Intense media coverage of Beacon Hill Park during 2005 illustrates the prominent role the park plays in daily city life. A total of 64 articles, columns, features and editorials entirely devoted to park issues were printed during the year in the Times Colonist, Victoria’s only daily newspaper. 46 letters to the editor about the park were published and more than 500 park event announcements, calendar notices and other references. 74 photographs, maps and drawings of the park were printed; 20 of the photos were stand-alone general interest shots unrelated to a news story, such as flowers in spring, leaves in fall, ducks on ice.
The bi-weekly VI News Group Victoria News and Weekend Edition published 21 articles, 19 photos and 6 letters during the year while the weekly Monday Magazine printed 3 articles, 5 letters and numerous short references in columns. The monthly James Bay Beacon printed 6 articles, 1 letter and 6 photos. The two local television stations delivered frequent short segments on the park during news shows at 5 and 6 o’clock and also frequently used the park for background when no park issue is involved. On August 12, 2005, for example, both channels positioned reporters in front of floral displays for unrelated stories.
Major news topics in 2005 included Luminara, dogs in parks, the Terry Fox statue, a water spray facility proposal, bandshell concerts, films and events, the problem of squatters camps, gay sex in the Southeast Woods, changes in ornamental areas, and an assessment of natural areas.
The Luminara Lantern Festival’s temporary cancellation and later reinstatement was by far the biggest story of the year. A total of 16 articles, 30 letters and 11 photos appeared in the Times Colonist on that topic; another 6 articles, 5 letters and 4 photos were printed in the bi-weekly VI News Group newspapers.
The poor media coverage of the complex Luminara story would be an excellent case study for journalism classes. Reporters did not provide key facts and essential background perspective. Misinformation and name-calling took their place. As a result, the discussion was distorted and one group was unjustly and viciously attacked. Details, quotes and an analysis of the important issues are provided in Luminara Part II, at the end of this chapter. The following section, Luminara Part I, presents a short version.
In January, Inter-Cultural Association (ICA) Director Jean McRae announced the Luminara Lantern Festival, an extremely popular event most frequently described as “magical,” would not be held in 2005. “A lack of public funding and tight regulations prohibiting the posting of corporate sponsors names and logos within the borders of Beacon Hill Park choked the festival,” Times Colonist reporter Joanne Hatherly wrote. Legal restrictions were presented as the major reason for Luminara's financial trouble and Mayor Alan Lowe said the park’s management framework could be reviewed if the sponsorship restrictions are too much for Luminara.
An important fact was missing. The non-renewal of a $30,000 federal government grant precipitated the cancellation of Luminara. $30,000 represented one-third of the entire Luminara budget and was a catastrophic loss. It was seven days before veteran city reporter Malcolm Curtis printed the $30,000 figure.
Hatherly interviewed Helen Oldershaw, Chairperson of the Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society, who said though no money had been collected within park boundaries for Luminara, there was a “fair bit of commercialism surrounding it.” Oldershaw then added a statement which would be used against her for many days to come: "We feel it was getting too big for the park. It was something that was more a celebration that was imposed on people, rather than something coming from the true Victorian tradition...I think something like the Luminara festival is better done in local communities." (Times Colonist, January 20, 2005, B 1)
A firestorm of name-calling and blaming erupted. Without knowledge of the lost $30,000 grant, letters to the editor, editorial writers, opinion columnists, radio and television newscasts blamed and angrily vilified the Friends and Oldershaw for Luminara's cancellation. The highly emotional attacks were vicious and inaccurate. [See "Luminara II at the end of this chapter for extensive quotes.]
Malcolm Curtis reported on February 10 that Luminara would go ahead after all. He clearly spelled out the real reason for the temporary cancellation: “The loss of a federal grant worth about $30,000 led the board to consider suspending the festival, which has a budget of $90,000.” According to Curtis, ICA executive Jean McRae was seeking “the ability to collect donations in the park” in 2005 and later “the organizers would like to be able to honour sponsors in a discreet way through tents, T-shirts and lanterns high-lighting company names.” (Times Colonist, February 10, 2005, A 1, A 2)
Two days later, Curtis reported “Deep divisions remain on Victoria council over the future of the trust governing Beacon Hill Park and its provisions against commercialism.” Coun. Helen Hughes supported Mayor Lowe’s proposal to talk with the province about changing the trust. Coun. Rob Fleming and Coun. Pamela Madoff disagreed. (Times Colonist, February 12, 2005, C 10) [See next section for council discussions in March on that topic.]
Brennan Clarke reported Luminara was on again, “powered by $60,000 in last-minute donations.” These included $25,000 from the province, $12,500 from the city, $10,000 from Mayfair Mall and $25,000 from CHUM media. Mayor Lowe and MLA Jeff Bray continued to talk about “updating the trust to reflect 21st century goals.” (Weekend Edition, February 11, 2005, A 1, A 16)
On July 13, organizer Alice Bacon told the Times Colonist: “City Council determined that we could accept volunteer donations within the park...” Reporter Joseph Blake wrote: “Giant, illuminated Looney Birds will collect donations at this year’s Luminara.” (Times Colonist, July 14, 2005, C 12)
The news was a bombshell to those who supported obeying legal restrictions prohibiting the collection of money in the park. The decision of council to allow the collection of donations was a radical departure from 113 years of historical tradition and was also a violation of the law. Council made the decision without public consultation and without reference to park guidelines worked out in a long series of public discussions called the Round Table in 2001.
More information on the planned “Looney Birds” collection of money within park boundaries was published on July 22. Eight giant birds, said to be nine feet tall, would be accompanied by green-shirted volunteers with buckets collecting money for the annual lantern festival. Glow ropes and booklets would be sold just “outside the park on Douglas and Quadra.” Reporter Malcolm Curtis explained council agreed to the money collection in a closed door meeting two weeks before. “Mayor Alan Lowe said the decision was never made during council’s public deliberations, an oversight that was rectified Thursday night.” The fundraising method was formally approved by City Council just two days before the family event. (Times Colonist, July 22, 2005, B 1)
Deciding behind closed doors to collect money at an event for the first time in Beacon Hill Park's long history had the advantage of preventing members of the public from participating. The “oversight” meant Council did not have to hear other viewpoints. Following the announcement, there were no newspaper opinion columns and no editorials pointing out the significance of the change. There was at least one alert citizen who responded. In a letter to Mayor and Council, Betty Gibbens pointed out the decision to permit donations in Beacon Hill Park was disclosed openly for the first time in an attachment to the agenda of the July 21 Committee of the Whole meeting, just two days before the Luminara event. Gibbens thought it likely that such disregard for due process “was a setup designed to prevent timely opposition....” (Letter to Mayor and Council dated July 22, 2005)
A colourful map of the park was published in the Times Colonist, showing Luminara’s seven zones with themes, performers and lantern sculptures scheduled, similar to 2004. (Times Colonist, July 21, 2005, p. D 12) The well organized Luminara event took place as planned, with good weather and a very large turnout.
Park gardener Margaret Marsden and Assistant Supervisor Paul LeComte worked with event organizers throughout the day and into the night on July 23. The above photo shows Marsden, LeComte and Steve Curry in Arbour Lake helping to set up a floating lantern display.
Long lineups at the women’s rest room and not enough portable toilets marred the evening for some. The Discovery Dance show on the cricket pitch was a disappointment to those who remembered spectacular performances in 2004 and 2003. The number of booms with dancers had been drastically reduced from seven to four. A Times Colonist article praising Discovery Dance and its creator Sven Johansson drew a huge crowd, which surrounded the booms and prevented good viewing.
The day after Luminara, producer Alice Bacon said the festival’s budget was roughly $100,000. (Times Colonist, July 24, 2005, A 1) The next day, she estimated the crowd was over 15,000 and said the money raised would not be counted for at least a week. (Times Colonist, July 25, 2005, A 1) Malcolm Curtis wrote in August that “An estimated 20,000 people attended the July 23 event and donated more than $16,000...” He used the figure of $90,000 for the budget. (Times Colonist, August 5, 2005, B 1)
[See Luminara Part II at the end of the chapter for more details.]
In March, City Councillor Helen Hughes suggested council meet with the province to discuss changing the Park Trust. Her goal was to allow more non-profit events to take place in Beacon Hill Park. She saw the Trust as an impediment to public enjoyment of the park because it prohibits any commercialism in the park, including signs, banners, and collection of money. According to the Times Colonist, on April 7, councillors decided there was no need to change the Trust and did not vote on the issue. Counsellors Denise Savoie, Rob Fleming and Pam Madoff spoke against any change. Coun. Chris Coleman blamed interpretations of the Trust in the 1998 Supreme Court ruling. Mayor Alan Lowe said there was no need to change the Trust unless there was another court challenge and said the management plan--worked out through a long public Round Table process--may have to be revised to fit what Council decided for Luminara. Betty Gibbens pointed out allowing commercial banners and collecting donations at Luminara violated the terms of the Trust. (Times Colonist, April 12, 2005, B 2)
According to a Weekend Edition reporter, all seven councillors plus Mayor Lowe wanted to maintain the status quo. “I see no indication that the park is unmanageable under the trust. I’m not sure what going to the province would accomplish,” Coun. Denise Savoie said. Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe pointed out that Luminara was cancelled not because of the Trust but because of lack of sponsorship dollars. Coun. Pam Madoff said: “I think we’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t find Beacon Hill Park vibrant and enjoyable for a variety of activities.” She said an independent trust lawyer could explain to council what decisions on events were allowed. Lowe said: “If reason prevails in all decisions, we should be able to avoid the courts. If we get pushed and threatened with a lawsuit, I would go the other way and ask council to find clarity...” Rob Fleming said the exhaustive Round Table process “achieved a reasonableness” and should not be revisited so soon. (Victoria News, Weekend Edition, April 15, 2005, A 3)
Victoria residents agree on what is beautiful about the park but there is less agreement on how the park should be used. Two letters to the editor written during the Luminara controversy presented opposing views on what the nature of the park should be. Derek Rennie thought Beacon Hill Park was not a “true public park” because the main activity was “strolling.” Edmonton’s Hawrelak Park was an example of a “true public park,” in his opinion, because it has a 1000 seat amphitheatre and many scheduled events. Dee Dalton’s letter, on the other hand, supported “a bit of tranquillity with Mother Nature” and considered strolling in green space the ideal use of Beacon Hill Park. (Times Colonist, January 30, 2005, D 3)
These two views have been in conflict throughout the 113 years the city has been trustee of the park. Residents in favour of “improving” the park with a string of constructions, special uses and developments have historically included a large contingent of business, civic leaders and groups like the Chamber of Commerce. Recently, the Parks and Recreation Foundation was organized to further that viewpoint. Members of the Foundation board supported large events in the past, such as Great Canadian Picnic and the Times Colonist 10 K Run. In 2005, the Foundation supported a park interpretative centre, a new water spray facility, the Terry Fox statue and a future Emily Carr statue. [See later section on the Foundation]
Residents in favour of development do not usually believe the park is overused and do not consider the loss of natural ecosystems a priority. In fact, many who favour development consider the natural areas “ugly wasteland” in need of human constructions. In 2005, this viewpoint was represented in a letter to the editor which dismissed the more natural park areas as “mostly scrub land” not to be classified as “parkland” until they were developed. He wrote: “It’s time to either turn it into parkland or sell it off for development.” (Times Colonist, August 14, 2005, D 3) Major developments proposed in the past on park land included the Royal Jubilee Hospital, the provincial museum, the convention centre, an auditorium, a replica of the parthenon, a firehall, restaurants and tearooms, commercial golf links and many others. If constructed, they would have covered most of the park. [See Appendix B for a full list of developments proposed but not implemented.]
Opposing developments in the 1930s through the 1950s were the Local Council of Women and the Native Sons of Canada. The Beacon Hill Park Association was strong from 1971-1988 and the Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society has been active from 1989-2005. Generally, those groups worked to preserve open spaces, natural vegetation and wildlife. Their ideal park oasis does not include buildings, roads and commercial operations. In 2005, a letter writer called natural areas “the most valuable part of the park, more so than the playgrounds or the rose gardens...” (Times Colonist, August 18, 2005, A 13) The legal basis for opposition to development in every case, and the major reason defenders of the park were often successful, was the Beacon Hill Park Trust. [The Trust and key judicial rulings are discussed briefly in the next section. For more details, see Chapter 5, 1882 and 1884, Chapter 17, 1998 and “Legal documents, rulings, opinions” in the Index.]
For more than twenty years, Betty Gibbens has been a strong independent voice defending the park. She asks the City of Victoria, as Trustees of the park, to follow the letter and the spirit of the 1882 Park Trust and the two judicial rulings clarifying restrictions on use of the Beacon Hill Park.
She urges residents, staff and City Council to ask the following question when discussing any issue affecting the park: “What is best for the park?” Her answer to the question is crisp and clear: abide by the Park Trust and leave the park alone.
Gibbens tirelessly explains the park’s legal and historical background. The park was granted to the City of Victoria in trust to be “maintained and preserved... for the use recreation and enjoyment of the public” in 1882. The Park Trust was upheld and further defined in two landmark court rulings of Begbie and Wilson. Begbie concluded that the Park was not to be used “for general purposes of profit, or utility, however great the prospect of these may be.” Wilson agreed and described the true character of Beacon Hill Park as “a nature park with ornamental gardens and playing fields.” Wilson specifically stated advertising banners or signs, the collection of money or distribution of materials was against the law.
Gibbens demands City Council obey the law in order to preserve the park’s character, allow public access to every inch of the park, and exclude commercialism of any kind. She opposes current development proposals, including an interpretative centre and the new water spray facility. She is against erecting monuments or signs. She wants the park left alone. She points out the two private sport clubhouses, the maintenance yard and the Children’s Farm are in violation of the legal right of public access: “The public is supposed to have free access to every part of the Park.” [For more details, see topics listed under “Gibbens, Betty” in the Index.]
Great blue herons returned to Beacon Hill Park in early January, 2005. According to observer Ann-Lee Switzer, about 20 herons were near the nest trees on January 26.
On the morning of January 28, a Davey Tree Service truck with chipper-trailer was parked under the nest trees at Douglas and Avalon. Workers spent the day falling trees in and near the colony while disturbed herons circled above. On January 31, city workers installed yellow metal barriers which prevent parking under the trees during nesting season. This action seemed to signal park authorities were aware the herons were back. The barriers reduce possible disturbance of the colony by slamming car doors and other noise. Later that same day, however, two workers climbed the nest trees to trim branches with chainsaws. This work created the highest possible disturbance.
Abandonment of heron colonies as a result of human disturbances like tree falling has been amply documented. According to researchers Gebauer and Moul (2001): “Most heron colonies are extremely sensitive to human disturbance, particularly during the early stages of nest selection, nest building and pair formation...” (Martin B. Gebauer and Ian E. Moul, “Status of the Great Blue Heron in British Columbia,” B. C. Ministry of Environment, Wildlife Working Report # WR-102, March, 2001, p. 8-9)
Herons did not abandon the Beacon Hill Park colony this time, despite two days of machines attacking their trees. In the future, work should be scheduled to take place when the colony is empty. Those months are September through December.
Rhiannon Hamdi, leader of the heron discussion forum on the City of Victoria’s website, reported “heavy egg predation in March by the resident female eagle.” She counted “a total of 87 heron eggs” destroyed by the eagle from March 8 to March 31, “a very heavy toll.” The ground was littered with broken heron eggshells.
According to heron researchers Vennesland and Butler, the direction a shell is cracked indictates if a chick was eaten by another bird: “Avian predators typically open a heron egg by punching a hole along the long axis, whereas a hatched eggshell is perforated around the equator.” (Ross G. Vennesland and Robert W. Butler, “Factors Influencing Great Blue Heron Nesting Productivity on the Pacific Coast of Canada from 1998 to 1999,” Waterbirds 27 (3), 2004: 289-296)
On March 15, an adult eagle was observed hopping from nest to nest feasting on heron eggs in the park colony. However, none of the shells found on the ground under the park nests on March 15, 16 and 17 was split on the “long axis” by the eagle’s huge bill. About 12 to 15 eggshells were in small pieces while the three largely intact eggshells shown in the photo had large holes punched in one side.
In April and May, there were few eagle visits and Hamdi believes the “herons had an opportunity to make up for their losses.” The first recorded heron eggs hatched April 25.
Looking under the nest-trees provided evidence about was happening far above. Heron parents toss empty eggshells out of their nests after chicks struggle two days to emerge. The greenish-blue shells, slightly larger than chicken eggs, provide a time-line of events taking place out of sight. If the chick hatched normally and the shell is still damp inside, we can assume the egg was laid about 27 days before. Prior to laying, the egg took ten days to form inside the female.
Many heron chicks fall to their deaths each year. Females lay from 3 to 5 eggs and most nests contain more chicks than parents can feed. Some culling of overcrowded nests is natural and necessary. To maintain the current heron population, according to Robert W. Butler, author of The Great Blue Heron, each heron pair needs to raise an average of 1.5 young. (Times Colonist, March 23, 2004, B 1, B 3) As a general rule, we can expect 2 chicks per nest must die so that 1 or 2 can grow to adult size.
A newly hatched chick weighs only 50 grams (1.7 oz.), about the weight of l/3 of a medium apple. (Butler, Robert W., The Great Blue Heron. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997, p. 90) Dead chicks found under nest trees already show impressive growth at three or four weeks. After 60 days of non-stop feeding, young birds will have reached the full adult weight of 2,400 grams (over 5 lbs.) and have a wingspan of 2 metre (6 ft.). By the time they fly for the first time, they are likely to outweigh their parents.
Gardener Margaret Marsden reported fewer dead chicks found on the ground than in previous years. She had collected only one dead heron chick from under the nest trees by May 30, 2005, compared to eleven by May 18, 2004. By June 4, four dead chicks had been counted under the nest trees. Marsden observed a raccoon eating one of them. By June 23, the total of dead chicks was 22. The largest total of dead heron chicks Marsden collected from under the park nest trees on record was 30 in 2002. The photos above were taken May 17 by Norm Ringuette.
Asst. Supervisor Paul LeComte drove a young heron to WildArc in Metchosin for rehabilitation on July 4. The chick was found apparently unharmed on the ground. Most young birds falling from the high nests die on impact or are severely injured and cannot survive. Marsden and LeComte caught the heron by throwing a cloth over it.
Heron parents work hard to catch and deliver enough calories to their rapidly growing young. According to Butler, “Heron parents can supply the needs of two to three chicks, the average brood size in British Columbia.” Most small fish caught during the nesting season are gunnels, sculpins and shiner perch. The year’s best tides for heron fishing occur in May and June, when 7/10 of low tides occur in daylight. If adult herons nest early enough, this abundance coincides with the extra demand of growing chicks. (Butler, p. 90, 49, 55)
When chicks are small, parents regurgitate partially digested fish. By four weeks, chicks are large enough to lift and swallow whole fish dropped into the bottom of the nest. Some of the fish dropped into nests accidentally land on the ground, providing the opportunity to examine the prey species up close.
A nest inventory was completed by Trudy Chatwin, Rare and Endangered Species Biologist with the Ministry of Environment in Nanaimo and Rhiannon Hamdi on April 30, 2005. Hamdi reported “at least 102 nests, with 5 new nesting trees identified.” Three of the nests were constructed in cottonwood trees along Douglas Street near the wading pool for the first time. The foliage was so dense, it was impossible to view the birds high in those trees, though occasionally young could be heard. Hamdi reported “The first fledgling of the season flew over to Blair Island June 9, 2005.”
Trudy Chatwin reported in an October 6 email there were 103 active nests but the number of herons successfully fledged was not known.
The yellow metal barriers which prevent parking under the nest trees were removed July 21, just before the Luminara festival though a few juvenile herons were still in the nests above.
[More information on the heron colony can be found in two articles (a photo-story and a description of eagle attacks) and four chapters. In Chapter 16, the first recorded nest in the park is described in 1982 and nest totals are provided for 1988 and 1989. In Chapter 17, nest counts are listed for 1990, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 and semi-tame heron Henry is profiled in 1996. In Chapter 18, nesting data is listed for each year; a heron overview and behaviours are presented in 2000; eagle attacks described in 2001. In Chapter 19, interpretative signs are described in 2003 and more heron photos are provided in 2004.]
One of Beacon Hill Park’s two Bald eagle nests collapsed in January, 2005. The huge nest, high in a cottonwood tree on Douglas Street near Fountain Lake, was a prominent feature for many years. Park personnel did not knock it down; the nest gradually fell on its own, a few pieces at a time, according to Asst. Parks Supervisor Paul LeComte. (May 26, 2005 meeting) Bird watcher Rhiannon Hamdi states: “The cottonwood aerie collapsed in stages due to herons pilfering twigs for their own nests, lack of upkeep by the eagles & several powerful windstorms.” (May 5, 2005 email)
Local birder Roy Prior’s records show the eagles nested successfully four consecutive years at the cottonwood location, with the following number of fledged young: 1997, one; 1998, one; 1999, two; 2000, two.
Eagles have not nested in Beacon Hill Park since 2002. Though it is common for a mated pair to take one year off, three years in a row seemed to indicate they were too old to mate. Le Comte thought they had nested in the Park “at least twenty years.”
Though other wildlife observers, including eagle researcher Iain Jones of Simon Fraser University, report it is difficult to identify unbanded individual eagles, Rhiannon Hamdi claims after years of observation, she can tell the male and female resident park eagles apart. She believes the male adult eagle died:
The Beacon Hill eagles are going through a period of transition this year. The resident pair have been in the park for many years, and at some time over the winter months the male eagle appears to have passed on. He was displaying motor coordination problems last year such as losing his grip on branches, very poor landings, dropping prey, inability to lift prey, and had very disheveled plumage. He may have eaten something that contributed to his problems, or it could simply be the result of advanced old age. The female eagle is still very active and is regularly preying on the heron population.
For years, a large cottonwood in the Southeast Woods at Cook Street and Dallas Road has been a favourite winter perch of the park’s resident eagles. Cornelia and Kerry Lange have an excellent view of the area from their house on Cook Street; they recorded and photographed adult and juvenile eagles perched in trees at that corner from March to the middle of May, 2005. This photo taken by Kerry Lange shows an adult eating a fish high in a cottonwood.
Sometimes young eagles were seen with the adults at the Southeast Woods location. It is possible they were offspring from previous years. Iain Jones wrote: “Little is known about the social behaviour of eagles with their offspring or tolerance of others in their territory. It is one of the questions we are trying to clarify in my studies...” (May 16, 2005 email) Hamdi suggested the young eagles might be waiting to take over “a very rich territory.” According to Hamdi, “The hardest task for a young eagle is to find and secure a home territory with abundant prey and nesting areas. There are a lot of eagles on this part of the Island & competition for a home is fierce.”
Eagles were seen and heard in other areas of the park as well. On January 5, an adult perched on a sequoia near the Burns Monument on Circle Drive. Most spectacular were the attacks on the heron colony, as described above. One or more eagles hopped from heron nest to heron nest eating eggs; later, they returned to grab and eat heron chicks. [For more on this topic, see the article “Eagle Attacks on the Park Heron Colony.”]
A mature male Cooper’s hawk, “Black 4 over H,” made several efforts to nest in Beacon Hill Park in 2005. On April 23, hawk researcher Andy Stewart first reported him at an oak tree nest near the Heywood Avenue ball diamond with female “Red Z over 4." Stewart has banded over 1000 Cooper’s hawks in the last eleven years and keeps meticulous records of movements, nesting and behaviour. He knew the female had nested the previous four years in Saxe Point Park. He banded the male at Government House seven years before. Stewart’s description of Black 4 over H was admiring: “a handsome specimen with his dark red eye, black cap and slate grey back, typical of older males.” His leg identification bands are visible in this photo taken by Kerry Lange April 22 near the ball diamond.
The female, Red Z over 4, left the ball diamond area, moved to Government House and selected another mate. On May 9, Stewart noted she had begun her clutch there in a nest constructed within 10 metres of where Black 4 over H was born.
Black 4 over H remained in the ball field vicinity, awaiting another mate. Stewart noted a “lonely male” still there on May 3. On the morning of May 19, Stewart found him in a new location behind the Service Building near the children’s playground. Black 4 over H and a juvenile unbanded female had constructed a nest high in a large beech tree. On June 14, Stewart reported the female was incubating eggs. It looked hopeful until he found broken egg shells at the foot of the nest on June 23. Stewart concluded: “It looks like a raccoon, raven, or possibly a gray squirrel got into it.” It was too late in the season for the pair to start again.
Stewart reported sightings of three former Beacon Hill Park Cooper’s hawks. In previous years, all three hawks had nested near the wading pool at Douglas Street and Simcoe Street. On April 20, Stewart saw “Black 9 over Z,” a male who nested by the pool three years, at an Irving Park nest on Menzies Street in James Bay. That nest was soon abandoned. On June 4, Stewart noted “Red 4 over G,” a female who nested near the wading pool in 2003 and 2004, had constructed a nest with a new mate in a larch at St. Ann’s Academy in 2005. Stewart had banded her mate at a wading pool nest in 2002, but they were unrelated. (His mother was killed crashing into the glass panel in front of the Grand Pacific Hotel's water feature.) The St. Ann’s nest was successful and Stewart banded five chicks on June 15.
You can contribute to the hawk study by reporting all sightings of banded Cooper’s Hawks to Andy Stewart. If possible, record the band colour and code, date, time and location. Even if you are unable to determine the band code, band colour in itself provides very useful data. Contact: email@example.com
[More detailed information and photos of Cooper’s hawks can be found in several sections of this history. For more on the 2004 chick rescue, see Chapter 19. Hawk nests are described in Chapter 21, 2006 and Chapter 22, 2007. Chapter 23, 2008, includes photos and descriptions of adult hawks captured using a live owl decoy. For a detailed description of Andy Stewart’s research project, including photos and a map of nests in the region, click on the Articles section on the Beacon Hill Park History homepage, then on the first article listed under Wildlife titled “Passion for Hawks”.]
The seventh annual toast to Sir Winston Churchill took place Sunday, January 23, 2005 at the hawthorne tree he planted in 1929. The tree stands in Mayors Grove east of Arbutus Way and south of Southgate Street. Each year since 1999, Times Colonist reporter Les Leyne has publicized the commemoration. Again in 2005, Leyne invited readers to appear at 2 p.m. “To fondly remember and toast his career...Monday is the 40th anniversary of his death.” (Times Colonist, January 22, 2005, A 12)
An much older January tradition continued in another area of Beacon Hill Park. A brief ceremony was held at the Robbie Burns statue, across Circle Drive from the Children’s Farm, on January 30. Local Scots have attended this annual homage to the poet since the monument was installed in 1900. The Victoria Joint Scottish Council, consisting of more than a dozen local Scottish groups, organized the event in recent years. (Victoria News, February 2, 2005, A 9)
Invasive English Ivy (Hedera helix) is overwhelming large parts of the Southeast Woods of Beacon Hill Park. The photo above shows ivy covering the ground while below, ivy climbs trees to reach sunlight. Trees and other plants lose their leaves in winter. Not ivy. Hearty and relentless, it grows all year. (Photos by Cornelia Lange)
Jeff Ralph, currently a Masters Degree candidate in the University of Victoria’s Restoration of Natural Systems Program, initiated a long-term community project to remove invasive species from the Southeast Woods. According to Ralph, the native ecosystem “has been altered, is degraded and is well on its way to being destroyed.” Ivy is the main target, though Ralph’s information sheet listed other exotic species slated for removal: D. laurela, I. aquifolium, P. pratensis, Rananculus repens and Taraxacum officinale. “Their current presence occupies valuable space in the woods and the longer they remain, the greater chance of seed dispersal.”
From April 2 through September, volunteers met bimonthly for three-hour ivy removal work sessions. Beginning on October 1, work sessions were increased: volunteers meet every Saturday morning at 9 a.m. at the washroom at the corner of Dallas Road and Cook Street. The photo above left shows three volunteers donning gloves, vests and hard-hats provided by the Parks Department. From left to right are Janis Ringuette, Redner Jones and organizer Jeff Ralph. The second photo shows volunteers hard at work with tools loaned by the city for the project. (Photos by Norm Ringuette)
At a introductory public meeting June 12, 2005, Jeff Ralph explained the objectives of his project:
The Southeast Woods Ecological Restoration Project (SWERP) is a remedy to restore a natural system back to an urban public park. The project is also an attempt to educate and raise awareness about restoration and the importance of maintaining biodiversity by encouraging members of the community to actively participate in restoration activities. SWERP is an ecological and social restoration project that helps the land heal.
An official with Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 50, representing Parks Department workers, stated the union’s opposition to volunteers doing this work. Jeff Ralph and Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society Board members Helen Oldershaw and Roy Fletcher were asked to end the ivy pulling project the end of September. CUPE’s position is that volunteers are doing work that should be done by city workers. Until the 1990s, city workers were paid to maintain the more natural areas of the park by cutting back invasive species. Since the 1990's, Beacon Hill Park gardeners have been reduced from 12 to 4 and little staff time has been assigned to control invasive species.
"I want the project to continue because the biodiversity of the woods is severely threatened," Jeff Ralph explained. Without the project, he believes the Southeast Woods would become an "ivy desert."
Parks Manager Mike Leskiw encourages unpaid volunteers to do work formerly done by city workers. Parks Supervisor Bernard Hopcraft stated in a meeting on August 11, 2005, that he thought volunteers should organize to remove invasive species throughout Beacon Hill Park, citing the successful clearing of Scotch broom by volunteers in Mt. Tolmie Park, Saanich. On October 16, gardener Fred Hook mentioned a new volunteer community group was removing broom for the first time in Moss Rock Park that day. Community volunteers have been removing invasive species in Banfield Park since August.
This photo, taken October 1, 2005 by Norm Ringuette, shows ivy’s tenacity and resilience. The brown ivy leaves high on the tree are evidence the volunteer work party cut the vines and cleared ivy away from the tree a few months before, yet vigorous new ivy is growing once again up the tree. The sincere volunteer group has made a small dent in rampant ivy in one corner of a vast park. The ground and trees on the north side of Beacon Hill behind the Children’s Farm are covered with ivy as well; ivy is spreading on the east side of the Hill. Though Ralph remains hopeful, the monumental task of removing invasive species throughout the park will require more than the efforts of a small volunteer group.
In addition to ivy, volunteers in the Southeast Woods remove English holly, Himalayan blackberry and daphne. Daphne (Daphne laureola), shown on the right, is planted in many home gardens because it has fragrant blossoms and attractive green leaves, similar to rhododendron. Unfortunately, it is a highly toxic, extremely aggressive invasive plant. Birds spread the seed far and wide from private properties. Ethnobotanist Joe Percival warns daphne is a “menacing problem" and a major threat to Douglas fir ecosystems.
The City Council’s previous decision that no new annual large-scale sporting events would be allowed in the busy James Bay-Downtown-Beacon Hill Park area went out the window in January, 2005 when the Hudson’s Bay Company Foundation offered to contribute $20,000 to Victoria’s Canada Day celebrations if Council would allow a Bay Run to be held that day. The 10K Bay Run organizers wanted a route through Beacon Hill Park, just like the Times Colonist 10 K Run and the Royal Victoria Marathon. Council agreed. (A fourth annual race in the city, the Bastion Square Cycling Grand Prix, does not go through the park.) (Times Colonist, January 29, 2005 B 1)
Many James Bay residents were tired of their streets being blocked for hours. In April, reporter Russ Francis quoted James Bay Neighbourhood Environment Association Chairman Tim Van Alstine: “Can’t anybody in this town run in the north? They take one of the most constricted areas of the city and everything has to occur there.” (Monday Magazine, April 21-27, 2005, p. 5) A June ad for the Bay Run described running “through beautiful Beacon Hill Park, along the spectacular Dallas Road waterfront, and then back through James Bay.” (Times Colonist, June 26, 2005, F 7)
Publicity and promotions for the April 24 Times Colonist 10 Run began in February. Speaking in front of the Frontrunners store at Vancouver and View, the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Tom Gies said the race raised more than $350,000 for his organization during the last nine years. TC promotions manager Kathy Baan said the 2005 10 K run would be bigger and better than ever. (Times Colonist, February 15, 2005, C 1, C 2)
Advertising and sales are not permitted in Beacon Hill Park, so after years of controversy, the start and finish of the run were established outside the boundaries of Beacon Hill Park, where those restrictions do not apply. As shown on a map published in April, the new route began on Superior Street and ended at the Inner Harbour. More of the route was on park land than most people realized. Runners proceeded down Southgate Street (constructed on Beacon Hill Park land in 1957), turned south on Heywood Avenue (entirely on Beacon Hill Park land), then entered Circle Drive and curved west and south (an internal park roadway) to hit Dallas Road (a city street built on park land from Douglas Street to Cook Street). (Times Colonist, April 22, 2005, D 12)
11,218 runners entered the 2005 race, the highest total in 16 years. After much complaining about how awful moving the finish line from the park would be, “organizers were happy with the new itinerary” after all and one runner called it “awesome.” (Times Colonist, April 25, 2005, A 1)
The Friends of Beacon Hill Park were pleased the route was changed so the race no longer started and finished in the park:
The Friends concern with the event is the large numbers of people trampling the wildflowers...a few years back we lost a clump of the rare prairie violets this way. They were near the roadway at the bottom of the lookout road and the people coming and going from the all-weather field walked over them. (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society Newsletter, April, 2005, p. 6)
The Royal Victoria Marathon start line was at Menzies Street and Kingston Street on Sunday morning, October 9. Over 9,000 runners participated. Runner’s World Magazine ranks Victoria’s marathon as one of the top ten destination marathons in North America because of its seaside course. To the displeasure of some residents, roads in Beacon Hill Park were closed and Dallas Road from James Bay to Gonzales Beach was closed once again for six and a half hours, from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. (Times Colonist, October 6, 2005, D 12, October 9, 2005, C 1, October 11, 2005, D 1)
Two huge Garry oaks lying in a field called Heywood Meadow on the east side of the Park will remain in place as Wildlife Trees, according to Asst. Supervisor Paul LeComte. The left photo shows one of these giants lying between the central playground and Heywood Avenue. The right photo, taken further south, shows the downed tree behind a cedar fence constructed to protect newly planted replacement oaks. (Photos by Norm Ringuette)
Many months after they fell, the two oaks are still not labeled with distinctive yellow Wildlife Tree signs, but LeComte wrote: “Rob Hughes of the Arboriculture crew planned to put up signs in that area.” (Email, February 17, 2005) The signs are provided free to private and public property owners by the provincial government to encourage preserving dead and decaying trees for the use of many wildlife species. Wildlife trees are needed for nesting, food, shelter, roosting and perching.
Six Wildlife Tree signs were posted on dead trees in Beacon Hill Park in 1999 and are still in place. Volunteers removing ivy from trees in the Southeast Woods uncovered a long-hidden sign in May, 2005. The most noticeable Wildlife Tree sign is on a venerable old “bee tree” standing a few feet south of Southgate Street and west of the Heywood sports field. The large Garry oak stump, shown on the right, hosted an active bee hive for more than two decades before a mite epidemic killed the bees. [See Chapter 17, 1999 for more details]
Daffodils appear in camas meadows and other natural areas every spring. The photo below, taken on March 12, 2005, shows daffodils on the south slope of Beacon Hill. An introduced species, today’s daffodils are the legacy of forty years of mass bulb planting by Park Administrator W. H. Warren. From 1930 to 1970, the Parks Department enthusiastically planted tens of thousands of exotic daffodils in natural areas where, unfortunately, they competed with camas and other native plants. In 1960, Warren wrote: “We have no record of the varieties of daffodils naturalized in Beacon Hill Park. They came from many sources...Most are King Alfred...” (Park Files, Cook Street attic) Warren estimated there were 400,000 naturalized daffodils in the park in 1967.
Though 2005 was advertised as the 20th Anniversary of the Beacon Hill Children’s Farm, a farm has been in operation in the park for 32 years. Parks Department staff planned, built and operated the farm for the first twelve years until it was privatized in 1985. 2005 was the 20th anniversary of a private business operating on public park land.
The farm first opened June 16, 1973, under the name "Garry Oak Farm" in the same area east of the Circle Drive Parking Lot. Alex Johnston was the key staff person in the development of the farmyard. On his own time, Johnston traveled across Canada in 1971 to visit and learn from established children's farmyards in other cities. His slides provided the basis for discussion and planning of the Beacon Hill Park farmyard. The Farm stayed open four hours a day, four months a year, June to September, featuring animals loaned by local farmers. There was no admission charge or donation during the years the farm was run by the Parks Department. [See Chapter 15 for more background.]
In 2005, donations are solicited at the gate. People are encouraged to become “Friends of the Farm” for $25 and businesses are encouraged to donate. The “farm” displays more than common barnyard animals such as goats, sheep, chickens and rabbits. More exotic animals include a Sicilian miniature donkey, alpacas, emus and pot-bellied pigs. (James Bay Beacon, March, 2005, p. 18) The Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society refers to the operation as a “zoo” not a “farm” because exotic animals are displayed.
The daily “goat stampede” is shown on the left. Farm personnel encourage visitors to line the paths from barn to corral as they move the goats out in the morning and return them to the barn at the end of the day, making a fun event out of the daily moves. (Photo by Norm Ringuette)
In 2005, the farm opened on March 12 and closed October 11. Hours were 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in spring season (March 12 to April 30) and fall season (September 6 to October 11) and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in summer (May 1 to September 5), according to the “Beacon Hill Children’s Farm” brochure by Lynda Koenders. The farm stayed open late the night of the Luminara Lantern Festival, July 23, with the final “goat stampede” at 9:40 p.m.
Reisa Stone, a Victoria resident, was angry the albino peacock limped “around for two weeks” before action was taken. The Parks Department is responsible for the birds, the last remaining descendants of the original Beacon Hill Park Zoo (1889-1990), and supplies grain for the birds, which are not confined. Nevertheless, Stone thought farm personnel should have taken more responsibility since the peafowl live in and near their facility. She suggested the entire farmyard should be examined in light of the peacock incident. Mike Matthews, Parks Operations Manager, said he wouldn’t scrutinize the farmyard. “We don’t get involved, we’re not experts in that...We see their year-end statement and see the kind of vet fees they pay every year.” (Weekend Edition, August 19, 2005, A 2)
Lynda Koenders told Victoria News in August the farm was short $10,000 for the year. A 50% drop in spring school visits, an increase in feed and insurance fees, fewer major events in the park, and a overall reduction in visitors accounted for the shortfall. Instead of the usual 150,000 visitors during the seven month season, in the last few years it has been between 120,000 and 150,000. Koenders said the farm’s annual operating budget was $150,000. There were one full-time and eight part-time employees. Koenders said the Park Trust excluded advertising in the park, but “there’s got to be some way of recognizing our sponsors. It’s getting harder and harder to work around it...In 2006, I’m still here. But things may have to change in the future. It would be a shame to lose the farm.” (Victoria News, August 24, 2005, A 1, A 10)
Not everyone would be sorry to see the privately operated farm out of the public park. The Friends of Beacon Hill Park detailed problems with the farm in September, 2004:
The Petting Zoo continues to be problematic. It is now being run as a “non-profit society” but admission is by cash donation. There is therefore no control over what is done with the money coming in. Although the names on the “non-profit” society documents are different, the same people will be running it as they have been for the past twenty years. They also distribute brochures with advertising on them. First of all, no leaflets are to be distributed in the Park and, secondly, no advertising is to take place in the Park. (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society Newsletter, September, 2004, pp. 7, 8)
Betty Gibbens has long opposed the privately run farm. If it is not returned to management by Parks staff so that no money is collected in the park, she believes it should be operated outside the park. Collecting donations at the gate circumvents “the spirit and the letter of the trust,” Gibbens explained, “Unless the city budgets for the farm, using regular staff as before, it should be closed down.” (Times Colonist, April 15, 1987, A 4) The farm can, of course, be operated anywhere in the city as a private business using private land.
A letter to the editor lamented the death of the farm’s Zebu in August. The farm’s website explains a Zebu is a “unique, small cow that originated in India.” All Zebu cattle have humps. Petting farms typically feature a miniature version and Priscilla, the Victoria farm’s Zebu, was smaller than cattle usually seen wandering India’s cities. The writer thought Priscilla was “a big friendly cow with horns.” According to Amanda Kyffin, she “had been an animal friend of the farm for over ten years” when she died of heart disease on August 24. (Times Colonist, August 29, 2005 A 7)
Victoria’s famous hanging flower baskets have been prepared in the Beacon Hill Nursery, located in the southeast corner of Beacon Hill Park, since Park Administrator W. H. Warren initiated the project in 1937 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the city’s incorporation. Flower baskets hanging from the city’s signature light standards became a Victoria tradition and one of the best known features of the City. Baskets numbers have increased from 760 in 1937 to over 1300 in 2005. Norm Ringuette's photo above shows one of the spectacular baskets along the Inner Harbour.
In an effort to produce the most successful, showy baskets. Warren experimented each year with flower varieties, soil formulas and watering systems. One of his experiments lasted five years and is unlikely to be repeated. In 1964, Warren tried planting hanging baskets with spring daffodils which would be hung much earlier in the year at the end of February or early March. After a few weeks, the daffodils were replaced with a summer flower selection. In attempting to extend the hanging basket season, he doubled the work and cost. If weather was poor, the early flowers were not successful. 300 daffodil-filled hanging baskets were placed in downtown Victoria for the last time the end of February, 1968. The City has continued the successful one-time summer flowers ever since, still using Warren’s flower variety formula.
Planning, ordering, assessment, preparation and maintenance of flowers and hanging baskets is a year-round effort, according to an attractive new City of Victoria brochure titled “Hanging Baskets.” Seeds are sown in January through March. Since each basket will hold 25 plants, the nursery must nurture over 32,500 plants. Soil mixtures are prepared in April. “The first week of May a crew of six gardeners begin constructing... baskets, a process that takes approximately four weeks.” The baskets are lined with sphagnum moss and filled with soil to receive Geranium, Viscaria, Tagetes, Schizanthus, Lobelia, Petunia and Lamium plants.
Months of work at the nursery culminated in June, when the baskets were ready to hang on the city’s signature lampposts. “It takes about three-and-a-half days to hang them all,” Mike Matthews, Parks Operations Manager explained. After hanging, baskets must be watered between 4-7 times a week, depending on sun exposure. From 11 p.m. to 7:30 a.m., two workers drive dual-steer tank trucks carrying 2,250 litres of water. “Using a wand attached to a hose from a hydraulic pump, park staff give each basket 6.5 litres of water, containing a trace amount of fertilizer,” explained the city brochure. Flowers continue growing during the summer; a fully-grown basket “can weigh over 20 kg (45 lbs).”
Baskets are taken down in September. Soil and hardware are recycled, hardware is cleaned, seeds and moss ordered for the following year in October and November. And the cycle begins again.
In 2004, 1,070 hanging baskets were prepared in the Beacon Hill Park Nursery and City Council approved an additional 250 baskets for 2005. Among streets receiving additional baskets this year were Yates Street (65), View Street (40) and Government Street (34). (Times Colonist, February 13, 2005, B 2) Not only downtown streets received hanging baskets; 8 were hung in Beacon Hill Park on the west end of Circle Drive.
Victoria will enjoy 1500 hanging baskets in 2006, the highest total in city history. A false report in the Victoria News claimed Anchorage, Alaska beat Victoria handily by producing and hanging 5,800 baskets. (Victoria News, June 15, 2005, p. 1) When asked, Anchorage Parks & Recreation replied the city of Anchorage hung “1000 baskets.” Anchorage has a shorter season, so their baskets came down the first week of September, ahead of Victoria.
There was a large turnout on a sunny, warm April 23, 2005 for the 14th annual event called “Camas Day, A Celebration of the Garry Oak Habitat.” Wildflower walks were led by Brenda Beckwith, who teamed up with Chris Brayshaw, and Adolf Ceska. Tom Gillespie and Agnes Lynn led the bird walk at 9 a.m. A record fifty-seven people arrived for Grant Keddie’s archaeology walk at 11 a.m. and forty-seven at 1 p.m. Camas Day is jointly sponsored by the Friends of Beacon Hill Park and the Victoria Natural History Society every spring. Remarkably, three experts who led walks on the first Camas Day in 1992 were still volunteering in 2005: Dr. Adolf Ceska, Dr. Chris Brayshaw and Dr. Grant Keddie.
When asked what could be done to improve the health of the park’s camas meadows, the three noted botanists present on Beacon Hill for Camas Day--Dr. Adolf Ceska, Dr. Chris Brayshaw and Dr. Brenda Beckwith--offered perspectives and suggestions.
For the last 49 years, Dr. T. Christopher Brayshaw, Emeritus Curator of Botany at the Royal British Columbia Museum, has tracked camas decline. When he first arrived in Victoria in 1956, a breath-taking solid blue camas carpet stretched from the top of Beacon Hill to the shoreline. “I have watched the Camas becoming thinner year after year,” Brayshaw said sadly.
The May, 2005, photo on the right shows the faint blue of remnant camas in the distance, all that remains of former lush growth.
Compaction of the soil by foot traffic is a major problem for camas and damage is cumulative. Dr. Ceska and Dr. Beckwith agreed signs directing walkers to stay on designated paths are a necessary first step to limit more damage. Dr. Brayshaw hopes a lesson on carrying capacity was learned from Finlayson Point, where overuse reduced a verdant meadow area to dirt and weeds. “We should not confuse the right of use with the right to cause damage,” he cautioned. Dr. Brayshaw wants exotic trees and shrubs removed from the Hill, especially 110 pines planted by the city. They block views, deprive camas of sunlight and acidify the soil.
Maps of Beacon Hill Park’s rare native plants recently completed by Dr. Ceska will pinpoint sensitive areas for staff to avoid. Workers accidentally damage native plants and habitats during normal maintenance and development. Ceska advocates mowing schedules be changed “to support Camas” and Beckwith adds, “Some form of management needs to be found that would increase the productivity of the native wildflowers but negatively impact the introduced grasses.” The increasing density of exotic grasses could be discouraged by special mowing “or even small, prescribed burns.”
The University of Victoria’s Dr. Brenda Beckwith demonstrated in a five year study of the ethno-ecology of camas and oak-camas parklands that camas plants and bulbs respond to better care by growing larger and more vigorously. Beckwith attempted to replicate the work done by aboriginal women in their camas plots. She weeded, loosened the soil by digging and set late-summer fires to burn off vegetation. She found bulbs grew larger in a nursery environment. A few bulbs weighed over 100 grams and were the size of tangerines. It is probable those growing conditions better mimic indigenous harvesting beds than today’s neglected wild camas habitats.
In an April 25, 2005 email, Beckwith explained preserving and revitalizing the historically and culturally significant landscape on the south slope of Beacon Hill requires a “commitment on a long term scale.” Public education and awareness is a crucial component: "I think we need more Camas Days, more festivals that celebrate our native flora and cultural heritage in the park. People need a reason to feel excited about these ecosystems, rather than hearing about the doom and gloom of them. They need to want to care.” (E-mail, April 25, 2005)
Another crucial component encouraged by Beckwith is “The return of camas harvesting to the park by Lekwungen peoples,” a topic explored in the next section.
Cheryl Bryce, lands manager for the Songhees First Nation (Lekwungen), would like to harvest camas bulbs in Beacon Hill Park in future years. In this photo, Bryce is holding a traditional digging stick during a camas harvest at the University of Victoria, where she led the first community camas harvest in 150 years. The harvest was held June 22 on university land which was formerly part of her own family’s territory. Guests included neighbouring nations Tsartlip and Tsawout from the Saanich Peninsula and the Tseshaht from Port Alberni. Looking ahead to a possible park harvest, Parks Department employee Fred Hook attended the University of Victoria harvest as an observer. The harvest event was a partnership between the Songhees and the University of Victoria’s School of Environmental Studies. Pamela Tudge, an Environmental Studies student who organized the event with Bryce, believes harvesting could help restore camas ecosystems. (The Martlet, June 16, 2005, p. 4)
Bryce and her helpers, including her cousin Bradley Dick and many Songhees youths, dug a pit, lined it with rocks to hold the heat and started the fire shown in the photo below left, before leading people nearby to dig for camas bulbs. In the photo on the right, Dr. Nancy Turner stood with Cheryl Bryce and Bradley Dick as she explained how camas roots and vegetables would be placed in the pit first, followed by layers of salal and ferns. The last step was covering the pit with a tarp and shoveling dirt on top.
“Bryce has been collecting camas bulbs on Songhees reserve land in Esquimalt and on Chattam and Discovery Islands for about six years,” according to reporter Sheila Potter. Bryce hopes enough bulbs can eventually be harvested to supplement the Songhee’s diet, but reserve land is too small to produce the quantity needed. The University of Victoria event was the first harvest on land off the reserves. After the University, Beacon Hill Park might be the next harvest site; she is in negotiation with the city to use the park. Bryce is also interested in harvesting at Mt. Douglas and Mt. Tolmie. (Weekend Edition, July 1, 2005, C 1)
One problem to overcome in Beacon Hill Park will be numerous deadly poisonous white-flowered Death camas (zigadenus venenosus) plants, visible in this photo. Aboriginal workers were careful in the past to weed out Death camas every year before harvesting. Death camas has been growing unchecked in the park for more than one hundred years and is now widespread. Bryce planned to weed a selected area of Beacon Hill Park in 2005 in preparation for a future harvest.
In February, aboriginal burial cairns on the south slope of Beacon Hill were exposed for the first time in years after city workers cleared away dense thickets of Scotch broom and blackberry vines.
The boulder circles are historically important because they are remnants of prehistoric burial cairns which originally extended from the top of the Hill down the south-east slope. The cairns have been prominent features on the Hill for over three hundred years. It is likely they were constructed during the 18th century to bury victims of smallpox epidemics. The Coast Salish ancestors of the Songhees (Lekwungen) people constructed the cairns entirely by hand. Enormous effort and teamwork were required to move and position boulders weighing up to a ton. Completed cairns measured from one to ten metres across and were up to two metres high. “Beneath these cairns a body was usually placed in a shallow grave lined with stones,” explained Royal B. C. Museum archaeologist Dr. Grant Keddie, who has spent decades researching aboriginal history in the Victoria region. “Rocks of various sizes and dirt were placed over the body and then large boulders placed around or on top of this cluster.” (Grant Keddie, “Native Indian Use of Beacon Hill Park,” RBCM Notes, Note #14/88, ISSN 0838-598x)
In March, 2005, Songhees Indian Band office manager Jackie Albany emphasized that the Beacon Hill burial grounds are “sacred to the Songhees people and should be respected.” The city has never erected sign explaining the significance of the cairns and many residents and most visitors assume the boulders are unimportant “rock piles.”
Albany also said First Nations should be “consulted” concerning the site. The Beacon Hill Park Heritage Landscape Management Plan report recommended that as well. Presented to the City in May, 2004, the report stated: “Vegetation should be removed from the Aboriginal People’s Burial Cairns.” The report added: “First Nations should be consulted before this work is done.” (The Beacon Hill Park Heritage Landscape Management Plan, May, 2004, p. 71) Continuing a 162 year tradition of disrespect, First Nations were not consulted before broom and blackberries were removed in 2005.
At least twenty-three burial cairns were standing on the Hill when James Douglas arrived in 1843 to establish Fort Victoria. In 1858, white settlers excavated the largest grave, located at the top of Beacon Hill near the base of the present flagpole, revealing human remains wrapped in a cedar bark mat. Amateur archaeologist James Deans reported twenty-three cairns still visible on the Hill in 1877, but during the next twenty years, settlers moved most of the boulders. By the 1970's, many cairn boulders were scattered on the Hill. The latest and final desecration came in August, 1986, when a Parks Department work crew, apparently unaware of the boulders’ importance, cleared them off the south slope to facilitate mowing. Royal B. C. Museum archaeologist Dr. Grant Keddie directed a reconstruction of four cairns soon after. Though exact placement was arbitrary, he explained, “These cairn reconstructions resemble some of those observed in the 19th century.” [For more on the cairns, see Chapter 16, 1986 and the article “Aboriginal Burial Cairns Mistaken for Rock Piles.”]
Songhees Band office manager Jackie Albany’s third request was that First Nations people be "acknowledged" in the park. One sentence on a Finlayson Point monument, sandwiched between information about Roderick Finlayson and a gun emplacement, is currently the only acknowledgement of 1,000 years of native occupation and use of the land.
Several Scotch broom removal projects took place on Beacon Hill, inspired by a 2004-2005 Government of Canada Habitat Stewardship Program (HSP) federal grant of $13,700.00 received by the City of Victoria. The grant was “to support the conservation and recovery of species at risk and their habitats,” according to Dr. Michelle Gorman, Integrated Pest Management Coordinator for Parks, Recreation & Community Development. Gorman was the Project Coordinator for the grant monies. In order to receive the grant, the city was required to contribute at least an equal amount, either in money or in-kind labour. Gorman stated the city provided “$26,716.69 cash and in kind.” The project, which ran from April 2004 to March 2005, was titled “City of Victoria Native Plant Area Management Plan Development, Garry Oak Ecosystem Component of Beacon Hill Park.” (October 7, 2005 email) The federal-city cooperative effort was a result of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), which came into effect June 1, 2004. The purpose of SARA is to prevent wildlife species from becoming extinct and to provide for recovery of those in danger from human activity.
Gorman supervised broom and daphne removal on Beacon Hill "in a distinct area as outlined in the grant" on December 7, 8 and 9th, 2004. Prior to the work, Gorman walked the area with gardener Fred Hook, author of the "Beacon Hill Park Natural Areas Management Plan," outlining the areas with rare plants to be avoided. Gorman demonstrated to Beacon Hill staff Margaret Marsden, Pat Meechan, Mike Tench, Brian Turner and Albert Roderman the best way to remove broom: “Pencil size or smaller can be pulled by pulling straight up while larger broom was to be cut as close to the ground as possible and covered by leaf litter to reduce resprouting.” (October 11, 2005 email)
To impact the site as little as possible, the resulting piles of invasive plants were removed by carrying the material to light-weight gators, then unloading the gators to the trucks on the main road. Gorman reported seven one ton truckloads of broom and one ton truck load of Daphne were removed from the site. “For established invasive species...long term management is the key to success. That is why it is so important to have a Natural Areas Management Plan in place and develop long-term strategy from that," she said.
Gorman reported how the $13,700 federal grant money received by the city was used: "Botanical Inventory - $10,000.00; Project Manager - $450.00; Biologists expertise and time $2,000.00; Gardener time-$760.00; Biomass removal-$250.00; Equipment Costs and Supplies $240."
The City of Victoria's contribution was: "Biomass dumping $336.81; December Broom and Daphne removal $3,437.00; Seed Collection, Plant propagation $3,241.03; Collecting of the supplemental information to the botanical mapping and threats to significant native plants which entailed meeting with Friends of Beacon Hill Park, City staff from Planning and Parks, historical records, etc, $5,102.52; Compilation of the information into the draft Native Areas Management Plan including first set of internal staff review $10,208.48; Preliminary Photo Monitoring $1624.68. The remaining City costs were equipment costs (purchasing loppers, one digital camera, truck, chipper and other equipment costs) and potting medium, seed plugs, cold frame usage, and signage." (Email, October 11, 2005)
The aboriginal burial cairns broom removal in February was not conducted under the grant, Gorman explained. That was an additional effort by the city using some of the same crew trained in December. An additional broom clearing took place in August that she called a “hack-and-slash” at Fred Hook's request to reduce the amount of shaded area around trees. The late cutting and shredding of stems, when the plants are in summer heat stress, is a method recommended by Dave Polster, who presented a workshop on broom removal in Nanaimo.
Fred Hook described the August broom removal: “We chose areas...that had become pure or almost pure stands of broom" where a flail would be effective. "We tried to avoid harming fragile native material in these areas..." Polster had suggested "cutting broom at the hottest, driest part of the year and roughing up the stems would result in a fairly good kill by dehydration if the cut-and-cover method was not available.” Hook reasoned “the tearing action of the flail might work in this way and that it would be useful to do an initial, quick clearance. It's somewhat unsightly but may give some of the native species a chance to move back in.” (October 11, 2005 email)
The photos show the result was indeed "unsightly." On the left are shredded broom stems on the west side of Beacon Hill next to exposed garbage left lying on the ground. The second photo (above right) shows shredded broom stems in the foreground with a large clump of broom untouched in the background. Left untouched was the thick ten-foot high broom growing amongst Garry oaks directly behind the Children's Farm. The photo below shows this broom plantation behind the fence of the abandoned police horse exercise yard.
The Capital Region District Parks (CRD) conducted a major and successful effort to remove broom from Mill Hill Regional Park in 2005. The CRD used a team of trained employees and the latest techniques proven to be most effective. This meant workers “on their hands and knees with compound loppers, chopping the broom off just below ground level.” Staff cut and moved 20 metric tonnes of broom from the park under a grant from Wildlife Habitat Canada and with help from the Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team. (Times Colonist, June 3, 2005, B 1)
Park Supervisor Bernard Hopcraft told James Bay Beacon reporters in March that a new policy to eradicate broom from around Beacon Hill was in place and the first step in the new plan was removing broom and blackberries from around the burial cairns. (James Bay Beacon, April, 2005, p. 7) He didn't mention the December, 2004 broom removal, an earlier and noteworthy effort.
Another action taken under the Government of Canada Habitat Stewardship Program (HSP) federal grant was a native plant inventory done by Adolf and Oluna Ceska. Matching that inventory was another city contribution, an excellent report called “Beacon Hill Park Natural Areas Management Plan 2005," written by Parks Department gardener Fred Hook. The report focused on steps needed to preserve what is left of the park’s native plants, listing 12 comprehensive objectives. Actions to be undertaken in the future include an interpretative program, buffer zones, corridors, and modification of maintenance practices.
In addition to the broom removal and plant inventory, progress to date cited in the report included Fred Hook’s propagation of native plant species in the Beacon Hill Nursery, ivy removal by volunteers in the Southeast Woods (described in an earlier section), and staff education workshops described in the next section.
In an interview with Malcolm Curtis, Hook stated a network of informal paths through natural areas were destroying rare plants and “Soil compaction is killing those flowers.” In addition to damage by the public, Hook cited two other problems: invasive species crowded out native plants and park workers damaged native plants and habitat during maintenance. (Times Colonist, July 9, 2005, B 1) The three major threats to native plant species listed by Hook were the same threats identified by botanists Ceska, Brayshaw, Beckwith and Fairbarns.
In a personal conversation on June 22, Hook stated he would like to set small controlled burns in the park, necessary to kill orchard grass, but has not been able to convince the Parks Department. Fall burning was an effective land management practice used by aboriginal people. It promoted the growth of preferred plant species and shaped the landscape by eliminating all shrubs. The grass in Beacon Hill Park would have to be de-thatched first so it would not burn too hot. Small burns have been carried out effectively in Oregon using small blowtorches.
Two workshops to educate staff, funded by a 2005-2006 Government of Canada Habitat Stewardship Program (HSP), were held in Beacon Hill Park in 2005. According to Carolyn Masson, the outreach specialist of the Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team who organized the meetings, the purpose was “to address the need to protect species at risk associated with Garry oak ecosystems.”
The first workshop, held on May 11, was a field session led by rare plants expert Matt Fairbarns of Aruncus Consulting. About 15 parks staff attended, including supervisors, gardeners and equipment operators plus four members of the Friends of Beacon Hill Park. Fairbarns focused on rare species identification, locations of plants, threats and harm reduction strategies. The second workshop on November 9 was a follow-up classroom session with the same goal of educating staff. Federal funds paid for the workshops; the City of Victoria's matching contribution was providing the staff time for the training.
Fairbarns pointed out “a number of rare plants are in serious decline and will likely disappear if the level of recreational use remains level or increases” and many other rare plants have already been lost. Two other major threats to rare plants are invasive plants and park management practices. To alleviate the first two threats, he advocated raising public awareness about rare plants and removing invasive shrubs from meadow habitats. The workshops focused directly on park operations. Their purpose was “Providing staff with training and tools to ensure that park operations do not threaten populations of native plants.”
Three photos show truck damage to a valuable camas meadow over time. The original damage occurred in October, 2003, when a huge truck bringing replacement chips to the central playground bumped over the curb near the south side of the playing field on Heywood Avenue, drove up the hill and past the Sport Hut to the central playground, a very long distance. The photo on the top left, taken by N. Ringuette on November 19, 2003, documented the damage a month after the heavy truck compacted the meadow. Park staff said the damage would “repair itself.” The photo on the top right, taken on April 28, 2004, shows the same area the following spring, six months later. Camas and other wildflowers did not grow in the truck tracks. The last photo, taken May 11, 2005, proves the camas did not recover even after nineteen months.
In early March, 2005, a truck backed off the roadway onto soil softened by heavy rains to dump the chips for the pathway along Arbutus Way south of Southgate, creating wide and deep ruts in the meadow near the trail which were not repaired. The photo also reveals the chips were spread carelessly over the grass far past the trail’s boundaries. On March 16, tracks of a large truck with a wide wheelbase were visible across the north side meadow of Beacon Hill. The truck left the Hill road and cut straight up to the flagpole by driving across the camas meadow. No private trucks of that size go up Beacon Hill; all indications are it was a city truck.
City workers continue to drive pickups and other vehicles on Heywood Meadow on a daily basis. On November 3, a large city truck pulling a leaf vac trailer drove across Heywood meadow, which has been identified as an important Garry oak-camas area to be protected and enhanced. The soil, softened by heavy fall rains, was particularly vulnerable to compaction; damage to native plants, such as camas, is extreme in wet conditions. Instead of driving around on asphalt roads, the heavy truck took a short-cut across the meadow from Arbutus Way, driving east of the Sport Hut and the Service Building to reach Park Way.
After more than fifteen months, over 33 meetings of the Dogs in Parks Committee and rounds of public consultation, a plan was developed by the city to expand the number of parks in which dogs would be allowed off leash by six on June 1, 2005. Citizen Canine, a dog owners advocacy group, fiercely pressured City Council for more off-leash areas until Council amended its animal control bylaw. [See Chapter 19 for details on the issue in 2003 and 2004]
Prior to the new plan, the only off-leash area in Victoria was south of Dallas Road from Douglas Street to Clover Point. Dog owners meeting and running their dogs by the thousands at this one location resulted in extreme overuse of the shore area of Beacon Hill Park at Finlayson Point. The former verdant meadow of grass and native wildflowers was completely destroyed, the soil compacted and pitted with holes. This photo, taken in 2004 at Finlayson Point, shows the damage. Many dog owners claimed Dallas Road was overused because there were no other off-leash alternatives. They claimed that opening up other parks would relieve the pressure on that area.
Unfortunately, by September, the number of dogs and dog owners at the Dallas Road location had not declined even though Oswald, Arbutus, Victoria West, Alexander, Redfern and Gonzales Beach parks were open to off-leash dogs. Malcolm Curtis reported: “There has been little detectable change to the use of the Dallas Road area.” Coun. Chris Coleman said Dallas Road had become a regional destination for dog owners. (Times Colonist, September 10, 2005, C 1)
All dogs--unleashed and leashed--were excluded from one small zone in Beacon Hill Park under the heron colony trees. The sign in this photo shows a map of the restricted area posted in July near the heron nests. An earlier map of the planned no-dog zone showed a much larger area, including the west side of Goodacre Lake. (Victoria News, February 16, 2005, A 8) Pro-dog reporter Russ Francis quoted the Parks Department rationale for the exclusion in a report to Council: “The area is a sensitive nesting place for one of the largest Blue heron colonies on Vancouver Island.” Four councillors voted for the no-dog zone but Mayor Alan Lowe thought dogs didn’t bother the herons. Francis wrote: “The ban will do absolutely nothing for the birds...I have yet to discover a single reason for this ban.” (Monday Magazine, February 17-23, 2005, p. 5)
The city produced a sprightly coloured brochure titled “Paws in Parks” to explain the dogs in parks program and new rules to the public. Photos of seven incredibly friendly-looking dogs illustrated the brochure. A black and white insert listed off-leash hours in the eight city parks. Newspaper ads announced areas and times, as well. (Times Colonist, June 3, 2005, B 3)
The city and local musicians union sponsored two series of weekly performances again in 2005. Saturday Jazz in the Park began July 2, with the last performance on August 27. Sunday in the Park Concerts began June 5 and continued until September 18.
Most popular were Friday afternoons Seniors Concert in the Park Series, beginning with the 35 piece Naden Concert Band on June 17. There is always good attendance for performers like Borgy and Friends and Trombones to Go, but no group out-draws the Naden Band with that audience. The Naden Stage Band played to a full park August 12. The last show of the series was September 16.
Other musical highlights at the bandshell in 2005 included the Celtic Music Celebration on Father’s Day, June 19. Daniel Lapp and the B.C. Fiddle Orchestra performed to a large crowd. The Sweet Adelines 60th Anniversary celebration on July 13 featured the 45 member all-female group, ranging in age from 19 to 80. To help them celebrate the anniversary, which was scheduled on International Barbershop Day, the male group called the Village Squires sang as well.
Two summer dancing series were held at the bandshell: Scottish Country Dancing in the Park on Thursdays, Folk Dancing in the Park Series on Fridays. (Outdoor Concerts and Events, Cameron Bandshell, Beacon Hill Park, City of Victoria brochure, Summer, 2005) New dancing events this year, missing from the city’s brochure, were lessons by Passion for Tango every other Wednesday in July and August.
A huge crowd of 500 turned up to see The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, the first of three B Film Festival Saturday night films presented at the Cameron Bandshell in August. The film started at 9:15 p.m. on August 6. Over 400 people came to the second film on August 13, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. The final presentation was Marijuana on August 20. The event was extremely well organized. Portable lights were stationed at the ends of bench rows; the projection from behind the screen provided an excellent image and the sound system was also excellent. A city staff person was on hand to politely but firmly explain to a man holding a pile of advertising that Beacon Hill Park’s no-commercialism restrictions prohibits handing out handbills.
Donovan Aikman, programmer for the Victoria Independent Film and Video Festival, said “We try to focus on the kind of movies that are goofy, campy and weird, and that are friendly to everyone.” The films are presented in cooperation with the City of Victoria. Sue McKay, city recreation coordinator, said “Our intent is for the bandshell to be used for a variety of purposes.” (Vic News, Weekend Edition, July 1, 2005, C 3)
There were eight awnings set up in front of the Cameron Bandshell for the Aga Khan Foundation’s 21st annual World Partnership Walk on May 29. At least three hundred people were present at 1 p.m. to enjoy entertainment on the stage and lunch on the lawn. It was a multi-cultural event sponsored by the Aga Khan Foundation, with a global poverty focus. “Global Village” signs were prominent and t-shirts saying “Walk the walk, change the world.” The walk raises money to finance initiatives to reduce poverty in Asia and Africa.
A Saint Jean Baptiste Day Celebration on Friday evening, June 24, featured the Naden Concert Band and les Cornouillers Folk Dancers. French was the dominant language on stage and in the audience. The organizers were apparently unaware of restrictions against advertising and sales in the park. Along with the Francophone Society sign on stage was a sign advertising the event sponsor, Bingo Palace. During the concert, a table with the sign "Association des ecrivains de la Colombre Britannique" and "Ventes de livres" sold French language books under an awning.
Restored British cars and motorcycles were parked once again on park grass south of the cricket pitch. The 21st annual British Car and Motorcycle Picnic took place on Father's Day, June 19. The event, promoted by the British Motor Car Club and Bristol Motors, attracted a huge crowd. British cars taking part in the show were driven over the grass and chip paths, then parked all over the field. The crowd followed their lead, driving and parking their cars on park grass too. An asphalt parking area like Ogden Point would be a more appropriate venue for cars.
City staff informed the club they must find another venue in the future in order to comply with park guidelines. A protest petition was organized by wrathful car buffs. CH Television's 5 p.m. News blamed “a small group of opponents called the Friends of Beacon Hill Park” for wanting the event out of the park. The newscaster stated 2000 people signed a petition to keep the cars on park lawns, and this petition will be taken to City Council. Some residents sent fierce emails to park staff. One irate letter to the editor from Douglas Henderson sneered at “some pen-pushing pettifogging clerk at the parks board” who “issued a fiat...decreeing” the car show must be held elsewhere. “Just who are these people anyway...?” he sneered, “Will the ducks be forced to wear soft footwear?” (Times Colonist, July 15, 2005, A 19)
It is likely the staff recommendations based on legal restrictions of park use and a management plan for the park worked out over years of meetings will be once again be overturned by City Council after vehement presentations by the British car enthusiasts.
The 62nd annual Swiftsure Yacht Race and the first-time Tall Ships Festival brought thousands of spectators to Beacon Hill Park and the Dallas Road waterfront. Swiftsure began on May 28 off Clover Point with 220 sailboats entered in six races. Crowds stretched along the waterfront to witness the starts of various races. First to start were boats entered in the Swiftsure Lightship Classic, the longest run to Swiftsure Bank. Other boats were entered in shorter distance races, from the closest turnaround at Pedder Bay, to Clallam Bay and Neah Bay. The Fairfield Community Centre served pancake breakfasts on Clover Point for the 23rd year.
The second offshore event bringing large crowds to the Dallas Road waterfront was the Victoria Tall Ships Festival, June 23 to 26, 2005. Crowds were large, but not as large as the 100,000 estimated in February. A "parade of sail" along the shoreline by more than two dozen schooners, brigs, ketches, barques and yawls began the festival. The Russian ship Pallada was by far the largest, at 356 feet long and masts 160 feet tall. The 270 foot Mexican ship Cuauhtemoc was also an impressive size. (Times Colonist, "Tall Shipping News," June 21, 2005)
Hundreds of people sitting on Beacon Hill for the scheduled 7 p.m. mock cannon battle June 24 between the Lady Washington (used in the film Pirates of the Caribbean) and the Lynx were disappointed. The first night’s battle took place out of sight when high winds forced action far from shore. On June 26, however, the third and last battle night was calm and the ships were close to shore, with the best views from Holland Point and the Ogden Point breakwater. To create realistic flashes, bangs and smoke, the ships cannons shoot a mixture of gunpowder and Bisquick wrapped in foil.
A letter to the editor from Steve Chatwin questioned the practice of sinking old ships and planes in the ocean to provide enjoyment for scuba divers. Noting those in favour of sinking wrecks claim they “provide habitat for fish and increase biological diversity,” Chatwin made this tongue in cheek suggestion: “...if we scattered old car bodies throughout Beacon Hill Park, we could also increase biological diversity, as rodents and birds occupied the new habitat.” (Times Colonist, June 27, 2005, A 7)
At the top of the Parks, Recreation and Community Development hierarchy is Director Donna Atkinson. Her background is recreation; she bounces park operation questions and concerns to the next level of management. Manager, Parks Division is Mike Leskiw; Manager, Parks Operations is Mike Matthews; Joe Daly is Manager of Research, Planning and Design.
Reporting to Leskiw is Supervisor of Parks Operation Bernard Hopcraft. Hopcraft and Asst. Supervisor Paul LeComte are responsible for horticulture in all city areas. These include: James Bay-Fairfield (Beacon Hill Park, Clover Point, Holland Point, MacDonald Park and many smaller parks), Downtown (City Hall, Victoria Conference Centre), Uptown (Stradacona, Crystal Pool, Cecelia Ravine) and Songhees (Vic. West, Selkirk, Railyards and Hillside). In addition to these vast areas, the horticulture team is responsible for floral displays in many other locations, such as medians and intersections, the Inner Harbour and the Police Station. Large areas of park land have recently been added without increasing city staff to do the work; increasing the number of hanging baskets by 250 in 2005 and another 250 in 2006 means a higher workload for the same staff of 18.
Hopcraft and LeComte work out of offices in the Service Building located in the central area of Beacon Hill Park, but their focus is city wide. No administrator is assigned exclusively to Beacon Hill Park.
While use of the park has increased with the increase in population of the Victoria area, resources to maintain and enhance the park have been consistently cut. In 2005, four full-time gardeners and one full-time mower are assigned to Beacon Hill Park, the lowest number in history.
Twelve full-time staff plus a Supervisor (formerly called a Foreman) and a full-time Caretaker (who lived and worked in the park) were assigned to Beacon Hill Park in 1969, according to Parks Administrator W. H. Warren. (CRS 108, 12 F 5, file 5, “Report of the Park Administrator, 1969) During summer months, an extra ten workers were employed, bringing the total to 20-22. That level of staffing continued from 1950 into the 1990s, according to experienced gardeners on staff today. Ornamental areas were kept to a higher standard and staff time was assigned to maintaining the more natural areas and consistently combat invasive species. In 2005, the remaining four gardeners spend their limited hours almost exclusively in the ornamental areas, ignoring undeveloped areas.
Hopcraft said all city gardeners have passed the provincial trade horticulture exam to qualify as Trades Gardeners, a category recognized by the Province and equivalent to a horticulture degree. New gardeners hired will be required to have higher qualifications than in the past, he said. Both Hopcraft and Le Comte praised the leadership of Mike Leskiw, who encouraged staff to specialize and upgrade. Leskiw would like to build up city expertise in arboriculture, as did Saanich Parks, with the goal being an experienced team and two city bucket trucks. Hopcraft said Leskiw was interested in horticulture and his goal was “a culture of horticulture excellence in Victoria.”
There are three categories of city horticulture workers: permanent, regular seasonal (workers receive benefits) and auxiliary (they are paid 11% more in lieu of benefits). October 1 ended current assignments of seasonal and auxiliary workers, but they can be on call for extra work cleaning up leaves along boulevards, according to Hopcraft.
It is a rare sight to see two female Parks Department gardeners working together in Beacon Hill Park. This is because only five out of eighteen city gardeners were female in 2005. In this June 7, 2005 photo, Margaret Marsden, the only female Parks Department gardener who is permanent and full-time, works on the right. Lee Stempski, an auxiliary worker not assigned to the park regularly, rakes on the left.
For most of Parks Department history, the number of female staff, both inside and outside, was zero. Parks Administrator W. H. Warren kept his department an all-male preserve during his forty year reign from 1930 to 1970; even the secretaries were male. (The situation is reversed today: there are no male secretaries. Lower-echelon office workers are invariably female, in the Parks Department and elsewhere.)
Warren’s successor, Cliff Bate, hired the first female Parks Department secretary, Clara Rickman, in December, 1974 and announced to City Council he intended to employ women outside and in the plant nursery. In England, he explained, “Female bedding-out crews work in the parks.” A newspaper account of the meeting noted this response: “Aldermen hooted with male chauvinist laughter.” (Victoria Daily Times, January 23, 1975, p. 17)
In recent years, 60-70% of the students graduating from the Camosun College horticulture program at the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific in recent years were female, according to program instructors. This indicates a large pool of trained female gardeners are available in Victoria. In an August 11 meeting, Hopcraft stated females are given no preference in hiring despite the historical imbalance. Male and female applicants are judged equally on qualifications and experience.
Underground sprinkling systems are being installed in the park’s ornamental areas, at last freeing workers from the time-consuming and back-breaking task of positioning hoses. According to Parks Supervisor Bernard Hopcraft, irrigation systems would be installed gradually and would be completed in about four years. The first underground irrigation was installed at Mile Zero in February, 2005.
In April, sprinklers were installed in the beds east of Rose Lake. In May and June, a sprinkler system went in the raised beds along Park Way. On May 30, work began installing water pipes in the Circle Garden near the central restroom, as shown in the photo on the left.
With only four gardeners left to take care of the entire park, some long-standing exotic flower beds have been reduced in size or eliminated.
The perennial garden area a few metres south of the Cameron Bandshell was reduced in size. The cedar fence was moved in on the north side; on the south side, the bed was narrowed by converting several metres to grass. The new grass area shows up bright green in this N. Ringuette photo.
Four large rose beds were eliminated in the rose garden near Queen’s Lake and replaced by grass. The brighter green in this N. Ringuette photo reveals the significant reduction.
At least one flower display area has been entirely eliminated. The left photo shows the bright ornamental flower bed bordering Bridge Way before it was removed in 2004. The August, 2005 photo on the right shows the same location, minus the beauty and colour.
Another plan to reduce staff work is to plant more drought tolerant native species in ornamental areas. Supervisor of Parks Operation Bernard Hopcraft and Asst. Supervisor Paul LeComte explained in a May interview that more native species to be used throughout the park. Rock Rose (Cystis) is one shrub used more extensively now because it can survive without watering once established. Herbs such as Rosemary and Sage are also drought resistant. Some plants from the Royal B. C. Museum have been propagated and the Beacon Hill Nursery has been growing native plants.
Mile Zero floral displays were improved by integrating native and exotic plants this year. Old Mugo pine and juniper were removed and an arbutus was planted, LeComte said, and he hopes to plant two more arbutus later. After an initial one or two years of watering, Hopcraft expects the new native plants will survive in drought conditions. A larger investment at the site could not be justified because of the possibility of future development, he explained. Before work began at Mile Zero, the Parks Department invited Dr. T. Christopher Brayshaw and other Friends of Beacon Hill Park board members to Mile Zero for an update and discussion of native species. Friends Treasurer Roy Fletcher was told by Mike Mathews that a special fund was available to pay for Mile Zero work.
Unfortunately, some of the new plants were destroyed when a taxi driver experienced a “medical emergency” and hit the Mile Zero sign about 7:15 a.m. October 1. “The cab damaged the Mile Zero stonework and struck several parked cars.” (Times Colonist, October 3, 2005, C 2) Damage was quickly repaired in time for the unveiling of the Fox Statue October 8. [See the segment ahead on the Fox statue.]
Two large Windmill Palm trees (Trachycarpus fortunei) were placed in the rock planters at Park Way and Circle Drive in April. Park workers dug them up at the donor’s residence and used a crane to move them. Two smaller palms were planted in the ornamental garden area along the path near Rose Lake. According to garden adviser Helen Chestnut they “thrive in sites in full sun to part shade, in fertile, well-drained soil...Cold hardiness increases greatly with a palm’s age...and size.” (Times Colonist, May 17, 2005, C 5)
Planted grass had not thrived in the deep shade under the coniferous trees next to Chestnut Row and the Burns Monument. In May, the area was covered with compost and planted with shade-loving, drought-resistant native Sword ferns. (See photo below) This was the first of many areas in the centre of the park to be changed from poor grass to compost and native plants. [Note: The process of transforming shaded areas in this way continued from 2005 through 2012. Native plants such as salal, Oregon grape and Red currant were planted as well as Sword ferns. Boulders were added for effect. The result was a major positive change in the centre park area, though few visitors seemed to notice.]
In a August 11 meeting, Asst. Supervisor Paul LeComte stated the improvement in Goodacre Lake water clarity and decreased algae growth in 2005 was the result of applying Alum. He explained Aluminum Sulfate (Alum) is effective in clearing muddy water caused by colloidal clays, which do not settle out readily. Alum can also reduce the pH and alkalinity of pond water, both continuing problems in the Goodacre Lake system. A motor was used to disperse Alum over most of Goodacre Lake. The only lake area not sprayed was near the heron colony because it was feared motor noise would disrupt nesting. That area of the lake showed rampant algae growth while the rest of the lake was clear, which could indicate Alum was effective, though the extreme shallowness of that area near the herons could also be a factor.
LeComte also credits the aerators, pumps and bubblers installed in previous years for improving Goodacre Lake. They operate 24 hrs a day to increase the oxygen level and help improve water quality. The Parks Department is considering trying a new green technology called Coherent Water Resonator, which might increase oxygen levels in the Goodacre Lake system more than aerators. The Resonator seems to be the only plan to solve the ongoing water quality problem in the Circle Drive lake system.
Though Beacon Hill Park staff are stretched thin and overworked, they regularly take time out to rescue wildlife.
On May 26, Assistant Supervisor Paul LeComte and gardener Margaret Marsden were called to save eight or nine mallard ducklings trapped in the storm drain leading from Goodacre Lake at Arbutus Way. With Marsden holding his feet, LeComte lay down and stretched far enough to scoop the ducklings out with an improvised tool, a plant flat. (The rescue operation unfortunately damaged his nice shirt.)
Marsden wrapped a baby raccoon in a blanket for LeComte to deliver to WildArc in Metchosin on May 30. The long drive to the animal rehabilitation centre consumes valuable staff hours. LeComte was on the road again to deliver a young heron found on the ground under the heron nest trees on July 4. It was Marsden’s turn to drive a peacock to WildArc the end of July. Staff received reports of a limping albino peacock which might have been hit by a car. The vet at WildArc x-rayed the bird’s infected foot and amputated a toe. The peacock was kept overnight in Metchosin and Marsden returned to fetch him in the morning. She delivered him to the Children’s Farm barn where he was kept to receive a regimen of antibiotics and painkillers. Marsden said putting the medicine in food didn’t work and they had to pry open its bill. A later news story stated the albino peacock was “almost 20 years old” and received painkillers for four days and antibiotics for seven days after the surgery. Marcia Koenders, a private business person operating the Children’s Farm said, “He’s probably got a permanent limp.” (Vic News Weekend Edition, August 19, 2005, A 2)
“A good place to begin any urban foraging expedition in Victoria would be Beacon Hill Park,” reporter Jason Youmans wrote in a July Monday Magazine article promoting the gathering of wild food. Though picking or digging any plants is prohibited in city, regional, provincial and national parks, readers were encouraged to dig up camas bulbs and harvest fawn lilies. The endangered Garry oak ecosystem was presented as an open harvest opportunity. The article also suggested eating rabbits, squirrels, geese and ducks, though not “shitbirds” like crows and gulls. (Monday Magazine, “Eating Out,” July 21-27, 2005, p. 7)
In a letter responding to the foraging article, Kathryn Martell pointed out native plants should not be harvested in Beacon Hill Park or any other public park, nor should they be harvested anywhere by novices. She noted the park “still contains populations of several threatened or endangered species” and said the newspaper should not encourage people to harvest in sensitive habitats. “Groups like the Friends of Beacon Hill Park are working hard to protect and restore, native plants in our natural areas.” Unfortunately, her corrective letter was not printed until September. (Monday Magazine, September 1-7, 2005, p. 6)
Police discovered the largest campsite in park history on the east side of Beacon Hill in August when responding to a stabbing incident. An estimated 8 to 10 people had been using a site in the trees southeast of the Children’s Farm for a long period. Camping gear, garbage, stolen goods and tools were strewn and piled amongst Garry oaks and bushes. Crystal meth and other drugs plus six bicycles stripped of parts were found. Police Const. John Musicco explained people high on crystal meth like to strip down and rebuild stolen bicycles. There was evidence of campfires in the tinder-dry area. (Times Colonist, August 7, 2005, B 1) Park staff cleaned up garbage, blankets and clothing after police hauled away the stolen items, which included large numbers of CDs and CD players, and numerous backpacks and chopped-up bikes. (Times Colonist, August 9, 2005, A 1)
Two fire trucks responded to a grass and brush fire on the east side of Beacon Hill opposite the totem pole on August 9, roughly in the same area as the large encampment. On television, a fire fighter offered the opinions that it was “deliberately set...perhaps by squatters,” and “Someone doesn’t like us.” (A Channel 5 p.m. News, August 9, 2005) This photo, taken by Norm Ringuette on August 10, shows the fire damage and leftover camp garbage. Parks staff quickly mowed the nearby meadow.
After an another knife incident in Beacon Hill Park on August 15, Police Const. Rick Anthony said: “We’re going to try to increase some patrols down there and have a little more high visibility and high presence.” (Times Colonist, August 18, 2005, B 2)
Once parks staff began looking, many hidden camps were found along the Dallas Road waterfront. Cook Street residents reported a camp in the Southeast Woods. Camps were discovered in other public areas in the city, including Cecilia Ravine Park, Cridge Park, Central Park, the Galloping Goose trail and under the Point Ellice Bridge. Al Cunningham, Assistant Supervisor, said city staff hauled away truckloads of debris, including used needles and mattresses. (Times Colonist, August 12, 2005 A 1) He explained homeless people pushed out of the downtown have “no place to go” and thus end up in city parks. (A Channel, 5 p.m. News)
In an August 11 interview, Park Supervisor Bernard Hopcraft said several camps found along Dallas Road had been occupied long-term. One camp had six levels going down the steep cliff. He guessed that as one level space got filled with garbage and feces, the campers moved down to another space, beat back the bushes and set up a new camp. Hopcraft said park gardeners should not have to focus on the serious and growing problem of homelessness in the Victoria region. He pointed out drugs, addictions, the need for affordable housing and more help for marginalized people were societal issues. However, Hopcraft said park workers would clean up all the garbage, patrol regularly, and make it clear camping would not be tolerated. Action was clearly needed to deter campers. Beacon Hill Park, located one block from the city’s downtown, was a particularly attractive campsite.
The number and size of illegal squatter camps in Beacon Hill Park increased during the seven month period when no staff person patrolled the more natural areas. Asst. Supervisor Al Cunningham, who had walked through those areas every morning checking for campers and picking up garbage, was “assigned to other duties” in January, 2005. Not only were no workers checking half the park on a regular basis, the Police Department and the Parks Department did not often share information. Parks Manager Mike Leskiw said in a June 29, 2005 meeting that when police respond to a call in Beacon Hill Park, the Parks Department is not informed unless equipment or structures are damaged. By August, it was clear leaving the more natural areas unprotected would not work and Cunningham was back doing the essential job of checking favorite camping spots, rousting sleepers and walking the dense bush honeycombed with trails. (Times Colonist, August 19, 2005, A 1, A 2)
Camping, garbage and vandalism have been problems since the City of Victoria took control of Beacon Hill Park in 1882. In the past, the city paid people to patrol the park day and night to help visitors, prevent vandalism, pick up garbage and roust campers. A Park Keeper or Caretaker lived and worked in the park from 1886 until 1970, when the position was eliminated. From 1940 to 1970, a park worker was assigned full time to check natural areas. From 1947 to 1964, commissionaires policed the park at night on contract with the city. In 1956, the night patrol was increased to two men; another man was added in 1963 to patrol during daylight. In 1964, a private security guard company took over the contract for a few years, but the commissionaires got the contract again in 1972. Police officers on horseback patrolled the park during summer months from 1984 through 2001. These specific examples show the need for patrols was recognized and met in various ways in past decades. There has been no patrol in recent years.
More natural areas need care, former Park Administrator W. H. Warren (1930-1970) constantly told the public and civic leaders, and that required money and staff time. In March, 1955, he explained the necessity of constantly battling invasive species, picking up garbage and caring for the “wild areas” of Beacon Hill Park:
"Thousands are spent annually just maintaining the natural appearance of the wild areas, cutting hay in the summer, keeping Himalaya Blackberries and other aggressive exotic plants in check, pruning and renovating dead trees and shrubs. Not least of our activities is removal of bottles, paper and debris and garbage deliberately brought into the park and dumped in the bushes...This keeps one man busy most of the year...The amount of work involved in maintaining this park is not generally appreciated.” He estimated 45% of labour was devoted to Ornamental areas, while Trees and Natural areas used 29%. "(CRS 108, 12 F 5, file 4, “Report of the Park Administrator, 1954)
Again, in his 1960 Annual Report, Warren explained the value of the park’s “wild” areas and the care needed:
"The open areas which are wild, or seemingly wild...take far more care to keep that way than meets the eye...They give Beacon Hill the charm which characterizes this lovely park. We owe a debt to those in the past who fought for the preservation of the park in its natural state and who stood up against encroachment. "(CRS 108, 12 F 5, file 4, “Report of the Park Administrator, 1960)
On September 14, Asst. Supervisor Al Cunningham was attacked by a camper during “his usual morning check...for illegal campers and drug paraphernalia left behind at unauthorized campsites,” according to reporter Kim Westad. When Cunningham woke a man sleeping near the Children’s Farm, told him to leave and photographed his campsite, the camper grabbed a pitchfork out of the city truck and stabbed Cunningham in the stomach before running away. (Times Colonist, September 15, 2005, B 2) On September 29, Cunningham was shown on Victoria CH Television clearing camper material off the porch of the cricket pavilion in Beacon Hill Park. “We will try to be as sympathetic as we can but we can’t allow campers in our parks,” he said.
A group of up to thirty campers gathered at St. Ann’s Academy grounds, north of Beacon Hill Park from September 23 to October 5. They explained to the media that there was nowhere in Victoria where it was legal to sleep outside. “Being able to sleep should be a right, not just a privilege for people who can afford it,” one camper stated. During the day, all public areas and parks are open for use; at night, all are closed. The camp at St. Ann’s was organized to support David Johnston, on trial after being arrested many times for sleeping on St. Ann’s Academy grounds during the forbidden hours of 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Johnston believed he has a right to sleep on public land. (Victoria News, September 28, 2005, A 1, A 10)
David Lowther, who identified himself as “a former inhabitant of Beacon Hill Park” suggested a solution in a letter to the editor: “Establish a camping zone on municipal land, somewhere convenient to the users. Put in portable facilities and a water source and maybe even a picnic table or two. Then tell our homeless that this is an acceptable place to go, that if they camp there they will not be moved without cause.” (Times Colonist, August 26, 2005, A 17)
An injunction was issued October 4 forbidding anyone from being on the St. Ann’s grounds from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Some campers told reporter Louise Dickson they planned to move on to Beacon Hill Park. Camper Sebastian Matte said if they move to the park, they will probably face another injunction in a week. “Then we’ll move on...to another park and another park...” (Times Colonist, October 5, 2005, C 1) In December, ten people set up camp on the Beacon Hill Park’s Douglas Street all-weather playing field, blocking the wind with cardboard placed on a ball diamond backstop and starting a fire in a trash can. The Victoria Fire Department arrived to extinguish the fire while police arrested one man and moved the group out. (Times Colonist, December 6, 2005, B 2)
There are approximately 700 homeless people in Victoria, but less than 100 beds available at emergency shelters throughout the city, according to Don McTavish, Manager of Shelters for the Victoria Cool Aid Society. (The Martlet, September 29, 2005, p. 3) With no beds available and no camping locations acceptable to authorities, the endless parade from park to church ground to park will continue.
Victoria Police Department Sgt. Todd Wellman, of the Targeted Policing Division-Core, extended invitations to a select group of “stakeholders” and organizations to a meeting August 17, 2005 to “brainstorm some solutions regarding the sexual activity in the south/east area of Beacon Hill Park/ Dallas Rd.” Prior to the meeting, Wellman stated this goal: “I am hoping to facilitate some thoughtful process... towards creating a safer, cleaner, more enjoyable area of the park for everyone.”
After the meeting, Victoria’s “A Channel” television 5 and 6 o’clock newcasts led with the story. With a pleasant park view in the background, the voice-over stated ominously that “100 metres away” from the “idyllic scene” was the “park’s dirty little secret” of “prostitution” and “illicit sex” in the southeast corner of the park. Helen Oldershaw, Chairperson of the Friends of Beacon Hill Park, said on camera that her group has been concerned about the problem for “at least 15 years...One thing that is needed is more police patrols.” Sgt. Todd Wellman appeared on camera with Erik Ages of AIDS Vancouver Island. Wellman said the police responded to formal and informal complaints by conducting night surveillance of the southeast corner. “Issues in Beacon Hill Park tend to ebb and flow,” he said. Ages stated the meeting consensus was that “The park is considered a safe place to be...We will work together to make sure it stays that way.” Wellman said: “We are beginning a process.” Actions could include “Police presence, education through AVI and the media, and environmental changes.” One meeting a month was planned. (A Channel news, August 17, 2005)
In many respects, media coverage was eerily similar to 1989 and 1990. Immediately connecting gay sex to “safety” issues skewed the discussion. No gay man has attacked anyone in Beacon Hill Park history; people walking in the park have never been in danger from gay men. Indicating prostitution was a major problem was also misleading. Sexual activity in the woods is overwhelmingly noncommercial and between adults. Those participating want secrecy and privacy, not publicity and trouble. [See Chapter 16, 1989 and Chapter 17, 1990]
A second meeting on September 15 included a different mix of people. Action discussed was litter patrols, the volunteer ivy pull, and a daytime police presence. Under consideration was extending the Cook Street fence to the washrooms at Dallas Road and closing some of the many unofficial trails into the Southeast Woods. No further meeting dates were set.
Two cyclists from Courtenay, B. C. arrived at Mile Zero in Beacon Hill Park on August 24 after pedaling 8,000 kilometres from the east coast. Maxine Parnych and David Livingstone left St. John’s 15 weeks earlier. They raised $5,000 for the B.C. Lung Association. (Times Colonist, August 25, 2005, B 2)
A Beacon Hill Park map for the visually impaired was launched in the park on Saturday, September 10. “The map uses a combination of Braille print and textures that suggest certain colours to help blind park users enjoy their surroundings,” Brennan Clarke reported. The map was produced by the Tactile Colour Communication Society with funding from the City of Victoria and the United Way. The Society is working on a similar map of the City of Victoria to be completed in October. The society’s founder, Lois Lawrie, is a printer and graphic artist who lost her sight in 1991. (Victoria News, September 14, 2005, A 7) The large photo of the map printed by the Times Colonist revealed the names of the two largest lakes in the park, Goodacre Lake and Fountain Lake, were reversed. (Times Colonist, September 11, 2005, p. B 2)
The Pacific Northwest Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) held a three-day September convention in Victoria titled “The Value of Trees.” The group used Beacon Hill Park for two days of tree-climbing competition and demonstrations. (Times Colonist, September 22, 2005, D 3) Two Board members of the Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society, Agnes Lynn and Helen Oldershaw, guided the arborists to notable trees in the park. Lynn reported the group was impressed or surprised by many park trees, among them a California nutmeg (Torreya nucifera) located near the putting green and the Burns Monument. The arborists noted weed-eater damage to tree bark. Weed-eaters are machines used by staff to cut grass and weeds around trees which often hit the trees. Arborists also spotted fungus growth at the bases of some trees, another result of park maintenance. Sprinklers watering lawns nearby keep the bark unnaturally wet all year.
A life-size statue of one-legged runner Terry Fox was unveiled on October 8, 2005 at Mile Zero, a triangular piece of Beacon Hill Park land at the junction of Dallas Road and Douglas Street. The statue was composed of “more than 20 pieces of bronze weighing about 226 kilograms.” Speaking at the event were Mayor Alan Lowe, Terry’s brother Darrell and friend Doug Alward, and an emotional Frontrunners Footwear store owner Rob Reid, who had proposed the statue and paid $50,000 for it. Also present were Coun. Chris Coleman, sculptor Nathan Scott and about 300 onlookers. (Times Colonist, October 9, 2005, C 1)
The statue was erected at Mile Zero just in time for the October 9, 2005 Royal Victoria Marathon. Over 9,000 participants ran by the corner the day after the statue was unveiled. Rob Reid, the businessman responsible for the statue, was also race director for the marathon. “Terry ran 143 marathons back-to-back and it was a magical moment having all the runners race by his statue. It was quite inspiring for me,” he said. (Times Colonist, October 11, 2005, D 1)
Reid proposed the statue to honour Fox in April. His original plan was to erect the statue at Mile Zero on September 16, the 25th anniversary of the beginning of Fox’s 1980 Marathon of Hope campaign. Reid gave an emotional pitch: “His spirit is everywhere...he was such a selfless human being who died for the cause he believed in.” Fox had to stop his run after an impressive 5,376 kilometres in Thunder Bay, Ontario when cancer spread to his lungs. Fox died soon after. (Victoria News, April 27, 2005, A 3)
City Councillor Chris Coleman hoped “red tape” could be cut to speed up the project and meet the tight deadline. Mayor Alan Lowe agreed, calling Fox a national “icon.” City Council fast-tracked the statue of the dead hero, giving it unanimous approval in principle in May. (Times Colonist, May 20, 2005, B 10) In June, Reid promised council he would pay for the monument himself, estimated to cost between $20,000 and $50,000, and got final approval for the project. (Times Colonist, June 14, 2005, B 1) In July, Nathan Scott’s design was chosen, based on a maquette 45 centimetres high. To meet the time deadline, Scott planned to create a life-sized version out of clay in three weeks, which would allow six weeks for the bronzing process. (Times Colonist, July 7, 2005, B 1)
Schools across the country were expected to participate in a special Terry Fox Run to mark the 25th anniversary on September 16. The event would be televised live nationally in a two-hour special on CBC Newsworld, anchored in Victoria by Peter Mansbridge. (Times Colonist, July 7, 2005, B 1) A local television station claimed it would be the largest event in Canadian history. (Channel 12, 5 p.m. News, June 13, 2005) By August, plans had changed. The CBC lockout canceled The National. Instead, a Vancouver based independent company, Out to See Productions, would tape the event and air it on CBC later that evening. (Times Colonist, August 25, 2005, B 1)
A ceremony and celebration was held on September 16 at Clover Point with Dallas Road closed from Cook Street to Memorial Crescent. There was a good reason the event was not held at Mile Zero. Dangerous congestion is a constant problem at the busy Douglas Street and Dallas Road intersection. Tourist buses cause dangerous traffic jams all summer; crowds of tourists wander heedlessly across Dallas Road. A smaller crowd attended the Mile Zero unveiling ceremony in October, but even so, it spilled out into Douglas Street, blocking one lane of traffic.
From the time it was first proposed in April, the Fox statue hurtled toward approval. Cutting “red tape” meant avoiding a careful evaluation and consultation process. Unfortunately, at least two important issues were ignored. First, there was no opportunity for council to consider alternatives to the site. The Fox statue added another attraction to a traffic island marooned between two busy city streets; little parking is available in the area. Some residents have sensibly suggested moving the Mile Zero marker to Ogden Point, a huge area with ample space for crowds, cars and buses. Two October letters to the editor suggested moving the Fox statue to the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. (Times Colonist, October 24, 2005, A 9 and October 31, 2005, A 11)
Second, the comprehensive Beacon Hill Park Management Plan was ignored. All other new installations--signs, monuments, structures--were on hold until the management plan was completed. In development since 2000, the process was set in motion by City Council to guide future decisions. In an expensive 2004 report, heritage consultants hired by the City of Victoria specifically recommended to City Council that “insertion of a new monument” should always be considered a “major intervention” and therefore, a careful selection process should be followed. (Beacon Hill Park Heritage Landscape Management Plan September, 2004, p. 61-62) The report recommended that new park markers and monuments be considered only if they have “direct historical and/or geographical relevance to the Park” and if the design and materials are “high in quality.”
Independent citizen Betty Gibbens reminded City Council: “A Beacon Hill Park management plan is in the works. In the meantime, it would be better to postpone new projects...” Gibbens was one of the few Victorians who dared suggest the statue should be located elsewhere: “I do not think that any stone memorial is appropriate for Beacon Hill Park, far less a precedent-setting 10-12 ft. wall or statue at Mile Zero as proposed. It would be out of place with the Park’s character: “a nature park with ornamental garden and playing fields.” She noted a tribute to Fox was already included on the Steve Fonyo memorial at Mile Zero. “A better solution from the viewpoint of Beacon Hill Park itself would be to remove all man-made objects from Mile Zero and relocate them outside the Park...and reconnect that meadow with the remainder of the Park.” (June 9, 2005 letter to council)
Current monuments and markers located in the park are a strange and motley collection because no evaluation policies and procedures have been established. Many monuments have no relation to the park, the city or even the country. Many are ugly, with the 1985 monument at Mile Zero commemorating Steve Fonyo’s one-legged run across Canada a prime example. The plaque, mounted on a graceless slab of ugly concrete, explains that Fonyo completed the grueling run by dipping his artificial leg into the ocean below Douglas Street and Dallas Road. Using the criteria set out by the heritage consultants to evaluate that monument, it is clear the direct historical relevance requirement would be met by the Fonyo monument but definitely not the requirement that “design” and “materials” are “high in quality.” The prominent Mile Zero sign itself, first erected in 1958 by the Canadian Automobile Association, is the only permanent advertisement for a private company in the park and is in direct violation of the Park Trust and two B.C. Supreme Court rulings which specifically prohibit commercialism of any kind in the park, including banners and signs. Nevertheless, the city allowed the company to replace it in 1982, once again prominently displaying the corporate name.
According to reporter Russ Francis, the Parks and Recreation Foundation of Victoria (PRFV) was founded in October, 1993 by then City Councillor David McLean and current City Councillor Chris Coleman. Donations to various city projects are funneled through the business-friendly PRFV. Francis quoted Chris Coleman explanation of the role of the Foundation: “It’s arm’s length from the city, but it works in partnership with it.” Francis questioned the propriety of the organization using the Parks Department office mailing address, 633 Pandora Avenue, as its own. He suggested the first move should be to “Turf them out of taxpayer-funded property, order senior city managers to stop working on foundation projects and remove the foundations link on the city’s website.”
Councillor Denise Savoie said: “I want to ensure that the priorities that come forward from the city are those established by the elected representatives of the taxpayers, and not by self-appointed officials. The foundation should either be run by an independent board, or not. If they were independent, it would preclude these connections with the city.”(Monday Magazine, September 1-7, 2005, p. 5.)
The PRFV is certainly on more friendly terms with park staff than the Friends of Beacon Hill Park, another non-profit society concerned with the park. It is unlikely the Friends would be welcome to use city park offices as a mailing address. However, the city website is quite inclusive: there are links to the Friends website as well as to this Beacon Hill Park History.
Members of the Parks Foundation are pro-development and have been pro-large events taking place in Beacon Hill Park. The group is currently promoting an Emily Carr statue and a new Beacon Hill Park Water Spray Facility. [See separate sections below.] Boundaries between the city and the Foundation were blurry from the start. Some residents believe the Foundation was established to work behind the scenes for what conservative councillors and city management wanted accomplished.
Francis, a tenacious muck-raker, continued the attack in the following weeks. He noted the Parks Department’s “unusual relationship with what is supposed to be a separate, charitable organization.” He stated the two were “much too close for comfort, sharing the same address, the use of department staff and webspace...” and “it smells to high heaven that councillor Chris Coleman--and, in the past, other city councillors--are directors of the foundation at the same time that they vote as councillors about giving public funds to projects backed by this private organization.” (Monday Magazine, September 8-14, 2005, p. 5)
Former City Councillor David McLean, now Chair of the Parks and Recreation Foundation, responded in an upbeat letter to Monday Magazine. He cheerily claimed that “fiction writer” Francis had missed some facts. He awarded credit to the Foundation for opening up the St. Ann’s corridor to Beacon Hill Park and used the opportunity to solicit donations for a City Council approved new Water Spray Park project in Beacon Hill Park. (Monday Magazine, September 29-October 5, 2005, p. 3)
In May, the James Bay Beacon provided an update on the proposed Emily Carr statue, which some residents hope will be installed in Beacon Hill Park. Reporters Gordon and Ann-Lee Switzer interviewed Parks Foundation (VPRF) Chairman David McLean about the “Emily Carr Statue Fund” managed by the Foundation. Of the estimated $200,000 needed for the statue, the total raised by May, 2005 was under $1000. McLean said the VPRF had been concentrating on a new water spray facility in Beacon Hill Park. (James Bay Beacon, May, 2005, p. 4)
A year before, the Beacon described a 38 cm. maquette of Emily Carr displayed at the Central Library. The design by Edmonton sculptor Barbara Paterson presented Emily seated on a rock with sketch-pad in hand, looking at her pet monkey, Woo. The maquette was a model for the future 360 kg. larger-than-life size statue. (James Bay Beacon, July, 2004, p. 6)
Emily Carr House Curator Jan Ross had hoped the $200,000 would be raised in time for Emily Carr’s 133 birthday on December 13, 2004. That didn’t happen. The Beacon reported in 2005 that Emily Carr House had almost raised enough money to purchase the 38-cm high bronze maquette. They planned to use the model to promote the statue project and display the maquette in the garden of Emily Carr house on Government Street. (James Bay Beacon, May, 2005, p. 4)
Fund-raising for the statue actually began on June 24, 2002, when Coun. Pam Madoff accepted the first donation for the statue from G. T. Edwards on the 75th anniversary of Carr’s exhibit in Ottawa in 1927. A 2003 Times Colonist editorial favoured a site in Beacon Hill Park for the statue. The newspaper reminded readers that Emily lived nearby, played in the Park as a child and painted there as an adult: “She could be happy there, again.” Other statue location options were the Art Gallery of Great Victoria, the Central Library or the Emily Carr House on Government Street. (Times Colonist, September 19, 2003, A 14)
There is already one Emily Carr monument in Beacon Hill Park. The “Emily Carr Memorial Foot Bridge” was officially opened in February, 1953 by Emily’s sister Alice Carr, who donated $1,000 for the bridge. The concrete and stone footbridge at Douglas Street near Avalon replaced an old wooden bridge crossing the stream coming from Fountain Lake to Goodacre Lake. Stones used in the bridge were collected from a nearby beach on Dallas Road.
A small plaque, mounted on the north side of the footbridge, states: “To the memory of my sister, M. Emily Carr, Canadian artist and writer. Born Victoria, B. C. December 13, 1871. Died March 3, 1945. Alice M. Carr.” According to the Victoria Daily Times, “It is set in one of the late artists’s favorite spots in the park, and it was there she spent many of her leisure hours.” (Victoria Daily Times, Feb. 13, 1953, p. 14) Betty Gibbens suggested that the Emily Carr statue should be placed elsewhere because “a single edifice to Emily Carr in Beacon Hill Park should suffice.”
On September 11, ethnobotanist Joe Percival led a walk and talk called “Amidst Camas and Broom” in Beacon Hill Park sponsored by the Sierra Club of Canada, B. C. Chapter. “Beacon Hill Park Trees and Birds” was the title of a field trip sponsored by the Friends of Beacon Hill Park on October 16 and led by Agnes Lynn.
University of Victoria hosted the “New Balance Vikes International” cross-country meet in Beacon Hill Park on October 15. Once again, the runners started on the all-weather soccer field at Douglas and Dallas Road, then raced up the west side of Beacon Hill to traverse sensitive native plant meadows. Friends of Beacon Hill Park Board member Roy Fletcher noted cross-country courses across sensitive meadows are no longer allowed at Mt. Tolmie and Mt. Douglas in Saanich.
Compaction of soil and damage to native plants is particularly severe when the soil is soft from fall rains. Concern has been expressed for years about the cumulative damage caused by fall cross-country events. After botanist Dr. Adolf Ceska viewed the meadow damage in 1990, he stated: “They trampled it like a herd of elephants.” Fifteen years later, the runs continue on the meadows.
Mile Zero provided the title for a new television soap opera set in Victoria. The Mile Zero sign, located in Beacon Hill Park at the junction of Dallas Road and Douglas Street, was shown three times in the photo montage beginning of the show, but the action took place elsewhere in Victoria. The first pilot episode was aired on Shaw TV Channel 11, Victoria on October 15 and 22 and the second episode appeared October 16 and 23.
The two (and only) episodes were completed by the end of September and the “world premiere” was held at the Empress October 6. Keith Norbury, editor of the Victoria News attended and liked the show. He wrote: “It has a good Victoria storyline that mines the city’s deep veins of political humour...” (Victoria News, October 12, 2005, A 7)
Whether the show sells or not, it received a great deal of local publicity. In June, the Times Colonist published a huge photo of the “creative team” next to Beacon Hill Park’s Mile Zero sign. In the accompanying article, Reid called the show “an edgy new Canadian drama series with a tagline that cheekily exclaims 'Victoria is a soap opera.'” (Times Colonist, June 27, 2005, D 1)
The Beacon Hill Park aviary was filled with bird sounds from November 5 to December 4, 2005. The temporary sound installation by University of Victoria fine arts graduate Jamie Drouin was titled “lucid dreams of 48 birds.” The 1981 slaughter of forty-eight birds in the aviary by an unknown assailant was his inspiration. Drouin was a 12 year old Victoria resident at the time; he never forgot it.
Drouin explained the exhibition “quietly reflects upon the murders, and reinvigorates the aviary purely through sound.” Visitors walking around the building hear “five different soundworks,” from recognizable bird calls to synthesized sounds of movement inside the cages. (November 2, 2005 email) The sounds emanated from speakers positioned in each of the structure’s five-cells. The aviary, shown in the above photo by Jamie Drouin, is located close to the Stone Bridge below a large eagle nest.
Drouin received a $5,000 grant from the B.C. Arts Council to create the project. The installation of loudspeakers was approved by City Council on August 11, 2005. (Times Colonist, August 13, 2005, A 2) An article by Jennifer McLarty described the planned experience:
"As listeners walk around the ornate metal cage, they’ll hear field recordings of actual birds, synthesized versions and sounds from the structure itself to create an evolving composition that fades in and out of hearing range." (Weekend Edition, August 19, 2005, A 1, A 2)
The exhibition received more media coverage in August than when it was actually in operation. Many visitors walking by the aviary in November were unaware of the project. The low volume bird sounds were barely audible from the Stone Bridge; the small sign describing the artist's concept could only be read standing next to the fence.
“I'm ok with a portion of the public missing it entirely,” Drouin said philosophically. “It's a good metaphor for how we overlook many experiences in our day...I’m reasonably pleased with how it has turned out. There is a purity to the piece.” (November 5 & 6, 2005 e-mails)
After the 1981 massacre, the aviary stood empty for almost a year while an alarm system, lighting and heating were installed. In July, 1982, Park Superintendent Alex Johnston asked the public to donate birds to refill the aviary; by August, “budgies, canaries, doves and cockatiels filled the cages.” The aviary was permanently closed in 1991. [See Chapter 16, 1981, for more details]
The old Kiwanis wading pool site at Douglas Street and Circle Drive was selected as the site for the new Beacon Hill Park Water Play Area. An Implementation Committee, organized and chaired by Joe Daly, City of Victoria Manager of Research, Planning and Design, made the choice at its first meeting on November 9, 2005. City Council, on the advice of Park Staff, had previously narrowed the choices to the old wading pool site or a central park location near the playground.
An optimistic time-line would see the facility opening in late June, 2006. The budget for the project is $351,000. The old concrete wading pool will be removed and the new facility built close by with the same “footprint.” The site requires construction of a washroom, which will be shared with Children’s Farm visitors, users of nearby soccer fields and other visitors.
The water play area will use vast amounts of water which will be drained or pumped into the Goodacre Lake system. In 2005, evaporation and other water loss from the lake system was replaced by running a well pump 24 hours a day from spring through fall. Current plans would replace the well water with water from the play area.
The wading pool site was chosen for many reasons. Historically, it has been a water play area since the Kiwanis wading pool was constructed in 1925; the site will not increase traffic through the centre of the park; ample parking is available nearby, including 159 spaces in the main lot and 25 diagonal parking on Douglas Street; it is near a bus stop.
The Implementation Committee includes Coun. Chris Coleman (both a Councillor and a member of the Parks Foundation), plus representatives from Recreation Services, the Advisory Design Panel, Fairfield Community Association, Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society, Garry Oak Ecosystem Recovery Team, Harbourside Rotary, James Bay Neighbourhood Environment Committee, James Bay Community School Centre, Parks Foundation, the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Advisory Committee, and the Public Art Advisory Committee. The schedule indicates the committee will meet again in January and February.
Joe Daly presented a list of Design Principles to be incorporated into the new play area. It should be creative and artful, educational, interactive, interesting in all seasons, use quality materials and construction, reuse wastewater, and be safe and fun. Daly stated he would advertise for designs based on those principles.
The new water play facility got a boost on September 14, 2005 with the announcement by the Rotary Club of Victoria--Harbourside of a $100,000 funding contribution toward the construction of a new water spray play facility for children in Beacon Hill Park. A few days later, in a two-page Times Colonist advertising feature celebrating the club’s 25th anniversary, the Harbourside Rotary group stated: “The $100,000 we have committed leverages the investment being made by the Victoria Parks and Recreation Foundation and the City of Victoria.” The group saw the water play park project as “a lasting legacy project” which would provide “visibility for Rotary long after the anniversary has passed.” (Times Colonist, September 18, 2005, p. A 6, A 7)
Long-time Parks Department gardener Fred Hook took on the newly created position of Environmental Technician on October 30. Hook has a special interest in native plants, which he has propagated for years in the Beacon Hill Park Nursery. He is the author of the “Beacon Hill Park Natural Areas Management Plan 2005," which outlined steps needed to preserve what is left of the park’s native plants.
The posting for the position of Environmental Technician listed a daunting number of major responsibilities including researching, creating, planning and implementing programs for natural areas and cultural history. Hook is also supposed to create and maintain records of rare and endangered species and ecosystems; coordinate the collection of seeds, propagation and reintroduction of these plant species; research and introduce new management techniques for the maintenance of natural ecosystems.
As if that wasn’t enough for one person, Hook should “Promote awareness of conservation and environmental issues to municipal staff and the public by conducting nature walks and field outings and developing and presenting educational programs for the general public and school groups; and work with community groups involved in invasive species removal, vegetation control, natural area management and other cooperative programs.” The list goes on. Hook is supposed to find time to “Prepare grant proposals and work with groups to fund-raise for support of natural areas.” In other words, part of his job is to raise the money to do his job.
A new scourge was identified in Beacon Hill Park in November. It is called Carpet Burweed (Soliva sessilis). The plant can cover the ground like a carpet, threatening native plant species. Other names are Lawn Burweed, Onehunga Weed and Spurweed. It is a major nuisance on golf courses, playing fields, lawns and in parks in Texas and other southwest U.S. states. It was discovered at Ruckle Park on Saltspring Island in 1997.
The discovery of Carpet Burweed in Beacon Hill Park was made by a Ruckle Park ranger, who was walking along the Dallas Road waterfront the last weekend of November. Hook and Dr. Michelle Gorman, Integrated Pest Management Coordinator for the Parks, Recreation & Community Development took immediate action: “Dr Gorman and I fenced it off as soon as we heard and have burned it off with gas torches twice and we'll monitor it for re-treatment. We've found a few, small patches nearby but we're hoping to stop it before it gets into the rest of the park.” (Fred Hook email, December 3, 2005)
In December, a circular area south of Dallas Road and west of Finlayson Point was surrounded by an orange plastic fence with the sign: "Aggressive invasive weed removal in progress."
Burweed is a low growing plant, only two inches high and six inches in diameter. Mature Burweed seeds have sharp pointed spines that easily pierce human skin. The seeds are dispersed by attaching to socks, shoes, pants and the fur of animals (such as dogs).
On December 25, 2005, 27 peafowl were counted in the Children’s Farm. Previously, park staff estimated the total to be between 20-25. Peafowl are usually spread out and difficult to count, but on Christmas Day, the birds helpfully gathered in one small area to bask in the sun.
The cancellation of Luminara brought up at least five important and complex issues worthy of serious debate: 1. Which uses are appropriate and desirable in Beacon Hill Park? 2. What is the nature of the park? 3. Should the park should be a commercial-free zone? 4. Do large public events overuse and degrade the park? 5. Should the city obey legal restrictions on park use established by the Park Trust and two B. C. Supreme Court decisions or attempt to change the Park Trust? Perspective on these topics was essential. Journalists did not provide it.
Background information was needed on the Inter-Cultural Association and the festival. Luminara began in 2000 as a one-time “millennium event” but became an annual festival. The festival grew each year, attracted a larger crowd and cost more to produce ($100,000 in 2005). Was a festival on that scale necessary or desirable? How many paid staff and performers were there? What were ICA goals and their agenda? Did the ICA’s desire to pressure coucil for exceptions to existing park guidelines influence their choice or guide the way the cancellation was announced? If ICA succeeded in changing city policies to display advertising, collect money and sell objects in the park, was the next step to move Folkfest, an even larger ICA festival, from the crowded Inner Harbour to the park? What connection, if any, did Luminara have to multi-culturalism?
Background information was needed on commercial restrictions and city guidelines for the park, as well. Displaying corporate donors signs and banners, collecting money donations and selling items in Beacon Hill Park were specifically prohibited by B. C. Supreme Court Justice Dean Wilson’s 1998 ruling. When Luminara began, the ICA agreed to abide by those restrictions. From 2000 through 2004, those activities took place at nearby St. Ann’s Academy, not in the park. However, the ICA began pressing City Council to relax park restrictions for their event, claiming that was necessary to gather sufficient funding.
Opposed to commercialism in the Park were the Friends of Beacon Hill Park plus independents Betty Gibbens, Cornelia Lange and many others. They pointed out it was the responsibility of City Council to abide by the law. The Friends and others wanted large events to be staged in other venues to avoid overuse of Beacon Hill Park. [For more details on earlier Luminara festivals, see Chapters 18 and 19. For details on the 1998 judicial ruling, see Chapter 17, 1998.]
The day after the cancellation announcement, Malcolm Curtis reported Mayor Lowe's claim that City Council accepted the non-commercial park guidelines because of “exhaustion” rather than commitment. Curtis included a fair assessment of Friends concerns: “The Friends of Beacon Hill Park...has raised concerns about the Luminara festival growing too big for the park with increasing commercialism attached to its activities.” The next to last sentence in the article was: “The latest blow was the elimination of federal government funding this year.” There was no indication the amount was significant. (Times Colonist, January 21, 2005, B 1, B 4)
The Times Colonist editorial headline the next day was “Self-appointed guardians help to kill a magical event with their straightjacket of regulations.” The Friends were called “the most unfriendly folks imaginable” and all blame was directed at that group. “They’re the ones behind all the rules and regulations that make our unique, urban park no fun to go to any more.” The writer also blamed the Friends for the city’s dog leash rules, the park’s non-commercialism restrictions and the loss of the Great Canadian Picnic. The editorial concluded: “It’s time our elected officials stopped being bullied by self-appointed so-gooders...” (Times Colonist, January 21, 2005, A 10)
A review of the facts refutes every editorial statement. The Friends did not write the dog leash laws, which are city bylaws. The Great Canadian Picnic was canceled after ten years in the park when federal funding disappeared, interest declined and few people volunteered. Park regulations governing commercialism were hammered out in a long public consultation process called the Round Table. Friends chairperson Helen Oldershaw represented the “Environment Sector” at those meetings, one of eight sectors represented. Oldershaw did not agree to or sign the final report. (See more on Achieving Peace in the Park--A strategy to Restrict and Control Commercialism in Beacon Hill Park, the final report published in February, 2002, in Chapter 18.)
CH Television's Sophie Lui said the park was “no-fun zone” and added two rhetorical questions: “Is it fair people are pushed out by a small group? Who are the Friends of Beacon Hill Park?” Bruce McKenzie explained on camera that the Times Colonist received 50 letters to the editor in one day on the topic. At 6 p.m., the station featured a snarling Howie Siegel who labeled the Friends “a cult” and “enemies of the people.” He said City Council should “emasculate... the Stalinist Friends of Beacon Hill Park.”
During the next three days, the Times Colonist printed eight emotional letters attacking the Friends. Bryan Skinner wrote: “These people have bent the ear of city hall out of all proportion to their numbers.” (Times Colonist, January 22, 2005, A 13) Jim Meighen wrote: “A few noisy people who want to isolate the park from public gatherings should shut up, climb a big tree and isolate themselves from the world.” (Times Colonist, January 24, 2005, A 9)
On January 25, Dr. Marlene Hunter’s letter to the editor suggested residents should think creatively about how to rescue the event by raising more money and stop “vicious attacks” on Helen Oldershaw. Mary Lowther was against corporate advertising and selling products in the park; she suggested downsizing Luminara to reduce costs. The “Letter of the Day” was from the much maligned Helen Oldershaw. She pointed out Luminara was canceled because government grants were not provided and the cancellation had nothing to do with the Friends. She noted Luminara could be publically funded; corporate sponsors were not essential. She explained the Friends “did not make up the commercial restrictions” for the park but they did support obeying the law as proclaimed by B. C. Supreme Court Justice Dean Wilson in 1998. (Times Colonist, January 25, 2005, A 11)
Two Times Colonist columnists joined the assault on the Friends. A column by Jack Knox was headlined “More enemies than Friends.” Attempting to be humourous, he characterized the Friends as the “outlawed provisional wing of the Beacon Hill Taliban” who put latex gloves on Robbie Burns head and glared at horse-drawn carriages. After these bizarre remarks, Knox admitted: “The Friends of Beacon Hill Park have taken too much heat over the cancellation of Luminara.” He agreed the Friends were not responsible for the non-commercial restrictions and that losing the federal grant was the key to Luminara’s cancellation. He admitted all the emotion and blaming was wrongly directed. (Times Colonist, January 25, 2005, A 3) Les Leyne’s column imagined the Friends were “park vigilantes” mounting “diligent patrols looking for any sign of people enjoying themselves.” He claimed to have called several elected officials, “Doing my best to foment revolution and overthrow the tyranny of the Friends.” (Times Colonist, January 25, 2005, A 10) Leyne and Knox had opposed the Park Trust for years. Both were in favour of terminating the Trust and allowing corporate advertising in the park.
Victoria News staff ganged up on the Friends too, calling them “self-proclaimed watchdogs of the public acreage.” Reporter Don Descoteau advocated allowing corporate advertising and public donations. He quoted Oldershaw’s accurate observation that Luminara had increased in size and commercialism since it began in 2000. “It’s too big and keeps getting bigger,” she said. She pointed out the Park Trust, Justice Matthew Begbie’s ruling in 1884 and a 1998 ruling by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Dean Wilson prohibited commercialism. “We have to stick to certain principles [or] the park will be lost and will change completely and there will be more pressure to host large-scale events in the park.” Oldershaw suggested alternate venues for Luminara, including Gorge Road. Descoteau asked ICA Director Jean McRae a leading question about the Friends being “watchdogs.” She answered: “I certainly didn’t ask these people to speak on my behalf...it’s unfair for a small group of people to determine what can and cannot happen in a public space.” (Victoria News, January 26, 2005, A 3
The odd idea that the Friends single-handedly force City Council do their bidding was often repeated during the Luminara controversy. The mostly elderly membership of about 200 values a noncommercial public space filled with native and exotic vegetation. They politely say so.
On January 26, the Times Colonist reported a new offer from the B.C. government of $25,000 for Luminara. The City of Victoria agreed to contribute $12,500. ICA Director Jean McRae said it was a good start but more firm money commitments were needed. Reporter Gerald Young noted: “The federal government eliminated its funding this year.” (Times Colonist, January 26, 2005, A 1, A 2)
One letter to the editor that day continued the attack on the Friends: “This group seems to want things only for themselves and the rest of Greater Victoria’s public have no rights.” Another letter defended the group and criticized the “mean-spirited and abusive” editorial of June 21. Dick Hainsworth stated those who have supported no commercialism through the decades have preserved “the quiet, unspoiled beauty of Beacon Hill Park.” He concluded: “I think you have cruelly maligned the Friends of Beacon Hill Park. You owe them an apology.” (Times Colonist, January 26, 2005, A 11) That apology never came.
A front page story by Malcolm Curtis focusing on the possibility of relaxing the park’s commercialism restrictions to allow sponsorship banners was printed January 27. Curtis mentioned the lost federal money was $30,000 but the amount appeared at the end of the article, on the second page, not in a position of importance. According to Mayor Alan Lowe, asking the province to change the terms of the trust was “an option”. Coun. Rob Fleming thought guidelines could be “more permissive” without having to “break the trust or cave into groups such as the Friends of Beacon Hill Park with literal interpretations of the trust.” (Times Colonist, January 27, 2005, A1, A2) Lowe’s threat to change the trust was a familiar one: his first threat was made in 2000. [See Chapter 18]
Curtis stated again on January 28: “The federal government pulled funding worth about $30,000." Mayor Lowe continued talking about asking the province to change the trust and bringing back other large events such as charity runs and picnics to the park. Coun. Helen Hughes and Coun. Chris Coleman urged a review, but Coun. Denise Savoie noted the park was a valuable refuge from commercialism. Coun. Rob Fleming thought soliciting donations in the park was acceptable without changing the Trust. Coleman pointed out the Friends had been unfairly blamed for Luminara’s cancellation.
Betty Gibbens explained the Park Trust had protected Beacon Hill Park from becoming another Hastings Park. Vancouver’s Hastings Park, similar in size to Beacon Hill was completely covered with commercial developments, including the Pacific National Exhibition, parking lots, racetrack, stadium, playland and coliseum. The long-term future of Beacon Hill Park was, as always, the most important consideration for Gibbens. She thought Luminara should find a different venue because large crowds trampled plants and damaged the park. (Times Colonist, January 28, 2005, B 1, B 2)
The bi-weekly VI News Group’s reporter Brennan Clarke presented a fairly accurate historical review of commercialism in Beacon Hill Park on the Weekend Edition’s page one. His opinion column began with the suggestion that the city contribute $40,000 of public funds for the event, which he predicted voters would approve. Then, Clarke attacked the Friends as “a small but vociferous group of naysayers,” whose “radical brand of NIMBYism,” has “the law on their side.” He claimed the Friends drove the Times Colonist 10K Run and the Great Canadian Picnic out of the park. He imagined their selfish thoughts:
The Friends are hiding behind the commercialism clause to further their aim of restricting park use to people who will do no more than stroll through and look at the tulips. If they could, I’m sure the Friends would issue a barefoot-only decree and ban anyone from stepping on a single blade of grass or God forbid, touching the bark of one of their beloved Garry oaks. Even more to their liking would be a huge chain link fence around the park, turning it into a nature preserve that can only be viewed from afar. (Weekend Edition, January 26, 2005, A 1, A 2, A 6)
John Di Stefano’s letter to the editor pointed out after “getting it right that the cause of the problem is the government’s draconian cost-cutting philosophy necessitating falling back on corporate funding,” Clarke took “unfair aim at the Friends...” The writer thought Clarke should have encouraged citizens to pressure elected officials to restore funding, not take “cheap shots at citizens concerned about the increasing commercialization of...public events...Let’s restore the Commons, not corporatize it.” (Victoria News, February 9, 2005, A 6)
On February 2, Brennan Clarke belatedly noted the loss of $30,000 from the federal government and quoted Coun. Chris Coleman’s statement at the Committee of the Whole meeting: “I feel sorry for the Friends of Beacon Hill Park. They are not the bad guy here. The problem here is our management policy.” (Victoria News, February 2, 2005, A 3) The newspaper also printed the text of the Park Trust. (Victoria News, February 2, 2005, A 7)
A letter to the VI News Group from William John Irvine pointed out those who support the law--the Park Trust and two judicial decisions--should not be called protesters. He thought those who disobeyed and circumvented the law are the protestors. He worried the Inter-Cultural Association (ICA) hopes to move Folkfest to Beacon Hill Park. Irvine proudly upheld the Trust. “We are concerned citizens who know once the vested interests...get the thin-edge-of-the-wedge into commercial use of Beacon Hill Park, it is just a matter of time until it goes the way of the dinosaur.” (Weekend Edition, February 4, 2005, A 6)
The VI News Group printed two cartoons on Beacon Hill Park. The first showed a high wall around it. The second showed a naked walker whose clothes had been confiscated by the Friends because there were corporate logos on all but his socks. (Weekend Edition, February 4, 2005, A 6 and Victoria News, February 9, 2005, A 6)
As described in Luminara Part I, Malcolm Curtis reported on February 10 the event would go ahead after all. He clearly spelled out the real reason for the temporary cancellation: “The loss of a federal grant worth about $30,000 led the board to consider suspending the festival, which has a budget of $90,000.” (Times Colonist, February 10, 2005, A 1, A 2)
Attacks on the Friends continued. Brennan Clarke called them “rabid watchdogs” and blamed “a few cranky seniors” for influencing city policy. “The Friends complain loudest and longest and get the most media attention, partly because their aging members have plenty of free time to lobby the city...” (Victoria News, February 9, 2005, A 6) A letter from Brian Mason challenged Clarke’s opinion, saying “When someone has a weak argument, she or he often resorts to...personal attacks.” He noted age doesn’t “diminish the worthiness of their position. That’s cheap and says more about him than the Friends.” Mason wanted to “prohibit all large-scale organized activities” and “ban motorized vehicle traffic” within the park. “Otherwise, it is doomed.” (Victoria News, February 16, 2005, A 8)
A second letter criticizing Clarke and media handling of the topic in general was published the following week. Cornelia Lange, a member of the 2001 Round Table process which resulted in commercialism guidelines for the park, wrote:
It was the media who initiated the most intolerant language, bordering on hatred and scape-goating a specific group (Friends of Beacon Hill Park) and no mention that the majority of citizens who responded to a public opinion survey on Beacon Hill Park in 2001 did not desire large scale events and commerce in the park. (Victoria News, February 23, 2005, A 6)
Much later, in July, Brennan Clarke's column included another attack on the Friends:
"Speaking of intolerance, what’s the deal with the Friends of Beacon Hill Park? They’re against admission fees for Luminara, against selling glow sticks at the event and they’re even opposed to cash donations at the children’s petting zoo in Beacon Hill Park. The Friends would be happier if we built a fence all the way around the park to keep the people out... "(Weekend Edition, July 29, 2005, p. 6)
Michael Meagher’s letter to the editor suggested Clarke gather “a few facts before spouting his opinion.” Meagher wrote:
"Mr. Clarke might consult the decision by B. C. Supreme Court Justice Wilson, who determined that sales in the park contravened the trust issued by the B. C. government when Victoria was given control of the park." (Weekend Edition, August 5, 2005, A 6)