Beacon Hill Park is the largest public park in the City of Victoria.
The official total area of Beacon Hill Park is 183.147 acres (74.117 hectares), according to the City of Victoria Engineering Department. (City of Victoria, Beacon Hill Park map ROL181W, October 16, 1995) That figure includes all land within the park's official boundary lines. However, city streets built on park land consume approximately thirty acres; those thirty acres are not available for park use. City staff under the direction of W. H. Warren, Parks Superintendent for forty years, recognized that loss by subtracting thirty acres of asphalt from the park's acreage total. For decades, 154 acres was the figure printed on Beacon Hill Park city maps.
In a presentation to City Council's Environment and Infrastructure Standing Committee on December 17, 2009, Parks Assistant Director David Speed stated Beacon Hill Park's area was 165 acres. This figure, slightly higher than Warren's 154 acres, might be the most accurate current total of land actually available for park uses. However, the plaque secured to a large granite boulder standing on the top of Beacon Hill still states: "Area is 154 acres."
The 30 acres of city streets on Beacon Hill Park land include:
Dallas Road (white line along the bottom of the map) through the park.
Douglas St. from the junction of Blanchard south to Dallas Road.
Southgate Street from Heywood to Douglas.
Heywood Avenue from Southgate to Park Boulevard.
Also on Park land is the major intersection at Douglas, Blanchard and Southgate, the traffic triangle at Mile Zero, parking bays along Douglas and Dallas, and sidewalks and boulevards north of Southgate, east of Heywood and north of Park Boulevard.
The original size of Beacon Hill Park in 1850 was over 220 acres. Approximately forty acres of Park land was sold before 1864. The largest loss--thirty-two acres--was in the northeast corner. Another eight acres of Park land were sold along the west boundary of the Park. Those two sections, now outside existing Park boundaries, are outlined in black on the map. By the time land sales ended in 1863, the park was reduced to 183.147 acres. (For more details of early park land transfers go to the Contents page and click on Appendix A.)
There are more ways to shrink a park than selling land outright. In addition to the direct loss of 30 acres of park land under city streets, many more acres have been paved for internal roads and parking lots, built upon or fenced for special uses (see below for details), leaving about 127 acres freely available for public use. Open park land shrunk even as Victoria’s population and the population of the Greater Victoria region grew; a smaller park is visited by an ever increasing number of residents and tourists.
How many park acres are currently used for sports fields, buildings, playgrounds, maintenance yard, internal roads and other special uses? That information is essential for making future decisions, but the city cannot provide it. The Engineering Department’s Ted Isaacs stated in June, 2004, that it would take too many hours to work out the figures, even with the aid of digital maps and advanced computer mapping programs. In 2008, official figures were still unavailable.
In the absence of official totals, unofficial rough estimates are presented below, followed by a detailed map of the park:
Thirty acres of Beacon Hill Park land are buried under five busy city streets, intersections, sidewalks and boulevards. These streets include the section of Dallas Road from Douglas Street to Cook Street, Douglas Street from Southgate to Dallas, Heywood Avenue, Park Boulevard and Southgate Street from Douglas to Heywood. This photo shows one of the major intersections (Douglas Street and Dallas Road) built entirely on Beacon Hill Park land. Fifty years of park records confirm 30 acres are covered by the city streets listed, plus sidewalks and boulevards. Those acres seem so completely lost as usable park land--no person would dare put down a picnic blanket in the middle of Douglas Street--that total park acreage is often stated to be 154.47 acres. That figure acknowledges the unofficial loss of 30 acres.
Another 16 acres of Beacon Hill Park are buried under internal park roads, parking lots and other hard surfaces. This photo shows Circle Drive, the widest and busiest internal road through the park. The park’s main parking lot is located off Circle Drive on the west side of the Children’s Farm. Arbutus Way is a one way internal road heading south from Southgate Avenue to connect with Circle Drive. It includes several parking areas. The Loop Road climbs from Circle Drive to the top of Beacon Hill, ending in another parking area. Other internal roads are Chestnut Row (a prime candidate for closure), Bridge Way, Heywood Way and Nursery Road.
Sports fields and sports facilities consume about 8.5 acres of Beacon Hill Park. The golf putting green, tennis courts, soccer fields and baseball fields are open to the public, as required by law, but two sports fields and clubhouses are operated by private clubs on public park land. The left photo below shows the high chain-link fence enclosing the lawn bowling greens and clubhouse. Though the area is technically open to the public, in practice it is not. The effect of the fence is exclusionary and the clubhouse is clearly private.
The cricket pitch, above right, is not fenced and is open to the public when cricket matches are not being played. The cricket clubhouse is public in name only. The facility is under complete control of the private club and outsiders are effectively excluded.
The Parks Department maintenance yard, offices and nursery sit on about 7 acres of park land surrounded by a high chain-link fence. The yard is primarily a work and parking area, with many vehicles, equipment, one large building, many sheds and greenhouses. Very few members of the public venture inside. The maintenance yard, offices and nursery serve the entire city, as does the Service Building, located in the center of the park next to the children’s playground. According to legal rulings on park use, the only maintenance and operations which should be located in the park are those necessary to service Beacon Hill Park itself.
Approximately 2.7 acres are children’s areas. These include two playgrounds, two water spray facilities and the Children’s Farm, which is surrounded by a high chain-link fence. Also fenced is a large area behind the farmyard formerly used for police horses. In 2008, the city agreed the Farm could use most of the area and fences exclude the public.
Buildings and structures cover 1.3 acres. These include the unused Sports Hut (shown below), maintenance buildings, Service Building, restrooms, Checkers Pavilion, Finlayson Point shelter, derelict aviary, police horse barn, farm buildings, lawn bowling clubhouse and sheds, cricket clubhouse, Cameron Bandshell, monuments and other structures such as the defunct Boy Scout campfire circle, and the old Chinese Bell roof.
Landscaped and ornamental areas cover 33.8527 acres (19%) of Beacon Hill Park, according to a 2001 consultant report presented to the city. That figure includes the artificial lakes, lawns and a jigsaw of planted areas. (State of the Environment, pp. 16-18)
About 80 park acres are classified as “more natural” or “less developed.” Though every area of the park has been damaged and altered by humans, some native plants and remnants of eight ecosystems survive in parts of the Southeast Woods, the Northwest Ridge, Heywood Meadow, Beacon Hill and the Dallas Road waterfront.
The above photo shows the grassy south slope of Beacon Hill in spring, with remnants of Blue camas in the distance. The State of the Environment consultant report described and mapped eight “Native Vegetation Types” in Beacon Hill Park: Grassland, Garry oak woods with grassy ground cover, Garry oak woods with shrubby ground cover, Douglas-fir woods, Black cottonwood semi-swamp forest, moist deciduous groves, seaward slopes scrub, and spray zone and beachhead. (State of the Environment, p. 7-16)