Beacon Hill Park will be protected as a Municipal Heritage Site, City Council decided in November. The park “is considered one of the most significant Canadian public parks of the nineteenth century, comparable to Mount Royal Park in Montreal,” Senior Heritage Planner Steve Barber explained. “The heritage designation will provide an appropriate level of protection and recognition and provide a mechanism for heritage values to be considered in future changes to the park.” (Planning Report, October 8, 2009, distributed with the Governance & Priorities Committee Agenda on Nov. 5, 2009.)
The heritage designation came five years after the Beacon Hill Park Heritage Landscape Management Plan was officially presented to City Council by Commonwealth Historic Resource Management Limited. That consultant report, endorsed by council in 2004, provides the background history and guidelines for the heritage designation and future interventions.
Councillor Pamela Madoff, Chair of the Planning and Land-use Committee and long-time champion of the heritage designation, noted it is rare for landscape to be recognized as heritage. “It is a very significant step that the city is taking,” Madoff said, “Cultural landscapes versus built form are not recognized as often...with the exception of Ross Bay Cemetery and a couple pieces of private property.” (Victoria News, October 30, 2009, A1)
The management framework for the park will be similar to Ross Bay Cemetery, which was designated a municipal heritage site in 1997. Minor changes in the cemetery do not require heritage alteration permits. “The experience in accommodating changes while protecting the historic character in Ross Bay Cemetery is a demonstration of the effectiveness of this type of management framework as proposed for Beacon Hill Park,” Barber said. (Times Colonist, October 23, 2009, A3)
At the November 5 City Council Governance Committee meeting, Coun. Madoff emphasized that heritage designation did not mean the park “is frozen in time.” Instead, she said, “This provides the framework to be able to be responsible stewards.” Coun. Geoff Young argued the heritage designation was too broad: “There’s a whole lot of things in Beacon Hill Park that in my view don’t require this protection.” He wondered if changes in greenhouses, compost piles or parking lots would need an impact study. Mayor Dean Fortin responded no report to council would be needed to move a compost pile or cut the grass. Young thought heritage status might be used to prevent replacing the gravel all-weather sports field at Dallas and Douglas with artificial turf. (Times Colonist, November 6, 2009, A9)
Though day to day operations will not be affected, Barber acknowledged time and money will be required to complete heritage impact studies before major changes can take place in the park in the future. Madoff pointed out heritage impact studies can actually save money instead of costing more. A recent example occurred in Beacon Hill Park when inappropriate repairs were made to the 1889 Stone Bridge, shown above. Well-meaning workers used modern mortar instead of more appropriate materials and methods on the bridge, possibly damaging the structure. “If that action had been referred to our heritage planner, he could have provided...technical advice that could have assisted...in that repair.” she explained. (Victoria News, October 30, 2009, A1)
Beacon Hill Park's old Bandstand/Aviary, shown left in a recent photo by Jamie Druin, will be rehabilitated and converted into a public information kiosk in 2010. Though it will not be restored in its original form, the planned work will preserve and protect the 1888 structure and allow for "a contemporary but compatible use," according to a heritage impact study prepared for the City of Victoria by Donald Luxton Associates, Inc. The twenty-four page study, completed in December, 2009, stated the 1888 Bandstand/Aviary, has “great heritage significance” because it “is the oldest surviving structure in Beacon Hill Park; is the only surviving early bandstand in the City of Victoria; was a focus of social and cultural activities in Beacon Hill Park for many years; is an integral part of the picturesque design of Beacon Hill Park; and is a superior example of late Victorian-era design and Carpenter ornamentation.” (Heritage Impact Study: Old Bandstand, Beacon Hill Park, Donald Luxton Associates, Inc., December, 2009, p. 12, p. 8)
Heritage consultant Donald Luxton produced the report after Parks Department planners proposed repairing and converting the structure into an information kiosk. Luxton researched the history of the bandstand, the structure's context within Beacon Hill Park and in a broader historical context, summarized its heritage value, reviewed work plans and made recommendations on aspects of preservation, restoration and rehabilitation.
Luxton reported the 1888 bandstand was designed by architect Leonard Buttress Trimen and built for $300 by contractor G. Mallette. The original bandstand was an open, decagonal (10-sided) wooden structure with a shingle roof, supported on ten posts. After examining archival images, Luxton concluded the original location of the bandstand was “close to the west side of the race track” [now Circle Drive] but that it was moved to its current location in 1900, “to enhance the picturesque aspects of the lake and Stone Bridge.” (p. 2, 4)
Luxton discovered the bandstand’s original colours by taking samples of paint from “various protected locations” on the existing building to analyze. He also examined coloured postcards of the time. A diagram in the heritage impact report pinpoints the location of three original paint colours (Pendrell Verdigris, Pendrell Red and Mount Pleasant Buff). Though no original shingles were available to analyze, Luxton explained it was typical of the era to stain roof shingles. “Most likely, the roof was stained red to match the drop slat valence: coloured postcards of the era...show either a red or green roof.” (p. 22) The rehabilitated structure will be colourfully painted once again according to Luxton's diagram; the roof will be stained to match Pendrell Red brackets and drop slats.
It is most likely the old aviary structure standing by the Stone Bridge in 2009 is the original bandstand. However, it is possible that it is a replica constructed later and that records of the project were lost. On page 2, Luxton provides room for some uncertainty by stating the existing building “appears to have been the very first structure that was built in the park.” However, by page 8, he states unequivocally: “The 1888 Bandstand/Aviary...is the oldest surviving structure in Beacon Hill Park.” Luxton states the bandstand was one of the several improvements completed before the major park developments supervised by John Blair in 1889.
The first bandstand was converted into an aviary in 1927 after a second, larger bandstand was constructed in Beacon Hill Park. To adapt the structure for use as an aviary, the heritage impact study explained “...a central wooden double-height pentagonal structure [was inserted], the centre of which is accessed through small doors, with access to the upper level loft by a ladder. A wire mesh, supported on a wood frame, enclosed the remainder of the structure into five partitions, each acting as a birdcage.” Those changes are still visible in 2009. When the park's third and current bandshell was constructed in 1948, the second bandshell was destroyed. As Herb Warren stated in his “Park Administrator’s Report” for the year ending Dec. 31, 1948: “Following construction of the Cameron Memorial Pavilion, the old bandstand erected in 1926 was demolished.” There was no mention of the first bandshell, which apparently continued to be used as an aviary until 1989.
The new Mayors Grove sign shown here was installed in May, 2009, seven months after the structure to display that sign was erected. The sign and the wide gravel pathway leading to it dramatically transformed the area's character from an unorganized natural space of field and trees to an organized space focused on one cultural feature. The gravel path takes visitors straight to the sign display; a map and list directs their attention to numbered posts placed next to the thirty trees known collectively as Mayors Grove. The Grove was established during a 1927 convention of western mayors in Victoria. In following years, visiting dignitaries were sometimes invited to plant a tree, chosen from eight tree species--oak, maple, fir, ash, beech, copper beech, linden or hawthorn.
The names of only a few dignitaries listed on the sign are familiar today: the King of Siam planted an oak in 1931; Lord Baden-Powell planted an oak in 1935. The most famous name by far is Sir Winston Churchill; in 1929, he planted the hawthorne tree shown on the left. Every year, a crowd gathers at the unimpressive but historic tree to honour him. This year's gathering, on January 25, marked the eleventh annual event organized by Times Colonist columnist Les Leyne, who began the tradition in 1999. Below left is the new green sign on a wooden post now in place by Sir Winston's tree. Below right is a photo of an old plaque still in place at the base of the hawthorne. (Photos in this chapter are by Norm Ringuette unless otherwise noted.)
For more than a month after the new Mayor's Grove sign was on display, there were no matching green post numbers by the trees. Hundreds of park visitors trying to locate the trees marked on the map found only bare wooden posts. Persistent tree seekers discovered numbers on old granite blocks still in place at the base of the trees hidden in the grass. The granite block numbers, however, did not match the new, improved numbering system on the new sign’s map. One visitor exclaimed, “The numbers are all screwed up!” The granite numbers matched the previous numbering system on the old Mayors Grove sign, shown to the right. That sign, erected in the 1980s, remained in place until August, 2009.
The last entry on the old green sign was Victoria Mayor Peter Pollen, 1985. There was no space left to list three Garry oaks planted in the grove in 2007 by Victoria Mayor Alan Lowe and other dignitaries during ceremonies to honour the 125th year of city management of Beacon Hill Park. Those oaks--the first time native Garry oaks with genetic material from the area were planted--are now listed on the new sign.
Damage to vegetation during heavy-handed construction of the pathway from November, 2008 through January, 2009, was described at length near the end of Chapter 23. The spring of 2009, before mowing took place, provided an opportunity to assess the affects on vegetation after that construction. On June 23, the contrast between areas where healthy plants and grasses continued to grow tall and the areas damaged by machines was obvious. Bare soil, dandelions, hawkweed and other invasive plants were prevalent in areas damaged by construction. From these patches, weed seeds will spread into the rest of the meadow. Not all native plants have been eradicated: small patches of tall, white flowered Fool's Onion (Brodiaea hyacinthina) stood out near large trees where machinery did not operate. A necessary part of any construction project is to replant damaged areas and tend vegetation back to healthy growth. In a natural area, extra care must be taken to use appropriate seeds and techniques.
When well-meaning workers began closing down the old chip path by bringing in soil brought from elsewhere and sprinkling turf grass seed at the site, Environmental Technician Fred Hook stopped them immediately. The soil brought in contained weed seeds and the grass varieties they were sowing were inappropriate, he said. Hook hoped to reseed that area with a specially ordered native grass seed combination. Ideally, workers would use “a vertical tiller to break up the top layer of soil in the old paths and sow into that rather than adding soil.” By November, however, the soil was too wet to till. Instead, workers raked the soil surface and sowed a mixture of three native grass seeds, one fast germinating and fast growing and two more long-term growers. If that simple solution does not work well, Hook said more will be done in spring.
The Mayors Grove construction project and installation of the signs illustrated some of the weaknesses of the city’s work assignment system, in which a task to be completed goes on a city-wide list; when workers are available, they are sent to the site. This system of assigning workers was developed for greater efficiency but might not, in fact, save money as intended for many reasons. In a natural area like Mayors Grove, the system proved disastrous as new staff without background knowledge or training were sent to the site at each stage to run machinery in the meadow. Work was not completed in a logical way, such as installing the tree post numbers at the same time as the map. The team of permanent year-round workers stationed in the Beacon Hill Park for more than 100 years developed expertise, knowledge and skills as well as a sense of pride and commitment to a certain location. In the current system, supervisors, lead-hands and workers are sent all over the city; as a result, consistency, follow-through and standards often suffer.
After more delays, a map of Beacon Hill Park was mounted on the reverse side of the big Mayors Grove sign. There are no other maps posted in the park.
In 2009, the Parks Department’s Natural Systems team provided the most successful and extensive outreach and education program in city park history. Building on programming from 2008, the team presented more than eighteen workshops this year. Hundreds of residents attended these events, many of which took place in Beacon Hill Park. This City of Victoria photo shows a crowd of over 90 learning about native plants, fall maintenance, pruning and mulching. To effectively address crowds both large and small, park staff uses portable microphone/amplifiers.
Workshops topics included greenhouses, hydrangeas, compost, hanging baskets, lawn care and thwarting winter moths. There was a perennial border tour in Beacon Hill Park in June and a tree tour in Ross Bay Cemetery in September. Three walks featuring native plants and natural history were presented in Beacon Hill Park and two in Summit Park.
Environmental Technician Fred Hook and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Coordinator Dr. Michelle Gorman provide the expertise and experience for the Natural Systems team. A division of the Parks Department, the team is led by Todd Stewardson, Manager of Parks Construction and Natural Systems. Added to the team in May was Environmental Field Technician Thomas Munson, who works year-round in the field; he was helped part of the year by Parks Assistant Nick Patterson. One day a week, the team benefitted from the services of Shelley Brown. As the Outdoor Pursuits Programmer for Parks and Recreation, she coordinated the workshops.
Two workshops titled “Invasive Aliens From The Garden: Spurge Daphne and Tree Lupine” were held March 21 and 28 in Beacon Hill Park. Co-sponsored by the City of Victoria and the Canada Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at risk, the workshop was led by Environmental Technician Fred Hook, shown here behind the table. The workshops targeted two invasive species which are spreading fast in Victoria, displacing native plants and threatening local ecosystems. The goal was to teach residents “how to recognize Spurge daphne and Tree lupine,” to explain “the impact invasive species have on Garry oak ecosystems,” and how to remove them. Tree lupine is only green in summer and is common along the Dallas Road bluffs growing up to four feet high with yellow blossoms. Part of the pea family, it can shoot its seeds 3, 4 or even 10 metres; birds pick up the seeds and distribute them further.
Prior to the workshops, a fact sheet, shown below, was mailed to every address in Victoria. It explained why some plants are called invasive species: “Often referred to as "alien" or "non-native", an invasive plant is the name for a species that has become a weed, grows and spreads aggressively, displacing native plants. Most invasive plants were brought here by people from other continents, but escaped from gardens and now threaten local ecosystems. Spurge daphne and Tree lupine are two invasive plants that make Victoria their home...”
Hook explained invasive species eradication priorities for the city must be the three invasive plants dangerous to human health: Giant hogweed, Poison hemlock and Daphne. Staff prepared and hand-delivered a Giant hogweed information sheet in neighbourhoods where plants had been identified. Giant hogweed is not widespread: there were three infestations in Beacon Hill Park last year and two in other city locations. Poison hemlock grows much more widely; the city strategy must be to remove it in areas heavily used by residents, such as along the Dallas Road waterfront pathway. Poison hemlock and Scotch broom are two invasive species so widespread that they can only be controlled, not eliminated. It is possible that Giant hogweed can be eradicated. Daphne, too, might be possible to wipe out in the city but it will take the cooperation of residents.
Daphne (Daphne laureola), shown on the right, is an extensive invasive problem throughout the city. Daphne was first brought into Oak Bay in the 1940's, according to Fred Hook, and in 70 years has spread over a huge distance. Daphne was planted in many home gardens because it has fragrant blossoms and attractive green leaves, similar to rhododendron. Sold in nurseries in the past, Daphne is now on the B.C. Nursery Landscape Association list of plants they will no longer sell. Daphne seeds remain alive in the soil for fifteen-twenty years after plants are removed. Birds spread the seed far and wide from private properties. Daphne is a major threat to Douglas fir ecosystems.
Daphne is a highly toxic, extremely aggressive invasive plant. The fact sheet states: “Spurge daphne is a poisonous plant which causes severe eye and skin irritation,” so it is important to use “protective equipment when removing.” Hook led the group into the Southeast Woods to identify daphne plants and to demonstrate a safe method of removing them.
The Natural Systems team produced a colourful and effective fact sheet, shown on the left, on another extremely invasive plant called Carpet burweed. The brochure asked residents, “If you think you see Carpet burweed at home or at another location, please call Victoria Parks..” Staff answered each call by visiting the location. Burweed eradication has been a success story because of early and aggressive interventions. Probably 90% has been eradicated on municipal, provincial and federal public park land on Vancouver Island, according to Hook, and in Beacon Hill Park, the success rate is even higher. Unfortunately, private landowners on the Island lag behind. Some work has been done to eradicate burweed in RV campgrounds, but much more is needed. RV parks remain a major source of re-infestation.
A two page information sheet was also produced: “Winter moth, Operophtera brumata-- An Alien Invasive Species.”
Monthly Saturday morning meetings to coordinate and inform citizen volunteers working in city parks to remove invasive species and promote native plant growth continued under the direction of Environmental Technician Fred Hook.
The 18th Annual Camas Day, presented by Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society and Victoria Natural History Society, took place on Saturday, April 25. “Bark Beetles in the Woods,” a first-ever Camas Day walk topic was presented by Greg Smith, Bark Beetle Ecologist and Entomologist at the Pacific Forestry Centre, shown here prying bark off a downed Douglas fir in the Southeast Woods to reveal egg galleries created by female beetles.
When Douglas fir trees fall and start to decompose, they emit chemicals which attract beetles. The beetles must chew through very thick outer bark (about two inches thick on the dead tree example) to get to the inner bark (phloem). Evidence of beetle activity underneath the bark is signaled by piles of boring dust pushed to the surface. Smith pried bark off a downed grand fir, as well, to show black horizontal lines characterizing the egg galleries of the "fir engraver." From those galleries, the young spread out in all directions.
Printed material Smith provided to the group explained that bark beetles are ecologically important because they “physically break down bark material, introduce fungi, yeasts, mites and nematodes, and open up under-bark regions to invertebrates and fungi.” Smith said bark beetles are the first organisms to get under bark when a tree dies.
Pitch tubes produced by living pines are visible clues that beetles are attacking. Pines produce and store resin which is released in an effort to cover and drown the beetles; this works if the number of attacking beetles is not too large. On the ridge of Beacon Hill, Smith found pitch on a pine indicating mountain pine beetles were attacking and pitch indicating pitch moth attacks. Also discovered at the bottom of several pines was evidence of the “red turpentine beetle,” so called because a turpentine odor is easily detected by sniffing the pitch, which acts as an attractant.
While bark beetles feed on the trees, fly and wasp larvae feed on the bark beetles. When Smith pulled bark off several dead pines, both small fly larvae and large fat white beetle larvae were revealed. Beetle larvae are edible, but according to the only person willing to try one on Camas Day, it had no taste.
Other Camas Day walk topics and their leaders in 2009 were Birds (Rick Schortinghuis and Tom Gillespie), Native wildflowers (Dr. Brenda Beckwith and Dr. Adolf Ceska) and Plants for your Native Plant Garden (Agnes Lynn). For the eighteenth consecutive year, Dr. Grant Keddie, the Royal BC Museum’s curator of archaeology, led two walks focusing on aborginal history and culture. Dr. Keddie is the only expert to have participated every year since Camas Day began in 1992. Once again, there was a good turnout at the top Beacon Hill by the flagpole, where guided walks began at 7 a.m., 9 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
This large eucalyptus tree clump was impressively festooned with white blossoms on June 6. The only eucalyptus trees in the park, it has stood for decades north of the Stone Bridge along Bridge Way in the northwest corner of the park. A hardy species called "snow gum" (Eucalyptus niphophila), according to Trees of Greater Victoria, A Heritage, the Beacon Hill Park trees "survived" when other eucalyptus trees transplanted from Australia to Victoria were killed during “the severe winters” of the 1950s and 1985-86. The authors indicate the trees were planted before 1950 and are at least 60 years old, perhaps much older. (Chaster, Ross and Warren, Trees of Greater Victoria, A Heritage, Heritage Tree Book Society, 1988, p. 71)
Providing dramatic contrast in the perennial bed next to white eucalyptus blossoms were brilliant orange poppies and deep purple giant Flowering garlic (Allium giganteum). Until the 1990s, Bridge Way was used a road for vehicles; cars entered the park from Douglas Street, opposite South Park School, and sped by ornamental beds. The flowers get more attention now that the road is a pedestrian path and bikeway.
Purple and yellow iris bloomed in June at the edge of lily-covered Fountain Lake. The lake was constructed in 1888, predating Goodacre Lake and the major developments of 1889. Lilies were planted in 1905 and have bloomed successfully ever since. Along the shore were healthy looking hostas, a gigantic rhododendron stretching out over the water and an amazing Chinese gunnera plant. Gunnera is cut down each winter but grows prodigiously every spring, producing gigantic leaves and huge, odd looking seed pods. Not a beautiful plant, but certainly an impressive one.
Wisteria bloomed extravagantly, below left, covering the pergola between Goodacre Lake and Douglas Street along the west side of Goodacre Lake. Thick vines circling the pergola support beams attest to the great age of this plant.
In the same area is the equally impressive flowering Golden Rain (Laburnum watereri ‘Vossii’), above right. The leaves, twigs and especially the seeds of Laburnum are poisonous. A surprisingly large number of plants in city parks are poisonous, including one species that rates as the third most powerful poison on Earth.
Some of the most beautiful flower displays in the park can be found near the bandshell in stone-faced concrete raised beds. The planters were constructed when Park Way, a road for vehicles until 1972, was closed and made into a footpath. The planters stretch from the beginning of the path at Circle Drive, opposite the main parking lot, to the junction of Bridge Way and Arbutus Way, close to the Cameron Bandshell. The planters in full sun can be spectacular, as shown below.
An unusual event in November resulted in Goodacre Lake water pouring onto the grass and chip trail in Heywood Meadow east of Arbutus Way. Large numbers of the small non-native fish abundant in the lake were carried with the flow. Park workers rushed to scoop up the fish in buckets and dump them back in the lake but it was too late for many. The fish, shown here, are "pumpkinseeds” (Lipomis gibbosus). The huge overflow occurred after heavy rains overwhelmed a drain blocked by tree roots. When the lake water did break through, the overflow apparently acted as a siphon, pumping water and fish onto the field.
The most difficult lake-related maintenance problem in 2009 was a persistent water leak at the site of the overflow. The long-established drain from the lake, the water line from the well and electrical connections for the well pump motor installed in 2003 meet at that location. In March, a large hole was dug down to the drain box in an unsuccessful effort to stop water leaking into the meadow. The hole remained covered by plywood and surrounded by saw-horses, dirt piles and tape until December. After lake water and fish gushed out of that hole so dramatically, a crew cleared out the old drain and installed a new concrete drain box and a screen to prevent fish from getting into the drain.
Goodacre Lake is an artificial lake requiring a huge amount of maintenance. Keeping aerators, pumps and bubblers operating twenty-four hours a day in the lake to increase the oxygen level and improve water quality is a headache for staff. Staff must also check water levels, test water quality regularly and maintain the Heywood Meadow well pumping fresh water into the lake. The well pump motor stopped in November, 2008. It was March 17, 2009 before the motor was replaced and the well was pumping again. Wellmaster Pump and Water Systems Ltd., the same company that installed the pipe and pump in 2003, brought in a special truck and crew to raise the many sections of long pipe attached to the pump motor 550 feet below. The pipe sections were unscrewed one by one as they were raised. After replacing the motor, it was lowered in the same fashion, attaching each section of pipe one by one. Plywood sheets were laid down to lessen damage to vegetation.
In November the carved wooden sign with the words "McTavish Island" fell over. It stood on the island closest to Arbutus Way and east of the Stone Bridge since 1974. The three islands in Goodacre Lake carry the names of men important in Park history. Near Douglas Street, in the west section of Goodacre Lake, are Blair Island, named for Park designer John Blair, and Warren Island, named for former Park Administrator W. H. Warren. McTavish Island was named for former City Alderman and Park Chairman Duncan McTavish. The three islands were named and wooden signs installed on each in 1974; that year, the five small lakes along Circle Drive were officially named as well.
After years of concerted effort by the city, water quality improved dramatically in 2006 when the dominant vegetation changed from algae to Elodia (Elodea canadensis), also known as Canadian waterweed or Canadian pondweed. Rampant algae was a major problem in Goodacre Lake from 1995 through 2005. Algae absorbs oxygen and as it decays, further reduces oxygen levels. Algae blooms severely affect aquatic life. Elodia is evidence of improved water quality.
Ducklings and turtles took turns lining up in the sun along the edge of Goodacre Lake near the Stone Bridge in June. The first ducklings appeared in April and new batches continued to arrive through August. Mallards are the only year-round resident waterfowl in the park and the only waterfowl nesting in the park. The other duck present in large numbers is the migratory American wigeon. Wigeons spend the winter eating grass near Goodacre Lake and the Circle Drive small lakes. They fly north to nest by the end of April and begin returning to Beacon Hill Park the end of September. The first Red-eared slider turtle was spotted February 20. As many as 35 turtles have been counted in the lake. All turtles in the park are introduced, most likely by people who dump pet store turtles in the lake when they outgrow their small plastic dishes.
August 14 was the first day on the job this year for Diana Jasinski, the “Goose Lady,” and her new one-year-old border collie Splash. They focused first on 60 Canada Geese floating on Goodacre Lake east of the Stone Bridge. After they flew off, Jasinski and Splash moved to the other side of the bridge to roust 40 more Canada geese. Dogs are viewed by geese as predators, so when Splash stood on the shore, they retreated to the centre of the lake and finally flew away.
Preventing large numbers of geese from living year-round in the ideal habitat developed by humans in Beacon Hill Park is the reason the Goose Patrol was first hired in 2007. They were rehired last year, too. “The city spent $6,500 between August 2008 and last April on a goose-patrol dog to scare geese out of the park,” according to reporter Lisa Weighton. Todd Stewardson, the city’s Manager of Construction and Natural Systems, told her goose droppings create a slipping hazard on paths. (Victoria News, August 14, 2009, A1)
The Goose Patrol harasses but does not harm the birds. Jasinski isn’t allowed to throw things at them and Splash can’t enter the water to chase them. When two geese emerged from a small Circle Drive lake onto land, however, they were fair game for chasing. Jasinski likes her unusual job; she told reporter Sandra McCulloch, “I have a blast with it. I’m hoping to do this until I drop in my boots.” (Times Colonist, August 30, 2009, A 1)
Large populations of Canada geese are non-migratory; they have taken up permanent residence in North American parks and some parks have been overwhelmed with the quantity of feces produced by resident geese. The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia said Canada goose excrement contains more than 140 kinds of bacteria, some a risk to human health. Other problems with geese in parks and on golf courses include turf damage and nesting geese attacking humans. (See Chapter 22 and Chapter 23 for a description of the first two years of the Goose Patrol.)
Four small artificial lakes next to Circle Drive were emptied the last week of February and left empty more than two months. The small “lakes”--in reality only shallow concrete pools about 18 inches deep, similar to wading pools--were refilled with city water the end of April. Park staff pumped the heavily contaminated water through a hose laid across the road onto the field known by some as the “cow pasture” south of the cricket area. Sludge and water spread over the grass and chip trail near the cricket practice cage and past that onto the field, leaving a very thick crusty mud layer, rich in bird feces and other nutrients. The “cow pasture” field has no native plants; it was previously used by the city to grow sod and before that for a tree nursery.
Emptying the ponds with a hose is time-consuming and makes a mess on the field but staff have no other plan since CRD regulations prohibit draining the water down the storm drain. In the past, staff could easily and more frequently empty dirty water from these "lakes" into the storm drain, then hose down the concrete and refill with fresh water. (This is how Harrison Yacht Pond has been cleaned since it was installed in 1955 and how the Kiwanis wading pool was cleaned from 1925 until it became a constantly draining spray facility in 2002.) A better method is needed than using a hose onto the field but nobody has come up with a solution. Most of the year, the same green water stays in the “lakes” as the sun beats down, leaves and debris accumulate, and ducks continue to defecate.
Three wildflower interpretative signs were installed in Beacon Hill Park the first week of October, 2009. The signs can be viewed along Circle Drive between the Children’s Farm and Dallas Road at the edge of Beacon Hill’s east meadow. That meadow contains the most significant number and variety of native plant species in the park. The photo on the right shows one of the new signs just after installation. In spring, the area behind the signs will be transformed by new green grass and blooming native plants.
Each of the three signs features a different selection of colourful native wildflowers blooming in the meadow. The sign closest to the Children’s Farm, shown on the left, includes photos of eight plants characteristic of Garry oak woodland fringe habitat. Botanist Dr. Chris Brayshaw contributed the habitat descriptions placed in the centre of each sign.
Moving further southeast, a second sign features eight native wildflowers that flourish in more exposed grasslands, among them Common camas, Nootka rose, Indian consumption plant and Henderson’s shooting star.
The sign placed closest to Dallas Road, across from the totem pole, features eight native species which grow in a vernal meadow habitat. Because moisture drains down from the hill in spring into this area, it is wetter and supports a different range of native plants. These include rare Prairie violets, two beautiful orchids called Ladies tresses and Rein orchid, and the shrub called Indian plum.
The signs were a joint effort of the Friends of Beacon Hill Park, the Victoria Natural History Society and the City of Victoria. The Friends worked for years to produce the wildflower interpretative signs. According to Agnes Lynn, nine signs in all are planned. The Friends would like future wildflower signs placed near the totem pole, along the road at Heywood meadow, in the Northwest Ridge at Southgate and Arbutus Way, on the Dallas Road bluffs and at the base of Beacon Hill by Dallas Road. Significant populations of native plants grow in each of those areas. Developing the signs involved many compromises. The original plan was to use hand drawings of the flowers. “Dynamic colour images” replaced the drawings, according to Lynn. Instead of one large sign, “...it was agreed that several small signs would be less intrusive and could be placed in different locations.” The new signs are 24 by 30 inches; placed about 30 inches off the ground, they do not obstruct views of the meadow but are at an ideal height to read the text and view the colourful photos. Signs also had to meet new requirements of the city’s Communications Department.
“One of our biggest concerns...was vandalism,” Lynn explained. The solution was city-produced sturdy metal legs sunk into the ground with an angled metal plate mounted on top. Images printed on graffiti-resistant and waterproof film were attached to the plate. If there is damage, the signs can be reproduced quite cheaply, according to Environmental Technician Fred Hook of the Parks Department. He worked closely with the Friends on the sign project. (Friends of Beacon Hill Park Newsletter, April, 2009, p. 6)
The tenth annual Luminara Community Lantern Festival was staged Saturday, July 25, 2009 on the grounds of St. Ann’s Academy and in Beacon Hill Park. It might be the last. According to director Karin Scarth, if a festival is held in 2010, it will be a very different event, drastically reduced in scale and perhaps held in the fall in a different venue.
The Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria has produced the Luminara Lantern Festival in Beacon Hill Park on the fourth Saturday in July since 2000. The budget grew every year until, in 2009, staffing, rentals and publicity added up to $160,000 plus donated labour and materials. Staff and infrastructure are costly elements, director Karin Scarth explained to reporter Sandra McCulloch. In the past, staff included a visual arts director, performance co-ordinator, production manager, studio supervisor and people working on lantern-making workshops. Holding the night-time event in Beacon Hill Park required a "huge production effort," Scarth said. "There are lakes to fall into, bridges to fall off, places to stumble...Once you start to get that huge scale, there are all these issues of scale, like porta-potties, radios and security. Those are three of our biggest costs right there," adding up to about $7,000. Another venue could reduce those costs. Staging Luminara in September or October, when it's darker earlier is under consideration, as well. (Times Colonist, December 9, 2009)
Rain drastically reduced attendance in 2009. Donations were down $2,300 this year compared with $7,000 in 2008. Sales of Luminara items were down 50%, too, for a total of about $3,000. Donations and sales are a small percentage of the funding; most must come from sponsors. Though all three levels of government were sponsors this year as well as local businesses, totals were down. (Times Colonist, July 26, A1) An editorial explained, "...almost half of the funding for the event in Beacon Hill Park has disappeared....The economic downturn is ultimately to blame for the drop in support for the event, because sponsors have had to cut back." (Times Colonist, December 11, 2009, A12)
Costs are not the only problem. Luminara has grown in a direction the association did not intend: "It has become a real spectator event," Scarth said. "That's not really what we're after. We're not a production company, we're not a theatre company. We're about community involvement and community participation." The Times Colonist editorial encouraged a change to "more of a participation event than a spectator one...the transformation of the event into something new and different." It could even be "better in some ways. If the event can bring together more community groups and reflect a greater diversity of ideas, it would still fit within the goals of the Inter-Cultural Association." (Times Colonist, December 11, 2009, A12
The Cameron Bandshell, refurbished in 2007, was again the venue for three popular weekly concert series: Sunday in the Park Concerts, Saturday Jazz Concerts and Friday afternoon Seniors Concerts in the Park. A City of Victoria brochure titled “Stage in the Park, Summer 2009 Outdoor Concerts and Events” listed the summer’s free activities from May 12 through September 20.
The largest events were Heritage Day, June 20, which included twelve ethnic dance groups, the annual Fathers Day celebration “Ceilidh in the Park,” held June 21, and the World Partnership Walk on May 31.
Continuing their extremely successful series of open air films, the Victoria Film Festival presented the ninth annual Free-B Film Festival, screening films on two Friday and four Saturday nights. “Don’t fancy being cooped up inside a hot stuffy theatre for long hours during summer? Then go beyond summer blockbuster and enjoy a movie under the stars with another great line-up of B-movies from the “Family-Friendly” to the “Funky and Fun,” said the Film Festival website. Over 600 people turned out for the film Nightmare Castle, bringing attendance to over 3000 for the first three weeks. That count did not include the large audience expected for the next film favourite, American Graffiti. Other films screened under the stars in 2009 were The Dark Crystal, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Cry Baby and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Most event organizers apply to the city for permits to use the bandshell. Unfortunately, a large number of organizers plan and stage events elsewhere in the park without applying for a permit from the city. Some cause no damage, such as exercise and yoga classes on landscaped lawns. An increasing number of sports, however, involve running through natural areas. Geocaching and orienteering are in this category as is frisbee golf, which involves throwing disks at trees, damaging bark, branches and other vegetation followed by players running into native plant areas looking for their frisbee.
The permit application process provides the opportunity for the city's Environmental Technician, Fred Hook, to talk with organizers so that natural areas are not damaged. “Each group, by itself, can't see that they are doing any harm. Collectively they sure can. Usually it only takes a small adjustment in their activities to minimize the impact but many won't make contact with us to find out,” Hook said. Some native plants are protected by the federal government and the city is required under law to protect them; unless they are blooming, it is not apparent where they grow.
A new sport called “Manhunt” was staged in Beacon Hill Park this year without a permit from the city. On June 13, a special “Manhunt” event to celebrate the first anniversary of the sport--a hide-and-seek game for adults--was held in the park. Organizers hoped 100 people would turnout for “the biggest game yet,” according to their website. Two games were planned, the first beginning at 7:15 and the second at 8 p.m. Participants running at top speed focus entirely on others in the game, plowing through vegetation and sensitive areas, in a show of athleticism.
Except for weddings, all applications to hold events in the park go through the “Parks permit clerk” at the Pandora Street office of Parks, Recreation and Community Development. She determines which applications are referred for environmental assessment.
Artist Deryk Houston applied for and received a city permit to place three giant blue “eggs” in Beacon Hill Park on Saturday, February 28. The eggs, constructed of “lightweight frames wrapped with plasticized fabric,” were six feet by ten feet. Houston told reporter Keith Vass that he hoped displaying his eggs would be “doing something positive and strong and beautiful...it’s kind of a healing process for me.” He explained they are not supposed to be Easter eggs. Hidden inside--with no opening to view them--are art works made by Lockside elementary students. (Victoria News, February 27, 2009, p. A25)
About 9 a.m. the eggs were set up on top of Beacon Hill above the cairns. By 10 a.m. they were moved to the east side of the Hill in the Garry oaks and shrubs above the meadow. By 1:30 p.m., the three blue eggs were back above the cairns on the ridge, as shown below.
“I am making a statement about war,” explained the artist seriously to a man and woman with binoculars. “You are making a statement about war in our park using giant tarp balls?” the man said incredulously. “That is ridiculous and offensive.”
“They look like balls wrapped in blue tarps and string, not eggs,” another park visitor said, “and they sure don’t belong here.” A woman told the artist that giant blue balls sitting in the park interfered with her enjoyment of trees, shrubs and landscape. “This is the Park," she said, "This doesn’t belong here! Don’t you understand this is the Park?” Another visitor said the eggs look cheap and tawdry, “like fake Halloween pumpkins made by stuffing waded newspapers into giant orange garbage bags.”
The artist intended the blue eggs to be an "interactive" experience encouraging emotional responses and discussion, so every comment, no matter how negative, was counted a success. Though billed as an "accidental discovery event," a newspaper story about the giant blue eggs was publicized the day before.
Two previous temporary art installations in the park were less intrusive and controversial than the giant blue eggs. They were not located in natural areas. Both the sound installation by Jamie Druin in 2005 and the papier mache bird display in 2007 by Christine Clark were located in the old aviary by the Stone Bridge.
Campers left mountains of material behind in Beacon Hill Park in 2009, including valuable tents, tarps, sleeping bags and even, as this photo shows, expensive large plastic storage containers. The pickup load shown in this City of Victoria photo is from just one camp in the Southeast Woods. Parks employee Jeff Francis, shown here, must spend way too much of his time loading camper debris into a city pickup and hauling it away. Francis visits parks all over the city to pick up camper garbage. There are grocery carts, food, bottles, quilts, pillows, mattresses and mounds of wet clothing. In Heywood Meadow, a metal bed frame with springs was left near Park Boulevard perched on a split-rail cedar fence. Staff and park volunteers working to restore an area near the totem pole in the Southeast Woods watched a camper climb over an orange plastic fence, set up a tent and began chopping down a tree to make a fire.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Carol Ross ruled it was unconstitutional for the city to prohibit homeless people from erecting shelters to protect themselves from the weather when shelters were full. City staff scrambled to rewrite the bylaw allowing camping in parks during the night. Off-limits were playgrounds, sports fields, footpaths and roads. When staff and residents voiced concern about campers damaging native plants in natural areas of city parks, further amendments were developed “to protect sensitive ecosystems.”
On March 5, Director of Parks, Recreation & Community Development Kate Friars presented six areas identified as sensitive habitat to City Council. The resulting bylaw designated half of Beacon Hill Park as environmentally sensitive and off-limits for camping. This included almost all of the park south of Circle Drive, the Dallas Road cliffs and Mayor’s Grove. Also designated off-limits because of sensitive habitat were parts of Moss Rock Park, Cecelia Cove, Summit Park, Topaz and Robert Porter. Signs were to be placed and used by bylaw enforcement people to roust campers. Those signs never appeared.
Not only local homeless people camped in city parks. Word spread across Canada that anyone was allowed to camp for free in Victoria parks. A young couple from Quebec set up a tent on June 9 in the Northwest Ridge boy scout campfire area, which looks exactly like a campsite, including a firepit. When told to move by a bylaw officer the next morning, they packed up all their gear and moved on.
On November 14, 2009, a small group of volunteers led by the city’s Environmental Technician Fred Hook were in the Southeast Woods to plant native species near the totem pole. On the right, planting a planting a Sword fern (Polystichum munitum), is the city’s new Environmental Field Technician Thomas Munson, assigned to work year-round in the field for the Parks Department’s environment section. In May, his first assignment was removing invasive species dangerous to human health such as Poison hemlock and Giant hogweed, then he moved on to tackle invasive Garlic mustard, Daphne, Scotch broom, English ivy and other invasive plants. Munson holds a diploma in Restoration of Natural Systems and a Master of Science degree in Ecological Restoration from the University of Victoria. He has been a long-time volunteer in Devonian Park and Mt. Douglas Park.
This year’s planting party continues the restoration project started in 2005 by Jeff Ralph, as part of his Masters of Arts program in Ecological Restoration at the University of Victoria. Ralph, working with volunteer Cornelia Lange, initiated the long-lasting community project to remove invasive species from the Southeast Woods. Huge quantities of invasive English ivy which covered the ground and climbed the trees was removed by volunteers, then the area was fenced for two years to allow native plants to regenerate. Park staff, the Friends of Beacon Hill Park, the Fairfield Community Association and University of Victoria helped through the years.
Hook explained to interested volunteers that the Southeast Woods has lost about two thirds of the Douglas firs as well as many Grand firs in the last twenty years because of root fungus. The most recent large tree to fall, a Grand fir, came crashing down on November 23. Though it appeared healthy while standing, "laminated root rot" (Phellinus weirii) was clearly visible in the stump and roots once it toppled. "The fungus can remain live in stumps and roots for many decades after tree death," Dr. Michelle Gorman explained, so the city will plant fungus-resistant trees such as Broadleaf maples, alder, cascara and dogwood. In a natural succession, when those trees reach maturity, conditions will be right once again for firs to seed, grow and become dominant. The Southeast Woods was a much wetter place in the past, with standing water all year. After the city installed drains, the hydrology of the habitat was changed; there is less standing water in winter and the area is dry in summer.
Only sixty people responded to the City of Victoria Parks Department invitation to “help develop a traffic plan for Beacon Hill Park” by attending two Open Houses at City Hall on November 19 and 21. Thirty-nine people filled out the online survey online. Traffic problems highlighted on the city’s website were: “Vehicle traffic within the park... is a safety concern due to speeding and the park’s use as a short-cut by drivers.” (“What’s New,” November, 2009) A study carried out from January through June, 2009 established that over 50% of vehicles in the park in peak hours were cutting through and exceeding the speed limit. “Measured vehicle speeds are up to 25% faster than the posted speed limit of 30 km/h,” an Open House display board explained. To establish current traffic characteristics, the city’s transportation division carried out speed counts over 24 hour periods using a road tube counter and peak-hour intersection counts. Cut-through traffic counts were done manually, comparing license plates entering one side of the park with those exiting the other side.
Average speed of cut-through traffic by private and commercial vehicles on Circle Drive was 41-45 km/h. Average speeds on Heywood were 36-40 km/h, while on Arbutus Way speeds were 31-35 km/h. Circle Drive has the highest number of cut-through drivers and the highest vehicle speeds. The photo on the right shows cars parked on Circle Drive at the Children’s Farm. This area is particularly dangerous because families must cross busy Circle Drive from the Farm to access the central washroom, the lakes, the Watering Can water play area and the central playground. Peafowl and ducks are often in the road and have been hit by speeders.
The speed limit of 30 km/h is posted at the Douglas Road, Dallas Road, Heywood and Arbutus entrances. Current speed limit signs are attached to light standards on every entrance but Arbutus Way. More prominent stand-alone speed limit signs and forceful new signs stating cut-through traffic is prohibited might help as would ticketing more speeders.
Cut-through speeding traffic--both private vehicles and commercial vehicles--has been a major problem in the park for more than eighty years. In 1931, Park Superintendent W.H. Warren recommended commercial vehicles be prohibited from using Park roads; he was unsuccessful. Later, in a continuing effort to exclude non-city trucks from the park, Warren proposed a vehicle weight limit of 4,000 lbs. on interior roads. In 1950, Warren repeatedly asked the B. C. Electric Railway Company to stop using Beacon Hill Park roads for “testing of buses and teaching of drivers.” In 1953, the city’s Parks Committee recommended to City Council that the speed limit on internal roads be reduced from 30 miles per hour to 20. (The current 30 km/h posted speed is close to that 20 mph goal.)
At the 2009 Open House, possible “mitigation options” to alleviate these problems fell into two very general categories: traffic calming and/or road network modifications. Traffic calming actions could be raised islands, raised crosswalks, speed bumps, traffic circles, curb extensions and chicanes. Anticipated impacts would be reduced speed, improved safety and minor reductions in cut-through traffic. Road network modification options involve closures, diversions and conversion to one-way. Cut-through traffic would be reduced and probably lower speeds achieved. A possible negative outcome is change in access for park patrons.
Staff did not present any specific changes or advocate any specific actions to mitigate traffic. This cautious approach was a disappointment to some residents. Past experience shows improving the park’s traffic problems requires strong leadership and courage from both city staff and City Council.
Speeding cut-through cars, trucks and buses aren’t the only traffic challenges in Beacon Hill Park. The city’s “oasis of both natural and landscaped beauty” has major parking problems, too much asphalt, too many internal roads and too many entrances.
At a council meeting in June, 2009, Coun. Geoff Young showed he was aware of these challenges when he pointed out the city is under-utilizing Beacon Hill Park space and could recover acres of land to use as park by "economizing on road networks." Young pointed out the city would never construct so many internal roads through the park today and there are many "redundant road entrances". (Committee of the Whole, June 4, 2009) The blizzard of carriage roads cutting through every section of the park is the result of John Blair’s 1889 park development design. W. H. Warren, Park Administrator from 1930-1970, once said the Blair plan “called for carriage drives...all over the place, a typical Victorian approach...” Blair’s internal roads have plagued park staff for decades.
Sensible proposals to reduce asphalt, close internal roads and alter traffic flow have been difficult to implement in the past. In 1942, Supt. Warren advocated closing Bridge Way and prohibiting traffic over the Stone Bridge; he achieved only Sunday afternoon closures during concerts. (Bridge Way was finally closed to vehicles in the 1990s.) In 1958, Supt. Warren presented a plan for one-way roads in the park. The Parks Committee agreed to one-way on Chestnut Row by Burns Monument and around “the large section east of that location.” In 1971, Upper Nursery Road was closed. It remains blocked today near the nursery fence at the north end of the Southeast Woods. In 1972, the city closed two small roads to vehicles: "Lovers’ Lane" (a one-lane road through the Southeast Woods) and Park Way next to the Cameron Bandshell, which is now an asphalt footpath with raised planters.
The Daily Colonist wrote on November 3, 1972: "According to the results of a questionnaire circulated by the city’s traffic department, the majority of Victorians would prefer further road closures in Beacon Hill Park, but to a varying degree. Of 200 Victoria residents interviewed by the department, 33% were in favor of a complete closure of roads; 30% were in favor of a partial closure; 26% favored closing all but the main road; while only 11% favored no closures." At the time, Warren, recently retired after forty years as head of the Parks Department, agreed with protesters that all internal park roads should be closed. Not much has changed since.
Beacon Hill Park’s existing parking lots are underutilized, according to an Open House display board: “The large parking lot near the petting farm was rarely more than 40% full even on busy summer days. Roadside parking on busy days was often 90% full.” Drivers prefer to and have been allowed to park anywhere along roadways and even on meadows. The problem is most acute along Circle Drive, where trucks, cars and buses park on and damage the most important wildflower meadow in the park. There are no signs to tell drivers to stay on the gravel and no barrier to prevent vehicles from parking in and driving on that meadow. No public process is needed to take those sensible steps immediately.
Many drivers park their vehicles for free in Beacon Hill Park every day and walk downtown to work or shop. On Arbutus Way, in the north end of the park closest to town, drivers are allowed to park for 3 ½ hours; they can be observed parking every morning and walking north toward town out of the park. Many drivers return at noon to move their cars, thus gaining another 3 ½ hrs free parking. Occasional tickets are given by commissionaires but the penalties from the occasional ticket are well below the cost of pay parking downtown. In other areas of the park, no time limits for parking are posted and no tickets are given. No signs are posted that parking is reserved for park visitors only.
The process to achieve meaningful traffic changes will be lengthy, judging by the initial tentative consultation. In the meantime, some residents advocate telling drivers more clearly what they is required with explicit signs. Signs explaining drivers should not cut through the park could be erected. Signs could be placed along the Circle Drive wildflower meadow telling drivers not to park on the meadow and barriers placed to force buses, trucks and cars to park on the gravel (in the past, a row of logs served this purpose). More speed limit signs could be installed and speeders ticketed. A sign could be posted at Southgate and Arbutus entrance stating buses must not enter the park on narrow Arbutus Way. Signs could state that parking is reserved for park visitors only.
Coun. John Luton stated at the Nov. 19 Open House he hopes to reduce car traffic through the park in order to reserve recreation space for people. One objective of the future improved traffic plan is to “Encourage more visitors to get out of their vehicles,” according to an Open House display board. Better formal footpaths are needed and park visitors must be encouraged to use them instead of the many unofficial trails. However, no specific proposals for new trails were presented at the Open House. The survey filled out by residents included questions on footpaths in the park.
Senior Planner Doug DeMarzo has been working on the complex traffic management issue for more than a year. He will examine input from the November public process next. According to the city’s website, a draft plan “will be presented to the community at open houses in early 2010 for feedback, and a final plan will be presented to Council for consideration in the spring.”
Buses are a major noise, fume and traffic concern in the park for many residents but were not mentioned at the Open House. Huge diesel highway buses roar through the park on Circle Drive and some enter narrow Arbutus Way from the north, grinding south through the park and bumping over the curb near the washrooms. No signs are posted at Southgate and Arbutus stating buses must not enter. Hop-on, hop-off buses drive into the park on Circle Drive every twenty minutes in summer. To achieve peace and quiet, clean air and safety in the park, many residents advocate all buses be excluded and say buses should use the bus stop on Douglas Street at the entrance of Circle Drive, which is near the watering can and Children’s Farm, instead of entering the park.
It seems unlikely Park Planners will be willing to propose closing the road up Beacon Hill to vehicles, a topic guaranteed to be controversial. Many walkers and bikers suggest at least a partial closure at special times, such as Sunday mornings. Similar morning closures of the Mt. Douglas Park road have been a success, allowing walkers and bikers, for a few hours, to enjoy the area without vehicle traffic.
There was no public consultation process before the Beacon Hill Farm Society plan to replace the goat shed with a larger structure appeared on the September 17 agenda of the Environment and Infrastructure Standing Committee and then was subsequently approved by City Council. The new structure will be 416 square feet, more than double the current size of 196 square feet. The Minutes of the committee stated: "A larger sheltered space would allow more space for farm workers during birthing and provide additional shelter for the animals and visitors. The new structure would also ensure wheelchairs and individuals with mobility challenges could comfortably manoeuvre within the barn." Unknown to residents, plans for this change had been underway for months. Committee minutes stated: "A Heritage Impact Study was undertaken and identified the proposed new barn alteration would not obscure, damage or destroy the character defining land patterns or the heritage value of Beacon Hill Park and the Children’s Farm."
James Bay Neighbourhood Association (JBNA) Parks Committee member Marg Gardiner protested lack of public process: “There is an expectation of public consultation when changes are made to Parks, particularly when third party contracts or licensing is in place or contemplated. We are more than fearful that the practice of park 'give-aways' or third-party closed door agreements are becoming commonplace. What public consultation has occurred regarding the enlargement of the building as described in the Committee's agenda?” Looking ahead to changes in other parks, Gardiner asked: "What actions will the Committee take to ensure that there is full community consultation with respect to parks-related issues?"
Environment and Infrastructure Standing Committee minutes stated: "Construction costs for the new barn are the responsibility of the Beacon Hill Farm Society and City resources would be limited to project management." Gardiner pointed out costs to the city are significant: “The report appended to the agenda suggests that the 'only' involvement of city staff has been and will be the project management of the planning and building of the new barn. There is a real taxpayer cost to this type of work. Meetings have been held, plans have been developed, reports have been written. What is the cost of resources put to the project to date? What further allocation of resources is anticipated? Given the City's project management of the building, what long-term liability and utility provision could be attributed to the goat barn?” No answers were received to these questions.
Marsha Koenders, daughter of Beacon Hill Park Children’s Farm private business contractors Lynda and Dennis Koenders, appealed on Chek 6 News September 27, 2009, for $20,000 in donations to build an enlarged new goat barn with wheelchair access. The news report stated Ellis Recycling had already donated $11,000 of the total $30,000 needed for the construction project.
Printed news reports omitted the key fact that a much taller and larger building was to be constructed in a public park where agreed-upon lease rules preclude the private farm business from expanding. Instead, the focus was on improving access for wheelchairs. “A project is in the works to make the Beacon Hill Children's Farm more wheelchair-accessible. Efforts will concentrate on the area where young people play with baby goats, one of the farm's most popular sites,” the Times Colonist wrote. (Times Colonist, September 27, 2009, A4) The Victoria News followed the same line, writing that an “upgrade” would “make the farm a friendlier place for...wheelchairs.” (Victoria News, October 7, 2009, A5). Ramps on the ground are obvious wheelchair-friendly additions to accomplish that goal; building a taller goat barn is not.
One resident suggests the Children’s Farm must have a good public relations consultant. In 2008, the Farm was able to put a similar positive spin on acquiring more park land by rebranding the former police horse paddock a “peacock habitat.” The media cooperated by repeating that description and not providing the information that the area was set aside for temporary special use as a paddock for city police horses with the stipulation the horse paddock area would be returned to open park land when it was no longer used for police horses. In 2008, the city reneged on that agreement. The area remains behind a high fence.
In a statement on A Channel television news at 5 on August 6, a spokesperson for the Farm said they received an estimated $250,000 in “donations” per year. Anyone entering the Farm gate must pass a table manned by Farm workers with a “suggested donation” sign and a deposit location. Contributing to an A Channel segment on how the new HST tax system would affect businesses, the Farm spokesperson complained they would have to pay HST on a quarter million dollars. Always billed as a “non-profit society,” the Farm is run by contractors who pay themselves salaries. Unlike other businesses, the contractors use prime city land for free and receive free services from the city such as electricity, water and garbage collection.
According to the terms of the Beacon Hill Park Trust, no advertising is allowed in the park, no signs or banners, and no business leaflets. It is one of the few commercial-free zones in the city. This year, Farm contractors painted "Beacon Hill Park Children’s Farm" on the side of a vintage pickup truck named Hazel. Painted bright red, with gleaming wood sides and white wheels, the truck was a moveable billboard. It was occasionally parked on Douglas Street at Mile Zero but more often it was located in front of the Farm gate on Circle Drive. The gleaming truck advertised a business in the park and therefore was in violation of the Trust and also in violation of the agreement the Farm signed with the city.
Clumps of sticky pink bubblegum appeared on the bronze bust of Queen Elizabeth II in June. The pink tiara, pink eyes, lips and nipples were gone by July 12. Pink bubblegum was a mild indignity compared to previous incidents. She was knocked flat in 1965 and later, an X, still faintly visible, was scratched on her forehead.
The bronze bust has stood at the edge of Queen’s Lake since 1962, picturesquely framed by shrubs, at Circle Drive and Heywood, south of the Cricket Pitch. It is the second bust of the Queen placed in Beacon Hill Park. The first, sculpted in 750 pounds of concrete by Peggy Packard, was destroyed by vandals in less than a year. The second bust has enjoyed a much quieter life by comparison.
[The drama-filled short life of the first Queen’s bust included controversy, humour, kidnapping, and finally, decapitation. See Ch. 14 for a full description under the year 1960. See Ch. 14, year 1962, for more on the bronze bust.]
A fire was set on top of Beacon Hill August 28, most likely by a careless cigarette smoker. This photo shows fire damage next to the road with the Checkers Pavilion roof in the background. That fire was the third small fire quickly extinguished by fire fighters in 2009. All three fires were started in different ways by careless people--a smoker, a camper and someone playing with fire.
A July 17 fire by the Northwest Ridge gravel path was clearly the fault of campers. Charred food containers and the burnt pages of at least four books blew around the site after fire fighters left. The second fire, on August 17, was also on the Northwest Ridge. It burned a larger area just northwest of the first site among the rocks near the corner of Douglas and Southgate. That fire is likely to have been caused by fire-spinners.
There is a plus side to fires in Garry oak habitat. This September 9 photo shows how quickly oak regeneration occurred on the site of the July 17 Northwest Ridge fire. Fire stimulates Garry oak growth; these green leaves appeared just days after the fire. Setting fire to dry grasses was a key aboriginal land management practice carried out for centuries. White settlers stopped this practice more than 150 years ago. Burning has multiple positive benefits. It benefits the growth of Camas, promotes the growth of native grasses and other edible plant species, prevents bushes and shrubs from growing in meadows as well as stimulating oak growth. Fires benefit the soil by releasing minerals, too, an annual fertilizing. In cooperation with the Fire Department, the Parks Department hopes to carefully stage several small controlled burns in Beacon Hill Park to promote native plant growth and the general health of Garry oak habitat. Environmental Field Technician Thomas Munson has extensive experience with controlled burns.
Every summer, people set illegal fires on the beach. The fires, which can spread to piles of logs near the banks and spread up the cliffs, present an on-going challenge to fire crews. These fires are difficult to fight from above and especially dangerous at night. Using a fireboat to put out beach fires would protect fire crews and would also protect native plant meadows from heavy fire trucks at the same time. Fire trucks driving on Holland Point, east of Beacon Hill Park, are particularly damaging to the verdant meadows there. Driving extremely heavy trucks off roads and paths onto sensitive native plant meadows compresses soil and retards the growth of plants for years. In 2009, multiple tracks compressing the vegetation revealed fire trucks did not drive on asphalt paths and even drove in wide circles in the meadow, excursions unrelated to fighting beach fires. It is clear fire fighters do not realize the damage they are causing.
The photo above shows a Victoria Fire Department truck which drove from Dallas Road south to the shelter at Finlayson Point on July 4 to check on possible beach fires below the cliff. Though Finlayson Point meadows have been heavily degraded already compared to Holland Point, rehabilitation is possible and desirable. Compacting soil further only promotes the grown of invasive species such as Carpet burweed.
An incident on October 11, during the Victoria Marathon, revealed many fire fighters are unaware of the damage they cause driving trucks across meadows. On that day, the crew was not answering a fire call. The truck, clearly on a leisurely training drive, came from the north on Circle Drive, heading toward Dallas Road. When faced with cones blocking entrance to Dallas Road, the driver could have backed up. Instead, he drove onto the path leading to the totem pole, then made a wide U-turn on the meadow in front of the pole. That meadow is one of the few sites in the park where two species of native orchids bloom; after soil compression from the truck, it is unlikely orchids will manage to grow for many years.
In March, selected European elm trees growing along the edge of the Dallas Road bluffs were cut to help stabilize the cliffs. Many residents, unaware of severe problems caused by invasive elms, were angry and called the Parks Department to vehemently protest the selective cutting.
Elms are one of the most damaging invasive species growing along the Dallas Road bluffs. Other invasive plants - Gorse, Scotch broom and Tree lupine - crowd out native species too, but the spread of elms along the bluffs has been particularly fast and devastating. The tall non-native elms move violently in high winds; that motion loosens the soil around their roots, promoting erosion and contributing to “long term instability of the bank,” according to City of Victoria Environmental Technician Fred Hook. Native trees - Pacific willow, Pacific crab apple and Bitter cherry -stay low and shape to the wind with minimal motion. A few of these native trees remain on the Dallas Road bluffs but most have been overwhelmed by highly invasive elms.
Photos taken by botanist Dr. Chris Brayshaw illustrate how quickly invasive oaks spread and grow. Brayshaw took the photo on the right in 1968 while standing at the foot of Douglas Street on Dallas Road. At that time, there was an unobstructed view of the beach and ocean from the sidewalk. Walkers standing at the same location in 2009 will find a startling contrast: there is no view of the ocean.
The photo below, taken by Dr. Brayshaw in 2000, standing in the same location as in 1968, documents the dramatic change which had taken place in just three decades. Ocean views from the sidewalk of Dallas Road at Douglas Street were already blocked by a tall, impenetrable wall of elms.
Elms spread quickly by sending up shoots from their roots, a process called suckering. Botanists disagree about which elm species is growing on the Dallas Road bluffs - English, Rock or Cork - but they do agree they are invasive and undesirable. Dr. Brayshaw calls elm thickets along Dallas Road an “invasion.” In a 2005 botanical survey of Beacon Hill Park, Dr. Adolf Ceska called them “infestations.”
Selected cutting in 2009 began at Cook Street and Dallas Road, just east of the Beacon Hill Park boundary. About 20 large elms were removed alongside the path leading down to the turret and beach. Smaller elms were topped to about four feet to allow sunlight to reach the ground. That will allow native vegetation to regenerate and hold surface soils in place.
Near Finlayson Point, in Beacon Hill Park, 30 elms measuring over 8" in diameter and/or 25 feet above the top of the bank were targeted. At the Douglas Street corner, at the western edge of the park, about ten large elms, some 35 to 40 feet high, were removed near the stairway (left photo). In the photo on the right, leafless wintertime views are still obstructed.
The Dallas Road cliffs have been eroding slowly for five thousand years. Local aboriginal people called the cliff edge ‘Heel ng ikun,’ meaning “falling away bank.” In previous decades, the City of Victoria attempted “to stop” or “reduce” this natural process by constructing stairways, paths, walls, drains, berms, reefs, and breakwaters. Most had the opposite effect.
Bluff erosion and bluff ecosystems are complicated issues. That is why the March cut was cautious and limited. No elms were killed; they will sprout back quickly and their roots remain in place to stabilize the bluffs.
A long-term management plan for the cliffs is needed. In 2009, the City of Victoria Parks Division applied for a Habitat Stewardship Program grant to help accomplish this. According to Todd Stewardson, Manager of Parks Construction and Natural Systems: “The Habitat Stewardship Program is a grant program administered by the Canadian Wildlife Service, part of Environment Canada. The program is designed to provide matching funding for projects that are being undertaken to protect and/or conserve habitat for species at risk.”
The city’s plan fits those those goals. Stewardson explained: “Our proposed project is the conservation and restoration of the Dallas Bluffs, from Boyd Street and Dallas Road to Clover Point. The Bluffs are home to a number of species at risk, so we are proposing a two-stage project. The first stage would be the mapping, assessment and restoration plan that would be undertaken in 2010, and the action items resulting from this plan would be implemented in 2011 and 2012. In total, we are estimating the project at $300,000. The work would be specifically focused on the bluff areas as opposed to the areas of Holland and Beacon Hill Parks that are at street level.”