Monday, January 07, 2013

Cuthbert Holmes Park, a potential jewel being under used

Map Cuthbert Holmes Park and related parks around it
I should have written this ages ago, I had meant to submit some of this as my thoughts and comments to Saanich as part of their review of the park last year.

Cuthbert Holmes park is an underused park beside the Tillicum Mall.  Actually it is several parks that abut each other and some other land.  There is the actual Cuthbert Holmes park, then there is  Tillicum Park, which is mainly the land under the arena and Pearkes Rec Centre, there is also Meadow park across a small foot bridge from Cuthbert Holmes,  there parts of Colquitz park that look and feel like part of Cuthbert Holmes, there is private land beside Silver City and finally there are several hectares of Ministry of Transportation road right of way on the northern edge.  All in all, the areas that function as what we know as Cuthbert Holmes park is about 30 hecatres in area.

It is a a park that is effectively neglected and I think underused, yes a lot of people walk in the park, but large parts of the park are at best empty wasteland overgrown with invasive species.   There is a full eight hectares of land that is covered in blackberries and not much else, that is more than a quarter of the whole area.   In all my years of going to the park I have never seen Saanich Parks staff in the park, though admittedly there is not much for them to do as there are no lawns to mow.

The park was created not so much as a park but as a renaming of empty lands in the late 1960s.   Saanich gained control over the area in 1986 and 1987.   Much of the park is actually owned by the Provincial Capital Commission.

The park was named for Henry Curhbert Holmes, the Holmes of the local real estate company Pemberton Holmes

From the UBC website

Major Henry Cuthbert Holmes, who died in May, 1968, at the age of seventy-seven, lived a full and active life. A native of Victoria, B.C. he was educated at the Royal Naval School, England, at Victoria College, Canada, and Balliol College, Oxford. He served with distinction in the First World War, after which he settled down in Victoria where he was to become a great force in civic and provincial affairs. His service to his city resulted in his being made Freeman of the City of Victoria in 1968. A co-founder of Brentwood College, he was a Governor from 1923 to 1948. He worked continuously for the University of Victoria and was Chairman of the University's Extension Association. His interest in education was wide, as is shown by his Chairmanship of the Fairbridge Farm Schools Committee in 1935. He was active in a score of civic clubs and enterprises. His connection with the University of British Columbia goes back many years. He first joined the Senate for a six-year term in 1933; he returned in 1946 and remained a member of that body until 1955. Finally, he was appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council in 1958 and it was not until 1965 that he resigned. He was a faithful member of Senate with a keen interest in the academic wellbeing of the University and, indeed, of education throughout the province, He leaves three sons and two daughters. This University will miss him as will our sister institution in Victoria.

For a long time I have thought so much more could be done with this park.
Map of who owns what parts of the park

The core of the woods and the area along the river are fine as they are now as a natural area, though it would be nice if there were more work to rid the park of English ivy and other invasive species.   The core natural areas of the park do suffer because a lot of people walking there choose to walk all over the place and make the compacted "trail" areas much wider than they should be.

View of the North East Corner of the park for the road
It is the area along the northern edge that needs help and could be used for more.   It is a large piece of land that is not providing a natural environment or any recreation for the public  At the moment the area could at best be described as scrub land.   Since the 1990s invasive species have utterly taken over the space and for the natural environment to return one would basically have to plow everything up and start again.  .

A major problem is this area is the use by people camping there and people doing a lot of drugs.   It is not an area most people think is a safe to walk through.   I avoid walking there because of the menacing attitudes of the people hanging out there even during the day.   One other problem that happens because of these people is the area is full of garbage which includes broken bottles and needles.   Something active needs to be done to reclaim this area for use as a park for the people of this city.

Ideal would be for Saanich to get formal agreement from the Ministry of Transportation to use their right of way as part of the park.  The reality is that the extra right of way is not of any benefit to the government for road expansion.  The existing constraints where Highway #1 crosses over Burnside Road and Colquitz Creek would make it impossible to use it in any meaningful manner for more road space.   Leaving it formally in the hands of the Ministry of Transportation means the land is not going to get money spent on it by Saanich.

One reason this part of the park could be used for something more is because the area along the northern edge of the park is the area of the least sensitivity to human disturbance.  The area is not critical for wildlife or the general ecosystem of the natural environment.

One thing that I think is needed in Victoria is a space for community gatherings or festivals and this part of the park could function in that way for all of us in the CRD.   There is a three hectare area that could be set aside as meadows and an off leash area for dogs most of the time but at the same time could offer a large open field which allow for concerts or festivals.  With the closure of Beacon Hill Park to community festivals and concerts, there needs to be some other location to have these events.  Most of the parks in this region are not big enough to host a major public event.   Cuthbert Holmes has the space.

It also makes sense to create this as a regional park amenity because of the decent access.  The fact we have Tillicum Mall nearby means there is parking available and good bus connections.  Creating it here works well because it is much more central to the region than anything downtown or in the City of Victoria.

I am not sure why there is no playground.   The mall and rec centre are right there so it is an area that is high family traffic, I am sure many of them would be happy to have a place nearby to go with their kids.   There is the land available just over Colquitz Creek to put in a skookum playground.

My sense of the planning process conducted last year is that there will be little change from how things are at the moment.  I think this is shame because this is one of the larger green spaces in Victoria in the core of the city and is about the only one that has the flexibility to be more than it is now.

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