Sunday, 12 April 2015

Beckwith Park

Dogs permitted: off leash
Upper trails are wheelchair accessible

Beckwith Park is tucked in off the south end of Quadra Street, in what used to be some of Greater Victoria's prime agricultural land.  The park itself is a well equipped neighbourhood park, smack in the midst of residences that have sprung up as farmland was sold and rezoned.  It boasts one of Saanich's few waterparks during the summer, a newer playground equipped with a good variety of play structures, and has 2 tennis courts, washrooms open year-round and open soccer fields.

The pathways around the playground and fields are paved and smooth, and the trails surrounding the pond are smooth and mostly level for wheelchair accessibility.  Towards the eastern side of  the park, however, the trails become a little less level, and rougher.

Dogs are permitted off-leash everywhere except the playground area.  On any given weekend, there are groups of dogs romping around in the open fields, and dogs accompanying their owners on jaunts around the trail.  If your pooches are prey-driven (like our shiba inus are!) you may want to keep them on-leash in the area around the duckpond.

Beyond the standard neighbourhood park setup, there is a network of trails that lead around a pond, and into the Garry Oak meadow.  At the eastern side of the park, you can continue your walk along a designated bike route on residential streets that ultimately leads to Lochside Trail, and out to Blenkinsop Lake.  At the present time, it is not possible to do a loop around Blenkinsop Lake, so you will have to double-back in order to get back to Beckwith park.


This area was home to the farms of a number of Saanich pioneers at the turn of the century, and what is currently Lochside trail was actually a CNPR railway line out to Patricia Bay with a railway trestle crossing over Blenkinsop Lake. At that time the North Quadra area was occupied mainly by dairy farms - the Rogers Farm to the west side of Quadra, and the (current) Beckwith farm on the eastern side between Beckwith Avenue and Lochside trail.   Beckwith farm continues to be farmed today, dedicated mainly to blueberries.

Beckwith Park is named after J.L Beckwith, a Victoria city councillor and Mayor for a term in 1912. He is remembered not only for his years of public service, but also for saving Craigdarroch Castle from being torn down, and for establishing Victoria College in 1921. Strangely enough, J.L. lived on Fernwood road, not in the North Quadra area. I think further research is in order to determine what further connections exist.

Flora and fauna

Beckwith park itself is largely Garry Oak meadow, with an understory of grassy wildflower meadow. A springtime walk revealed not only the native Erythronium sp. (Easter lilies), chocolate lilies (Fritillaria) and a smattering of Camassia quamash.


Around the pond, and closer to Blenkinsop lake, the Garry oak trees give way to species that like wetter conditions - cottonwoods and alder, with elderberries closer to the edges.  As you walk along Lochside trail towards the lake, you will also encounter salmonberries and on a spring day, smell the skunk cabbage.

This park is a great birdwatching spot.  There are a variety of habitats within a short distance, and nesting boxes have been set up in strategic spots throughout the park. You will likely hear a number of different songbirds, hear and see Stellars Jays, see ducks in the pond, and perhaps even spy a turtle or two basking on a log in the lower part of the pond.

Connected greenspaces

In late 2013, the municipality of Saanich acquired just over 31 acres of farmland that borders Beckwith Park and surrounds Blenkinsop Lake.  This new parkland allows for a buffer between the active agricultural land and the Beckwith stream/Blenkisop Lake watershed, which connects to Swan Lake and Colquitz Creek.

Future plans for this new acquisition include creating trails that will connect Beckwith Park and Lochside trail to Valewood Park, on the south side of Broadmead.


Saanich parks info on Beckwith Park
Saanich acquires 31.4 acres of Blenksinsop land, Victoria News, Sept 27, 2013
Victoria heritage register, 1423 Fernwood Road.

All images © 2015 Janice Mansfield

Monday, 23 March 2015

Boulderwood Hill Park

Street parking: Deventer Drive, Boulderwood Rise, Cherry Tree Bend
Dogs permitted off-leash, MUST be on-leash through the Royal Oak Burial Park

Boulderwood Hill park is on the west side of McMinn and Grant Parks, all of which are connected via wooded trails through the Broadmead/Cordova Bay neighbourhood, and allow for a longer hike, and some spectacular vantages of the peninsula and city without having to go too far from town.  Its another great example of the ways in which the municipality of Saanich (Parks and Recreation) has been working to create connected greenspaces that promote walking within neighbourhoods.

Boulderwood Hill itself sits at the top of Amblewood Drive in Broadmead, and at its peak, looks out over the Royal Oak Burial Park, but there is also a  larger network of trails and parkland through the hill below, and surrounding the entire acreage of the Burial Park, with a wide range of forest streams, ponds, and up to rocky cliffs and garry oak meadows.


The Broadmead and Royal Oak neighbourhoods actually have a fairly long history in Victoria, despite being considered wild and inhospitable lands at the time.  The lands comprising much of North and South Saanich, were acquired by the Husdon's Bay Company in 1852 via a treaty between the Songhees Indians and Sir James Douglas. Seven years later, 899 acres, most of present-day Royal Oak and Broadmead was deeded to to Alexander Grant Dallas, subdivided only when the Pat Bay Highway was constructed, as it needed to pass directly through.  The larger portion on the east side, about 719 acres of what is currently Broadmead and Rithet's Bog was maintained by Alexander Dallas as "Dallas Farm", until his death in 1891, at which time R.P Rithet purchased the property.

About the same time as the larger acreage was deeded to Dallas, John Heal, one of the original settlers in the area, purchased 135 acres in the area and built a family home at 813 Royal Woods Place (interesting fact - this home also served as a post office in its early days). On his death, the land was divided up and passed to his sons Walter and Harry, and and a portion of this original parcel eventually became the current day burial park.

Walking the trails:

There area few trail loops that can be hiked easily within one to two hours within the larger park. Unfortunately, none of these trails are wheelchair accessible, and some have some quite steep and rocky terrain in spots.

If you are looking for vantages of the city and peninsula, you can go right to the top of Boulderwood Rise, and hike a loop that skirts the top of the hill.  There is a condominium complex right in the middle of the summit, with a wide buffer of parkland and trails on all sides.  There are clear, uninterrupted views out over Cordova Bay and Mount Doug on the east side of the hill, and on the west side, you have a bird's eye view of the cemetery and West Saanich.

Alternately, you can start at the bottom of the hill, from the trailhead at Deventer Drive.  This takes you through the lower forested areas, and up the hill skirting the backside of the sidestreets off Amblewood Drive.  If you follow the trails around towards the west, you will connect up with the trails that make their way into the Royal Oak Burial Park.

You can also make a full loop of the burial park, by starting at the end of Cherry Tree Bend, off Haliburton Road. There is a trail that heads due east, following the northern end of the parkland, where you will see glimpses of the backside of properties off the sidestreets off Haliburton Road, eventually connecting up with Boulderwood Hill park proper at the eastern edge of the park.  If you follow the trails around, to the south, you will find yourself heading back down the hill, through the woods to Deventer Drive, Royal Woods Place, and Falaise Road - some of your hike back will be on paved roads with sidewalk, but at the end of Falaise Drive, another trail picks up for a quieter stroll past the mausoleum and back to Cherry Tree Bend where you started.

On our last visit there, we found THIS curious tiny structure - shrine, memorial? or fairy hut? we're not sure, but it certainly had us stop and take notice.

Flora and Fauna

You will encounter a range of habitats while hiking these trails.  At the lower elevations, there are streams and wetlands filled with skunk cabbage, ferns and fast growing trees such as alder and poplar.  In the fall, you may even see patches of wild mushrooms!

Maples, hemlock, fir and cedar are abundant through the forested areas with their typical understory of salal, sword ferns and oregon grape.  These forests gradually transition to arbutus and garry oak meadows at the higher elevations.  Some areas are overgrown with ivy, but it appears they are slowing being rehabilitated, and spring wildflowers such as fawn lilies, shooting stars, and trilliums can be seen not far off the main trails.

You will also see and hear a wide variety of birds on your hike - on our visits we've encountered flickers and pileated woodpeckers, ravens, and even owls!  You will also see and hear many smaller birds such as nuthatches, finches, and wrens.

As with much of suburban Greater Victoria, this park also shelters semi-wild animals such as deer and racoons, which you may hear, but not see in the denser underbrush.  If you are hiking with your dogs, while they are permitted off-leash on the trails, if they are prone to wandering and getting into trouble, you may want to keep them on-leash to avoid any nasty altercations.


Saanich Parks info on Boulderwood Hill Park\
The history of a Pioneer Family: the Heals of Royal Oak
Goyette Family History (compiled by Rene Carroll, 1999)
An Eclectic History of Broadmead, Valerie Green for the BARA Bugle, 2006
"Broadmead was owned by the Hudson's Bay Company", except from the Broadmead Story, BARA, 2010

All images © 2014 Janice Mansfield

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Horth Hill

Parking lot on Tatlow Road
Dogs permitted off-leash
Horses permitted. no bicycles

Just a smidge west off the Pat Bay highway before you reach the ferry, you'll find Horth Hill park.   Tucked close to the border of Sidney and North Saanich just off Wain Road, this 36 hectare park provides a variety of walking and horseback riding trails through the woods up to the summit, and some spectacular wildflower displays in spring. There are pit toilets located near the parking lot.


Horth Hill park is named after the Horth brothers - early pioneers who arrived from England and settle in North Saanich in the mid-late 1800's.  The family was active in local politics, and the family home of Rufus and Alice Horth (nee Wain) which was built in 1912, can still be seen at the corner of Deep Cove and Downey Roads.

This park was established in 1966 and is maintained today by the CRD.

Hiking trails:

Horth Hill has several clearly marked trail loops - the Ridge trail leads up to the summit with a view of the Saanich peninsula, Gulf islands and the San Juan islands. Trail difficulty is moderate, but the loop up to the summit and back can be easily done in under one hour, even if you are making stops along the way to birdwatch or take a closer look at the flora.

The lower levels of the hill are more densely wooded with Douglas fir, cedar and hemlock, and the typical Vancouver Island understory of sword ferns, salal and oregon grape.  The upper elevations open up onto rocky outcroppings with wildflower patches, Arbutus and Garry Oak meadow.  Several portions of the park are currently undergoing restoration allow the native wildflowers to reestablish themselves.  (These are clearly marked as no-go areas).

This park is also a prime birdwatching spot.  On our visit on a cool February day, we saw flickers and woodpeckers, and saw and heard many different songbirds.  We also saw a number of turkey vultures and an eagle circling overhead.  With the lower levels being more of a wetlands environment, you may catch a chorus of frogsong at the start and end of your journey.

Horth Hill park is technically an off-leash park although dogs must be under control at all times, and restricted to the trails.  Horseback riding is permitted on designated trails. Bicycles are not permitted on the trails, so if you cycle out here, you will need to leave your bike locked in the parking lot.

North Saanich Guide to Parks, trails and Beach Accesses
CRD information about Horth Hill

All images © 2015 Janice Mansfield

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Royal Jubilee Hospital Gardens

Wheelchair accessible
Metered parking and Parkade

This post is a little bit of a departure from the typical parks I've been visiting to date.  BUT it is a surprising little oasis of green and calm in an unexpected spot, and its a public space, which is what Pint-Sized Parks is all about - finding nature in the everyday.  Truth be told, I've had these pictures sitting in an album on my Google drive for a few weeks now, trying to pull together as much historical research as I could before sharing with you, but life has been busy ... and this is really a lovely little spot you should visit before the summer is done, so I'm sharing what I have with you now.

We don't normally associate parks with hospitals, but when construction began on the new Royal Jubilee Hospital there were plans to restore the old chapel (designated as a Heritage building), and the original Pemberton operating room.

Through a combination of fundraising by the Alumnae Association of the RJH School of Nursing and the Parks and Recreation Foundation of Victoria, the original Pemberton Chapel was restored and the Heritage Garden on the level just outside the Chapel and Operating Room was created, and opened in 2007.   As you can see in the photos, the Heritage buildings and Gardens have been preserved, and the new Hospital has been carefully built up around the site.
Plantings in this upper garden are formal in nature, but punctuated with plantings of native species, and surprising touches such as a "permanent" ladybug placed on the water fountain.

On the lower levels of this courtyard garden, is a Japanese garden dedicated to Dr. Inazo Nitobe.  He was a Japanese statesman and scholar who dedictated his life to "being a bridge" across the Pacific and spent much of his life promoting trust and understanding between North America and Japan.  In 1933, he fell ill and died at Royal Jubilee Hospital, and this park commemorates his life and life's work.  In this spirit, the garden itself was a collaboration between Paul Allen of Victoria and Takashi Fujimura of Morioka.

Funds for this garden were raised by the Victoria-Morioka Friendship society, and the garden was officially opened in 2013.  A commemorative stone with an inscription honouring Dr. Nitobe sits at the entrance to the garden, which then moves up the hill through a water feature to the Chapel.  

The gardens at RJH - before! (source
The gardens on both levels were designed to be restorative and therapeutic, and on any given day you can find nurses, doctors and patients alike enjoying a quiet moment away from the hectic pace inside.  The days that I was there were the close of busy days, and it was a treat to bring a bag dinner and decompress to the sound of the waterfall in the Nitobe Garden.  I highly recommend stopping in here if you are visiting loved ones at the hospital, or even if you are just passing by!



Heritage Garden at Royal Jubilee Hospital Opened, Parks and Recreation Foundation of Victoria, 2007

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Vantreight Park and Ferndale Forest

Parking:on Vantreight Dr.
Crushed gravel trails are wheelchair accessible
Dogs: permitted off leash (dogs mush be on-leash in the upper playground area)

Gordon Head is steeped in agricultural history, and parks such as Vantreight park are reminders of the many homesteading families that farmed the land in this part of the city in the early days of Victoria.

We spend a lot of time at Vantreight Park, as it is just down the hill from us and on the regular dog-walk route. It is also part of a set of interconnected greenspaces throughout Gordon Head, where one can walk partly through trails and partly through lower-traffic neigbourhoods, right from Arbutus Cove, through to Glencoe Cove, to Vantreight Park, to Margaret's Bay and on towards Mount Doug Park.


In 1884, John Vantreight purchased a fair chunk of Gordon Head - a farm stretching inland from the bluff of Glencove Cove (also called Deadman's Cliff, or North Bay) - as far inland as Tyndall Road behind the large family home that still stands today.
Vantreight Farm at North Bay circa 1890, Saanich Archives

Through the years, this property has gone through a few bouts of development, and during the subdivision of what is now Leyns Road, this piece of parkland was deeded to the municipality.

Through the 1970's and 1980's it contained some playground equipment - swings, and teeter totters - and had baseball diamonds set up where a local baseball league practiced.  As the neighbourhood evolved, baseball was moved to Lambrick Park and Majestic Park, and the diamonds removed leaving the large level field on the lower level of the park.

Park highlights

Today, the park has new playground equipment installed at the upper level, and has a few strategically placed trees and a picnic table.  It remains a popular gathering spot for larger parties looking for a quiet picnic spot, or families looking for a space to kick the soccer ball around.

The lower field is a popular off-leash space for neighbourhood dog owners looking for a place for their pooches to stretch their legs and play.  During warm summer evenings, you can hear bats flitting about, and see swallows swooping and diving across the field, and occasionally see the eagles that nest further down the beach at Margaret's Bay.

Beyond the playground on the upper level of the park, there is a stretch of small forested area, containing Douglas Fir and other native species.  There have been a few fir seedlings planted in this area, to replace a few larger, older trees that have gone down in recent windstorms.  Across Vantreight Road, you step into the more heavily forested area known now as Ferndale Forest.

A few years ago, the municipality created a wheelchair-accessible pathway on one side of Vantreight Park, leading past the playground and onto Leyns Road at the other end. This has become a popular walking route in the neighbourhood year-round.

Kimiko loves to birdwatch in the forest
The Forest portion of this park is currently undergoing rehabilitation and re-wilding.  Volunteer crews working with Saanich Parks staff, are spending time pulling ivy and other invasive species in order to allow the native understory plants to re-establish themselves.  As you walk through the forest, despite the strangling influence of the ivy, you can still see thimbleberries, chokecherries, red huckleberries, wild rose, salmonberries, spirea, trailing blackberries, salal and the occasional saskatoon bush. Expect to see these burgeoning in the next 1-2 years as the volunteer crews work their way through this stretch.

Saanich Parks info on Vantreight Park
History of land ownership in Gordon Head, Saanich Archives

All images © 2014 Janice Mansfield

Monday, 16 June 2014

Chinese Cemetery at Harling Point

Parking: on street
not wheelchair accessible
Dogs: not permitted

If you wend your way along the waterfront of Victoria towards Oak Bay, and detour towards Harling Point, you will find the Chinese Cemetery right at the water's edge at the end of the road. This cemetery is the oldest Chinese Cemetery in Canada, and was designated as a National Historic site in 2008. This is a bit of a departure from the forested parks I've taken you to in previous posts, but is a very interesting public space, and the community at large is encouraged to visit the site through the trail network that connects the Cemetery with Trafalger Park and Walbran Park on Gonzales Hill. On a windy day, it feels quiet and calm, even though it is surrounded on the back side by residences.

The Cemetery sits on a parcel of land with a large open, grassy field, flanked by a rocky outcropping on the eastern side.  With Gonzales Hill rising up behind it, a view across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a south-west orientation giving it protection from heavy winds, and no roads pointing directly at the graves, it has all the desired feng shui elements for a cemetery site. The rocky outcropping on the eastern side is covered with camas, salal, shooting stars and trailing blackberry, and drops down to the shoreline where you can see glacial formations such as "Harpoon Rock" which appear in the traditional stories of the Songhees Nation.

This cemetery site was purchased in 1903 by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, and is the oldest Chinese Cemetery in Canada. It contains approximately 300 individual grave markers and 13 mass grave markers aligned parallel with the water and the large funeral altar. It was in use up until the 1950's and formally closed in 1961. Since that time, many of the gravestones and grave markers have been broken or destroyed due to vandalism and many have been covered by grass over the years, but surveys conducted by the CCBA show there could be as many as 970 graves of Chinese pioneers.  In  2001, the site underwent a first round of restoration work, and that restoration effort continues today (Note: no dogs or bicycles are permitted in the cemetery due to this)


The Chinese community has a troubled history in British Columbia and Canada that has only recently been formally recognized by government. Chinese workers came to British Columbia as temporary workers for the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway - almost all without their wives or children. After the railway was built, many stayed in British Columbia, and moved to Victoria.  As a result, by 1884 Victoria's Chinese population was the largest in Canada.

It was at this time that the provincial government set the head tax in motion in order to discourage immigration, thus removing any hope for existing Chinese residents to reunite with their families by bringing them to British Columbia.  For those who died in Victoria, custom required them to be buried temporarily in Canada, until their remains could be transported back to China, giving some rest to their spirit when their bones returned home, and the Consolidated Chinese Benevolent Associated - formed in 1884 to assert their rights in light of racist policies and practices - assumed burial responsibilities for those in Chinese community.

In death, as in life, Chinese pioneers were segregated from the rest of the community.  The first Chinese graves in Victoria appear in a corner of Pioneer Square, and were not even marked with names, but rather refer to "Chinamen Number 1, Chinamen Number 2 ..."  In 1873, the Ross Bay Cemetery opened, and a section near the water was designated for Chinese.  Not only did this site possess bad feng shui, but it was also too close to the water, meaning that some of the graves got washed away during heavy storms.

In 1891, the CCBA scouted out potential new cemetery sites with more auspicious feng shui, and purchased a piece of property on the southern slope of Christmas Hill. Unfortunately they encountered racism and extreme resistance by farmers in the area who did not want the Cemetery near their properties, and so the site sat unused for 10 years, until the CCBA sold it in 1902 and purchased the Harling Point site in 1903.

In 1907, a small brick structure was built onsite to house the bones of those whose remains were being transported back to China.  The practice at the time was to bury the deceased for 7 years, then exhume the remains, clean and dry the bones, and pack them up in crates to be shipped back to China.  This practice continued until 1937, when the Sino-Japanese war broke out, and shipments could no longer be made. The CCBA performed this task, along with maintenance of the cemetery and honouring of the graves with joss sticks and sacrifices of food and money during festivals. You can still see evidence of this today on individual graves and the altar.

Through the 1920 and 1930s, there were periods of tension between neighbours, the municipality and the CCBA over the appropriate use of the land, and at several points since, developers and other interested parties have attempted to shut down the cemetery.  Since 2001, there has been a commitment by government to support the CCBA's restoration efforts, and recognize the cultural importance of maintaining this site as a cemetery. Its current designation today as a National Historic Site ensures it will not be removed or replaced with urban development.

Natural history

This geography of the cemetery is unique, in that two separate pieces of the earth's crust meet at Harling Point. This meeting formed a natural channel for glaciers to flow through in millennia past, which formed deep grooves as they moved across the rock, and also left large boulders such as "Harpoon Rock" in their wake. As a result of its unique natural features, the site figures prominently in local Songhees stories and songs.

The glacial formation has also given rise to the perfect location for many wildflower species, including Camassia spp, Erythronium and Frittilaria.  It is also home to patches of Limnanthes macounii - a rare form of meadowfoam considered to be a species at risk, and the stand at Harling Point is one of less than 30 remaining natural occurrences of the plant.