Original Beacon Hill Park Boundaries and Details of Land Sales
James Douglas, Chief Factor
of the Hudson’s Bay Company, sketched out the boundaries of a “Park
Reserve” (later called Beacon Hill Park) by 1850, before official land
surveys of the area were available. The original size of the park was
over 220 acres.
set aside the “Park Reserve” to comply with one of the requirements of
the Wakefield system, a theory of colonization adopted by the British
government in 1849 for application on Vancouver Island. The Wakefield
land management system called for public tracts of land or “Reserves” to
be set aside for clergy, schools, hospitals and parks according to a
formula. For every eight square miles of private land sold, a square
mile was to be reserved for “church and churchyard, schools, or other
public purposes.” It is under that requirement that Beacon Hill Park was
On Feb. 23, 1859, the London office of the Hudson’s Bay Company officially established Beacon Hill Park as a public park.
The Park is marked on the
“Victoria District Official Map, 1858" as “Lot LXXXVII Public Park”.
When the Park was transferred to the City of Victoria on February 21,
1882, it was referred to as “Section 87". There is no written
description or total acreage filed with this map. The 1861 "Town of
Victoria" map shows the boundaries of the Park including the original
northeast corner. (J. Despard Pemberton, Surveyor General, J.
Arrowsmith, Publisher, 7 January 1861. B. C. Archives CM/ B275)
Beacon Hill Park Acres and Boundaries
Beacon Hill Park is the largest public park in the City of Victoria.
The official total area of Beacon Hill Park is 183.147 acres (74.117 hectares), according to the City of Victoria Engineering Department. (City of Victoria, Beacon Hill Park map ROL181W, October 16, 1995) That figure includes all land within the park's official boundary lines. However, city streets built on park land consume approximately thirty acres; those thirty acres are not available for park use. City staff under the direction of W. H. Warren, Parks Superintendent for forty years, recognized that loss by subtracting thirty acres of asphalt from the park's acreage total. For decades, 154 acres was the figure printed on Beacon Hill Park city maps.
In a presentation to City Council's Environment and Infrastructure Standing Committee on December 17, 2009, Parks Assistant Director David Speed stated Beacon Hill Park's area was 165 acres. This figure, slightly higher than Warren's 154 acres, might be the most accurate current total of land actually available for park uses. However, the plaque secured to a large granite boulder standing on the top of Beacon Hill still states: "Area is 154 acres."
The 30 acres of city streets on Beacon Hill Park land include:
Dallas Road (white line along the bottom of the map) through the park.
Douglas St. from the junction of Blanchard south to Dallas Road.
Southgate Street from Heywood to Douglas.
Heywood Avenue from Southgate to Park Boulevard.
Also on Park land is the major intersection at Douglas, Blanchard and Southgate, the traffic triangle at Mile Zero, parking bays along Douglas and Dallas, and sidewalks and boulevards north of Southgate, east of Heywood and north of Park Boulevard.
The original size of Beacon Hill Park in 1850 was over 220 acres. Approximately forty acres of Park land was sold before 1864. The largest loss--thirty-two acres--was in the northeast corner. Another eight acres of Park land were sold along the west boundary of the Park. Those two sections, now outside existing Park boundaries, are outlined in black on the map. By the time land sales ended in 1863, the park was reduced to 183.147 acres. (For more details of early park land transfers go to the Contents page and click on Appendix A.)
There are more ways to shrink a park than selling land outright. In addition to the direct loss of 30 acres of park land under city streets, many more acres have been paved for internal roads and parking lots, built upon or fenced for special uses (see below for details), leaving about 127 acres freely available for public use. Open park land shrunk even as Victoria’s population and the population of the Greater Victoria region grew; a smaller park is visited by an ever increasing number of residents and tourists. How many park acres are currently used for sports fields, buildings, playgrounds, maintenance yard, internal roads and other special uses? That information is essential for making future decisions, but the city cannot provide it. The Engineering Department’s Ted Isaacs stated in June, 2004, that it would take too many hours to work out the figures, even with the aid of digital maps and advanced computer mapping programs. In 2008, official figures were still unavailable. In the absence of official totals, unofficial rough estimates are presented below, followed by a detailed map of the park:
Thirty acres of Beacon Hill Park land are buried under five busy city streets, intersections, sidewalks and boulevards. These streets include the section of Dallas Road from Douglas Street to Cook Street, Douglas Street from Southgate to Dallas, Heywood Avenue, Park Boulevard and Southgate Street from Douglas to Heywood. This photo shows one of the major intersections (Douglas Street and Dallas Road) built entirely on Beacon Hill Park land. Fifty years of park records confirm 30 acres are covered by the city streets listed, plus sidewalks and boulevards. Those acres seem so completely lost as usable park land--no person would dare put down a picnic blanket in the middle of Douglas Street--that total park acreage is often stated to be 154.47 acres. That figure acknowledges the unofficial loss of 30 acres.
Another 16 acres of Beacon Hill Park are buried under internal park roads, parking lots and other hard surfaces. This photo shows Circle Drive, the widest and busiest internal road through the park. The park’s main parking lot is located off Circle Drive on the west side of the Children’s Farm. Arbutus Way is a one way internal road heading south from Southgate Avenue to connect with Circle Drive. It includes several parking areas. The Loop Road climbs from Circle Drive to the top of Beacon Hill, ending in another parking area. Other internal roads are Chestnut Row (a prime candidate for closure), Bridge Way, Heywood Way and Nursery Road.
Sports fields and sports facilities consume about 8.5 acres of Beacon Hill Park. The golf putting green, tennis courts, soccer fields and baseball fields are open to the public, as required by law, but two sports fields and clubhouses are operated by private clubs on public park land. The left photo below shows the high chain-link fence enclosing the lawn bowling greens and clubhouse. Though the area is technically open to the public, in practice it is not. The effect of the fence is exclusionary and the clubhouse is clearly private.
The cricket pitch, above right, is not fenced and is open to the public when cricket matches are not being played. The cricket clubhouse is public in name only. The facility is under complete control of the private club and outsiders are effectively excluded.
The Parks Department maintenance yard, offices and nursery sit on about 7 acres of park land surrounded by a high chain-link fence. The yard is primarily a work and parking area, with many vehicles, equipment, one large building, many sheds and greenhouses. Very few members of the public venture inside. The maintenance yard, offices and nursery serve the entire city, as does the Service Building, located in the center of the park next to the children’s playground. According to legal rulings on park use, the only maintenance and operations which should be located in the park are those necessary to service Beacon Hill Park itself.
Approximately 2.7 acres are children’s areas. These include two playgrounds, two water spray facilities and the Children’s Farm, which is surrounded by a high chain-link fence. Also fenced is a large area behind the farmyard formerly used for police horses. In 2008, the city agreed the Farm could use most of the area and fences exclude the public.
Buildings and structures cover 1.3 acres. These include the unused Sports Hut (shown below), maintenance buildings, Service Building, restrooms, Checkers Pavilion, Finlayson Point shelter, derelict aviary, police horse barn, farm buildings, lawn bowling clubhouse and sheds, cricket clubhouse, Cameron Bandshell, monuments and other structures such as the defunct Boy Scout campfire circle, and the old Chinese Bell roof.
Landscaped and ornamental areas cover 33.8527 acres (19%) of Beacon Hill Park, according to a 2001 consultant report presented to the city. That figure includes the artificial lakes, lawns and a jigsaw of planted areas. (State of the Environment, pp. 16-18)
About 80 park acres are classified as “more natural” or “less developed.” Though every area of the park has been damaged and altered by humans, some native plants and remnants of eight ecosystems survive in parts of the Southeast Woods, the Northwest Ridge, Heywood Meadow, Beacon Hill and the Dallas Road waterfront.
The above photo shows the grassy south slope of Beacon Hill in spring, with remnants of Blue camas in the distance. The State of the Environment consultant report described and mapped eight “Native Vegetation Types” in Beacon Hill Park: Grassland, Garry oak woods with grassy ground cover, Garry oak woods with shrubby ground cover, Douglas-fir woods, Black cottonwood semi-swamp forest, moist deciduous groves, seaward slopes scrub, and spray zone and beachhead. (State of the Environment, p. 7-16) (Click --->GO TO BOUNDARIES DESCRIPTION PAGE
The entire northeast corner of the Park--an estimated 32 acres-- was sold to private buyers. (It is possible that a further section along the north boundary was also sold, but since map boundary lines vary and conflict through the years, that is unclear.)
Victory BC - Original Property Owners - 1858
James Douglas arranged to sell the largest portion--24 acres--to himself in 1852. Douglas purchased 300 acres in 1850 along the east edge of the Park, then expanded his holdings to 418 acres by August 1852. The extra acres acquired by Douglas included two parcels along the east edge of his property. The third parcel was 24 acres of the northeast corner of Beacon Hill Park. The map below identifies each parcel acquired by Douglas.
The above map is based on a map provided courtesy of Sylvia Van Kirk. The map was published in "Tracing
the fortunes of five founding families of Victoria,"BC Studies, no.115/116, Autumn/Winter, 1997/98, p.148.
The map was enhanced by Ken Lajoie.
Note that the above southern half of the 1858 Victoria Property map identifies individual property owners with letters (e.g. "D" for James Douglas). Below is the northern half of this map. Please refer to the above southern section of the map for "letter codes" identifying the landowners.
Northern half of the 1858 property owners map
In 1859, more of the northeast corner--about eight acres--was sold by the Hudson’s Bay Company to private buyers.
Between 1861 and 1863, another eight acres of the Park along the western boundary was sold. A new boundary line was drawn angling east from the northwest corner of the park to a point opposite Toronto Street, then a straight line was drawn angling west again from that point to the original boundary line at Beacon Street. That triangle of Park land was divided into private lots. (South Park School is on the north end of that segment.)
This change can be seen by comparing two maps available at the B. C. Archives. The 1861 map “Town of Victoria” (CM/ B275) shows a straight line western boundary. A map published in January, 1863, by Waddington, Kutchel, and Crease (CM/ B272) shows the new line.
Sales of Park acreage by the Hudson’s Bay Company were confirmed by Provincial Archivist Willard Ireland in 1942. He quoted W. A. G. Young, speaking to a committee in 1863: “Governor Douglas, Col. R. C. Moody, Mr. Munro and Mr. Morris owned property within the original reserve.” (Ireland, “Memorandum re: Title to Beacon Hill Park, Victoria, British Columbia,” May 8, 1942, p.3, B.C.A.) A Douglas letter to Newcastle on August 8, 1861 mentioned “portions of land laid off on that map as streets and public reserves...having been recently sold by private contract...” The Surveyor General referred to sales in a 1862 letter to the Attorney General: “The Company have recently sold a portion of the Public Park (3 ½ acres on the west side) to Mr. John Morris, and his fences or buildings are in part constructed upon the same. The company have also disposed of other portions of the Public Park.” The Colonial Office referred the question of title to the Privy Council. “An arbitration award dated February 3, 1862 validated all prior sales of land within the disputed area.” (Ireland, p. 3)
Later Descriptions of Original Park boundaries
Two later descriptions usefully outline the original Park boundaries in relation to present street locations and landmarks. The Colonist, July 17, 1949, wrote “...an area was set aside for a public park from the waterfront at Cook Street, north along Cook to Pakington, thence westward to Douglas Street opposite the present Glenshiel Hotel and south again in a straight line along Douglas to the sea.”
In 1952, Park Administrator W. H. Warren described the original outlines of the Park as well as acres lost on both the west and east sides: “The east boundary originally extended from the waterfront at Cook Street in a straight line north from May Street to a point on Pakington Street near Humboldt Street and thence westerly to Douglas and Blanchard Streets. Originally the west boundary also was a straight line from the waterfront at Douglas Street north to the intersection of Humboldt and Douglas Streets. Thus the area on the west inside the present dog’s leg on Douglas Street and on the east of the park between Cook Street and Heywood Avenue, has been lost. There remains 184 acres today.” (“A Natural History of Beacon Hill Park,” July 21, 1952, Park Dept. Files)
Construction of City Streets on Park land
Though originally over 220 acres, Beacon Hill Park was officially 183.147 acres in 1995, according to a City of Victoria Engineering and Planning digital map. Of that total, 30 acres of Park land are used for City streets, sidewalks and boulevards. Five busy City streets are officially on Park land: the section of Dallas Road from Douglas to Cook St., Douglas Street from Southgate to Dallas, Heywood Avenue, Park Boulevard and Southgate Street from Douglas to Heywood. Cook Street is the only boundary road not built on park land. Boulevards and sidewalks on Heywood Avenue, Park Boulevard and Southgate are on Park land. Total Park acreage minus City streets is 154.47 acres. City of Victoria publications use both figures--184 acres and 154.47 acres--usually without explanation.
Douglas Street was constructed south to Dallas Road in 1912. In 1935, Douglas Street was widened to 36 feet, including parking bays.
Dallas Road from Cook St. to Douglas St. was widened in 1957 and new parking bays added facing the sea. Also included were “extensive alterations” to the intersection of Douglas and Dallas. Mile Zero, a triangular piece of Park land, was marooned between two extensions of Douglas Street.
Southgate Avenue was constructed through the north end of the Park in 1957, isolating a strip of Park land north of the street. The construction of Southgate “involved extensive alteration to the intersection of Douglas, Superior and Blanshard Streets,” according to a City of Victoria publication. More Park land was used for that intersection expansion. The deplorable pink mattress “art” at the junction of Douglas and Blanchard is also on Park land.
Beacon Hill Park Split Between Two Neighbourhoods
News reports often state Beacon Hill Park is located in the James Bay neighbourhood of Victoria. That is only half correct. The City of Victoria’s “Neighbourhood boundaries” map and neighbourhood “Profiles” on the City website show the western half of the Park officially in James Bay. The eastern half is in Fairfield. As shown on the above map, a north-south boundary line divides the Park between the two neighbourhoods. The western boundary of Fairfield runs south on Blanshard to Southgate, then east to Quadra Street and south into the Park on Arbutus Way. The boundary line continues south, jogging to join Chestnut Row, then enters Circle Drive opposite the Children’s Farm and continues to Dallas Road. The boundary line continues to the shoreline, hitting the ocean east of Finlayson Point.
The heavy black line on the map indicates the outer boundary of the "Victoria Harbour Bird Sanctuary," established in 1923. The inner boundary follows the shoreline and includes all beaches from Ten Mile Point to Esquimalt. The Canadian Wildlife Service notified the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority in 2008 that the electronic sound device installed by the GVHA to scare gulls off the Ogden Point Pier A warehouse roof was not appropriate in the sanctuary because other birds would be disturbed. The City of Victoria's off-leash dog area on Gonzales Beach is also in direct conflict with protecting birds. (National Resources Canada map 92 B/6, Edition 6)
Migratory Bird Sanctuary Boundary
The heavy black line on the map indicates the outer boundary of the
"Victoria Harbour Bird Sanctuary," established in 1923. The inner
boundary follows the shoreline and includes all beaches from Ten Mile
Point to Esquimalt. The Canadian Wildlife Service notified the Greater
Victoria Harbour Authority in 2008 that the electronic sound device
installed by the GVHA to scare gulls off the Ogden Point Pier A
warehouse roof was not appropriate in the sanctuary because other birds
would be disturbed. The City of Victoria's off-leash dog area on
Gonzales Beach is also in direct conflict with protecting birds.
(National Resources Canada map 92 B/6, Edition 6).