4,180. Cartage and cab hire was $59.75. Trees, animals, fish and feed was $568.87, the flagpole cost $250, benches and other items $23.96.


On March 2, 1892, the Park Committee requested Council to grant “a triangular piece of ground on the northeast side of Beacon Hill Park for a lawn tennis ground.” (CRS 4, 7E2) John Blair’s design plan included no sports fields but did include a “lawn tennis” oval.

A streetcar line called the Beacon Hill extension began operating June 30, 1892 on Niagara Street. The streetcar terminated across the road from the Park.

On December 1, 1892, the Park Committee recommended the “James Bay Foot Ball Club to lay out a football field on the north side of Beacon Hill Park.” (CRS 4 7E3) In early Victoria, men playing soccer were British and used the British term, “football.” Descriptions of games in the newspapers clearly describe soccer--not North American football--plays and scores.

The granite monument on Finlayson Point states that the two 64 pound guns were removed in 1892. (The powder magazine was not removed until 1904.)

The Zoo in 1892

Zoo news was grim in 1892.

On March 2, the Committee recommended “in the interest of the Sanitary condition of the Park the wolves and eagles now in confinement there be set at liberty." (CRS 4, 7E2)

Large headlines in the Colonist on July 5, 1892 warned “Unless the Generous Public Comes Forward with Cash Donations to Buy Food” the animals “Will Have to Starve.” A second headline cried “Animals in the Park Threatened with Shortage of Supplies--Funds Give Out.“ The article stated bears, owls and the “swan and its swanlets” face starvation. “It was only a short time ago that the pet wolves in the park were killed...” The writer suggested selling “swanlets” to the Tacoma park to raise money.

On August 17, 1892, the Park Committee recommended thanking Commodore John Irving for the present of “two Alaskan geese.” (CRS 4, 7E2)

There was no Park Annual Report for 1892.


The Park Committee, on January 8, 1893, asked that a Special Committee inquire into Power of the Corporation of Victoria to remove the Powder Magazine at Beacon Hill Park. (CRS 4, 7E4)

On March 1, 1893, the Park Committee recommended “the wood windfalls, now in the Park amounting to about (6) six cords, be sold by the Park Keeper for the sum of two ($2.00) dollars per cord.” (CRS 4, 7E4)

Annual Report

The Report of the Park Committee for the year 1893 stated: “the deer enclosure should be made larger, and the roads need repairing... especially around and near the bear pits. The trenches which were dug should be filled in and the roads rounded up so that the water could get away, and the Bear Pit should be better drained.”

The Report indicated a great deal of work was done on lake drainage. Five box drains and 250 tile drains were installed between the two lakes and for sixty feet across Dallas Road. A good road was constructed from Park Road to the old Agricultural Hall. (The Agricultural Hall remained in the northeast corner of the Park despite the Begbie ruling prohibiting it in 1884.) More repairs to park roads were needed.

“During the year there have been two hundred and ten horse chestnut trees planted, seventy-five were planted around the Hill to replace those burnt by grass fires, the others were planted from Battery street down Dallas Road to Menzies street. About seventy trees were blown down during the year, one very large one.” (AR, 1893, p. 32-33)

Captive animals and birds listed in the Park: “4 bears, 3 deer, 1 angora goat, 1 raccoon, 7 guinea pigs, 4 rabbits, 4 blue jays, 2 eagles, 1 hawk, 1 owl, 1 falcon, 1 magpie, 4 pheasants, 4 quail, 6 pigeons, 7 swans, 2 geese, 10 ducks. ALSO ONE POWDER MAGAZINE.” [The powder magazine listing in capital letters appears to be a joke. It was definitely an “albatross.”] “Deaths during the year: 1 pheasant, 1 magpie, 1 porcupine, 1 beaver and 1 swan accidentally run over and killed.”


South Park School opened next to the Park with 480 students in 1894. (Still filled with students, it is the oldest operational public school in western Canada.) The land used for the school was within the original western boundary of Beacon Hill Park until the Hudson’s Bay Company sold it in the early 1860's. South Park School, Beacon Hill School and the private St. Ann’s Academy used park land for playgrounds and sports fields. Corrig College, a private school for boys at the southwest corner of Douglas and Niagara, not only used the Park, but implied Park acreage was part of their property in advertisements to attract students.

Butterflies Filled the Air

In a two year study of butterflies in the Victoria area, W. H. Danby counted more than forty species, of which twenty-two were extremely abundant. Millions of butterflies filled the air in 1892-1894. Species plentiful in Beacon Hill Park then--but totally absent now--include the Island Large Marble, Island Blue, Taylor’s Checkerspot, Zerene Fritillary, Ringlet and Propertius Duskywing. Other species formerly plentiful--but now rarely seen--are the Western Meadow Fritillary, Field Crescent, Silvery Blue, and Western Tiger Swallowtail. (Danby, “Notes on Lepidoptera Found on Vancouver Island.” Journal New York Entomology Society Vol II (March 1894): 31-36)

Western Tiger Swallowtail butterfly

[One or two solitary Western Tiger Swallowtail butterflies might be glimpsed in the Park today. Tens of thousands formed colourful butterfly clouds in the past.]

Butterflies no longer fill the air of Beacon Hill Park because the vegetation needed during their life cycles is gone. University of Victoria biologist James Miskelly explains that most butterflies seen in 1894 were “typical of grasslands and moist meadows. These butterflies have disappeared because their habitat has disappeared.” He believes, however, that some habitat can and should be restored. Miskelly states:

"Habitat restoration should proceed not only for the sake of preserving or reintroducing the butterflies themselves, but also for many other species of animals and plants, for the park and for ourselves. Ecological restoration at Beacon Hill Park may be our last hope to reclaim this priceless piece of natural and cultural heritage before it is lost for all time." (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, Nov., 2003, p. 2)

Some butterflies are no longer suitable for reintroduction into the Park, Miskelly points out, because there is not enough moist meadow left at the foot of the hill. But he is hopeful other butterflies could flourish again in the Park: “many species have great potential...All will require active habitat restoration and management...The Propertius Duskywing, for example, requires that leaf litter be left in place throughout the winter."

Miskelly opposes continuing the Park’s high-maintenance formal gardens, which "have no wildlife value of their own," at the expense of the equally aesthetic native meadows. If formal gardens are to be retained, “let them garden with the native species that have a right to be there.” With restoration, Miskelly predicts future Park visitors could enjoy a “Beacon Hill Wildflower Center” or a “Beacon Hill Butterfly Sanctuary.” (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, November, 2003, p. 2)

Annual Report

The Report of the Park Committee for 1894 states: “There has been about fifty chestnut trees wantonly destroyed.” Dallas Road at the end of Cook Street is “fast being destroyed by the action of the sea on the foreshore.” Work done that year included drives repaired, 1,250 yards of new drives constructed, 350 feet of culvert built and the race track repaired.

In the zoo: “New ranges of houses for the animals have been erected, they being a great improvement to the old ones, but we regret to say the deer do not thrive, the enclosure is altogether too small for their requirements.”

“A drain is very much needed from the bear pit to the beach, as in the case of wet weather the pit is nearly flooded. It requires 300 feet of pipe to do this.” (CRS 16, AR 1894, p. 53)

Captive animals and birds listed in the Park: “5 bears, 3 deer, 1 angora goat, 12 guinea pigs, 3 white rats, 6 rabbits, 9 swans, 7 geese, 12 ducks, 4 pheasants, 2 vultures, 1 hawk, 1 owl, 1 falcon, 5 quail, 1 cockatoo, 5 fantail pigeons, 3 blue jays, 3 eagles.”


On April 8, 1895, the Park Committee made this suggestion to decorate the Powder Magazine and make it useful as a toolshed after years of requesting it be moved with no success:

[The Committee] would very much like for the Council through the City Clerk to make application to the representative of H.M. Government at Esquimalt for the use of the old Powder Magazine at present standing in the Park. Your Committee will plant ivy round same and otherwise improve the outside appearance of same and use the inside for tools and other implements belonging to the Park providing provision can be obtained for the use thereof. (CRS 4, 7E5)

The presence of explosives inside the Powder Magazine was not mentioned in this request, but the following year the Committee commented the military “intended removing all the explosives very shortly to the magazine at Esquimalt.” It appears there were explosives stored inside this building in the centre of the Park as late as 1896.

On April 24, 1895, the Park Committee recommended to Council that a sum of $200 be used “for necessary improvements to Beacon Hill Park.” These would include the “enlargement of the deer park by taking in more ground and building the required fence” as well as adding new seats and repairing old seats. The Committee regretted that “many dogs are allowed to roam at large in the Park.” One example of damage was “a bed of poppies was almost destroyed by dogs rolling over [them].” (CRS 4, 7E5)

On August 26, 1895, the Committee recommended “That all running of trotting races is hereby prohibited in the future as it is most dangerous and inconvenient to all people who drive in the quiet Park for recreation and pleasure.” (CRS 4, 7E5)

Annual Report

The 1895 Annual Report of the Park Committee again mentioned the Powder Magazine: “Your Committee would urgently recommend that the proper authorities would remove the powder magazine as soon as possible, as its removal would add greatly to the improvement of that part of the Park, and ensure safety to our citizens.” (The Powder Magazine still contained explosives.)

The Committee lamented only $1,000 was available for improvements during the year...”there was an urgent necessity for enlarging the grounds set apart for deer and other animals, and an additional 350 yards of wire fencing was build...which gives a good appearance to the Park as well as larger feeding grounds.”

“Your committee regret that dogs have destroyed some of the best birds, as well as being very destructive to flower beds...” (CRS 16, AR 1895, p. 56-57)

Captive animals and birds in 1895: “5 bears, 2 deer, 15 guinea pigs, 6 rabbits, 7 geese, 1 cockatoo, 12 ducks, 2 falcon, 1 angora goat, 5 eagles, 3 blue jays, 2 vultures, 4 quail, 2 paroquets, 8 pigeons, 13 swans, 1 owl, 3 pheasants.”

“John G. Thomson, foreman of the Park” was mentioned for the first time in the 1895 Park Report. There was no Park Report the next two years, but in 1898, John G. Thomson presented the “Beacon Hill Park Report” in place of the Park Committee. Thomson continued to write an annual report through 1907. He was variously referred to as the Park Keeper, the Foreman and the Superintendent.


On March 23, 1896 the Park Committee recommended the City “build one new bearpit and do certain alterations to the present one.” (CRS 4 7E5) “Aldermen Decide to Repair the Pits” was the headline on a Colonist article three days later. It reported City Council agreed to spend “$110 to make the bear pit safe and sanitary.” Council considered “disposing of the bears” because “The bear pit has become a source of considerable danger...” but opted to repair it instead. (Colonist, March 26, 1896.)

At the same meeting of Council, the Chairman of the Park Committee stated optimistically that federal authorities “intended removing all the explosives very shortly to the magazine at Esquimalt” from the powder magazine which still remained in the middle of Beacon Hill Park. The Chairman seemed hopeful that the removal of the building “would also come soon.” The explosives were removed in 1900 though the building was not removed until 1904. (Colonist, March 26, 1896.)

Because of pressure from religious groups who opposed music concerts in the Park on Sundays, there were no concerts in Beacon Hill Park during the summer of 1896. This appears to be the only year, from 1888 to 2004, that concerts were eliminated, Sunday concerts were held in Oak Bay on Sundays and Victoria residents flocked there instead. In 1897, the new Chairman of the Park Committee, John Hall said the next year that he did not agree that “music is not good for a man on the Sunday,” but if a majority thought so, there could be concerts in Beacon Hill Park on Saturdays. Concerts returned to the Park on Sundays in 1897. (Colonist, January 30, 1897, p. 5)

“Your Committee would request that they be authorized to sell one of the bears in Beacon Hill Park,” the Park Committee asked Council on November 23, 1896. (CRS 4, 7E6)

On December 24, 1896, the Committee recommended “that 300 feet of 6" pipe be laid in Beacon Hill Park connecting the two ponds with each other.” (CRS 4, 7E6)

There is no Park Report in the City of Victoria Archives for 1896.


By 1897, archaeologist James Deans could no longer find the large rocks marking aboriginal burial cairns on Beacon Hill. Victoria residents had moved them.

Four days of special events took place in Victoria in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s reign). An “impressive memorial thanksgiving service at Beacon Hill Park, arranged by the Sons of England” began the celebrations on Sunday, June 20. An elaborately choreographed march preceded the service involving a “parade of H. M. land and sea forces, massed bands and secret societies...At 4 precisely, astronomical time, being the time at which the sun passes over each locality,” bugles were sounded, the flag run up the pole, and all sang God Save the Queen. Monday celebrations began with the demolition of the old coal ship San Pedro, which grounded on Brotchie Ledge in 1891 (see Appendix C, Holland Point). On Monday night, the inner harbour was circled by bonfires and lanterns (similar beacon fires were scheduled to be ignited around the British occupied world). As well, the new parliament buildings were lit up impressively, electric bulbs outlining the dome. The prime location to view the lights was Beacon Hill. (Colonist, June 20, 1897, p. 5)

Scotsmen were busy raising money all year for a $2,000 memorial to poet Robbie Burns. The Colonist reported on June 16, 1897 that donated funds for the proposed “Burns Memorial decorate Beacon Hill Park” had reached $1,000 with an additional $1,000 to go. On August 18, another report stated the fund was still growing. (The Memorial was finally erected north of Circle Drive in Beacon Hill Park and officially accepted by the City on November 9, 1900.)

Park Improvements

A rare opportunity to expand Park acreage was presented in 1897. J. S. Helmcken, in a letter to City Council, offered to sell the City his property adjoining the north end of Beacon Hill Park. The addition would extend the Park “a little less than five acres, filling the whole space between Humboldt Street and the park.” (Colonist, January 26, 1897) The property, known as the Invertavish Nursery Gardens, had been developed into an impressive horticultural garden. Located at Rupert Street and Heywood (now Quadra and Southgate), it opened in 1889.

A major article in the Colonist on January 30 discussed the possible property acquisition and provided Ald. John Hall, the new Chairman of the Park Committee for the Park, with a forum to state his plans. The article began with a triple headline: “Park Improvement; Ald. Hall Discusses the Immediate Requirements of the City’s Pleasure Ground; Good Roads and Band Concert the Chief Planks in His Platform.” City Council had not yet made a decision on the Helmcken property. The newspaper presented two positive arguments for its acquisition. The property was considered “one of the most complete and attractive horticultural gardens in the province...and the terms proposed [are] exceedingly liberal.”

The newspaper posed the following questions for John Hall, Chairman of the Park Committee in an interview January 29:

"...the question is being asked on every hand, what does the present council propose anyway, in connection with the city’s playground? Is it to be allowed to take care of itself as it practically was last year, or have the new park committee ideas of their own with regard to the further development and accentuation of its undeniable charms?"

Hall answered the time was not right for expansion or major development of the Park, but that it would not be neglected:

"I do not think the occasion is opportune for any elaborate improvement works. While the pinch of hard times is felt, it would not be advisable to advocate any special loan for another chapter in the adopted scheme for laying out the park. That would be in the nature of a luxury...[yet] the park should neglected...

If we cannot at present complete the public flower gardens that we all want to see sometime, we can at least keep the drives in good condition, free from stones and holes. We can, too, at very small expense, have neat little guard fences placed around the miniature lakes to prevent the breaking in of the banks, we can adopt more vigorous measure to keep the dogs out, and so save the young swans that are such a delight to the little folk; we can see that the boys who go in for athletic sports have plenty of room and fair fields in which to develop skill and muscle; we can keep in repair the rustic seats and benches so that the workingman as well as the millionaire may enjoy the summer evening at his ease and in comfort...It is not a little thing that the people have the prettiest pleasure ground on the coast, or that visitors to the city form a good opinion of Victoria from its park.

At the present time one man is expected to do everything in connection with the park--and of course he cannot do it. With a single helper he would be able to render effective and efficient service, and the cost in proportion to the results would be insignificant. I am in favor, therefore, of an assistant park-keeper being employed all through the summer. He might very easily be made a special constable and render good service in preserving order and preventing fast driving...

Then, too, we should have the band concerts...When, last year, there was music at Oak Bay and none at the park, the crowds went to Oak Bay and the city’s pleasure ground was neglected. If a majority agree that music is not good for a man on the Sunday--though personally I cannot coincide with them--why, have the concerts on the Saturday. But have them and have them often. The expense is not great, and the enjoyment that the citizens derive from the investment is fully worth the money." (Colonist, January 30, 1897, p. 5)

The newspaper concluded that Hall will “advocate the appointment of an assistant for the park keeper, the improvement of the park drives for the bicyclists, and band concerts throughout the summer months.” The article complimented the work of Constable Gilchrist the previous year for being an excellent source of information to tourists and for helping people bicycling in the Park who had flat tires or mechanical problems. (Colonist, January 30, 1897, p. 5)

On February 23, 1897, the Colonist reported City Council was “not in a position to entertain the [Helmcken] offer at present.” The five acres were lost forever to the Park and that was the last opportunity to increase Park acreage.

On March 1, 1897, the Park Committee recommended “That a wire fence be placed around the small lake in Beacon Hill Park, cost not to exceed $80; also that a new floor be put in the bridge at Goodacre Lake, expenditure $5.00.” (CRS 4, 7E6) On April 20, the Park Committee reported:

"The wire fence around the small Lake has been completed; it will not only be beneficial in keeping the swans from trespassing on it but will be helpful in guarding off all decayed leaves that used to blow into the Lake.

...We find that there are a superabundance of swans/thirteen white ones/and more to follow, as one swan has already laid eight eggs and another four, therefore we recommend an advertisement be inserted in the press for the sale of three pair of swans.

...We beg to thank the street committee for [sending] the watering cart and Jumbo out which put the Track in excellent condition for the Easter Holidays.” (CRS 4, 7E6)

The “old cinnamon bear up in the park” was to be killed, reported the Colonist in April, because “the poor old bruin has got the mange very badly. Veternary [sic] Surgeon Hamilton thinks it advisable... Some of the aldermen wished to have [the other bears] killed also, [but] only the cinnamon will be taken.” (Colonist, April 21, 1897, p. 2)

The same article said thanks is due to the Chairman of the Park Committee for “improvements recently made at the public gardens...the wire fence around the small lake was finished, and the festive swans can no longer trespass thereon.” Swings were repaired and new ones purchased. One swan was brooding eight eggs, another swan had four, so it was possible that twelve cygnets would be added to the present number of thirteen adult swans. “This will make a flotilla rather larger than the waters of the lake can accommodate.” The Committee considered selling the extra swans but decided against it. Band concerts are set to begin May 30. Bandmaster Finn of the Fifth Regiment band agreed to play fifteen concerts for $500. (Colonist, April 21, 1897, p. 2)

Religious pressure to restrict Sunday concerts

The reinstatement of Sunday band concerts in the Park, after an absence in the summer of 1896, was confirmed on May 13, 1897, when the Park Committee recommended the Fifth Regiment be paid for fifteen concerts scheduled for the Park at a rate of $35 for the first fourteen and the last for $10. (CRS 4, 7E6) The concerts were planned for Sunday afternoons. Church pressure began to restrict the program to “sacred” music.

On July 11, the Sunday afternoon concert in Beacon Hill Park included a varied program of music by composers Sousa, Offenbach, Weber. The band played numbers with titles like “Parson Johnson’s Chicken Brigade,” and a “Selection from The Gaiety Girl.” Some religious groups did not think this fare was appropriate. In response to vociferous complaints by church groups who disapproved of non-religious music on Sunday in Beacon Hill Park, Park Committee Chairman John Hall suggested, as a compromise, that Bandmaster Finn replace Sousa with music that sounded sacred. The next Sunday, the band alternated “I Want to be an Angel,” with a peppy “The Army Chaplain.” This was not sacred enough for church groups who wanted only hymns. By August 15, only hymns were listed on the program, including “Herald Angels,” “Onward Christian Soldiers,” “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” “The Palms,” “Glory to God on High,” and “Praise Ye the Lord,” (Colonist, August 15, 1897, p. 3)

There was is no Park Report for 1897.


The Colonist headlined a report on the Park in May: “The City’s ‘Breathing Ground’ Again Looking Its Best--Vandalism Rampant.” The newspaper reported Ald. John Hall, Chairman of the Park Committee, was keeping the Park up to standard. Hall stated that money was still needed for 1898 summer band concerts in the Park. He asked people to control their dogs in order not to damage flower beds and cause “great turmoil among the water fowls.” The so-called “rampant” vandalism included one geranium plant pulled out of the ground, a peach tree stripped of flowers and some limbs, and a drinking tap smashed. “The park policeman entered on his duties this week, and has orders to summon all ‘scorchers’ and fast drivers coming within his jurisdiction, speeding having become much too common of late..” Two swans laid nine eggs each. (Colonist, May 5, 1898, p. 2)

On September 19, 1898, the Park Committee recommended “That a pipe drain be laid to drain the Bear Pits, estimated cost $130.00.” Attached was a map showing the two bear pits, one circle larger than the other in the southeast corner of the Park near Dallas and Cook Street. The proposed drain ran from the pits to the beach. (CRS 4, 7E6)

Robert Mason’s tender of $45 to purchase Beacon Hill grass for 1898 was the only one offered and was accepted.

On November 12, 1898, John Hall, Chairman of the Park Committee, received word from the Vancouver park commissioners that a pair of swans sent to them from Victoria arrived safely. In return, Beacon Hill Park will receive a pair of "Birds of Paradise" from Vancouver.

Annual Report

The Park Report for 1898 stated: “A drain has been put in from bear pits to the beach, 450 feet, which gives great satisfaction and was needed for a long time.” The Committee noted that the Park was “the most visited place in the City and could be considerably improved by spending a bit more money on it.” (CRS 16, AR 1898, p. 94-95)

Captive animals and birds in 1898: “4 bears, 2 deer, 8 rabbits, 10 guinea pigs, 19 swans, 10 geese, 14 ducks, 20 pigeons, 4 cockatoos, 2 paroquets, 2 magpies, 6 bluejays, 4 eagles, 4 pheasants, 2 vultures, 2 owls 1 hawk, 1 peacock.” [One peacock is back on the list after an absence of several years.]


Three pairs of Beacon Hill Park swans were donated to other cities by the Park Committee in 1899. In March, a pair was sent to Vancouver; in April a pair to St. John, New Brunswick; and in June, a pair sent to Harrison Hot Springs. (CRS 4, 7E7)

On October 5, 1899, The Park Committee recommended spending $80 for “more comfortable shelter...for the collection of birds...” That amount appeared on the Finance Committee Report October 16. (CRS 4, 7E7)

Grandstand seat rental controversy

On May 17, 1899, the Colonist reported the visit by the Mayor and members of the Park Committee to select a location in the Beacon Hill Park for a grandstand to be erected. Mr. Wilby and Company planned to erect the grandstand and “collect 25 cents from those who desire a good place from which to view the fireworks.” Not everyone in the city approved of this plan.

"Many declare that it is outrageous for an exhibition to be provided with citizens’ subscriptions, and private individuals reap a harvest therefrom by selling seats in the public park from which the show may best be viewed. Others go so far as to question the legal right of the Mayor and council to grant the request, and to assert that if the collection of an admission to the stand is resisted--on the ground that it is on public property--the law will support them." (Colonist, May 17, 1899, p. 5)

Mrs. E. Morgan responded to the grandstand proposal in a letter to the editor May 21. She deplored “...candy, peanut and lemonade dealers who make life miserable at the park on any and all occasions,” but complained there were not enough seats in the park and that some are “occupied by opium-perfumed Chinamen.” She was in favor of building a park grandstand with rental seats so she wouldn’t have to sit next to undesirables. (Colonist, May 21, 1899)

City Council decided to cancel the grandstand rental scheme.

Annual Reports

There were two Park annual reports in 1899. The “Beacon Hill Park Report” was submitted by Park Committee member P.C. MacGregor. “Upon receiving our appointment as the guardians for 1899 of Victoria’s pleasure resort...” the committee requested more money so they could build a “lodge for the Park keeper,” have a “permanent assistant the year round,” and, among other things, gravel the roads. The report stated roads and paths had been gravelled and the flagpole repainted but grass still needed to be levelled around the lakes to facilitate mowing. “...the bear pit which was found to be in an unsafe condition we have had relined with plank and the cockatoo’s house has been made habitable for the winter.” (CRS 16, AR 1899, p. 100-102)

In addition, a Park Keeper’s Annual Report, by John G. Thomson, stated: “The cockatoo’s house has been closed in with glass...The small lake needs cleaning out badly, and the two rustic bridges at the large lake need to be repaired or replaced..”

Animals and birds listed in the park: “3 bears, 3 deer, 12 guinea pigs, 12 rabbits, 14 swans, 4 geese, 10 ducks 20 pigeons, 4 cockatoos, 2 paroquets, 2 magpies, 2 blue jays, 3 eagles, 3 pheasants, 2 vultures, 2 owls, 1 hawk, 2 peafowl.”