James Douglas, Chief Factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, sketched out the boundaries of a “Park Reserve” (later called Beacon Hill Park) by 1850, before official land surveys of the area were available. The original size of the park was over 220 acres.
Douglas set aside the “Park Reserve” to comply with one of the requirements of the Wakefield system, a theory of colonization adopted by the British government in 1849 for application on Vancouver Island. The Wakefield land management system called for public tracts of land or “Reserves” to be set aside for clergy, schools, hospitals and parks according to a formula. For every eight square miles of private land sold, a square mile was to be reserved for “church and churchyard, schools, or other public purposes.” It is under that requirement that Beacon Hill Park was set aside.
On Feb. 23, 1859, the London office of the Hudson’s Bay Company officially established Beacon Hill Park as a public park.
The Park is marked on the “Victoria District Official Map, 1858" as “Lot LXXXVII Public Park”. When the Park was transferred to the City of Victoria on February 21, 1882, it was referred to as “Section 87". There is no written description or total acreage filed with this map. The 1861 "Town of Victoria" map shows the boundaries of the Park including the original northeast corner. (J. Despard Pemberton, Surveyor General, J. Arrowsmith, Publisher, 7 January 1861. B. C. Archives CM/ B275)
The entire northeast corner of the Park--an estimated 32 acres-- was sold to private buyers. (It is possible that a further section along the north boundary was also sold, but since map boundary lines vary and conflict through the years, that is unclear.)
James Douglas arranged to sell the largest portion--24 acres--to himself in 1852. Douglas purchased 300 acres in 1850 along the east edge of the Park, then expanded his holdings to 418 acres by August 1852. The extra acres acquired by Douglas included two parcels along the east edge of his property. The third parcel was 24 acres of the northeast corner of Beacon Hill Park. The map below identifies each parcel acquired by Douglas.
In 1859, more of the northeast corner--about eight acres--was sold by the Hudson’s Bay Company to private buyers.
Between 1861 and 1863, another eight acres of the Park along the western boundary was sold. A new boundary line was drawn angling east from the northwest corner of the park to a point opposite Toronto Street, then a straight line was drawn angling west again from that point to the original boundary line at Beacon Street. That triangle of Park land was divided into private lots. (South Park School is on the north end of that segment.)
This change can be seen by comparing two maps available at the B. C. Archives. The 1861 map “Town of Victoria” (CM/ B275) shows a straight line western boundary. A map published in January, 1863, by Waddington, Kutchel, and Crease (CM/ B272) shows the new line.
Sales of Park acreage by the Hudson’s Bay Company were confirmed by Provincial Archivist Willard Ireland in 1942. He quoted W. A. G. Young, speaking to a committee in 1863: “Governor Douglas, Col. R. C. Moody, Mr. Munro and Mr. Morris owned property within the original reserve.” (Ireland, “Memorandum re: Title to Beacon Hill Park, Victoria, British Columbia,” May 8, 1942, p.3, B.C.A.) A Douglas letter to Newcastle on August 8, 1861 mentioned “portions of land laid off on that map as streets and public reserves...having been recently sold by private contract...” The Surveyor General referred to sales in a 1862 letter to the Attorney General: “The Company have recently sold a portion of the Public Park (3 ½ acres on the west side) to Mr. John Morris, and his fences or buildings are in part constructed upon the same. The company have also disposed of other portions of the Public Park.” The Colonial Office referred the question of title to the Privy Council. “An arbitration award dated February 3, 1862 validated all prior sales of land within the disputed area.” (Ireland, p. 3)
Two later descriptions usefully outline the original Park boundaries in relation to present street locations and landmarks. The Colonist, July 17, 1949, wrote “...an area was set aside for a public park from the waterfront at Cook Street, north along Cook to Pakington, thence westward to Douglas Street opposite the present Glenshiel Hotel and south again in a straight line along Douglas to the sea.”
In 1952, Park Administrator W. H. Warren described the original outlines of the Park as well as acres lost on both the west and east sides: “The east boundary originally extended from the waterfront at Cook Street in a straight line north from May Street to a point on Pakington Street near Humboldt Street and thence westerly to Douglas and Blanchard Streets. Originally the west boundary also was a straight line from the waterfront at Douglas Street north to the intersection of Humboldt and Douglas Streets. Thus the area on the west inside the present dog’s leg on Douglas Street and on the east of the park between Cook Street and Heywood Avenue, has been lost. There remains 184 acres today.” (“A Natural History of Beacon Hill Park,” July 21, 1952, Park Dept. Files)
Though originally over 220 acres, Beacon Hill Park was officially 183.147 acres in 1995, according to a City of Victoria Engineering and Planning digital map. Of that total, 30 acres of Park land are used for City streets, sidewalks and boulevards. Five busy City streets are officially on Park land: the section of Dallas Road from Douglas to Cook St., Douglas Street from Southgate to Dallas, Heywood Avenue, Park Boulevard and Southgate Street from Douglas to Heywood. Cook Street is the only boundary road not built on park land. Boulevards and sidewalks on Heywood Avenue, Park Boulevard and Southgate are on Park land. Total Park acreage minus City streets is 154.47 acres. City of Victoria publications use both figures--184 acres and 154.47 acres--usually without explanation.
Douglas Street was constructed south to Dallas Road in 1912. In 1935, Douglas Street was widened to 36 feet, including parking bays.
Dallas Road from Cook St. to Douglas St. was widened in 1957 and new parking bays added facing the sea. Also included were “extensive alterations” to the intersection of Douglas and Dallas. Mile Zero, a triangular piece of Park land, was marooned between two extensions of Douglas Street.
Southgate Avenue was constructed through the north end of the Park in 1957, isolating a strip of Park land north of the street. The construction of Southgate “involved extensive alteration to the intersection of Douglas, Superior and Blanshard Streets,” according to a City of Victoria publication. More Park land was used for that intersection expansion. The deplorable pink mattress “art” at the junction of Douglas and Blanchard is also on Park land.