Beacon Hill Park: a City Oasis

Text by Janis Ringuette
      Photos by Norm Ringuette

There is remarkable agreement among Victoria residents about what is outstanding about Beacon Hill Park. Trees, floral displays, shrubs, fields of grass and open meadows, artificial lakes and streams are much admired; each adds beauty and variety to the park. The City of Victoria webpage states: “Beacon Hill Park is an oasis of both natural and landscaped beauty.”

Trees dominate the park landscape. Native and exotic trees of all ages, sizes and shapes provide essential shade and extraordinary settings for other vegetation, constructed features and human activities. Beacon Hill Park is designated a Heritage Tree Area because it contains “a substantial tree collection of heritage value” which has “a significant impact on the surrounding community.” (G. D. Chaster, D. W. Ross, W. H. Warren, Trees of Greater Victoria: A Heritage, Heritage Tree Book Society, 1988, p. 10). A few of the park’s many beautiful and extraordinary trees are highlighted below.

Goodacre Lake nr. Emily Carr Bridge

This red-leafed maple (Acer) is perfectly placed next to the artificial stream flowing from Fountain Lake to Goodacre Lake. A favorite of photographers every fall, it is located at Avalon Way and Douglas Street, near the heron colony and the Emily Carr footbridge. (All photos by N. Ringuette)

Dawn Redwood

This unique Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) is one of eight Dawn redwoods in Beacon Hill Park. The tree’s beautiful gnarled trunk can be seen on the north side of Goodacre Lake, west of the Stone Bridge. It is probably one of the first two planted in the park before 1953, the year they were reported to be four to five feet high and “thriving.” Dawn redwoods were thought to be extinct until 1941, when living trees were discovered in China. According to Paul Allison, Royal Roads University gardener, Dawn redwoods grew in North America two million years ago.

The much-admired Sequoia treeGreat climbing branch

The most photographed, admired and climbed tree in the park is undoubtedly this splendid Giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) located on Circle Drive across from the Children’s Farm. It was planted in 1913, according to City of Victoria Environmental Technician Fred Hook. The tree's graceful, sensuous lower branches are easily accessible. Another Giant sequoia stands near Park Way and three more are on the north side of Goodacre Lake near the Stone Bridge.

Other park trees of interest include Flowering cherries (Prunus), Weeping willows (Salix vitellina var. pendula), giant Horse chestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanum), a few native Western yews (Taxus brevifolia) and ten Windmill palms (Trachycarpus fortunei). Eucalyptus trees grow in the northwest section of the park along Bridge Way and a Gingko can be found near Arbour Lake.

Cedars cluster around the Cameron Bandshell. Large native Douglas firs (Pseudotsuga menziiesii) provide nest sites for a major Great Blue Heron colony and line some internal roads. Distinctive huge arbutus (Arbutus menziesii), a native broad-leafed evergreen, border the road leading into the park from the north and a few smaller arbutus stand near the flagpole on Beacon Hill. Though arbutus are native trees, there were none in the park until they were planted in the early 1900's.

Garry oaks (Quercus garryana) are the most prominent and important tree species in the park. Ancient Garry oaks can be found in both the natural and ornamental areas; some are over 300 years old. The huge standing Garry oak and the fallen giant shown below can be seen in the meadow west of Heywood Avenue.

Impressive Garry oak Downed Garry oak

Agnes Lynn measured the circumference of the biggest trees she could find in Beacon Hill Park. Outstanding were: a 11' 9" Big-leaf maple near Circle Drive, a 14' 9" cottonwood near the Cook St. playground, a 14' 6" Garry oak in the northwest corner opposite South Park School and a 13' Garry oak near the central playground. A 15' Douglas fir stands in the Southeast Woods. The biggest Red cedar, measuring 12', and a Western yew with a circumference of 6' are behind the Cameron Bandshell. (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society Newsletter, April, 2003)

The existence of open, more natural land is unique in a major city park located just one block from downtown. Beacon Hill Park’s less developed acres are highly prized by walkers, picnickers, birders, photographers and native plant lovers. Spectacular fields of colourful native Common or Early camas (Camassia quamash) and Great or Late camas (Camassia leichtlinii) continue to bloom each spring in grasslands and meadows. Aboriginal people cultivated these same fields to promote the growth of camas bulbs and other edible native plants before white settlers arrived. The photos below were taken May 1, 2005 on the east side of Beacon Hill.

Camas meadow in springCamas blossom

Closeups reveal the striking colours and markings of Beacon Hill Park native flowers. Below, from left to right are Western Buttercup (Ranunculus occidentalis), Shooting Star (Dodecatheon hendersonii), Chocolate Lily (Fritillaria lanceolata) and Prairie Violet (Viola praemorsa). The first two are plentiful and easy to find, but a search is required to locate clumps of retiring Chocolate Lily on the north side of Beacon Hill each spring. Even harder to find is the Prairie Violet; a cluster of this small but distinctive wild flower was discovered east of Beacon Hill in 2005.

Western ButtercupShooting StarsChocolate LiliesPrairie Violet

Graceful White Fawn Lilies (Erythronium oregonum) bloom under Garry oaks in many areas of the park. Below is a meadow photo taken east of the Northwest Ridge near Arbutus Way and Southgate Street. The mottled leaves are as distinctive as the large white flowers. Many people call these wild flowers “Easter Lilies.”

Fawn Lilies in Northwest park meadowFawn Lily blossoms


Large White Trilliums (Trillium ovatum) bloom in a few quiet corners of the park. The Trillium has three distinctive broad and pointed leaves; flowers are usually white but can change to pink or even purple as they age. Trilliums are protected by law throughout British Columbia because picking the flower kills the plant. This 2005 photo was taken in the glade of ferns and cedars west of the Cameron Bandshell.

The native plants featured above are unique and spectacular. Exotic flower species featured in the ornamental and landscaped areas of the park are also beautiful and impressive. Supervisor of Parks Operation Bernard Hopcraft, Assistant Supervisor Paul LeComte and staff gardeners designed and planted especially creative floral displays in 2005.

Angel's Trumpet

Hoping to surprise and please people with new designs and plants, they included more tropical and showy plants among traditional favorites. This Angel’s Trumpet (Datura/ Brugmansias), a tall plant with gigantic white and pink blossoms, was one of two outstanding examples in front of the Service Building.

Banana plants

Red Leaf Banana plants (Musa ensete Maurelii), also known as Red Abyssinian, provided dramatic focus in the sundial circle garden. These decorative banana plants grow thick trunks and gigantic dark purple leaves.

Many floral beds were designed to accentuate height differences, with short plants in front and those in the centre and/or background reaching as high as ten feet. In this September 4, 2005 photo, below left, great height is provided by Spider Flowers (Cleome spinosa), orange flowered King Humbert Canna lilies (Canna x generalis) and Castor bean (Ricinus communes). Gardener Margaret Marsden nurtured this display along Park Way near Circle Drive.

The huge purple-green leaves and spiky red seedpods of Castor bean plants (Ricinus communes) featured prominently in many park floral displays in 2005. Their unique appearance is shown below right. By the end of August, these fast growing shrubs towered over everything in the sundial circle garden.

Impressively tall plantersCastor bean

Glory bush Geranium tree

The spectacular Glory bush (Tibouchina urvilleana) on the left, one of many in the park in 2005, was placed near Willow Lake. The shrub has satiny, bright blue-purple flowers.

Geranium Trees (Pelargonium) were planted along the pathway near Willow Lake for the first time this year. Each plant is trained into tree form by attaching it to a stake, as shown in the photo on the right. With proper care, they can be displayed for more than eight years. Similar Fuchsias and Heliotrope trees have added colour and height to the circle garden for many years.

Fraser rhododendron

The Fraser rhododendrons--more than 100 years old--are Beacon Hill Park’s oldest flowering plants. According to a consultant report, George Fraser planted “a grove of five Rhododendron ‘Cynthia’ near Fountain Lake in 1889. 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). A commemorative stone honouring Fraser was placed near the rhododendrons on September 25, 1999. John Blair hired Fraser to work as foreman in carrying out Beacon Hill Park development plans in 1889. Fraser was trained at Edinburgh Botanical Garden and later established a well known nursery at Ucluelet. (See Chapter 6 for more details on the 1889 development.)