For ten years, a good-natured workhorse named Queenie was a familiar sight in Beacon Hill Park. She began pulling the maintenance crew’s two-wheeled rubber-tired cart in 1953, shown in the Times Colonist photo above. Five years later, Queenie was the last workhorse in the entire City of Victoria. When she retired to the Park’s animal pen in 1963, the horse age ended in the Park and the City.
The first horse was purchased for the Park in 1908. For the next forty-five years, one horse after another pulled the two-wheeled cart full of leaves and garbage cans. Not all horses are named in the records, but we know Queenie took over from Nellie, who took over from Bud.
Park Administrator W. H. Warren first suggested replacing Queenie with a truck in 1958, but met with resistance. Queenie had one advantage over a mechanized vehicleshe could cross lawns without damaging the grass with her special rubber shoes. However, those shoes cost $17.50 and needed replacement four or five times a year. Warren claimed a truck would be cheaper to operate. In 1961, Warren again proposed “disposing” of Queenie. He said the horse cost $1 a day to feed and was only half as efficient as a truck.
In response, the S.P.C.A. organized a “Save Queenie” fund-raising campaign. The first donor said: “The loss of Queenie would break the hearts of hundreds of youngsters who visit the park.” Another resident suggested cutting the Parks Administrator’s salary by $30 a month, just enough for the monthly feed bill for Queenie. “That would get a horse laugh,” he said.
Mr. Mowat, a sight-seeing bus driver, wrote the newspaper: “Queenie pulling the rubber-tired dump wagon through the Park is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the Park...And when she’s resting in the animal pen she gets more attention than all the peacocks...” Money and protest calls poured in; Queenie’s retirement was delayed again.
Finally, in September, 1963, thirteen-year-old Queenie was replaced by a three-wheeled motorized truck. She retired along with 65 year-old Howard Honeyman, the only handler she had known. The Times reported: “Queenie will spend her retirement in Beacon Hill Park as the star attraction of the animal pen--a status she has always enjoyed with park visitors during her ‘off hours.’” Queenie was taken out of the pen for short exercise sessions with Park Caretaker Sandy Hayton, as shown on the right.
Even in retirement, the old workhorse made news. The morning before her 17th Christmas, Queenie was found wedged upside down behind the chicken house by Park Caretaker Sandy Hayton. She was stuck there all night after apparently losing her balance while scratching. Queenie's rescue required demolition of one side of the chicken house with a sledge hammer. That cleared enough space to hoist her out with a block and tackle. As compensation for her trauma, which included a cut over one eye, Queenie received extra bran mash on Christmas day.
Queenie died November 15, 1970, at age 20, and was buried in what is now the Children’s Petting Zoo. A memorial was erected at the site the following August. The wooden sign includes a likeness of Queenie’s head carved by Kaj Nielsen and the words“Queenie, our Clydesdale horse. Born July 19, 1950. Died Nov. 15, 1970.” The grave remains today in a place of honour just inside the zoo entrance.
[A slightly different version of this article appeared in the Times Colonist "Monitor," on November 14, 2004, C 9)]