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Beacon Hill Park History Chapter 23: 2008

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A bronze spindle whorl sculpture was installed on the top of Beacon Hill in September, 2008, one of seven similar installations marking sites of cultural significance to local First Nations people. Known as “Signs of the Lekwungen,” the seven markers are part of a new “Inner Harbour First Nations Interpretative Walkway.” The large sculpture represents a hand spindle, a wooden tool used to spin yarn. Songhees Nation master carver Butch Dick chose that symbol because he remembers watching his grandmother use a spindle.

The Beacon Hill marker is impressive but puzzling to most visitors because there is no explanatory sign at the site. Background information and a map are provided in a City of Victoria brochure titled “Signs of the Lekwungen,” available at City Hall and Parks Department offices. Unfortunately, most visitors do not have that printed material. The brochure description for Beacon Hill states:

“The hill here is called MEE-qan which means ‘warmed by the sun.’ This seaward slope was a popular place for rest and play - a game similar to field hockey, called Coqwialls, was played here. At the bottom of the hill was a small, palisaded village that was occupied intermittently from 1000 until approximately 300 years ago. The settlement was here for defense during times of war, and it was also important for reef net fishing. The starchy bulbs of the wildflower, Camas, were an important food source gathered in this area. The hill here is also known as Beacon Hill.”

Only two of the three significant aboriginal uses of Beacon Hill Park land--the fortified village on Finlayson Point and camas harvesting on the hill--are mentioned in the brochure. Ancient aboriginal burial cairns are not described. The new sculpture is positioned just above four reconstructed aboriginal burial cairns; from the marker, visitors look down on these prominent groups of boulders. Other original burial cairns, hidden by vegetation, are still in place on the hill. The cairns were given the highest heritage value rating, "excellent," in a 2004 report on Beacon Hill Park heritage features. (Beacon Hill Park Heritage Landscape Management Plan, May, 2004. p. 41, 70) Even more important, the Songhees Nation considers Beacon Hill a sacred aboriginal burial ground. The cairns are not marked on the new Beacon Hill Park map published by the city in 2007.

Top view figures on the monument        Side pespective of the monument        Front view names on the monument

The carving at Beacon Hill features sea otters and sprites, shown in the photo above left. Carver Butch Dick told the Victoria News he chose spiritual symbols because the location is above a burial site. "I thought it was a natural dedication to our ancestors who are buried there," Dick said. Sea otters were used "when people lacked power or needed some extra help in their lives." (Victoria News, January 1-7, 2009, p. 12) A few months earlier he explained: “The sea otters are very significant, maybe not as predominant nowadays, but a long time ago they were placed on long-house posts. The meaning behind that would be they would nurse your spirit if you body needed nourishing as far as your spirit.” (Victoria News, Oct. 3, 2008, p. 1) Sea otters were hunted to extinction in this area; only river otters can be seen today. The Lekwungen name for Beacon Hill is etched on the circular stone under the spindle, visible in the middle photo. The right photo shows the English translation, “warmed by the sun.” (Photos by Norm Ringuette)

All seven interpretative walk markers feature the same area map with the appropriate Lekwungen name for the site etched on it. Small concave circles mark the seven locations on the stone map. A walking figure with “l/2 hr” etched alongside apparently indicates the time needed to walk from one site to the next. The half-hour fits the distance in some cases (from Beacon Hill Park, #5, to the Royal B.C. Museum, #6) but not others (Wharf Street, #2, to City Hall, #3, is a much shorter distance).

Though no unveiling ceremony marked the occasion on Beacon Hill, a ceremony did take place in the Inner Harbour on September 30. In that location, a large interpretative sign and map is mounted next to sculpture #4. Songhees First Nation Chief Robert Sam stated, "It is about time we had a marker."

Recognition of First Nations was definitely long overdue in Beacon Hill Park. Though thirty-six Beacon Hill Park monuments, markers and plaques focused on the white culture’s 165 year presence, there was no aboriginal marker honouring over 1,000 years of aboriginal occupation and use of the area. In 2008, there is an aboriginal marker in the park at last but still no words describing and explaining aboriginal uses of the land. The only sentence about First Nations in the entire park is engraved on a Finlayson Point monument, sandwiched between information about Roderick Finlayson and a gun emplacement.

Butch Dick carved a different design for each site on a large red cedar disk, then all seven carvings were cast in bronze. The original cedar carvings were on display at City Hall in illuminated glass cases borrowed from the Royal B.C. Museum until a permanent location could be found. Also on display in the foyer were two 2006 paintings by Betty Meyers depicting Victoria in 1849 and Victoria today. The “Signs of the Lekwungen” interpretative brochure includes large representations of those two paintings as well as thirteen other photos and illustrations, but does not include photos of the carvings, descriptions of the images or explanations of their significance.

Tent City Dismantled in Beacon Hill Park

Tent in Mayor's Grove

A “tent city” was established in the north end of Beacon Hill Park on October 14, 2008, just hours after B.C. Supreme Court Justice Carol Ross struck down a City of Victoria bylaw prohibiting “temporary abodes” in parks and public spaces. Six tents were erected in Mayors Grove the first day; by October 16, the number of tents, shown above, had more than doubled and it was clear campers hoped to live in the park indefinitely.

Large tarps thrown over ropes tied to trees created a communal meeting and kitchen area furnished with a long table, camp stove and even an office swivel chair. Grocery carts, beach umbrella, wheelbarrow, bikes and piles of possessions were parked nearby. A recycled election sign declared the area a “Tent City,” a Canadian flag and Tibetan prayer flags flapped in the breeze. One camper played his guitar while unofficial leader David Johnstone, reclining in a lawn chair, told reporters he was planning to build an outhouse soon.

Johnstone had waited three years for the Supreme Court decision supporting his right to sleep outside. The ruling stated homeless people had the right to erect shelters to protect themselves if safe and secure beds were not available in the city. If alternative beds were not available, the city bylaw prohibiting shelters on public lands violated the rights of homeless people under Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In one dramatic stroke, homeless campers were transformed from lawbreakers forced to hide in bushes to people with a legal right to erect “temporary dwellings” on public lands.

The B.C. Supreme Court judgment did not define “temporary” or state which public lands would be appropriate for camping. City Council and staff met immediately to work out how to comply with the judicial ruling while setting reasonable limits on locations and times. Without limits on public land locations set by the city, campers could choose playgrounds, sports fields, boulevards and sensitive ecosystems. Two men provided an example of this problem on the first day of the ruling when they chose to camp in the middle of the Central Playground in Beacon Hill Park, spreading out their possessions and lounging under a roof structure in the centre of one of the most popular toddler playgrounds in the city. Two previous “tent cities” in Victoria--in downtown Cridge Park in 2005, and an encampment on the B.C. Legislature lawn in 2002--had shown officials and residents that long-term ad-hoc encampments did not work. Grass became mud in rainy weather, garbage, furniture, equipment and stolen items accumulated; sanitation was a problem; drug dealing, alcohol, noise and fights disturbed peaceful campers.

The 2002 and 2005 tent cities were located on landscaped lawns, but the tents erected in Mayors Grove in 2008 were located in a natural area of Beacon Hill Park. Easily damaged native plants and Garry oaks were directly threatened by campers. According to Environmental Technician Fred Hook, even though wildflowers are not visible above ground in the fall, the soil structure is fragile because plants are growing their underground structures in preparation for spring and summer. Soil compression damages trees as well as wildflowers such as White fawn lily and Sanicle. A patch of rare Yellow montane violet, a red listed species, was also endangered.

A new city bylaw was quickly passed. A key provision of the 2008 bylaw stated temporary shelters could be in place only between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. Shelters not removed during the day by campers would be removed by the city. Bylaw enforcement officers distributed copies of the new policy at the Beacon Hill Park camp on October 16. They asked campers to comply with the bylaw by taking down their shelters at 7 a.m. the following morning. If they did not, bylaw officers said they would call the police.

Police supervise camp dismantling         Some tents removed by Victoria City police

The “tent city” was dismantled by twenty-nine City of Victoria police officers on the afternoon of October 17. Officers arrived at 2:15, seven hours after the deadline. A police spokesperson once again asked campers to remove their belongings and waited while some packed up, as shown above left. Police physically removed the remaining tents, tarps, equipment, furniture and garbage while supporters of the campers shouted “shame, shame” and “police brutality.” The photo above right shows the last tent carried away by officers. Five campers, including Johnstone, were arrested. (Photos by Norm Ringuette)

Deputy Police Chief John Ducker explained, "It's important to know that this judgment does not allow for a permanent encampment or a tent city. The spirit of the ruling is to allow for the erecting of temporary structures to sleep overnight when there is not shelter space available." He explained that police had legal advice that they had authority to dismantle the campsite under the existing court ruling and noted the province announced funding for an additional 45 shelter spaces in Greater Victoria. (Times Colonist, October 18, A 1)

The new City of Victoria Bylaw Enforcement Policy on “Erecting Temporary Shelters in Public Spaces” set the following guidelines: No “permanent camps or tent cities” are allowed in any public space. “Public Spaces” are defined as “grassy areas in City Parks or unoccupied City lands” that are not environmentally sensitive and were not already designated for a particular use such as “soccer fields, playgrounds, cricket pitches, lawn bowling.” Temporary shelters are not allowed on streets, sidewalks and boulevards. Only homeless persons can erect temporary shelters. “Cooking, campfires and fire pits are prohibited.” The document explained the policies are effect “when the number of homeless persons in Victoria exceeds the number of available shelter beds.” When alternative beds are available, shelters can not be erected on public lands.

The 2008 B.C. Supreme Court ruling came three years to the day after the Cridge Park "tent city" at the corner of Belleville and Blanshard streets was dismantled. David Johnston, a central figure in the Cridge Park encampment, spoke at the victory rally near the courthouse on October 14, 2008. He rejected using the Cridge Park location again, calling it “an ugly little square of land.” Instead, he invited other campers to join him in Mayors Grove, in the north part of Beacon Hill Park. (Times Colonist, October 15, A 6) Johnston has insisted on his right to sleep outdoors for years and will not sleep in shelters. He told a television reporter for the A Channel that Mayor Lowe and city officials were upset with the ruling, but “Essentially, they can f... off.” He predicted tent cities would appear in other B.C. cities, too. (A Channel 5 p.m. News, Oct. 14, 2008)

Media coverage of the ruling and its affects on the homeless and public property was extensive. In the following two weeks, the Times Colonist published many front page and inside articles, photos, editorials, and the views of four columnists. In the first three days alone, the newspaper printed twenty-three letters from readers on the topic of homelessness. From October 19-26, another twenty-six letters were printed, including one from Mayor Alan Lowe on October 26. Monday Magazine printed an editorial and full page article by Jason Youmans on the topic.(October 23-29, p. 3, 8) Victoria News featured three front page articles on the homeless issue (October 17, p. A1, A4; October 22, A1, A2; October 24, A1, A2)

There was an overwhelming consensus on what needed to be done. What homeless people need are homes. More shelters beds--in reality, just mats on the floor--were welcome but inadequate and temporary. A wide variety of affordable housing and more services to help homeless people are needed, especially for people suffering with mental illness and/or addictions. Provincial and federal governments must provide the funding to help solve the long-neglected, fundamental social problems which have led to the grim total of between 1200 to 1500 homeless people in the City of Victoria.

Herding Geese

The Goose Patrol squad

Herding Canada geese might not be as difficult as herding cats, but it requires remarkable persistence as well as expertise. Professional dog handler Dianna Jasinski and her brown Belgian shepherd Tizer, shown here on the Stone Bridge, were hired by the city for the second year to drive Canada geese out of the park. The Goose Patrol accomplished that job while, at the same time, providing entertainment for hundreds of park visitors. One tourist said watching Jasinski and Tizer in action was the highlight of her trip to Victoria. (City of Victoria photo)

Jasinski travels around the park on a "Goose Patrol" tricycle powered by battery and pedals. She posts signs asking people not to feed the geese and explaining the birds are moved "in a humane and environmentally sensitive manner." The geese are accustomed to people but view dogs as predators, so Tizer is a key member of the team. Jasinski’s second trained dog, Pearl, became too “squirrel obsessed” to concentrate on geese, she explained, and didn't work this summer.

Excessive geese in Beacon Hill Park

If Canada geese are prevented from coming on shore, they will leave the park, according to Jasinski. After a couple of hours in the water, geese want to come on land to eat grass and rest. They don’t like to be restricted and “are unhappy” stuck in the lake for long. She corrals the geese in the largest open area of Goodacre Lake, east of the Stone Bridge, where there is ample room to take off and a clear flight path to the west straight out of the park; that is also the direction from which they arrived. After many hours observing goose behaviour, Jasinski can read their signals, sounds and head movements, and knows when they are about to give up and leave.

On July 26, Jasinski stood on the north shore while Tizer barked at a large group of sixty geese from the south shore. The geese remained uneasily near the Stone Bridge until finally flying off, honking loudly, to the west. On July 28, the team kept over 100 geese in the same location until they, too, flew west.

“People think geese aren’t very smart,” Jasinski said, "but they are." While she observes the geese and their behaviours, the wily geese, in turn, are observing the goose patrol and their behaviours. After the team had rousted geese every morning for a month, a flock tried arriving after 5 p.m. The next morning’s evidence--a build-up of goose droppings on the asphalt path and lawn north of Goodacre Lake--showed Jasinski it was time to counter the birds’ move by patrolling in the evenings.

None of the geese are banded, so individuals cannot be identified with certainty, but she is convinced flocks with the same number of birds--one with eleven and another with twenty--returned day after day. Jasinski knows one individual goose especially well; the solitary bird remained all winter and is not part of any flock. A permanent park begger, it is more tame than the other geese and when flocks fly out of the park, that goose remains.

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. Large populations of Canada geese are non-migratory and have taken up residence in North American parks; some of those parks have been overwhelmed with the quantity of feces produced by resident geese. The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia concluded that Canada goose excrement contains more than 140 kinds of bacteria, some a risk to human health. Other problems in parks and on golf courses include turf damage and nesting geese attacking humans. (See Chapter 22 for photos and a description of the Goose Patrol’s first year.)

There are eight Canada goose subspecies in British Columbia; two are mainly non-migratory. Bill Munro, a former Canadian Wildlife Service bird specialist, said geese of the two resident subspecies were introduced in British Columbia to provide hunting opportunities on private land. Since the geese ended up in urban areas where hunting is not allowed, the resident goose population has increased at an annual rate of 12%. Recent Christmas bird counts indicate there are between 4,000 and 5,000 resident geese in the Victoria area. (Times Colonist, June 22, 2008, D 10)

Southeast Woods Improvements

New SE Woods entrance path     Keeping park visitors on the path    New native plants line the entrance path

In 2008, new signs and low cedar-rail fencing welcomed walkers down a pleasant gravel path into the Southeast Woods. The improvements were at the north entrance, next to Circle Drive. Green metal barriers prevented vehicles from entering what used to be a one-lane road called Lovers Lane. The wood fence was made from recycled B.C. Hydro and telephone poles. Flowers bloomed luxuriantly on both sides of the path for the first time, the successful result of an October, 2006 “planting party.” Native species were planted by volunteers as part of an ongoing restoration project begun in 2005 by community volunteers. (See Chapter 20 for a description and photos of the volunteer group pulling ivy and Chapter 21 for more on the planting party.)

According to an article about the Southeast Woods in the Moss Rock Review, the woodlands are 3.2 acres and the newly planted area of 570 square metres now includes "almost 2,000 plants, shrubs and trees and another 300 bulbs and native grasses." (Moss Rock Review, May/June, 2008, p. 10) Temporary orange fencing deeper in the woods along the chip path and near the totem pole remained to protect native plants, to help reestablish major paths and to discourage campers. Two deer spent some time within that enclosure in spring. (Norm Ringuette photos)

Ninth Annual Luminara in Beacon Hill Park

Butterfly at the 2008 Luminara         Mushrooms growing at the 2008 Luminara

The ninth annual Luminara Community Lantern Festival, sponsored by the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria (ICA), took place on Saturday, July 26. Every newspaper and television reporter declared it a success and stated there were “more than 1,000 lanterns.” They also agreed there was a “huge crowd,” though attendance estimates ranged from 10,000 to 20,000. It was more difficult than usual to estimate numbers because evening performances took place both on St. Ann’s Academy grounds and in Beacon Hill Park. (Norm Ringuette photos)

City staff worked hard ahead of time to prepare for Beacon Hill Park’s largest event of the year. Wider paths were mowed through the dry grass fields to lessen fire danger. Workers watered and weeded; even the invasive knotweed crowding the path at the southwest corner of Goodacre Lake was trimmed. An asphalt crew quickly replaced several uneven sections of the Goodacre Lake pathway the day before Luminara.

In 2008, to organizers relief, the weather was good. The previous Luminara was held on a soggy Saturday night; heavy rain reduced attendance by half, to about 8,000 and drastically lowered donations. In 2008, the budget was up to an astonishing $150,000 and the number of donation boxes were up to sixteen, both on the grounds of St. Ann’s Academy and in Beacon Hill Park. Business and government sponsors were listed in the program.

Alice Bacon, producer of the first eight Luminaras, was replaced this year by Project Manager Karin Scarth. Under Scarth, the majority of performances were on St. Ann’s Academy grounds. Commercial and advertising restrictions do not apply in St. Ann’s as they do in Beacon Hill Park, so sales of glow sticks and lanterns took place there and commercial advertising banners were displayed.

Unique aboriginal village at the 2008 Luminara

This unique aboriginal village scene, created by the Victoria Native Friendship Centre, was on display next to tiny Willow Lake, just north of Circle Drive. The Friendship Centre was one of five organizations responding to Scarth’s invitation to present major installations. Others were RiverSong, Victoria Chinatown Lioness Club, Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society, and the Victoria Community Labyrinth Society.

RiverSong Singers created a Ghost Salmon Run with salmon-shaped lanterns on the north side of Goodacre Lake. The salmon were watched by a spirit bear nearby and the singers were on hand to perform. The salmon installation was inspired by the Victoria Lost Streams map which delineated a stream near the St. Ann’s grounds. (Monday Magazine, July 24-30, 2008, p. 13) Floating in Arbour Lake was a traditional Japanese Torii gate installation, similar to those found at the entrance to shrines, by the Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society. The bamboo structure was illuminated by tea lights and more than 30 small floating rice paper lanterns made by society members and decorated with calligraphy. Japanese folk dancers performed nearby while Japanese drummers played at St. Ann’s. (Times Colonist, July 24, 2008, p. D7)

Luminara has to be very well organized. In one long tiring day, two hundred volunteers set up and dismantle everything. The grounds are cleaned using flashlights in the dark after the crowds disperse.

Renewing the City’s Urban Forest

Dan Marzocco, Supervisor of Arboriculture

“What we do now with the urban forest will have a lot to do with how people live in the future,” Dan Marzocco, Supervisor of Arboriculture for the City of Victoria explained. Marzocco, shown above standing in a small grove of Western yew (Taxus brevifolia) trees near his office in the Parks Department maintenance yard on Cook Street, thinks far into the future. Arborists must be long-term planners because trees take decades to grow. Marzocco hopes Victorians understand that the mature trees we enjoy today were planted years ago by former residents. Now it is our turn to invest in trees for the future. An ambitious new Urban Forest Management Plan for the City of Victoria is being developed by consultants Jeremy Gye and Associates and Judith Cullington & Associates, who worked together on the Southern Vancouver Island Urban Forest Stewardship Initiative (UFSI). Marzocco will try to convince City Council and the public to support the comprehensive plan to replace aging trees and improve the care of all the city’s trees when it is presented in the spring of 2009. (Norm Ringuette photo)

Planting trees is a wonderful investment, Marzocco explained. “Most things a municipality buys depreciate, but trees do the opposite. What costs $100 to plant today will be worth $25,000 to $30,000 in the future.” Trees provide more than beauty and shade. According to a recently completed Urban Forest Stewardship Initiative (UFSI) report, available on the Habitat Acquisition Trust (HAT) website, “Healthy urban forests provide increased economic and recreational opportunities, public well being, biodiversity, and a suite of "green" infrastructure benefits." (

Without trees to absorb huge quantities of water during storms, runoff would overwhelm the city’s drainage system; an investment in trees is the sensible alternative to the installation of larger pipes and an expensive infrastructure upgrade. Trees lower energy costs by keeping buildings cooler in summer and warmer in winter. That's not all. According to a recent analysis, the City of Victoria's 28% urban forest provides financial benefits including storm water savings of $2.3 million/year; carbon storage 58,000 tons; carbon sequestration 450 tons/year, plus many values not accounted for: “biodiversity, shrub layer, aesthetic value, property value, recreational, psychological, crime, stress, health, etc.” (Urban Forest Stewardship Initiative, Steering Committee Meeting Notes, June 10, 2008)

Victoria’s "urban forest" includes all trees in the city, those on private land as well as in public parks and on city boulevards. The city's current tree canopy cover totals "552 hectares, representing 28.4% of the area of the municipality,” according to HAT. Trees on private property represent 30 to 40 percent of Victoria’s tree canopy; to help maintain those trees, the city regulates tree cutting and often requires replacement trees be planted on private land.

The city is directly responsible for approximately 40,000 trees located in city parks and on boulevards. (Urban Forest Management Plan Steering Committee Terms of Reference, August 25, 2008) Nearly half of the boulevard trees are at or near the limit of their lifespan and need to be replaced, according to city staff. This huge percentage of same-age trees occurred because of a major spike in tree planting beginning in the 1950's under Parks Administrator Herb Warren. Flowering cherries and plums, the dominant species on many streets, have reached the end of their 50 year lifespan. Over the last five years, 1400 city trees have died and many more will die soon. They should be replaced by tree species better adapted to dry conditions; more than one species should be planted on each boulevard.

Replacement willow

Ideally, new young trees should be planted nearby before the old trees must be cut. Old and new weeping willows standing by the lakes of Beacon Hill Park are examples of this policy in action. Mature weeping willow trees, so important to the ambiance and beauty of the lakes, are nearing the end of their lives. Two have already been lost. At Rose Lake, one of the small lakes near Circle Drive, a dangerous willow was cut in 2004. At the south edge of the Goodacre Lake near Arbutus Way, a venerable old willow which Parks Environmental Technician Fred Hook suspected was planted about 1890, completely disintegrated in a fierce December, 2006 storm. Six impressive old willows remain on the shores of Goodacre Lake and five mature willows still stand by the Circle Drive lakes. In some locations, small replacement willows like the one shown in this photo are already planted; dwarfed by the giants and little noticed now, they are ready to become the great willows of the future.

The initial cost of each young tree is about $100 for a tree about 5-8 cm. diameter at chest height (about 4 ft). However, trees need years of care, Marzocco explained. A tree must be watered for five years (tapering off the last two), pruned and checked, so total costs to plant and maintain a tree for the first five years is $1200. He thinks it is important to realize that planting new trees involves much more than digging holes and dropping in trees. He stresses “planting fewer trees but planting them wisely--the right species for the right location--and caring for them properly.”

In 2005, the City of Victoria leased six acres from the Capital Regional District (CRD) to establish a tree nursery. Whether or not it will be efficient and cost effective for the city to continue operating its own tree farm is one of many topics to be investigated by the Urban Forest Management Plan consultants. Contracting with private nurseries to supply city trees could be a better alternative; private nurseries could plant required species and numbers to order and deliver the trees to the city in five years.

Replacing a huge number of aging trees will be a big financial hit. At the same time, other essential improvements are long overdue:

--More arborists must be hired so that each tree in the city is inspected on a regular basis; because the city has been understaffed, arborists have been reacting to problems instead of working pro-actively.

--Instead of hiring a private firm to do the work, the city needs a team of trained arborists to trim and cut trees and a taller bucket truck.

--Underground irrigation must be installed on boulevards. Watering by hand and with a watering truck on the miles of boulevard has been difficult and inefficient.

--A complete tree inventory is needed and a top quality computer program purchased to keep track of the condition and location of every tree.

As Councillor Pamela Madoff pointed out, these improvements will be costly. Tree replacement is likely to be done one block at a time over a five or ten year period. Council approved $200,000 for buying new trees this year. (Victoria News, April 4, 2008)

Monster Invasive Plant at Goodacre Lake

Knotweed taking over huge area

The most impressive individual invasive plant in Beacon Hill Park is a gigantic knotweed growing at the southwest edge of Goodacre Lake. Until recently, it was thought this spectacular Asian perennial would not spread because all knotweeds in North America are female; without male plants, no seeds are produced. The same assumption was made in Britain, where every knotweed plant is also female. Knotweed has become one of Britain’s worst weeds, inspiring this London Daily Telegraph headline: “The largest female on earth could strangle Britain.” The knotweed at Goodacre lake is truly a monster plant and will be a monster problem to remove. (Norm Ringuette photos)

The Invasive Plant Council of British Columbia website calls knotweeds “aggressive invaders" and explains when they are introduced into natural habitats, "Infestations can impact amphibians, birds, and other native animals. Once infestations form, they become extremely persistent and difficult to eradicate. These highly invasive non-native species are listed as noxious in many parts of North America.” North American gardeners and landscapers began planting four species of knotweed in the 1800's. Today, every individual plant found is an “escaped ornamental.”

Knotweed doesn’t need seeds to expand. “Knotweed relies on its vast network of creeping rhizomes to generate new shoots, eventually forming huge impenetrable thickets that are, essentially, single individual females,” according to researcher Linda M. Wilson. (Key to Identification of Invasive Knotweeds in British Columbia, March, 2007, Invasive Alien Plant Program, B.C. Ministry of Forests). With no natural controls, these aggressive botanic predators crowd out native plants and dominate landscapes, posing “serious threats to soil, water and land resources.”

Knotweed taking over    Knotweed leaf

The knotweed plant by Goodacre Lake has been growing undisturbed for more than forty years; it is deeply and firmly established. In an ideal location with plenty of water and duck feces fertilizer, it is an extremely robust specimen. By late June, 2008, stalks were already over ten feet tall. Leaves were an impressive twenty inches long. Because of its size alone, one might think it was a Giant knotweed, but Environmental Technician Fred Hook believes it is an unusually large Japanese knotweed (formerly Polygonum cuspidatum, now Fallopia japonica). Its creeping rhizomes extend ever further along the lakeshore, surrounding the nearby Dawn redwood tree with new shoots and reaching under the large shrub further east. Knotweed foliage dies down over the winter but the large root system produces vigorous new shoots every spring.

In addition to the spectacular Goodacre Lake plant, there are two more knotweeds in Beacon Hill Park. One is on top of the Dallas Road cliff next to the shoreline path south of the totem pole near the green 1000 km. marker. The cliff-top knotweed was cut back by park workers in June, as far as they could safely reach. That will not eradicate or even discourage it. Another plant is located on the beach directly below the cliff plant; it apparently took root when part of the bank broke off and slid down to the beach carrying a piece of knotweed with it. That is one way knotweed spreads, according to the Pest Management, B.C. Ministry of Agriculture and Lands website: “Japanese knotweed root pieces are known to contaminate new sites through movement of dirt.”

Parks Department workers cut the beach plant down in 2007 and treated it with sea water; they repeated that procedure in 2008. Environmental technician Fred Hook said, “The one growing down on Dallas beach is proving to be a real problem to kill.” Advice from invasive plant specialists is discouraging. Digging down several meters to get out roots and using an herbicide has been tried; even though the top 2/3 of the root mass was dead, the bottom third was alive and growing. The cliff-top knotweed is much less accessible than the beach plant and the Goodacre Lake knotweed presents a special challenge. Digging it out could require building a temporary wall to hold back the lake water. Digging, cutting and chopping could dislodge tiny rhizome fragments which can grow elsewhere. Wilson warns: "...even the smallest piece of rhizome can initiate a major infestation..."

“Nothing kills it--not repeated sprayings with Roundup, not burning, not even thorough digging with a backhoe,” gardening author Steve Whysall explained. Japanese knotweed is #1 on the City of Vancouver park board’s integrated pest management manager Sophie Dessureault's list of worst offenders. "Think of bamboo, only a thousand times worse." Dessureault tried deep burying: “We cut it down to the ground and then bury it as deeply as possible. The roots eventually deteriorate but we found it has even managed to surface in some places after a time.” (Times Colonist, August 11, 2007, p. E5) Fred Hook doubts the effectiveness of "deep burying" knotweed. He says the substantial reduction of knotweed in Jericho Park, Vancouver's most heavily infested park, is the result of dedicated volunteers cutting knotweed twice a month for years and that knotweed will gradually die if the leaves are never allowed to grow.

Poisonous Plant Removal is Top Priority

Poison Hemlock

Protective equipment from a toxic plant   Cutting a poison hemlock plant   Careful bagging of every part

Removing Poison hemlock, Giant hogweed and Daphne growing in Beacon Hill Park and other public areas was the top priority in spring, 2008. All three are poisonous invasive plants dangerous to human health. City of Victoria park workers Carla Parkes and Kathy Tardiff protected themselves by donning overalls, gloves and face-masks (left photo) before using loppers to cut Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum), centre photo, and stuffing the plants into black industrial garbage bags for removal, above right. That location, in the north end of Beacon Hill Park, could be quickly cleared of a few plants; a similar small number were cut in front of the Ogden Point Cafe on June 26. However, the women faced an impossible task along Dallas Road, where tall Poison hemlock plants topped with beautiful white flowers stretched along the shoreline pathway from Clover Point to Douglas Street, shown below. There was a particularly dense concentration at Finlayson Point and down the sides of the cliffs.

Poison hemlock looking east to Clover Point    Poison hemlock looking west to Finlayson Point

According to Environmental Technician Fred Hook, the crew was to first cut plants “within reach of the paths so that people don't brush by it.” They clipped what could be reached from beach stairs, as well. This year’s efforts will not eradicate hemlock. Next year, Hook hopes a crew will be able to apply Eco-Clear, a vinegar-based herbicide, in the earlier “young crown stage.” Repeated applications of Eco-Clear over several years might stop plants from seeding and spreading farther. (Norm Ringuette photos)

Every part of deceptively pretty Poison hemlock plants are extremely poisonous. Cattle, goats, horses, swine, and sheep as well as rabbits, poultry, deer, and humans have been poisoned after ingesting Poison hemlock. According to plant experts Pojar and MacKinnon: “Sickness and death can result from ingestion of leaves, roots or seeds...Some people mistake the finely dissected leaves for parsley or the seeds for anise, with fatal results.” (Plants of Coastal British Columbia, p. 220) Most people associate Poison hemlock with Socrates’ death, but some sources dispute that poison would have produced the peaceful symptoms described by Plato. Death by Poison hemlock would be gruesome and involve convulsions. It has been suggested that Socrates could have also consumed laudanum (liquid opium); the sedative properties of opium could have overriden the negative symptoms of hemlock.

Poison hemlock can be found growing widely in the Capital Region. Birds are likely responsible for distributing some seeds, but unintentional human activity could be the main problem. An example was on display near the Bay Bridge in June: Poison hemlock grew plentifully on piles of soil ready to be delivered by a local soil supply company. Customers received the soil they paid for with poisonous invasive species as a free bonus.

Giant hogweed

Hogweed plant in the Southeast Woods

Giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) is related to and resembles Cow parsnip, a common native plant. However, Hogweed grows up to six metres tall and produces enormous leaves, as shown in this City of Victoria photo taken in the Southeast Woods of Beacon Hill Park. Hogweed is a prodigious seed producer: one plant can produce 50,000 seeds. To avoid skin damage, City of Victoria workers wore coveralls, shirts, eye shields and gloves while cutting a dozen plants in the Southeast Woods this year. Two workers who neglected to protect themselves display their blisters and scars below.

Arm burned by contact with hogweed    Leg burned by contact with hogweed

The sap of Giant hogweed released while handling, cutting or brushing against stems and leaf stalks can severely irritate and blister human skin. According to the B. C. Ministry of Agriculture and Lands Pest Management, “The plant exudes a clear watery sap, which sensitizes the skin to ultraviolet radiation. This can result in severe burns to the affected areas resulting in severe blistering and painful dermatitis. These blisters can develop into purplish or blackened scars.” Those scars remain for years.


Daphne plant in the Southeast WoodsDaphne (Daphne laureola), also called spurge laurel, is a highly toxic, extremely aggressive invasive plant. For years, home gardeners have planted Daphne, whose attractive green leaves look similar to rhododendron. Birds have spread Daphne seeds far and wide. The Daphne plant on the left was photographed by Norm Ringuette in the Southeast Woods of Beacon Hill Park.

Daphne is a wide-spread problem in the City of Victoria and the entire region. Ethnobotanist Joe Percival has worked for years to remove noxious Daphne from Witty’s Lagoon Park. He calls Daphne a “menacing problem" and a major threat to Douglas fir ecosystems. The Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site near Victoria is especially heavily infested after gardeners mistook Daphne for rhododendron and allowed it to spread for a decade unchecked. Conan Webb is in charge of Daphne removal for Parks Canada. His crew pulls small plants by hand and cuts larger plants below ground level with bypass loppers.

Workers must take care when removing Daphne not to come in contact with raw sap and Webb says it is important not to breath in plant toxins. Using a weed-eater, for example, would aerosol plant toxins that can cause respiratory and eye irritation. The Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team (GOERT) recommends Daphne cuttings and plants not be transported inside enclosed vehicles because “noxious compounds in the bark, leaves and fruit can cause respiratory irritation. For the same reason, Daphne should never be burned.” Webb reported that a woman who unwisely ate Daphne seeds at Fort Rodd began vomiting and was taken to hospital in an ambulance.

Other Invasive Plants

Garlic mustard

Garlic mustard smothers native plants    Garlic mustard advancing on native plants

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a recent and very unwelcome arrival. It first appeared in Beacon Hill Park about 2005. By March, 2008, growth was rampant under the pines along the east ridge of Beacon Hill by March. The above photos, taken on the ridge April 20 by Norm Ringuette show very dense growth. The Southeast Woods was another area of heavy Garlic mustard infestation. The first year after ivy was pulled by volunteers in the woods, native plants thrived in the cleared areas; the second year, Garlic mustard took over.

Because this biennial herb is one of the few non-indigenous herbaceous species able to invade and dominate the understory of North American forests, it is of concern to the B.C. Ministry of Environment. Instead of allowing the Ministry to spray in the park, city workers were dispatched to pull plants by hand beginning in May. Garlic mustard was targeted early because it flowers early and, like most invasive plants, it can produce and disperse huge numbers of seeds. Each Garlic mustard plant produces many long seed pots with several hundred seeds in each. This year, they were removed before seeding. No above-ground parts of the plant can be left or the plant continues to seed. By the third week in June, about 4000 pounds of Garlic mustard--100 industrial bags each weighing about 40 lbs.--had been cleared from the two most heavily infested areas. That effort will have to be repeated next year. Garlic mustard has another potent weapon: plants produce an alleopathic hormone in the soil which prevents other plants from growing. This chemical can persist in the soil for several years even after plants are removed.

Oyster plant

Oysterplants in a Beacon Hill Park meadow   Closeup of oysterplant blossom   Oysterplant seedhead can disperse widely

Oyster plant or Common salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) is a tall weedy species introduced from Europe that grows wild on roadsides and in fields. The spiky purple flowers in the photo above could be seen poking above tall meadow grasses in the north end of the park by the third week of May. Some plants appeared in the field near the Children’s Farm and by June were producing impressive seed-heads like the one on the right. The roots have a flavour similar to oysters. Some people believe the roots are beneficial for health and continue to plant it in their gardens as they do parsnips. Park workers tried to pull out intact roots from the ground before plants produced seed. (Norm Ringuette photos)

Carpet burweed

Environmental technician Fred Hook remains hopeful that Carpet burweed (Soliva sessilis) can be eradicated from Beacon Hill Park. When the first infestation was discovered in 2005, the city immediately fenced the two major sites and burned burweed plants in many other areas. In 2008, the number of plants remaining at the previously infested sites was down 90% and no new infested sites were found.

Finding Carpet burweed is a challenge even for a trained eye like Hook’s because plants are only two inches high and six inches in diameter. This year, he discovered burweed plants at the following previously infested sites: the Circle Drive jogging trail, the crosswalk on Dallas Road, the intersection with Heywood Boulevard and in the north end. There were a few viable plants near the fenced areas on Dallas Road again and many more near fenced area by the Sports Hut and central playground. Every plant discovered was burned by Parks Department staff; many burned spots were visible near the Sports Hut in May. Two areas previously infested--by the rock garden and near Heywood and Park Boulevard--were clear this year. Unfortunately, there is always the possibility that people and their pets will bring burweed seeds into the park from another area. Mature burweed seeds have sharp pointed spines which attach to socks, shoes, pants and the fur of dogs.

Burweed thrives on bare, disturbed soil. That is why fencing a heavily infested area to allow other vegetation to flourish is the best remedy. The first infested area in Beacon Hill Park, on Dallas Road south of Beacon hill, was fenced in December, 2005. An even larger area of burweed near the central playground and Sports hut was fenced in 2006. Both areas remained fenced in 2008. [See detailed information and photos of Carpet burweed in Chapter 21 and 22.]

Invasive plants of long standing: Scotch broom and English ivy

Responding to new threats such as Poison hemlock and Garlic mustard took precedence over cutting back Scotch broom and English ivy, two long-established invasive species. The Parks Department crew finally had time to work on those species--as well as Daphne, Tree Lupine and Himalayan blackberries--in August and during the fall.

City of Victoria park workers Carla Parkes and Kathy Tardiff removed an astonishing amount of broom from Beacon Hill in September and October, 2008. According to Environmental Technician Fred Hook, the crew cut and hauled away about 13,500 Kg. (13.5 tonnes or 29,700 lbs.) of broom and daphne from Beacon Hill this year. Dense broom in the old horse paddock by the Children's Farm was removed and replaced by native plants, mainly Ocean spray. Parkes and Tardiff cut some broom on the northwest ridge in October, also. Broom--dead or alive--is a fire hazard because it burns longer and at a higher temperature than grass and native vegetation. In 2008, some Garry oaks by the northwest ridge gravel path were damaged in a small fire because broom was growing too close to the trees.

Scotch broom had been allowed to spread on Beacon Hill, the northwest ridge and in other areas of the Park since the 1990's when the necessary annual commitment to limit and reduce broom ended. Until the significant efforts this year, it seemed possible the city might allow dense broom growth to overwhelm the hill again as it did in the 1920's when walkers were restricted to fifteen-foot wide lanes cut through dense broom. Beginning in the 1930s, Park Administrator W. H. Warren reduced rampant broom growth by setting aside a good portion of the park budget every year for forty years to bring it under control. [See Articles section for “The Curse of Broom,” and Chapter 10 for an overview of broom in park history.]

After years of neglect, English Ivy (Hedera helix) had overwhelmed the Southeast Woods of Beacon Hill Park until a volunteer community group began pulling and cutting it in 2005. Ivy is hearty, relentless and grows all year; it smothers native plants and turns natural areas into ivy deserts. Despite the efforts of volunteers, dense ivy growth still covers the ground in much of the Southwest Woods. Ivy is a major problem on Beacon Hill behind the Children's Farm, north of Goodacre Lake and in other areas of the park. In 2008, ivy was even growing in three places on Beacon Hill Park's most famous heritage feature, the 1889 Stone Bridge.

Recognized best practices in ivy removal is not to begin working in the most overwhelmed areas. As Fred Hook explained, “One of the main principles of restoration is to tackle the least infected areas first and then move into the thick of things when you are sure the areas behind you are secure. So, we will continue to work to maintain the areas where the ecosystem is still functional and then to release the ones deep in the grip of the invasion...It's always going to be a balancing act.”

Bio-cides could control future invasive species

Established invasive species continue to grow vigorously and new invasive species keep arriving. GOERT has identified 138 possible invasive plants. Fred Hook reports an upswing in reports of invasive species in the city. He says the “rule of thumb” has been that it takes roughly “80 years from introduction of a plant to it becoming an invasive menace.” However, this guideline didn't apply to Carpet burweed, which became a major problem in only ten years.

Controlling invasive species is difficult for every city and every park on Vancouver Island because it is so labour intensive. Not enough park staff hours are assigned annually to keep up. Community volunteer groups have formed to pull ivy, cut broom and chop Daphne in many city and regional parks but the work is hard and volunteers wear out. Grants from private corporations and non-profit groups have funded some restoration and invasive species work in Beacon Hill Park and other city parks. A Government of Canada Habitat Stewardship Program (HSP) grant provided funds for a city crew to remove Tree Lupine and Daphne this year.

Developing bio-cides specific to each invasive plant is the ideal solution to eradicate persistent and resilient invasive species, Fred Hook explained. Unfortunately, key funding for biocide research, such as local scientist Raj Prassad’s program to develop bio-cides for Daphne, Broom and Gorse, is lacking or sporadic. One bio-cide is available, called Chontrol, a fungus that will kill broom and gorse if applied to a wound, but it is only registered for use on Red alder. A bio-cide called Phomopsis, specific to Daphne, could be a solution for the huge Daphne problem in the future.

Tenth Annual Toast to Winston Churchill

Over 100 people gathered in Beacon Hill Park on January 20, 2008--despite cold temperatures and a hefty wind--to honour Winston Churchill. It was the tenth annual gathering organized by Times Colonist columnist Les Leyne, who began the tradition in 1999. Admirers of Churchill meet at the unimpressive but historic hawthorn tree that Sir Winston planted in Heywood Meadow in 1929. Some of those standing in the wind were members of the Vancouver Island Winston Churchill Society, including the only young person present, a boy wearing a period hat.

A Churchill look-alike and friend of Leyne named Chris Gainor told Churchill anecdotes and posed for photos holding a giant cigar. Leyne awarded used books on Churchill to lucky winners holding free coupon stubs. Then everyone raised plastic glasses filled with an inch of champagne to toast Sir Winston Churchill on the 43rd anniversary of his death.

Osprey Nest Platform Erected

Bucket used to place the osprey platform Closeup of the osprey platform

A osprey nest platform was installed on top of a 70' Douglas fir on January 30, 2008, at the south edge of the heron colony trees at Douglas Street and Avalon Way. The platform was suggested by Trudy Chatwin of the Ministry of Environment after Bald eagles ate every heron egg and chick in 2007, causing adult herons to abandon the Beacon Hill Park colony in May. Her hope was that a feisty pair of osprey defending their own nest would at the same time protect nearby heron nests from eagle predation. Many wildlife biologists and naturalists had their doubts this hopeful scenario would work.

Osprey platform places high on a treetop

The osprey platform was constructed by City of Victoria workers. They began with a cargo pallet, adding sides for strength and a chicken-wire floor (see top right photo). B.C. Hydro agreed to provide a 75' ladder truck for the installation (the city’s bucket truck only reaches to 50'). On January 30, a Capital Tree Service crew contracted to B.C. Hydro hoisted and secured the platform despite wind and blowing snow.

To view the platform, stand on the north side of Fountain Lake by the bench. Look west toward Douglas Street and up high. Though the platform did not attract ospreys in 2008, it will remain available for occupancy for many years to come.

No Heron Nests and Few Eagle Visits

Great blue herons abandoned the Beacon Hill Park colony at Douglas Street and Avalon Street in May, 2007 after seven weeks of bald eagle attacks. They did not return to nest in 2008. Victoria heron enthusiasts were hopeful when eight herons arrived near the nest area in January. In February, numbers ranged from five to thirteen; in March, three to seven. There were only two to three herons left in May and no nests were constructed. Wildlife biologist Trudy Chatwin told the Times Colonist that the Beacon Hill Park herons (she called them “the gang”) were probably nesting at the Cuthbert Holmes Park colony near Tillicum Mall. (Times Colonist, May 29, 2008, p. A6) That is pure guesswork; none of the herons are banded and no individuals can be identified. If some park birds did move to the colony near Tillicum Mall, local birder Roy Pryor points out that the reverse was probably true in 1984. That year, from his home overlooking the Cuthbert Holmes Park/Tillicum Mall heron colony, Pryor watched "three or four" eagles relentlessly prey on 25 heron nests until the site was abandoned. At that time, some of those birds could have moved to the Beacon Hill Park colony.Henry

During the summer, the only heron left in Beacon Hill Park was the semi-tame heron known as “Henry,” shown on the right. A permanent fixture at Goodacre Lake since before 1996, he waits near Douglas Street for apartment residents to feed him fish daily. A second semi-tame heron, who some residents called “Henry’s son,” begged alongside for part of the year. Not even Henry can be positively identified without a band. Male and female heron plumage and size are identical, so even "his" gender is questionable. Heron experts like Rob Butler, author of The Great Blue Heron, try to determine sex by the very small difference in bill length. Butler states: "In British Columbia, herons with culmens [that refers to a specific measurement between a set point at the head to the tip of the bill] longer than 131 millimetres are most likely male while herons with culmens shorter than 129 millimetres are most likely female." Even after taking that careful measurement, it is notable that Butler does not make a positive statement about bird sexes; he uses the words “most likely.”

The first heron nest in Beacon Hill Park was reported in 1982. The number of nests increased slowly and sporadically through the 1980's and 1990's. Sixty-five active nests were counted in 2000. More than 90 nests were recorded each year from 2001-2006. There were an estimated 71 nests when the colony was abandoned in 2007.

Bald eagle pair on a Southeast Woods tree

From January through March, 2008, two adult Bald eagles and a juvenile perched often in the tall trees at the corner of Dallas Road and Cook Street in Beacon Hill Park’s Southeast Woods. This outstanding photo of two adult eagles by Kerry Lange was taken at that location. On January 30, an adult and a juvenile flew low over the heron colony trees and the newly installed osprey platform. In February and March, eagles glided over the empty heron nests occasionally before continuing elsewhere to search for food. On February 15, the Times Colonist printed a Debra Brash photo of two adult eagles near Ogden Point sharing a fish. (Times Colonist, February 15, 2008, A3) Eagle sightings were rare in summer.

The last active eagle nest in Beacon Hill Park was recorded in 2002, when two young birds were successfully reared in a large fir south of the Stone Bridge on the west side of Bridge Way. At that time, the nest was an impressive size, but gradually has diminished. For many years, the eagles had a second huge nest in the park located in a cottonwood tree on Douglas Street near Fountain Lake. (Eagles often alternate between two nests within their territory.) Local birder Roy Prior recorded chicks fledging at the Douglas Street location four consecutive years, 1997 through 2000. The eagles did not nest in either park location in 2001.

Park Planners Design and Guide Improvements

Gary Darrah                     Doug DeMarzo

Gary Darrah, Manager of Park Development, above left, and Doug DeMarzo, Parks Senior Planner, above right, are shown at a well-attended Open House on October 21. The event focused on future improvements to Fisherman’s Wharf Park; residents were encouraged to state their ideas and preferences on interactive boards and survey forms. Fisherman’s Wharf Park is just one of Darrah's and DeMarzo's many planning and design responsibilities for the City of Victoria Parks Department.

Darrah has been a key figure in the Parks Department since 2005. His background includes a masters degree in landscape architecture from the University of Guelph. Before coming to work for the City of Victoria, he was responsible for park planning and design for Saanich Parks. Major improvements to Rutledge Park and Gorge Waterway were two of his notable successes.

Darrah’s current projects in Victoria include the Parks Master Plan, Beacon Hill Management Plan implementation, Harbour Pathway, numerous park upgrading projects, Spirit Square, Point Ellice Park, pesticide bylaw implementation, pathway improvements, several community based partnership projects and major improvements to Fisherman's Wharf Park.

DeMarzo joined the parks division team in July, 2008. Previously, he worked in the City of Burnaby’s parks planning and design department and as a recreation planner with BC Hydro, sharing responsibility for over twenty-one recreation areas in the province.

The official job description for Demarzo’s Senior Planner position seems to cover almost everything in Victoria. One sentence states he will “Lead the planning and design of a variety of assigned park project initiatives and activities and park capital infrastructure renewal and development projects such as park structures, playgrounds, sports fields, trails and greenways, storm water systems and other related and other related facilities.” (City of Victoria Job Description, January, 2008) As well as working on major improvements to Fisherman's Wharf Park, DeMarzo is responsible for developing management plans for the city's numerous other parks. He is also involved in developing the Urban Forest Management Plan.

DeMarzo is currently working on several Beacon Hill Park issues and projects. He is developing a plan to replace unofficial trails in Beacon Hill Park's natural areas, which damage the environment, with well-placed, workable official trails. DeMarzo plans to install interpretative display panels focused on cultural features and events in Beacon Hill Park history in the old aviary next to the Stone Bridge. In preparation for its new role, the long-neglected aviary building will be refurbished, the roof replaced and chicken wire and chain link fences removed. According to the job description document, DeMarzo will also “Assist in the ongoing implementation and review of the Beacon Hill Park Management Plan.”

More and More Rabbits

Another cottontail spotted         Cottontail spotted in 2008

When an Eastern cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) was first spotted in Beacon Hill Park in 2007, it was possible to hope that a single animal had been transported and dumped in the park. At that time, photographing the elusive bunny, above left, was a coup. This year, however, rabbits were seen at all times of the day and in many areas of the park. When the photo, above right, was taken on May 10, it was clear there was many more than one rabbit in the park. (Photos courtesy of Kerry Lange)

Two exotic rabbit species--Eastern cottontails and European rabbits--were introduced to Vancouver Island. Both are now “firmly established alien species,” according to Bill Merilees. European rabbits are found in local populations such on the grounds of Victoria General Hospital and on the campus of the University of Victoria, where last year, a veterinarian estimated there were 2,000 rabbits. Eastern cottontails, however, have steadily increased their range. Merilees reports, “Cottontails, released from a private game farm in Metchosin in 1964-65, spread north beyond Campbell River by 2003." (“The Northward Spread of the Eastern Cottontail Rabbit on Vancouver Island,” The Victoria Naturalist, Vol. 65.1 (2008), p. 10-13)

Small and brown, Eastern cottontails have red-brown patches between the ears and shoulders and a “cotton” tail that flashes white when the rabbit runs. They reproduce rapidly and exploding numbers damage ecosystems. An article published in the Comox Valley Naturalists Society newsletter, warned: “Once established, they are difficult to remove...rabbits can alter ecosystems by over-grazing. This is particularly evident in the sensitive Garry Oak meadows of southern Vancouver Island, where cottontails pose a threat to rare plant species.” (Comox Valley Naturalists website, “Cottontails Invade Valley,” December, 2004, Jocie Ingram) City of Victoria Environmental Technician Fred Hook points out Beacon Hill Park has a better chance to eradicate rabbits than areas like the Comox Valley, which is surrounded by habitat containing more rabbits. Beacon Hill Park is “an isolated fragment of an ecosystem," he said, and "pests don’t usually get there by themselves...if we can eradicate a pest before it gets entrenched there isn’t the danger of immediate and constant re-introduction.”

Getting rid of rabbits in Beacon Hill Park is difficult. One hundred years ago, it might have been acceptable to eliminate the pests with a shotgun, but no longer. Hook's plan to hire a company to trap them before numbers increased has been thwarted because traps the right size for these small rabbits could kill someone's pet cat by accident. Hook is hoping raptors will catch and eat the rabbits and help save park vegetation. That is possible. In 1980, it was predicted that Red-tailed hawks, Bald and Golden eagles and Great-horned and Barred owls would benefit from rabbits as a food source. (Merilees, p. 13) Three of the raptors named--Bald eagles, Great horned owls and Barred owls--frequent Beacon Hill Park. For several years, a Barred owl has perched during the winter months near the yacht pond on Holland Point. A Great horned owl perched for many weeks in a park tree next to Heywood Boulevard last winter. Rabbits are too large for the city's numerous Cooper's hawks to capture.

Invasive Bullfrog Eludes Capture

Giant North American bullfrog in Goodacre Lake

This photo of a North American bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana), eyes just visible amidst the lilies east of the Stone Bridge, set off alarm bells in June. The non-native bullfrog is spreading through lakes and ponds in lower Vancouver Island. The huge creatures eat everything in sight--insects, fish, snakes, turtles, small mammals, birds, native frogs and other bullfrogs. They also carry the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis which can wipe out native amphibians. An intensive eradication is underway to eliminate these invasive frogs in Greater Victoria lakes and the frog was definitely unwelcome in Goodacre Lake. (Photo courtesy of Jim Chapman. For more of his high quality photos, see www.beaconhillphotos)

City staff wanted the bullfrog removed and city IPM Coordinator Michelle Gorman quickly gave permission to Dr. Gavin Hanke, Curator of Vertebrate Zoology of the Royal B.C. Museum, to capture it. However, since the proof-positive photo was taken on June 23, 2008 by Chapman, nobody has been able to find it. In 2005, Hanke spotted the first ever North American bullfrog dumped in Goodacre Lake and captured it. That frog was a full-grown male; if this year’s frog was a female, she could produce eggs by the thousands. (See Chapter 21 for photos and a description of that capture.)

There is no chance the first bullfrog or the second hopped to Goodacre Lake on their own. “People put them in a bucket and move them in a car,” according to Dr. Purnima Govindarajulu of the University of Victoria, who has been studying the frogs since 1997. Environmental technician Fred Hook said some people move buckets of eggs from one lake to another thinking it will "help with the mosquitoes.”

American bullfrogs are the largest frogs in North America, measuring up to 20 centimetres in length (not including legs) and tipping the scales at up to three quarters of a kilogram. Bullfrogs were originally brought to Vancouver Island in the 1930s and 1940s to be farmed for frogs’ legs. Apparently released when business plans failed, the frogs have been spreading ever since.

Wild Deer Visit the Park

There were an unusually high number of deer sightings in Beacon Hill Park in 2008. The first two deer appeared at Mile Zero at 9:15 a.m., May 28, traveling from Holland Point. They were seen later on Beacon Hill and in the Southeast Woods. Surprisingly, they ended up inside the Cook Street Parks maintenance yard, munching on the city’s hanging baskets. Wildlife officials would not respond to a request from city staff to remove the deer because hanging baskets are "not a threatened agricultural crop." By May 31, the two deer had moved east, following the shoreline and were reported in Oak Bay.Deer near the Children's Farm

On June 10, two young deer were chased from the restoration area in the Southeast Woods by an off-leash dog. Next, five deer, including a 5-point buck, were reported near the Children’s Farm. On July 17, two adults and a fawn were seen near the Farm about 7 a.m.; one of those adults is shown in the photo on the right. (Photo courtesy of Jim Chapman, Deer continued to be sighted in the fall. A single deer was seen on the east side of Beacon Hill on September 20 and in the Southeast Woods in mid October. Environmental Technician Fred Hook reported deer sightings all over the city this year, including Topaz Park and Government House.

Deer eat native plants as well as ornamentals. At the Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site near Victoria, deer ate every Camas plant on the property, according to Conan Webb, Parks Canada. Deer were the only mammals continuously held captive in the Beacon Hill Park Zoo from 1889 to 1990, over 100 years. The last remaining zoo mammal, a blacktail doe, was transported to Royal Roads (then a military college) in 1990 to join deer on that property.

A Cool Spring Affects Wildflowers

Satin FlowersThe prolonged cool spring was ideal for Satinflowers (Sisyrinchium douglasii) in 2008. They bloomed early in February and, in an outstandingly long run, continued to flower into April, more than two months. By March, the best patch in the north end of the park, contained over 200 flowers. The left photo shows a group of Satinflowers at that location. Individual Satinflowers and small patches popped up along the Northwest ridge in many locations and on the north side of Beacon Hill. Satinflowers are among the first wildflowers to bloom each year, even before early bloomers like Spring gold, Shooting stars, White fawn lilies and Trilliums. The increased number of flowers and locations and the over two-month length of time they continued to flourish were a positive contrast to previous years. Cool springs prolong the blossoms; warmer weather triggers seeds to form and withers the blossoms. (Photo courtesy of the City of Victoria)Camas meadow

The cool spring was not ideal for Early or Common camas (Camassia quamash) which needs warmth and sun in order to grow and bloom earlier than the grasses. Those favourable conditions did occur in 2007. Colder spring conditions with little sun in 2008 allowed grasses to grow tall earlier, blocking the sun for camas. Though Spring gold has the ability to grow very tall to compete with grasses if necessary, camas has a different strategy. According to Dr. Brenda Beckwith, camas aborts blooming when sun will be blocked. Camas plants are resilient and can bide their time; they can rest and save energy for more favourable future conditions. By sending up a single leaf to sustain itself, camas can come back even years later. The previous year’s weather conditions can affect the success of camas and other native wildlflowers, as well. There are therefore many possible reasons for a poor growth of camas on the south slope of Beacon Hill this year compared to lush camas growth in the meadow east of Beacon Hill, shown above. Late camas, which grows later in spring than Early camas and therefore can experience different weather conditions, grew well this year. (See section further in this chapter describing the collection of camas seeds for the city's native plant enhancement program)

Ladies Tresses orchidThere were few wild orchids in 2008 compared to the unusually outstanding display in 2007. (See Chapter 22 and in Articles section “2007: A Banner Year for Orchids and Other Wildflowers.”) Some tall, slender Ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana) orchids appeared in front of the totem pole in early July with a few dense clusters evident by mid-July. As seen on the right, this orchid’s white to greenish-white blossoms grow in spiral fashion, tightly packed on a spike. Even fewer Elegant rein orchids (Piperia elegans) grew hidden in the dry grass on the meadow east of the hill about the same time. In the north, orchids appeared later, beginning first along the edge of Heyward Boulevard. Timing varies year to year, according to weather conditions and plant variations and, Fred Hook explained: “Orchids tend to take rest years.” Perhaps 2008 was one of those rest years. (Norm Ringuette photos)

[See Chapter 22 (2007) for photos and information on the following native plants: Ladies’ tresses ( Spiranthes romanzoffiana ), Elegant rein orchid ( Piperia elegans ), Harvest brodiaea ( Brodiaea coronaria ), Fool’s onion ( Brodiaea hyacinthina ), White fawn lilies ( Erythronium oregonum ), Common camas ( Camassia quamash ), White trilliums ( Trillium ovatum), Chocolate lilies ( Fritillaria lanceolata ), Shootingstars ( Dodecatheon hendersonii ), Gairdner's yampah ( Perideridia gairdneri ) and Satin flower ( Sisyrinchium douglasii ).]

Four Native Plants Highlighted

Indian Plum blossoms    Indian Plum with fruit

This native shrub, common in Garry oak habitat, is called Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) or Osoberry. It is one of the first plants to flower in spring. The greenish-white flowers appear very early, often before the leaves, in hanging clusters, as shown above left. Flowers bloomed in February, 2008 on the east side of Beacon Hill, one of the best places to see and smell Indian Plum. Pojar and MacKinnon describe the “unusual fragrance” of the flowers “between watermelon rind and cat urine...” (Pojar and MacKinnon, Plants of Coast British Columbia, 1994, p. 72.) Botanist Lewis Clark is more positive. He says both flowers and foliage are strong smelling, “some say like crushed cucumber.” (Wild Flowers of Forest and Woodland of the Pacific Northwest, p. 50) The fruit is peach-coloured at first but ripens to bluish-black. shown above right. Ripe tiny plums are about 1 cm. long. The fruit is bitter but edible and has a large pit. First Nations groups gathered and ate them fresh, cooked and dried.

Nootka roses on Beacon Hill    Nootka Rose blossom

The large pink flowers of Nootka Rose (Rosa nutkana) is especially prominent on both sides of Beacon Hill. Almost everyone can recognize the blossoms at the end of branch tips. The shrubs are spindly and there is a pair of large spines at the base of each leaf. First Nations people sometimes ate the tender young shoots; other parts had medicinal uses.”Branches of all species of wild rose--along with skunk cabbage leaves, fern fronds, pine needles or salal--were sometimes put in steaming pits, cooking baskets and root-storage pits.” (Pojar and MacKinnon, Plants of Coast British Columbia, 1994, p. 74.) Today, some people like tea made by steeping rose-hips (the seed pods) in hot water. (Norm Ringuette photos)

A rare Deltoid Balsamroot in Beacon Hill Park

Only one wild Deltoid balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea) exists in Beacon Hill Park. The plant is not just rare in the park or in Victoria: it is rare nationally and provincially. This native plant is rated “Endangered” on a national listing (Cosewic Status) and provincially it is listed S1 Red. Unfortunately, native plant stealers dig up rare plants so the exact location of Beacon Hill Park’s plant must not be published. (Photo courtesy of the City of Victoria)

The appearance of two large blossoms on this single plant in May, 2008 was cause for celebration because it did not produce any flowers in 2007. A second Deltoid balsamroot propagated by Fred Hook in the Beacon Hill Park nursery was planted in the perennial border garden near Queen’s Lake this year. In that sunny, well watered and fertilized location, it triumphantly produced multiple flowers.

Small and often overlooked, Pacific stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium), also called Broad-leaved stonecrop, is a native herb usually found on rock outcrops. The miniature treasures are most easily viewed in the rocky northwest corner of Beacon Hill Park.

Stonecrop on the Northwest Ridge    Closeup of Pacific Stonecrop blossoms

Standing on the narrow dirt path next to park rocks lining Douglas Street near Toronto Street, these tiny, unusual looking plants can be seen at eye level clinging to rock. More stonecrop plants grow on rocks farther east on the northwest ridge south of the old Scouts fire circle. The two photos above, taken on June 2, 2008, show splendid bright yellow flowers towering (on a miniature scale) above the odd foliage.

Native Plant Research on Beacon Hill

Travis Marsico studying plant germination

Researcher Travis Marsico closely examined one of twenty plant study plots on the northwest slope of Beacon Hill on April 5, 2008. Using a labeled grid placed on top of each one-metre plot, he carefully counted and noted the exact location of three native species planted in 2006. During his three year study, Marsico spent many long days on his knees bending over study plots. In addition to those on Beacon Hill, he checked one hundred plots at five other locations on Vancouver Island. University of Notre Dame (South Bend, Indiana) colleague Derrick Parker took time out from butterfly research to help Marsico by recording plant data this year while sitting comfortably nearby. (Norm Ringuette photos)

Spring Gold blossoms  Indian Consumption plant  Chocolate tips plant

Marsico’s research project tracked the growth of three native plant species found in Garry Oak ecosystems. Two of the Lomatium species, Spring gold (Lomatium utriculatum), above left, and Indian consumption plant or Bare-stem desert parsley (Lomatium nudicaule), above centre, are plentiful on Beacon Hill's north and east meadows as well as on the Northwest Ridge. (See the next section on seed collection to view photos of mature Spring gold seeds and ripening Indian consumption seeds.) The third study species shown, above right, is rare in the park and rare in British Columbia. Chocolate tips (Lomatium dissectum) is officially a species at risk in British Columbia with the status of S1 Red as listed by the federal Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) under the Species at Risk Act (SARA).

In 2006, Marsico collected 18,000 Spring gold seeds, 10,300 Indian consumption plant seeds and 5,500 Chocolate tips seeds. Marsico attached the seeds to colour-coded toothpicks with a dot of non-toxic glue before planting them at the end of July, 2006. Half the plots were prepared by removing competing vegetation. Some plots were fenced in raised cages. Marsico assessed germination in April, 2007 and again in April, 2008. He found “All three species germinate as well outside their current range distribution as they do inside the range boundary.” (“Dissertation Project to Date: A Field Experiment Addressing Establishment of Three Lomatium Species Near and Beyond Their Range Margins,” November, 2007)

City Environmental Technician Fred Hook hopes the long term benefit from Marsico’s Lomatium research project in Beacon Hill Park will be an increase in the number of Chocolate tips plants. There are currently only two established plants in the park, one of which is dangerously close to a well-traveled path. Marsico faced particular obstacles in trying to increase numbers and establish new populations of Chocolate tips: fewer seeds can be collected of this rare plant and the species has a poor germination rate compared to the other two Lomatium species. Marsico reported a 50% germination rate in his twenty plots on Beacon hill the first year; he thought it is possible that twenty Chocolate tips plants could survive in future years. Hook says even five more plants would be a very positive outcome.

Marsico dismantled and removed plot stakes and cages this spring but plans to return in future years to monitor the plots. No longer a graduate student, he has earned a PhD from the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

Collecting Seeds for the Native Plant Enhancement Program

Fred Hook collecting native plant seeds

Mature seeds of native plants were collected in several areas of Beacon Hill Park on July 12, 2008 by City of Victoria Environmental Technician Fred Hook, shown above. Seeds are planted and cared for in the Beacon Hill Park nursery as part of a special native plant enhancement program begun more than fifteen years ago. Native plants grown in the nursery are used in restoration projects around the city, for replanting areas disturbed by construction and maintenance and in research projects. Hook plans to place some native plants in ornamental beds in the future, as well.

It is important to emphasize that residents and visitors must not gather native plants or seeds in the park or anywhere else. Doing so destroys, damages and endangers the native plants needing protection to survive. It is illegal to collect plants or seeds in any national, provincial, regional or local park at any time, except by permit. Provincial and federal governments maintain lists of endangered plant species with special protection. “It is an offence, federally and provincially to possess endangered plant species or parts of them including seeds,” Fred Hook explained. If offenders are caught, plant thieves are charged in the same way as those caught with eagle feathers or bear paws and gall bladders. Authorities monitoring the internet have tracked sales of endangered animals and plants and gotten convictions.

Special permission is required to collect native plant seeds and those with permits follow strict ethical guidelines for seed collection. The Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team (GOERT) website explains why and how: “To ensure sufficient parent plant materials are left in place to allow natural propagation, and to provide food and habitat for insects, birds and small mammals, collect no more than 5% of the fruit, seeds or cuttings from any one plant. To maintain genetic diversity, collect seeds and/or cuttings from many plants of large populations (e.g. from at least 10 widely spaced plants)." (

To collect seeds, Hook gently squeezes a dry pod to spill the contents into a small paper envelope. He notes the species, date and location on each envelope. When reintroducing native plants in the future, local seeds will be planted in the same areas. Information recorded will contribute information to a current Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team (GOERT) research project documenting the range of seed ripening dates for each species.

Many tiny insects, present in the seedpod, are collected along with the seeds. To allow their escape, Hook does not seal the paper envelopes immediately; sealing the envelope with the insects inside results in all seeds eaten. Many pods in the field contained hollow seeds, already eaten by these insects. Though present in huge numbers and variety, little or no research has been carried out on the insects. It is likely they are native insects which evolved along with native plants over hundreds of years. (Norm Ringuette photos)

White fawn lily seeds being bagged    Spring gold seeds

White fawn lily (Erythronium oregonum) seeds, shown above left, are a distinctive reddish brown. Inside the lilies’ three-sided pods, tiny insects devour a huge number of seeds. Patience is needed to grow these native wildflowers. After planting the seeds, lilies can take seven years to bloom; the cycle is faster if they are watered regularly. In the wetter and shadier north end of the park, White fawn lilies seed pods grow larger and longer than in southern meadows. On the north side of Beacon hill, lilies grew best this year in an area recently burned. Before white settlers stopped the practice, First Nations people set regular fires to stimulate the growth of many native plants. When accidental fires occur in the park today, the burned area will produce dramatically more vigorous vegetation the following year.

Spring gold (Lomatium utriculatum) seeds, above right, are flat, long and narrow with white papery edges and brown lines in the centre. Spring gold's bright yellow flowers bloom early in spring, so their seeds mature early. The seeds of another important Lomatium species called Indian consumption plant (Lomantium nudicaule), shown below, need more time to ripen.

Indian consumption plant forming seeds

Unripe seeds of Indian consumption plants vary in colour; some are green while others have a purplish tinge, as shown here. The seeds at this stage have a pleasant taste similar to celery seed. First Nations had many uses for this plant, thus the name. If dry fields are mowed before the Indian consumption plant seeds mature, that year’s seed crop is lost. There is another important reason to delay mowing until seeds are mature: Indian Consumption Plant seeds are essential in the life cycle of the beautiful Anise swallowtail butterfly. Anise swallowtail larvae feed on the seeds. (See photo of large swallowtail caterpillar feeding on an Indian consumption plant in the next section on insects.) The destruction of that essential larval food by early mowing is a possible reason there are few swallowtails seen in the park.

Seeds are not collected from the third Lomatium species in Beacon Hill Park, Chocolate tips (Lomatium dissectum). Chocolate tips are officially a species at risk in British Columbia with the status of S1 Red as listed by the federal Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). There are only two Chocolate tips plants in the entire park now but Hook hopes the three-year Lomatium research project completed this year on Beacon hill will boost the number. Researcher Travis Marsico claimed a 50% germination rate in his twenty plots on Beacon hill; he thinks it is possible twenty plants could survive in future years. Even five more plants would be a very positive outcome. (See previous section on this research project)

More camas seeds are collected in Beacon Hill Park each year than any other native plant species. There are two varieties of camas, Early (or Common) camas (Camassia quamash) and Late (or Great) camas (Camassia leichtlinii). Before white settlers arrived, the local First Nations (Lekwungen) people harvested camas bulbs for their own food and traded large quantities with west coast Nuu-chah-nulth people. Camas was the most important plant in their diet and Beacon Hill Park was a prime camas harvesting site. Late camas seed pods, shown below, are larger and more urn-shaped than Early camas. The round, black seeds from one Late camas pod are shown on the right. A higher proportion of Late camas is found in the more wet and shady north end of Beacon Hill Park. Many Early camas seed pods in southern park fields were already empty by mid-June; it is possible invasive Eastern cottontail rabbits ate them. The rabbits, brought to the park by a human recently, are multiplying and they eat both ornamental and native plants.

Late camas seed pods  Closeup of late camas seed pods  Late camas seeds out of the pods

Hook aims to plant about 5000 camas seeds annually (10 flats of 500 in each). Small paper collection envelopes which hold about 200 seeds are used for other species but for camas, larger size envelopes with a capacity of 1000 seeds are appropriate. Hook plants the seeds fresh without drying them; this shortens the growing process by skipping the re-hydration step. When camas is planted in rich soil in shallow flats, fed and watered regularly, he says new camas can be ready to plant in two to three years.

This year, camas plants grown in the nursery were used in a Gonzales Hill restoration project, in a Pacific Forest Centre demonstration garden and University of Victoria’s Dr. Brenda Beckwith’s cold frame project with First Nations to grow traditional native food crops such as camas and Indian consumption plant.

Pacific sanicle (Sanicula crassicaulis) seeds were collected as well. This species is plentiful in the meadows of Beacon Hill Park but lacking in other areas of the city. Sanicle seeds are inadvertently collected by anyone walking through a dry field because barbs readily attach to socks and pants. Graceful cinquefoil (Potentilla gracilis) seeds were not ready in mid July and neither were the seeds of Indian plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) or Osoberry. Indian plum seeds are ready when the berries begin to wrinkle. In nature, this shrub’s fruit is eaten by birds; seeds passing through the birds digestive system prepares them for germination. Humans who pick berries from the shrubs find the seeds are difficult to germinate without that process unless seeds are slightly cracked by hand or soaked in hydrochloric acid. (See earlier section of this chapter for photos of this plant.)

Many native plants seeds are devilishly difficult to collect and difficult to grow. Seeds of Satinflower (Sisyrinchium douglasii), Harvest brodeia (Brodiaea coronaria) and Prairie violet (Viola praemorsa), for example, are tiny and hard to capture. So far, native grass seed has not been collected in the Beacon Hill Park native plant program. Grass identification and collection requires special expertise; Hook hopes to hire butterfly and plant specialist James Miskelly to collect grass seed in the future.

To Mow or Not to Mow

The Victoria Fire Department would like grass fields in Beacon Hill Park, Holland Point Park and along Dallas Road mowed as soon as they begin to dry out to reduce the risk of fire. The Parks Department knows there are other important considerations: early mowing destroys the year’s seed crop of some native plants; late blooming flowers such as the Elegant rein orchids and Ladie’s tresses can be chopped down before they finish flowering; insects depending on these native plants cannot reproduce. Achieving a reasonable balance is a struggle every summer.

The pressure to mow in 2008 increased with the warm, dry days of July. During the first week of July, the Victoria Fire Department responded to seven beach fire calls, mostly in the evening, prompting Fire Prevention Officer Myles Anderson to appear on all "A Channel" television news broadcasts July 14, 2009. He warned that wind can blow embers from burning logs on the beach up the Dallas Road cliffs to Beacon Hill Park and he sounded the alarm about carelessly tossed cigarettes in the park’s tall dry grass. He claimed it was “only luck a serious fire has not occurred in Beacon Hill Park...” and concluded: “We may lose the park.” On July 23, Anderson announced there had been 24 beach fires and 10 brush fires in Victoria since July 1. The city had received only 3.4 mm. of rain compared to the average of 16 mm. (Times Colonist, July 23, 2008, p. A3)

A fire would not, of course, cause the park to disappear. There have been grass and brush fires every decade throughout the park’s history. Most fires are small and easily contained; none permanently damaged any part of the park. Prior to white settlement, fires were set regularly by First Nations for hundreds of years in order to promote the growth of important native plant foods such as camas. The most luxuriant vegetation in the park today grows on the locations of accidental fires because fires stimulate native plant growth.

Though beach fires are strictly prohibited at all times on Dallas Road and signs are posted at every beach access point, every summer the Victoria Fire Department is called to extinguish fires built on the beach which spread to nearby logs. It is difficult to put out these fires from above and fire crews must often descend the cliffs in the dark; this is dangerous work they would like to avoid. Some officials of the Fire Department suggest removing all logs from the Dallas Road beaches to solve that problem. However, removing logs involves access roads, damaging the cliffs; other people believe logs protect the cliffs during winter storms. Everyone agrees it would be a huge undertaking.

Some dog owners demanded the city mow dry grass on the Dallas Road waterfront early to protect their dogs from “spear grass”. The seeds of the plant are shaped like screws and can drill themselves into flesh; a veterinarian must remove any embedded in dogs' eyes, paws or noses. Dog owners could, however, solve the problem themselves by not allowing their dogs to run in tall grass during the few weeks during the year seeds are a problem.

Environmental Technician Fred Hook, using his knowledge of native plant locations and conditions, directed timely and selective mowing again in 2008. Wide swaths near paths and roads were mown before Luminara, as usual. The south face of Beacon Hill and the Dallas Road waterfront were mowed in July, the field between Arbutus Way and the Heywood ball diamond in early August. The main orchid patches and areas with ripening seeds of Indian Consumption plants, were mown last.

Insects: Life and Death on the City’s Foliage

Dr. Michelle Gorman insect study

Dr. Michelle Gorman scrutinizes an insect under her microscope, one of many thousands--dead and alive--which have passed through her small upstairs office in the Parks Maintenance building on Cook Street. As Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Coordinator for the City of Victoria's Parks Department, part of Gorman's job is to stop invasive insect pests in their tracks using environmentally friendly strategies. (Norm Ringuette photos)

Monitoring is a never-ending task in managing established insect pests because those cannot be eradicated, only controlled. Many insect pests, like invasive plants, are foreign invaders introduced (often accidentally) from another region of the world; newly arrived alien insects can explode in numbers because natural checks have not had time to evolve. “A native insect would have it's own native predators and parasites to keep its populations in check,” Gorman explained. Though native species generally reach a balance as they evolve together over time, native insect populations can explode, too, when conditions change.

When the numbers of insect pests on the city’s foliage become too numerous, Gorman marshals insect predators to kill and eat them. That's why, in July, a canvas bag full of live aphid-eating ladybugs was stored in her small office refrigerator next to the juice, yogurt and sandwiches.

Ladybugs must be kept cold until placed in position at the city’s aphid hot-spots because, Gorman says, "A warm ladybug is an active ladybug." To prepare for transportation to the release sites on downtown trees under siege, Gorman moved handfuls of ladybugs, shown below left, to small tupperware containers (center photo), which are placed on ice blocks in an insulated carry box.

Ladybugs in a refrigerated bag     Tupperware container for ladybug distribution    Ladybug larvae do most aphid eating

To encourage ladybugs to remain where they are placed, Parks Department workers Carla Parkes and Kathy Tardiff used trigger-spray water bottles to squirt a line of water leading up selected downtown street trees on Broughton, Blanchard and Fort before carefully placing the ladybugs. “Water is the key to ladybug happiness,” Gorman explained. “They are thirsty from being cold." When water is provided, ladybugs climb up to the crowns of the trees, mate and lay eggs which hatch into ugly, voracious larvae like the one above right. “Larvae eat full time and consume many more aphids than the adults,” according to Gorman.

Sticky card traps tiny Fungus Gnats and ThripsIn the Beacon Hill Park nursery, Gorman checks the number and insect species adhering to a "yellow sticky trap," shown here. There is about a two week lag before the “biologicals” placed on plants to combat pests become effective, so she checks the two-sided sticky cards weekly to stay on top of possible infestations. A low number of pests can be picked off plants by hand, she explained, plucking aphids from a geranium stem and squishing them between her fingers. Another low-tech solution is spraying a soap solution on leaves. However, if large numbers of insect pests such as tiny fungus gnats and thrips are found trapped on the sticky cards, Gorman selects the right tiny assassin to place in the infested plant flats. She orders a supply of a mite that eats fungus gnats and a second mite that eats thrips.

Dr. Gorman inspecting a Para-Strip    Closeup of a Para-Strip containing wasps

To eradicate whitefly, the biological weapon of choice is a parasite. Gorman examines a small tag called a “Para-Strip" hanging from a fuchsia, above left. When the Para-Strip is placed on the plant, the small circle at the bottom, visible in the closeup to the right, is packed with tiny wasps called Encarsia formosa. The wasps emerge to lay their eggs on the problem whitefly.

Another important part of Gorman’s job is to inspect all new plant material brought into the nursery or other city properties. Purchased trees usually arrive with root balls wrapped in burlap; she pulls back the covering and has a close look at the soil. All new plant flats and shrubs are inspected and those with infestations returned to the supplier. On July 22, for example, just-arrived small Poinsettias were checked for whitefly before being planted out in the nursery.

Winter moths

Garry oak leaves attacked    Maple leaf riddled with holes    Caterpillar winter moth

Millions of oak, maple and cherry tree leaves in Beacon Hill Park and around the region were full of holes this summer. In the far left photo, a healthy, intact Garry oak leaf is shown next to a much-chewed leaf. A heavily damaged Big-leaf maple leaf is shown in the middle photo. According to Dr. Michelle Gorman, the green inch-worm larvae of the winter moth (Operophtera brumata), shown far right, is responsible for the damage. (Larva photo courtesy of Fabio Stergulc, University of Udine,

“Winter moth was introduced from Europe to Nova Scotia in the 1950's and into BC in the late 1960's...," she explained. "Following research conducted on the East Coast, the Pacific Forestry Center on Burnside Road collaborated with the University of Victoria to conduct a study on releasing parasites and predators that occur in Europe to keep this insect in check.” The parasite and predator release that took place in the late 1970's was effective in keeping winter moth in check until the last few years.

Collecting winter moths

Research is currently being conducted in Victoria parks in an effort to understand why winter moth populations have increased. In the photo above, researchers knocked larvae off a Summit Park Garry oak onto a tarp so they could be collected and analyzed. Gorman explained: “Nicholas Conder, working for Dr. Imre Otvos at the Pacific Forestry Research Centre, is conducting research on the winter moth parasite relationship in our parks this year as part of a continuing study from last year.” (City of Victoria photo)



Anise Swallowtail butterfly     Swallowtail caterpillar on Lomatium plant    Swallowtail caterpillar closeup

A small number of Anise swallowtail butterflies (Papilio zelicaon), shown above left, could be seen in Beacon Hill Park on sunny days from the last week in May through July, 2008. This large yellow and black butterfly has blue accents and a round black hind wing eyespot surrounded by orange. Males and females meet at the tops of hills and ridges before mated females lay their eggs on one of the food plants needed by their larvae, according to authors John Acorn and Ian Sheldon. The butterfly is named for one of those food plants, sweet fennel, which is also called "anise." (Butterflies of British Columbia, p. 42). A native plant abundant in dry park meadows, Indian consumption plant (Lomantium nudicaule), is the key host plant for Anise swallowtail larvae in Beacon Hill Park. The centre photo above, taken in the north end of the park, shows a larva--brilliant green with black and yellow accent colours--on the ripening seeds of an Indian consumption plant. A closer view of the larva is shown on the right. (Photos courtesy of the City of Victoria)

If dry grass and wildflower fields are mowed before Indian consumption plant seeds have time to mature, essential larval food is destroyed as well as that year’s seed crop. The Victoria Fire Department, focused on fire danger, advocates early mowing annually, while naturalists strive to delay mowing to allow the completion of plant and insect life cycles. Early mowing during drought periods is a possible reason for very low numbers of swallowtails found in the park. (More information and photos of Indian consumption plant are provided in the earlier sections of this chapter which describe Lomatium plant research on Beacon Hill and native seed collection by city staff.)

A few Lorquin’s admirals (Limenitis lorquini), a distinctive black butterfly with orange wing tips and a white band, are also seen regularly in the park each summer. The only admiral found on Vancouver Island, the Lorquin’s is smaller than a swallowtail; their larval food plants are willows, poplars and bitter cherries. Though the adults are strikingly beautiful, “All admirals have caterpillars that look like bird poop...,” according to Acorn and Sheldon. (Butterflies of British Columbia, p. 274)

The number of all species of butterflies in the park was extremely low in 2008. On a sunny day in June or July, a visitor was fortunate to see a total of two swallowtails and two Lorquin’s Admirals. Weather was partially to blame. Recent cold springs reduced already low butterfly numbers throughout the Greater Victoria region, according to specialist James Miskelly. Butterfly species emerging in early spring had a particularly difficult time mating and laying eggs, he explained. “Adult butterflies are only active in warm, sunny weather. A butterfly that’s in a pupa since last spring, emerges on a sunny day, spreads its wings and flies around with a lifespan of only seven to ten days, may live out its entire life cycle living under a rock because the weather is too cold. This means that some species won’t mate and lay eggs as expected.” (Victoria News, June 27, 2008, p. A1, A2) Miskelly concluded: “Several early spring fliers were at or near the lowest lows recorded in almost fifteen years of the Victoria butterfly counts.” (The Victoria Naturalist, Vol. 64.5 (2008), p. 19) Cold springs also affect the growth of plants butterflies need and a cold spring one year could mean fewer butterflies the following year.

Butterfly enthusiast Jeremy Tatum called 2008 the worst year for butterflies he has seen in 71 years. He agreed the cold spring was a big factor, but also blamed recent pesticide spraying to kill the non-native gypsy moths. “The spraying for the gypsy moth can only be harmful as the bacterium is harmful for all butterflies.” (Victoria News, June 27, 2008, p. A1, A2) There are over 350 host plants for the gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar), a defoliator of deciduous trees. Dr. Michelle Gorman, the City of Victoria’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Coordinator says it is “important not to have it” because the larvae especially relish the leaves of oaks and maples. Depending on the level of infestation, Gorman says it is sometimes possible to mass trap the moths instead of spraying; that was done in Fairfield and Cedar Hill. One gypsy moth monitoring trap was placed in Beacon Hill Park in 2008--the small tent-shaped green trap hung from an Arbutus tree in the Heywood Meadow--while another fifteen traps were spread around the Capital Region, according to Gorman. Traps were baited with a female hormone and checked monthly during the summer, then returned to the CFIA in September.

Poor spring weather and gypsy moth spraying aren’t the worst problems affecting the survival of butterflies. Habitat destruction in the Victoria area is overwhelmingly the major factor. Natural areas have been covered with buildings and asphalt; exotic plant species and lawns have replaced native plants needed by butterflies and moths during their life cycles.

The current low butterfly count contrasts dramatically with high numbers recorded in the past before massive regional development overwhelmed natural areas. In 1892-1894, in a two year study of butterflies in the Victoria area, W. H. Danby counted more than forty species of butterflies, of which twenty-two were extremely abundant. Millions of butterflies filled the air in spring. James Miskelly explained that most butterflies seen at that time were “typical of grasslands and moist meadows. These butterflies have disappeared because their habitat has disappeared.” For example, 1901 records show pine white butterflies were so plentiful in Victoria that they piled up two inches thick on the Dallas Road beach. Pine whites feed on pine buds, and, as Environmental Technician Fred Hook pointed out, there are few native pines left now.

Miskelly believes we could and should restore some of that habitat and that some butterflies could flourish again in Beacon Hill Park. “Many species have great potential...All will require active habitat restoration and management...The Propertius Duskywing, for example, requires that leaf litter be left in place throughout the winter." Miskelly would like a section of the park to become a “Beacon Hill Butterfly Sanctuary.”

Taylor's checkerspot

One of Fred Hook's goals is to reestablish the formerly abundant Taylor’s Checkerspot (Euphydryas editha taylori) butterfly in Beacon Hill Park. The medium sized butterfly, shown on the left, is named for the colorful checkerboard-like patterns of orange, white, and black on upper and lower wing surfaces. This low-elevation, coastal subspecies of Edith’s Checkerspot is endangered; in B.C., the only population remaining is on Hornby Island. Lepidopterists Crispin Guppy and Jon Shepard believe habitat destruction--especially the spread of invasive Scotch broom--is the cause of its disappearance. (John Acorn and Ian Sheldon, Butterflies of British Columbia, p. 248)

To reestablish the Taylor’s Checkerspot, plants needed during each stage of its life cycle must be present. The butterflies lay their eggs on Golden paintbrush (Castilleja spp.) and introduced species of plantain (Plantago spp.). One of those larval food plants, plantain, is abundant already in the park, especially on the south slope of Beacon Hill. Fred Hook is growing Golden paintbrush in the Beacon Hill Park nursery and hopes to reestablish paintbrush in ornamental areas. In addition to host plants for the larva, Taylor’s checkerspot adults require nectar plants to feed on. In Oregon, adult butterflies nectar on wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), a plant also found in Beacon Hill Park. (

Dog Owners Ignore On-Leash ByLaw in Beacon Hill Park

Dogs must be on leashes within the boundaries of Beacon Hill Park north of Dallas Road. Nevertheless, many dog owners knowingly break the bylaw every day to exercise their dogs. The most frequent areas where dogs are brought to run free is Beacon Hill, the Southeast Woods, Heywood Meadow and the Northwest Ridge. Loose dogs are a major problem for wildlife. Dogs endanger all ground-nesting birds and their young. Robins, crows and hawks attempting first flights end up on the ground. Quail on Beacon Hill are especially vulnerable because they spend most of their lives on the ground. Dogs chase, harass and hurt adult mallards and ducklings near the lakes. A peahen was killed by a dog this year. On June 10, a dog jumped over the fence protecting a restoration area and chased two deer in the Southeast Woods.

Occasional warnings and tickets issued by officers of Victoria Animal Control Services (VACS), which has a contract with the City of Victoria, have not stopped dog owners from turning their dogs loose. Some residents have suggested increasing the fine. According to Ian Fraser, Senior Animal Control Officer, here in Victoria, “The fine for having an off leash dog in any public place is $50...and the price remains the same regardless the number of violations.” Fraser explained that issuing tickets and collecting fines is difficult. “When we do decide to issue a ticket we are sometimes met with people who provide false information or they will walk/run away.” If accurate information is provided, fines are often unpaid. “Unpaid fines are sent to a collection agency but there is not much money in trying to collect a $50 fine so little effort is made to collect them.”

It is clear that a large number of dog owners do not agree with the leash bylaw regulation and don’t intend to abide by it. When asked to leash their dogs, many owners are unapologetic and combative. “People argue their dog is under control, their dog is not a problem,” Fraser explained. People tell officers they “should be going after the bad dog owners not them... Approximately 95% of leash violations result in verbal or written warnings. We also give out free leashes to those persons who do not have a leash with them.”

One section of the Dallas Road off-leash area, discussed below, is within Beacon Hill Park boundaries. The area between Douglas Street and Cook Street south of Dallas Road is the only place in the park where dogs are allowed off-leash.

Mixing Off-leash Dogs and People on Dallas Road “A Recipe for Disaster”

The Dallas Road waterfront off-leash area combines hundreds of loose dogs with hundreds of walkers, joggers and other users in the same park space. Combining loose dogs with other users is “a recipe for disaster,” according to Ian Fraser, VACS Senior Animal Control Officer. “Biting is a common occurrence.” Other cities in North America eliminate conflicts between loose dogs and people by providing completely fenced off-leash areas. Fencing protects other users from dogs running free.

Joggers are the park users most often chased and bitten. Walkers are jumped on, tripped and knocked down, too. Hazel D. Bailey wrote the James Bay Beacon in March to warn others to be "ever vigilant" when walking on the Dallas Road pathway. She fractured three bones in her wrist when "two large dogs, playing behind me, jumped and hit me on the back, knocking me to the ground." (James Bay Beacon, March, 2008, p. 3) Peter Davis, a James Bay jogger who was knocked down from behind by two large playing dogs in the same way as Bailey, is another citizen who came forward to report injuries. He appeared at a City Council meeting in 1993 with a broken leg, broken arm and three damaged ribs, to ask Council to change Dallas Road into an on-leash area for the safety of the public. The story made headlines fifteen years ago but resulted in no action by council. (Times Colonist, October 8, 1993, D 14)

Most dog-caused injuries along the waterfront have not been reported in local newspapers and there has been no record kept of injuries and complaints about dogs by the city or any other agency during twenty years of people and off-leash dog conflicts along Dallas Road. There is no record available from the SPCA (in charge of animal control until 2004) or VACS (in charge since 2004). To report a problem with off-leash dogs in city parks, people usually call the Parks Department but they are told to call Animal Control and no city record is made of the calls.

The mandate of Animal Control is to enforce by-law infractions such as biting in off-leash areas; they focus on identifying owners and dogs in order to take action. They do not write down general dog complaints, such as a child being knocked down or a picnic spoiled by a dog racing through it, or that a dog jumped on, charged at or barked aggressively at someone. Nobody records complaints of frail elderly callers who can no longer go to their favourite park because they fear being knocked down by loose dogs. Many people report uncooperative dog owners will not control their dogs when directly asked to do so. “If you don’t like dogs, don’t come here,” is the common response.

A remedy for all these problem was suggested in February by City of Victoria Parks Department General Manager David Speed. He proposed that the Dallas Road off-leash area be closed and that a fenced area for off-leash dogs be set up at another location, complete with fencing, doggie water station and bag station. Speed suggested one possibile location could be the Douglas Street all-weather sports field at Douglas Street and Dallas Road. Dogs on leashes would still be welcome on Dallas Road paths. Speed made the suggestion at a meeting of the Dogs in Parks Steering Committee, a pro-dog group established to advise City Council. According to the online minutes of that meeting, Speed described the Dallas Road off-leash site as very busy, with a multitude of users. The number one park site within the City and “the face” of Victoria, Speed said the seventeen-acre area should be suited to all users.

There is a second important reason to close the Dallas Road off-leash area. Extreme overuse caused habitat destruction at Finlayson Point after it became a meeting place for dogs and their owners from the city and around the region. A beautiful 1,000 year-old wildflower meadow was destroyed by 1998. For the last ten years, it has remained bare dirt and weeds. It was no surprise when the first infestation of invasive Carpet burweed in Beacon Hill Park occurred on that degraded soil in 2005. Speed told the Dogs in Parks Steering Committee that Finlayson Point has suffered serious damage environmental damage and is a sensitive native vegetation area that the City is required by Federal law to protect. (

The link below goes to a short article which includes "before and after" photos of Finlayson Point, a photo comparison with Holland Point and commentary by noted botanist Dr. T. Christopher Brayshaw.

Until 2005, the Dallas Road area was the only off-leash dog area in Victoria. Dog owners claimed that opening up more off-leash areas in parks would reduce the use of Dallas Road. Six additional city parks were opened to off-leash dogs in 2005--Oswald, Arbutus, Victoria West, Alexander, Redfern and Gonzales Beach--and three more were added in 2008--Songhees Hilltop, Banfield and Pemberton. Though nine other city parks are now open to off-leash dogs, the number of dogs and dog owners at the Dallas Road location has not declined.

Finlayson Point Meadow Damage

For thousands of years, wildflowers and grasses grew tall on Finlayson Point. A spectacular display of blue camas flowers covered the area each spring until a few years ago. Only bare dirt and a few tough weeds are left today because the City of Victoria allowed off-leash dogs and their owners to overuse the area.

1957 and 2004 photo

1957 Finlayson Pt. meadow  Finlayson Pt. damage

Botanist Dr. T. Christopher Brayshaw calls what happened an “extremely concentrated degradation of the grassland community.” He wrote:

...the expanding bare area is conspicuously too heavily trampled to support a plant cover. This change has progressed most rapidly in the last 7 or 8 years, since this has become a destination area where people gather to walk their dogs off their leads, and to socialize. (Brayshaw, “The State of the Wild Plant Communities of Beacon Hill Park,” January 15, 2001, p. 12-14)

The contrast between Finlayson Point and Holland Point--areas that were comparable before--is striking. The grassland vegetation on Holland Point, shown below right, is still relatively healthy; many native plant species gone from Finlayson Point still survive on Holland Point. Dr. Brayshaw believes this comparison “holds a lesson for us” and that we must apply that lesson to other areas of the park. Both photos below were taken on the same day, May 8, 2004.

Finlayson Point

Finlayson Pt. damage

Holland Point

    2004 Holland Pt. meadow

“We should not confuse the right of use with the right to cause damage,” Dr. Brayshaw concluded.

"The Finlayson Point area has clearly exceeded its capacity to absorb the trampling impact of crowds and still recover its integrity; and now presents a prospect of probably irreversible degradation," Dr. Brayshaw explained. "This is the effect of use by just our local population, unassisted by crowds of visiting festival-goers." In order to begin repairing the Finlayson Point damage, he recommends fencing to keep all traffic off the site while it heals.

Ornamental Areas

George Fraser rhodo is 119 years old

The granddaddies of all Beacon Hill Park plants were still in place and blooming brilliantly 119 years after George Fraser planted them. (May 24, 2008 photo by Norm Ringuette) Fraser is credited with “...planting a grove of five Rhododendron ‘Cynthia’ near Fountain Lake in 1889 ...When in bloom [they] look like one very large plant which one can walk underneath and stand among the trunks.” (“State of the Environment,” City of Victoria, July, 2001)

Peanut butter plants

Three unusual shrubs with large serrated leaves were planted along Bridge Way north of Goodacre Lake in May. Known as “peanut butter plants” (Melianthus major) because of their odor, they were displayed in a small ornamental area near a green maintenance shed. People who rubbed young leaves with their fingers and sniffed declared it really did smell like peanut butter. (Norm Ringuette photo) Further north in the same area, large areas of shrubs growing next to Bridge Way were cleared and replaced with compost, ornamental stones, swordferns and currants.

Nicer ground cover near the Central PlaygroundAn even larger area near the Central Playground was transformed with compost, swordferns and rhododendrons. Change began in February when more than thirty small pencil cedars were cut down at the east edge of the playground parking lot. Staff received constant complaints the previous summer about cars being vandalized; the tree screen blocked a view from the playground. After the area was opened up, irrigation pipes were put in for the new garden area and an asphalt curb was constructed at the edge of the lot.

Parks Master Plan Stalled for Ten Months

The development of a much anticipated City of Victoria Parks Master Plan, stalled since December, 2007, resumed in October, 2008. According to reporter Jason Youmans, the city needed a consultant to complete the process. The "Request for Proposal" advertised during the summer stated: "Due to reduced staff resources, a decision has been made to complete the Plan with a Parks Planning Consultant." The city will pay $50,000 for a consultant to complete the Parks Master Plan by April 30, 2009. (Monday Magazine, July 31-Aug. 6, 2008, p. 5)

A Parks Master Plan Steering Committee was appointed by City Council in 2006. Thirteen public consultation meetings were held in city neighbourhoods. Volunteers on the Steering Committee gamely attended seventeen meetings, the last on Dec. 4, 2007, before the process stalled. The city’s website emphasized the great importance of having a Parks Master Plan in place, stating it “will be an important management tool for the City and it will form the foundation for more specific plans, policies and procedures.”

Children’s Farm Boundary Expanded Again

City Council decided on March 20, 2008 to allow the Children’s Farm to use 85% of the former horse paddock. That decision overturned a May, 2007 council decision designating about 50% of the paddock for Farm use; the other half of the paddock was to be returned to open park land, fencing was to be removed and the area made accessible to the public. At the time, Coun. Chris Coleman called the 50-50 split a "good compromise." The March decision changed that by giving 35% more to the Farm and leaving the public with 15%. Since no fencing was removed by the end of the year, not an inch was returned to open park land in 2008 and the net gain for the public was zero.

Both council decisions ignored an agreement made in 1990 when the barn was first constructed and the paddock carved out of Garry oak habitat. It was expressly agreed that the Farm could not take over the area. The land was taken out of the park for the sole purpose of housing city police horses with the understanding that the land would be returned to open parkland when it was no longer used by city police for that purpose. Police horses were stabled at the site about four months a year from 1990 through 2001. The program was canceled in 2002 but the land remained behind tall fences adjoining the farm on the south and west sides. This Norm Ringuette photo shows part of the intrusive horse paddock fence next to the gravel path leading from the central parking lot up the north side of Beacon Hill.

Garry Oak meadow added to the Children's Farm

The reason for enlarging Farm boundaries--maintained since 1985 when contractors Lynda and Dennis Koenders took over operations under contract with the city--was not clear. Manager of Park Development Gary Darrah told the Times Colonist that a "tree survey" was missing from previous plans but did not explain why that mattered. For the first time, however, the area was described as “peacock habitat." News reports no longer identified the space as the former police horse paddock. The Times Colonist article referred to the previous May, 2007 council decision as "A plan to reduce the size of the peacock paddock." Since no mention was made of peacocks when business owners Lynda and Dennis Koenders applied in 2007 for a boundary extension in their contract with the city, some surprised residents suggested rebranding the paddock as a peacock yard was a feel-good move that helped gain the Farm more land. No references to the paddock history or the promise by the city to return the area to open park land appeared in March, 2008 reports. (Times Colonist, March 21, 2008, p. A5)

In April, the Koenders wrote a letter to the editor of the James Bay Beacon which seemed to deny there had been a boundary expansion at all: "We have had no plans for expansion beyond what is existing and do not plan to for the future." Brian Mason responded: “Perhaps the Koenders are nitpicking over what the word ‘expansion’ means. At any rate, they have official permission to use more park land than the Farm ever had before. According to my dictionary, ‘to expand’ means ‘to make larger or more extensive.’” (James Bay Beacon, April, 2008, p. 3, May, 2008, p. 3)

A Children’s Farm has been in operation in Beacon Hill Park for 35 years. For the first twelve years, Parks Department staff organized and operated the farm. There was no admission charge or suggested donation during that time. As run by the city, the Farm was not in conflict with the Park Trust which prohibits any commercialization, advertising, banners, sales or fees. Since the Farm was privatized in 1985, “donations” have been collected at the entrance. A strict interpretation of B. C. Supreme Court Justice R. D. Wilson’s landmark decision of October 8, 1998, in which he laid out what was and was not allowed in Beacon Hill Park, suggests the Farm is an illegal business in violation of the Trust. The city encouraged the Koenders family to set up a non-profit society with the ruling in mind. [See Chapter 15 for more background on the Farm; See Chapter 17 for the court decision; see Chapter 22 for the council's first boundary expansion decision.]

Children’s Farm Uses Media to Pressure City

The City of Victoria got an undeserved black eye in April when Children’s Farm spokesperson Marsha Koenders tearfully told newspaper and television reporters that the Farm might close because the city no longer wanted her driving into the maintenance yard to dump organic refuse. Though she admitted five days later that the Farm was never really in danger of closing, emotional supporters had already spent those five days angrily condemning the city. Marsha is the adult daughter of Lynda and Dennis Koenders, business people who run the Children’s Farm in Beacon Hill Park under contract with the city. The Times Colonist contributed to the over-heated controversy with an inflammatory headline on page one: “Petting zoo could become history.” The subhead was “Waste disposal rules threaten beloved attraction.” The newspaper followed up the next day with a large front page photo and article, an editorial and four letters. That day’s headlines were: “Fine place for children falls victim to silly edict,” “Invaluable asset is last place to cut back,” and “Decision another blow for working families.” (Times Colonist, April 18, 2008, p. A1, April 19, 2008, p. A1, A18, A19)

Letters portrayed the city as mean, anti-fun and anti-child with, unfortunately, no effective city spokesperson providing a balanced perspective. One letter claimed it was “another strike against working families in the capital region.” A second letter called the decision “tunnel vision.” (Times Colonist, April 19, 2008, p. A19) The next day, a letter concluded, “It seems that in Victoria anything that gives pleasure, like the Beacon Hill Park petting zoo, has to be immediately removed.” (Times Colonist, April 20, 2008, p. D3) One of three letters printed two days later was from a woman who started a Facebook group called “Save the Beacon Hill Park Petting Zoo.” Another chastised the city for being “dedicated to its own convenience...” (Times Colonist, April 22, 2008, p. A 11)

Gord Smith, Manager of Parks Operations, explained to the Times Colonist there were safety concerns about allowing non-employees driving into the yard to dump refuse and he didn’t want to send staff to make costly extra garbage runs to the Farm. No other city spokesperson came forward to point out that Koenders should negotiate contracts with the city not in the media.

Unfortunately, even after the crisis was resolved, no city staff person explained to residents how many free services are provided to the Farm. For the entire twenty-three years the Koenders have run it, the city has provided free land, water, electricity and garbage pickup. The city got no acknowledgement, thanks or credit from the Koenders--who did know about those services--or from the public who probably did not know. City staff also buys grain for the peafowl and takes injured birds to the veterinarian.

Ellice Recycling Ltd. offered to pick up the Farm refuse for free within hours of Marsha Koenders’ first emotional appeal. The company deposited a huge dumpster inside the Farm fence and began picking up the contents once a week. It was immediately apparent, however, that the truck--the same huge truck used to pick up dumpsters in downtown parking lots--was much too large for the Farm site. The heavy, wide truck drove in over the curb from Circle Drive just east of the Farm, along the outside of the fence, turned around in the wildflower meadow and then backed into the Farm enclosure, gouging park soil and vegetation outside Farm boundaries.

The city’s “negotiation team” talked with the Koenders in May and by the end of June, it was agreed the Farm could dump refuse outside the gate of the maintenance yard. Ellice removed their dumpster. Cooperation and discussion got results, but only after unfair media grandstanding by the contractor made the city a punching bag.

Three Cooper’s Hawks Nests in Beacon Hill Park

Cooper's hawk chick in their nest

Though the heron colony was empty and silent, Cooper’s hawks nested in three Beacon Hill Park locations--Arbutus Way, the Southeast Woods and near the putting green--providing plenty of wildlife action for observers. Park visitors watched adult hawks building nests, feeding their young and being captured for banding with a live owl decoy. Many saw wildlife biologist Andy Stewart band fluffy chicks like the ones shown above. (The photo of the chicks, taken in their nest, and the photo below of an adult hawk eating a bird near Fountain Lake, were provided courtesy of Victoria photographer Jim Chapman. More of his high quality park photos are available at www.beaconhillphotos)

Cooper's hawk with bloody prey

The Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) is the region’s most abundant year-round bird of prey. These fast, secretive hawks are crow-size with powerful wings and very long tails. Those long tails--easily seen in flight and when the bird is perched--enable them to outmaneuver prey doing their utmost to escape. Cooper’s hawks eat small and medium-size birds--especially robins, sparrows, starlings and pigeons--as well as mice and rats, species which thrive in urban environments. Cooper’s hawks kill prey using their talons, pluck the feathers, then usually eat the head first, followed by entrails and muscle. Hawk stomachs digest bones but they cough up feathers in small pellets. When nesting, females stand guard on or near the nest while males do all the hunting. During the time he is hunting for the whole family, the male eats only the heads of prey and delivers the rest.

Banding Hawk Chicks

 Arborist Jason Clark climbs to hawk nest

Wearing safety gear and using ropes, Jason Clark climbed more than twenty metres up a Grand fir in the southeast woods to reach a nest on June 26. Clark, who volunteers to climb trees for Stewart before and after his work as a Saanich arborist, lifted four chicks from the nest, placed them in a small backpack and lowered them to the ground. He remained in the tree while the chicks were processed, then replaced them in the nest. Climbing trees is an exhausting, dangerous job and each tree presents a different challenge. When winds are strong, Clark doesn’t climb.

Andy Stewart banding four Cooper's hawk chicksStuart banded, measured and weighed four healthy hawk chicks, three females, one male. He placed a U.S. Fish and Wildlife aluminum band on the right leg of each chick; the small numbers on those bands can only be read when the bird is in hand. On the left leg, he placed a special coloured band with easy-to-read large letters and numbers which can be seen from a distance. The colour bands are essential for Stewart’s study of urban-nesting Cooper’s hawks in Greater Victoria and the Saanich Peninsula. To track hawk movements, he must be able to identify individuals. Each band is uniquely coded with a combination of letters and numbers which is repeated three times around the band so it can be read from all angles. Females receive red bands and males wear black bands.

The nest tree on Arbutus Way in the north end of the park was too difficult for Clark to climb, so a Saanich aerial truck and crew arrived June 20 to lower three chicks--one female and two males--and one unhatched egg to the ground for banding. Before settling on that nest site, the adult pair built a nest at St. Ann’s Academy and began nests at three different nest locations near Arbutus Way. Once eggs were laid, however, the female remained steadfastly in the nest even while the Parks Department workers cleared branches from around the nearby street lights in May. Building multiple nests is common hawk behaviour. The S.E. Woods hawks built a second nest in a Big leaf maple on the west side of Lover’s Lane in addition to the Grand fir finally chosen for egg laying.

Young hawks first flights are awkward and sometimes disastrous. One Arbutus Way bird was found in front of the downtown Chateau Victoria hotel. Stewart thinks after it fell to the ground near the nest tree, someone picked it up, carried it downtown and then abandoned it. The bird was taken to WildArc, a wildlife rehabilitation centre in Metchosin; they contacted Stewart. After being retrieved from WildArc, City of Victoria worker Mike Tench placed it back into the nest tree July 10 using a city ladder truck.

Nest Failure Due to High Winds

Stewart reluctantly concluded the third hawk nest in the park failed. It was constructed at top of a very tall Grand fir near the putting green, north of Circle Drive near the Burns Monument. Stewart would not send a climber up the tree without confirmation the nest was active, so he spent many hours observing at the site, watching for prey deliveries, listening for calls and looking for clues, such as prey scraps on the ground and white guano on the nest and ground. When he played recordings of hawk calls on June 27, the female responded nearby--a good sign--but when the male arrived with no prey and carried sticks to another tree--bad signs--he declared the nest failed. High winds are the likely cause. The top of a tall Grand fir close to the windy Strait of Juan de Fuca can be shaken so violently in strong winds that it addles eggs or tosses out chicks. June was a particularly cold and windy month this year. After the biggest windstorm in early June, Stewart found all chicks from another nest dead on the ground. Less secure, flimsy nests in low spindly trees are also vulnerable to wind.

 Banding Adult Cooper’s Hawks

Hawks will dive at a tethered Barred owl    Hawk carefully untangled from mist net

Though Stewart tries to band all chicks in the Greater Victoria region, there are always some nests undiscovered or unreachable. That means capturing and banding some vigorous, feisty, fast-flying adult Cooper’s hawks, a much more difficult challenge than banding docile chicks. In 2008, three adult hawks at two successful Beacon Hill Park nests were unbanded. To catch adults, Stewart sets up a mist net suspended from poles and tethers a live Barred owl to a stand behind the mist net, as shown in the upper left photo, taken in the Southeast Woods by Norm Ringuette. Hawks and crows recognize owls as predators of their nestlings; they will dive at the owl to drive it away. The fine-mesh netting is invisible to birds unless the sun shines directly on it, so as they swoop down at the tethered owl, birds run into the net and are caught in the strands. The mesh is visible in the upper right photo of Stewart untangling the hawk. (City of Victoria photo)

The same mist net and owl set up in the field east of the Arbutus Way quickly recaptured a second-year male. It was already banded "Black X over 5." In the photo below, Stewart calls out the hawk's upper beak measurement as Irene Stewart records the data. He checked the crop to see if stored material there should be subtracted from the recorded weight and noted eye colour and tail feather details. The unbanded female was caught next and the size difference compared to the male was striking. Though female hawks are always larger than males, the Arbutus Way female was unusually heavy at 556 grams (500-520 is usual), while the male weighed only 287 grams, much lighter than usual.

Careful measurements of captured hawks

Stewart's Cooper's Hawk Research

Though originally planned as a three-year research study, Stewart is now in his 14th year of Cooper’s hawk research and has banded over 1400 hawks in the Greater Victoria study area. It is a year-round project with multiple challenges. He locates all possible nests in spring, bands chicks in summer and tracks individual birds the rest of the year. Stewart doesn't get paid for this work; in fact, he must pay the tree climber out of his own pocket and each coloured band costs him $7. [For a more detailed description of Andy Stewart’s research project, including photos and a map of nests in the region, go to the Articles section listed on the Beacon Hill Park History homepage. Click on the first article under Wildlife titled “Passion for Hawks”.]

You can contribute to Andy Stewart’s hawk study by reporting any sightings of banded Cooper’s hawks. If possible, record the band colour and code, date, time and location. Even if you are unable to determine the band code, band colour in itself provides very useful data. Contact:

Other Birds Nesting in the Park

In addition to Cooper’s hawks, many other birds nested in Beacon Hill Park in 2008. These included mallards, robins, crows, nuthatches, bushtits, spotted towhees, wrens, quail, chickadees and possibly brown creepers.

California quail in Beacon Hill Park

This beautiful photo of a male California quail displaying and calling on the hill was taken by Kerry Lange on May 17, 2008. Quail were seen and heard regularly this spring on top of Beacon Hill and on the east side of the hill. In May, six quail chicks were sighted following two adults across an open path. This was welcome news because park quail numbers are very low and it appeared for a time that quail had been driven off the hill. Off-leash dogs brought by their owners to race through the brush endanger all ground-nesting birds; quail are especially vulnerable because they spend most of their lives on the ground. In 2007, a small group of quail was seen on the more protected steep cliff at Finlayson Point; six quail were listed in the 2007 Christmas Bird Count in Beacon Hill Park.

Chickadee emerging from its nesthole

After feeding its young a caterpillar, this chickadee parent emerged from a nesthole in a small tree near the junction of Park Blvd. and Heywood Avenue in May. Chickadees choose small holes in trees for their nests and often are often found nesting on the north side of Beacon Hill near the Children’s Farm fence. (Norm Ringuette photo)

Baby duck under its motherCute and fluffy crowd-pleasing mallard ducklings can be seen at Goodacre Lake and Fountain Lake beginning in April and extending into August, a very long nesting season. Mallards produce more offspring by far than any other bird species in the park and they are the only waterfowl nesting in the park. (This photo of ducklings peeking out from under their mother is courtesy of Victoria photographer Jim Chapman. More of his high quality park photos are available at www.beaconhillphotos)

Mallard nests are minimal constructions, merely a rim of leaves and grass with a lining of down from the female’s breast. Eight or ten eggs is a usual clutch, but the number can range from five to thirteen. After they hatch, ducklings stay in the nest for a day, then are led to water by their mother. When they are small, ducklings sleep under their mother; when they grow larger, they lie beside her. The family stays together for fifty or sixty days.

This year, one mallard chose a very public nest location against a cottonwood tree between busy Douglas Street and a much-traveled footpath near Fountain Lake. Intense human activity in that area, night and day, made it a much more challenging nest site than a quiet, isolated island in Goodacre Lake. Females must sit on their eggs about 23 days, rarely taking a break for food and drink, a very long time in a vulnerable location. Two park visitors checked the nest every day, anxious to see what would happen.

Mallard mother patient and brave

The mallard's feathers blended in perfectly with the cottonwood bark, as shown in this Norm Ringuette photo, and her strategy was to remain absolutely still for three long weeks. That she did, despite a night-time beer party (empty beer cans were strewn around her nest in the morning), city workers running machines nearby (mower, weed whacker and stump grinder), a family picnic within a metre of the nest and walkers passing close-by with dogs on leashes. When someone tried to push her off the nest to take a photo of the eggs, she refused to budge; huffing and puffing loudly, her mouth open, she spread her wing feathers and braced her legs and feet.

When the mallard completed her long vigil on the 24th day, no human observer was present to count how many ducklings followed her to Fountain Lake. The nest was empty except for one flattened egg shell; there had been five eggs in the nest. Later that day, one small duckling was seen at Fountain Lake but soon disappeared.

The total number of mallards in Beacon Hill Park has remained remarkably stable over the decades. Though female mallards lay prodigious numbers of eggs, gulls, crows, herons and Cooper’s hawks avert overpopulation by catching and eating ducklings; few mallard mothers end up with more than four grown young. Off-leash dogs are a constant danger to both mother and ducklings.

Peafowl Update

Beacon Hill Park’s Blue Indian peafowl (males are called peacocks, females are peahens) are usually widely dispersed, so an accurate count is difficult. They wander out into nearby fields, fly up on farm building roofs, perch in tall trees and even cross Douglas Street into the James Bay neighbourhood. A careful count by three observers on Christmas day, 2005, concluded there were twenty-seven peafowl in the park at that time. Three young with a female adult were sighted on October 17, 2007 so the population could have reached thirty.

Seven new peafowl chicks were reported by Parks Department Asst. Supervisor Paul LeComte in July, 2008. He carried the chicks from two nests built behind an apartment building on Heywood Avenue to safety within the fences of the Children’s Farm. LeComte counted 26 peafowl in January, 2008 but a peahen was killed by a dog in March. The net gain this year could have raised the total peafowl count to 32. Two peafowl were injured --one caught his foot in a fence and one was hit by a car--but recovered. The albino peacock with the permanent limp was taken to the vet several times but can still be seen in the park.

One lonely cockatiel

An unusual bird was heard and seen in the park for more than four months in 2008. Someone’s pet cockatiel stayed in the trees near Queen’s Lake from May through August. It was alone, with no chance of nesting, and it seemed unlikely it could survive a cold winter outside.

Increase in Beacon Hill Park Staff Needed

In 2008, only three year-round permanent gardeners were assigned to Beacon Hill Park, the lowest number in more than a hundred years. Maintenance has declined with each staff reduction. Three workers cannot maintain developed areas to a high standard and have no time to care for natural areas. Currently, all park administrators, managers and supervisors with offices in the park have city-wide responsibilities. No park supervisor focuses exclusively on the operation of Beacon Hill Park. This is a key weakness because responsibility is diffused and many tasks fall through the cracks.

Six full-time workers assigned year-round to Beacon Hill Park under a full or half-time supervisor would be an effective team, according to former park workers. The supervisor would train and supervise workers, coordinate and supervise contractors and crews coming into the park, and be responsible for infrastructure and lakes as well as plants and trees.

A major cleanout of Goodacre Lake is one of the many long overdue maintenance tasks; leaves, branches, garbage and other sediment have built up for decades. Instead of removing all debris within reach every year, staff operating leaf-blowers contribute to the sediment problem by blowing leaves and cones into the lake; willow branches trimmed in September, 2008, fell into the lake and were left there. The water level was unusually low from September through December, adversely affecting water quality. The well pumping water into the lake stopped working in November. In December, the large aerator pump west of the Stone Bridge quit. Repairs to the banks are needed, too; tree roots extend into the lake on the north side near Arbutus Way.

Before staff reductions began in 1996, twelve full-time, year-round permanent staff maintained the park for more than five decades. A team of six should be sufficient in 2008, according to former park staff, because labour-saving improvements (e.g. more machines and irrigation systems installed) have been put in place and because many jobs are now assigned to city-wide specialists (e.g. mowing, garbage pickup, stump grinding, asphalt crew, paint crew, sod crew, sports field crew) who come into the park to perform specific tasks.

In addition to the gardening crew of six, a team of Park Wardens is needed to patrol Beacon Hill Park after 3:30 p.m. on weekdays and on weekends when regular staff are off duty. Currently, no responsible city worker is present during the heaviest periods of park use--regular weekends and during special events when thousands of people fill the park--or at night. This has resulted in damage in all areas of the park. There is no staff person to supervise, discourage vandalism, stop illegal and disruptive activities (fire spinning, beer drinking, driving vehicles across meadows, late-night parties, camping), report problems, call for help, or to check that groups with permits follow the agreements they signed. Caretakers with city-wide responsibilities drive through for occasional checks and to empty garbage cans but are not stationed in the park.

Most People Like Beacon Hill Park The Way It Is

Whenever Victoria residents are surveyed, they overwhelmingly respond by approving the current mix of uses in Beacon Hill Park. Repeatedly, respondents say they want the park to “stay the way it is.” The 2008 Citizen Survey conducted by the City of Victoria once again reported Beacon Hill Park was rated the top public facility. Results revealed "93% were satisfied or very satisfied with Beacon Hill Park" compared with 91% in 2003 and 89% in 2005. In a second survey focused on children conducted by two child advocacy groups, Play Victoria and Success by Six, Beacon Hill Park came out on top with the best parks and facilities in the capital region.

The 93% approval of current park use was not shared by Monday Magazine editor John Threlfall. He generated a predictable flurry of passionate responses from Victoria residents to fill his letters pages by calling for paid concerts and food sales in Beacon Hill Park. In an editorial titled “A Walk in the Park,” Threlfall complained “the no-money-or-sponsorship policy is rabidly enforced...,” and the park wasn’t used for anything but “nature-lovers.” He claimed to know “all about how it’s home to endangered native plants and ecosystems...” but brushed that aside as unimportant. (Monday Magazine, July 31-August 6, 2008, p. 3)

Next, Threlfall appeared on CFAX radio’s Newsline PM, a call-in talk show hosted on August 6 by David Lennam. Former Monday editor Ross Crockford was also a guest. All three men wanted more activities in the park and blamed the Friends of Beacon Hill Park for thwarting their plans. "Who are they anyway?" Lennam sneered. After offering his opinion the group might have only "Seven people..." he asked rhetorically, "How do they wield such power over the city?" Crockford said the Friends did not represent the public and were "determined to keep Joni Mitchell out of the park.” (That reference was to the proposed Folk Roots Music Festival in 1998. The Friends and many others opposed paid performances in fenced off areas of a public park.) A woman identified as Joyce called at the end of the hour to point out the many incorrect statements made on the show. She explained the Friends of Beacon Hill Park was not campaigning to remove the putting green, bowling green, cricket field or any other organized area or use of the park as the host had wrongly stated. She reminded listeners that most people in the city agree there is a good mix of uses right now in the park.

The radio show followed the usual pattern (last experienced at great length in 2005 during the Luminara controversy and described in Chapter 20) of denigrating members of the Friends of Beacon Hill Park for being old, caring too much about plants and trees, having too much influence with the city, being spoil-sports and worst of all, being “nature-lovers.” The Friends did not participate in the 2008 Monday Magazine generated kafluffle, but were scapegoated anyway.

Antagonism towards the Friends continued in a letter to Monday Magazine from Alison Acker. She wrote, “The Friends of Beacon Hill Park--who seem to think they own it--get hysterical if a park truck flattens one tiny piece of grass...grass is just grass.” She seemed unaware that two of the activities she advocated for the park--dancing at the bandshell and movies after dark--have been enjoyed for years by thousands of participants. She also called for Shakespeare in the park, ice cream carts and “educational shows featuring endangered animals.” She advocated “a tea house beside the flagstaff” and brushed off infrastructure problems with this suggestion: “The petting zoo has power, so surely a line could be run up the hill." (Monday Magazine, August 7-13, 2008, p. 5)

A tea-house or restaurant on Beacon Hill has been the most frequently proposed development in park history. Serious proponents soon discover major infrastructure would be required on Beacon Hill, inevitably causing more destruction than the building itself. The current one-lane road up the hill would need to be reconstructed and doubled in width to accommodate construction equipment, future delivery trucks, garbage trucks and increased car traffic for customers of the business. More parking spaces and a larger parking lot would be needed on top of the hill, the site of a Garry oak meadow and an ancient aboriginal cemetery. Water and sewer connections would be required and electrical connections up to code, not just a bare wire running up the hill from the Farm, as Acker blithely suggested. To prevent vandalism, a resident caretaker and living quarters would be necessary. Another major deterrent is that the Park Trust prevents any commercial activity.

Joanna Pettit agreed with Acker the following week. “I love the idea of a teahouse by the flagpole...” She was also in favour of “refreshment stands, festivals and music.” She complained “you can’t even buy a bottle of water” in the park and “the grass is allowed to grow chest-high most of the summer. The emphasis on natural areas has been taken to the extreme here...”

Other letter writers spoke against development and commercialism. Doreen Marian Gee did not want “to defile our virgin park with the stink of commercialism. Beacon Hill Park is the last bastion of pristine green space and the only real natural sanctuary in this city...We should be hanging on to this paradise for dear life...” J. Vogel wrote “We are lucky to have this small magical forest to relax; it’s where we like to go to escape the stress, the noise, the crowds, the fast-food joints and the garbage that characterize our beloved downtown...” Monday Magazine countered with a photo of overflowing garbage cans and the sarcastic caption, “Just another day in our ‘virgin park’: two overflowing trash cans enjoyed by families and tourists alike in Beacon Hill Park...” (Monday Magazine, August 14-20, 2008, p. 5)

Earlier in June, Threlfell had suggested another idea for the park: “Carve Odeon-style seating into the Dallas Road slope of Beacon Hill Park, plunk down a stage and offer outdoor concerts. Conversely, change the ban on ticketed events in the park to allow concerts-for-a-cause.” (Monday Magazine, June 12-18, 2008, p. 13) That got only one favourable response. Dean Lewis wrote that “the hillside facing Dallas Road at Beacon Hill Park would make a perfect natural setting for future FolkFests, perhaps with a shuttle to allow people to park at Ogden Point.” (Monday Magazine, June 26-July 2, 2008, p. 4)

These arguments followed a familiar pattern. In previous decades of park history, residents in favour of “improving” the park with constructions, special uses, ticketed events and developments did not usually believe the park was overused and did not consider the loss of natural ecosystems a priority. In fact, many who favoured development considered natural areas “ugly wasteland” in need of human constructions. Major developments proposed in the past on park land included the Royal Jubilee Hospital, the provincial museum, the convention centre, an auditorium, a replica of the parthenon, a firehall, restaurants and tearooms, commercial golf links and many others. If constructed, they would have covered most of the park. The link below goes to Appendix B which describes those past development proposals.

Appendix B: Past Development Proposals

Groups against development value open spaces, natural vegetation and wildlife. Their ideal park oasis does not include more buildings, roads and commercial operations. The legal basis for opposition to development in the park and the major reason defenders of the park were often successful in stopping them is the 1882 Beacon Hill Park Trust. Ross Crockford referred negatively to that document during the 2008 CFAX radio discussion. The Trust prohibits commercialism in Beacon Hill Park and those prohibitions were supported in a 1998 B.C. Supreme Court ruling. (For details on the Trust and key judicial rulings, see Chapter 5, 1882 and 1884, Chapter 17, 1998. An internet link to the Supreme Court ruling is provided in the References section.)

Terry Fox Run Sparks More Park Use Controversy

For the first time, the annual Terry Fox Run was held at Mile Zero in Beacon Hill Park instead of at the University of Victoria. On September 14, 2008, “nearly 1000... runners, walkers and riders” took part and more than $15,000 was raised for the Canadian Cancer Society, according to Victoria News. (September 17, 2008, p. A7) City Council allowed commercial elements associated with the race to be set up on Beacon Hill Park land in violation of the Park Trust.

The Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society and other concerned residents asked councillors in June to uphold the trust by not allowing the race and related commercial activity in the park. Though councillors were aware that Mile Zero, the triangle-shaped grassy piece of land at the intersection of Dallas Road and Douglas Street, is part of Beacon Hill Park, most appeared not to realize that the sidewalk on the west side of Douglas Street and Douglas Street itself--from the intersection of Southgate, Blanshard and Superior south to Dallas Road--is also on park land. Speakers made clear to council that any commercial elements set up on the Mile Zero triangle, the street or the sidewalk would be on Beacon Hill Park land and in violation of the trust.

Nevertheless, council approved the run location in Beacon Hill Park subject to the following limitations: “1. The not-for-profit commercial elements occur on the closed section of Douglas Street which is adjacent to the Terry Fox Monument; 2. The not-for-profit commercial elements be limited to donation collection, Terry Fox merchandise sales, 2- 20’x 20’ sponsorship tents and a radio station mobile entertainment van.” (City Council Minutes, June 10, 2008, p. 10).

No further public discussion took place about these issues until the Times Colonist published an article by reporter Sandra McCulloch three days before the run. Headlined “Terry Fox Run angers park supporters,” it revealed the contents of a letter written by the Friends of Beacon Hill Park to race supporters asking them to reconsider the park location. The article explained the Friends were concerned about impacts from the run on the park, including vehicle parking and increased foot traffic. The most important point was that sponsor advertising and donations on park land are prohibited by the Beacon Hill Park Trust. “There was also a threat of legal action, with the group hinting ‘the possibility that the run will be the object of a legal injunction,’” McCulloch wrote. (Times Colonist, September 11, 2008, p. )

The article omitted a key piece of information. The letter was dated August 5, five weeks earlier. Readers assumed the letter was a last minute demand for change when, in fact, it was old news. The Friends had not made the letter public, had received no response from organizers and had decided against legal action. Publicizing the contents of the letter--which the Friends considered private--on the eve of the race sparked another round of vehement letters against their organization.

Twenty-four email responses were posted on the newspaper’s website the day the article was published and every one attacked the Friends. Two letters berating the Friends appeared in print on September 19. One called the Friends “a fringe group setting acceptable use policy.” Another referred to their “seemingly draconian rules regarding the park’s use...It is a park...not an exclusive, mostly empty nature museum where you have to take your shoes off at the door.” (Times Colonist, September 19, 2008, p. A 11)

The next day, reporter Michael Reid presented background on the trust in what appeared to be an article but was in fact an opinion piece. “So who are the Friends of Beacon Hill Park and what have they got against fun,” he wrote. “For a self-appointed citizens’ group with no legal powers, the Friends seem to have a lot of clout.” He did include a statement by Victoria City Councillor Pam Madoff explaining “the importance of the trust.” (Times Colonist, September 20, 2008, p. A3) An editorial against the trust titled “Beacon Hill Park rules need change” was printed nine days later. (Times Colonist, September 29, 2008, p. A10)

There were five letters printed supporting current park use and opposing commercialism in the park. One called the park “a little bit of heaven.” (Times Colonist, September 23, p. A 11) Another explained: “The non-commercial flavour of Beacon Hill Park may be a relic of the past, but it is an oasis and a reminder of a quality of life now lost amidst a world of full-blown commercialism.” (Times Colonist, October 1, 2008, A 13) This was echoed four days later in another letter: “Many of us continue to... love the park as one of the only commerce-free sanctuaries in the city...Leave the Beacon Hill Park trust alone. If not for that and the dedication of some volunteers to uphold it, the park would not be the treasure that it is today.” (Times Colonist, October 5, 2008, D 3)

At last, on October 14, Helen Oldershaw, Chairperson of the Friends, responded. Her letter was prominently placed on top of the Comment section. She directly answered reporter Michael Reid’s sarcastic question “...what have they got against fun?” by stating “The Friends are not against fun, period.” Oldershaw explained the Friends “private letter” of August 5 was sent to the Terry Fox Foundation but that the local race organizers “made public parts of this letter five weeks later, when the possibility of an injunction had long been set aside.” Oldershaw pointed out the park trust “enabled the park to remain and become what it is so admired for today.” She compared Beacon Hill Park, where some natural areas have been preserved, with Hastings Park, a Vancouver park of similar size which is covered with a racetrack, parking lots, office buildings, casinos and other developments. (Times Colonist, October 14, 2008, p. A 17)

New Mayors Grove Sign Near Completion

New Mayors Grove structure

In October, a massive new Mayors Grove sign was erected in the north end of Beacon Hill Park. Standing alone in the middle of the meadow between Arbutus Way and the Heywood Avenue ball diamond, the new structure is more conspicuous and much larger than the old sign. Wide gravel trails leading to the new sign were constructed in November and December.

These changes dramatically transformed the character of the area from an unorganized natural space of field and trees to an organized space focused on one cultural feature. The new trails take visitors straight to the sign display; a map and list will then direct their attention to numbered posts placed next to the thirty trees known collectively as Mayors Grove.

Mayors 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. Only a few of the names listed are familiar today: Winston Churchill planted a hawthorn in 1929; the King of Siam planted an oak in 1931; Lord Baden-Powell planted an oak in 1935. The last entry listed on the old green sign was Victoria Mayor Peter Pollen, 1985.

In 2007, three Garry oaks were planted in the grove by Victoria Mayor Alan Lowe and other dignitaries during ceremonies to honour the 125th year of city management of Beacon Hill Park. For the first time, native Garry oaks with genetic material from this area were selected, according to Dan Marzocco, Supervisor of Arboriculture. There was no room on the old sign to add Mayor Lowe’s name.

Senior Park Planner Doug Demarzo hopes the new sign's central location and the highly visible numbered wood posts will make it easier for people to find the trees listed. The old tree markers--small numbered granite blocks at the base of each tree--are difficult to see and often covered with grass. Those blocks will be left in place but the old green sign at the south edge of the grove is slated for removal when the new display is mounted in early 2009. The title on the old sign, erected in the 1980s, did not include an apostrophe and neither did an earlier sign erected in 1963. Both were titled "Mayors Grove," not "Mayor's Grove" or "Mayors' Grove."

Machines Damage Meadow During Trail Construction

Trucks compact soil

Heavy machinery constructing new trails in the north end of Beacon Hill Park in November and December, 2008 repeatedly cut across the meadow, leaving ruts, depressions, muddy tracks, compacted soil and crushed vegetation. The left photo shows vegetation turned to mud as soil was compressed on routes used repeatedly by machinery. Multiple depressions seen in the photo below right show machines took many other shortcuts across the meadow. The main new trail runs south from Southgate Street past the new Mayors Grove sign to the central playground.

Tracks all over the meadowSoil compression has serious short and long term impacts for Garry oak meadows. Though growth is not visible above ground until spring, seeds, bulbs and acorns begin sending out roots in fall and winter. The new underground growth is fragile, easily broken by the weight of vehicles and machinery. Rich surface soils are more easily compressed in fall and winter because they are wet. The weight of vehicles squeezes water out and closes off air spaces in the soil required by plant roots. In the decades required for natural processes to re-open air spaces, weeds adapted to harsher conditions move in and erosion carries the soil away.

More new trails--intended to help preserve native plants--are planned in the most productive, sensitive native plant areas in the park. If the same destructive methods are used, scores of native plants--including rare orchids and rare Prairie violets--will be wiped out. There was always a clear alternative to prevent damage. Instead of driving across the meadow to transport each load of soil and gravel, the front-end loader could stay on the new path itself; all tracks and compaction of soil would have occurred in the new path, leaving the meadow undamaged. On November 28, Manager of Construction and Natural Systems Todd Stewardson announced he had arranged that solution. It was agreed the front-end loader would stay on the new path and would no longer cut across the meadow. That change would add a few more hours to the project, but he told the crew that was acceptable. Damage was halted temporarily.

Natural areas are not like other construction sites. In developed areas, lawns damaged by machines can be easily repaired with seed or new rolls of turf. That is not true for native plants. Extra care and extra time are required during every stage of construction in natural areas because damage to valuable native plants is permanent.

The two photos below illustrate long term damage from soil compression. On the left are tracks of a chip truck which drove from Heywood Avenue across the meadow to the central playground in October, 2003. The photo below right was taken seven months later; camas did not regrow in the truck tracks. That location, southeast of Mayors Grove, is one of the areas in which a new trail is planned.

Truck meadow damage  Damage still visible

Stewardson's solution to avoid further damage while removing topsoil for the new trail did not extend to the next construction stage, delivering tons of gravel. A gravel truck, too wide to fit onto the path, replaced the front-end loader. Stewardson was alerted, but this time his response was that others were responsible for on-site supervision and the workers had his "full support." The use of the first gravel truck continued. The truck was too wide for the path; no protective plywood sheets were placed under the wheels. The heavy truck left a five metre wide section of mud and smashed vegetation on the west side of the new path; it also drove across the meadow to Arbutus Way.

Huge gravel truckAn even larger dump truck, shown on the left, arrived on December 12. The crew laid down plywood sheets to protect the north edge of the path before backing in to unload tons of gravel in piles next to the Mayors Grove sign. Gravel spilled well beyond the width of the new path. Soon after the gravel delivery, snow and freezing temperatures stopped work on the project, delaying completion of the trail until 2009.

Park construction often happens in fall and winter when native vegetation is not visible so it is essential that native plant specialists be consulted and help select the best routes for new trails. Soil removed from the path routes and hauled away from the site will contain native plant seeds, roots and bulbs. Without proper consultation, workers can unintentionally haul away rare and endangered plants. Native plant specialists should be consulted about the use of any machines or other equipment. Workers and supervisors must be trained to follow special procedures in natural areas and do so consistently at each stage of the project.

Construction equipment damage in natural areas is part of a larger problem. Many other workers routinely drive through natural areas. For decades, staff have casually driven vehicles, large and small, across the meadows of Beacon Hill Park when performing regular maintenance, installing picnic tables, benches and signs and as handy shortcuts during daily work. Though not intentional, staff vehicle damage of all kinds is constant, real and cumulative. Changing those patterns and attitudes will be difficult.

Camas and other native wildflowers in the park are remnants of an ancient ecosystem identified as valuable heritage landscapes in the Beacon Hill Park Heritage Landscape Management Plan. Verdant meadows were in place when James Douglas first visited in 1842; before that, the meadows were cultivated by First Nations for a thousand years or more. It is the duty of the city to better protect what little is left of these fragile heritage landscapes.

Massive Sewage Project Could Affect Beacon Hill Park

Capital Regional District plans for a massive new sewage treatment system could impact Beacon Hill Park. Two possible scenarios were discussed in 2008. The first plan would be the construction of four large sewage treatment facilities, one of which would be at Clover Point. It is likely that plan would include digging up Dallas Road to install pipes. The section of Dallas Road from Douglas Street to Cook Street lies within park boundaries.

In May, a report commissioned by the province proposed thirty-two small plants instead of four. According to the map included in the Times Colonist, one of the plants would be located in James Bay (perhaps at Menzies and Superior). Reclaimed water would be used to irrigate the B.C. Legislature, St. Ann’s Academy and Beacon Hill Park. This would require a pipe line bringing water into the park. (Times Colonist, May 21, 2008, p. A1, A3)

Victoria Harbour Bird Sanctuary

A long-established federally designated "Victoria Harbour Bird Sanctuary" includes the entire shoreline from Ten Mile Point to Esquimalt and both sides of the Gorge waterway. The portion of protected beach and waterfront from Douglas Street east to Cook Street is part of Beacon Hill Park. Though bird sanctuary boundaries have been printed for more than eighty years on Government of Canada maps--such as National Resources Canada map 92 B/6, Edition 6, available for viewing at the Central Library--few local residents were aware of the sanctuary. In direct conflict with protecting birds, the City of Victoria officially designated an off-leash dog area on Gonzales Beach. Many owners encourage their dogs to chase birds for exercise daily on other city beaches, as well.

In 2008, the bird sanctuary made the news when the Canadian Wildlife Service notified the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority (GVHA) that an electronic sound device installed to scare gulls off the Ogden Point "Pier A" warehouse roof was not appropriate in the sanctuary because other birds would be disturbed. Even though “the Victoria harbour has been a migratory bird sanctuary since 1923,” according to the Times Colonist, “Paul Servos, general manager of the GVHA, said the authority was unaware that the harbour was a migratory bird sanctuary and special permission was required for the device...The GVHA applied to the CWS for a permit to continue using the bird deterrent after a complaint was made about its use. The device emits bird distress calls and was installed to deter hundreds of seagulls from perching and defecating on top of the terminal.” Times Colonist, July 11, 2008, p. A4)

Many other birds could be affected by the recorded distress calls in the Ogden Point area. This year, Pigeon guillimots nested in holes near the end of the pier. Caspian terns, white birds similar to gulls but with large very red bills, were frequent visitors. Cormorants, scoters, murres and murrelets fish in the water near the pier regularly.

The Canadian government has not been zealous in enforcing protection in the past and a recent federal report indicates the sanctuary could be wiped off federal maps in the future. Victoria Harbour is one of "at least ten sanctuaries that might no longer meet the criteria of a protected area," according to a report by the Auditor General of Canada. Victoria's chance of retaining a bird sanctuary designation was not improved by the report’s choice of photo. The Inner Harbour docks in front of the Empress Hotel, by far the most densely developed section of the coastline, are shown with the caption: “The Victoria Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary has become extensively urbanized, limiting its value as a habitat for migratory birds.” (“2008 March Status Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development,” Chapter 4, Ecosystems: Federal Protected Areas for Wildlife, Office of the Auditor General of Canada

Click on the link below to see bird sanctuary boundaries or consult the map section of this website.

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