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.


Mike Laplante said...

Some random comments:

1. There are plans to build two large condos on the site where Montana's and Kelly's sit. Those people will certainly be using the park and putting it under pressure.

2. If you get off the beaten paths you'll find that other parts of the park are used by the homeless to stay below the radar.

You also find a lot of offroad cyclists have carved out trails off the beaten paths. I think they probably use it as a 'training' ground.

3. In some discussions I've read concerning an overpass at the Mackenzie / highway intersection, they indicated some parts of the park would have to be carved up to make room for the extensive intersection redesign.

4. The park has some sensitive wildlife. For example, the herons that fled Beacon Hill Park about five years ago relocated to Cuthbert Holmes. I've also seen barred owls in there.

Personally, I'd rather see steps taken to keep it 'wild' in a planned way. e.g. getting rid of the ivy choking out parts of the park, rather than putting in developments such as a playground. There are lots of nearby parks / playgrounds that could be upgraded insteaded.

Bernard said...

On your comments:

1) As far as I can tell the condo plans are rather dead in the water. Though should they be build I do not think they would add significant more traffic.

2) I know there are homeless elsewhere from time to time, but the core group seems to be in that north east end of the park.

3) The area needed for any Mackenzie interchange would be at the north west end of the park.

4) I agree about the desire to have a wild nature to much of the park, but this is not the part I am talking about.

There actually not that many nearby parks that have space left to upgrade much and none of them are so very much at the heart of the neighbourhood.

Anonymous said...

Saanich had an open house in June and online survey, (results here)

They are still looking for feedback!

Anonymous said...

I think Saanich's window for comments has closed.

Bernard said...

The comment period did end last summer, I had meant to submit stuff then but life got in the way.

The survey had a very, very low response rate with only 85 responses. Honestly the survey was a meaningless exercise.

Julian Anderson said...

Part 1 of 2

You are right about the park being several different parcels, but when I think of Cuthbert Holmes Park, I think of the whole contiguous area (not including Meadow Park). Tillicum Park is split-zoned, with the forested area being P-4N (Natural Area) and the Rec Centre P-4HR (Recreation, Health). The Provincial Capital Commission does own significant portions of the park, but they have been leased to Saanich for a 99-year term beginning in 1987. There is also a parcel of land behind the theatre that is owned by RioCan, but under a natural areas covenant and is also leased to Saanich for park purposes until 2029.

The creation of Cuthbert Holmes Park was not a mere “renaming of empty lands in the 1960s”. As late as 1968, B.C Hydro, which owned the vast majority the westernmost parcel labeled on your map as Provincial Capital Commission, intended to “go ahead with the construction of its facilities as soon as the tight money situation eases” (some things never change) [Source: Letter from B.C. Hydro to Saanich dated April 11, 1968]. Earlier in the 1960s there was a proposal to build an industrial park on much of the other portion of PCC land, Tillicum Park and what is now Tillicum Mall. In the late 1960s and through the 1970s there was a campaign by Saanich, various Provincial ministries and the community to consolidate the properties and create what is now Cuthbert Holmes Park. The philosophy was to “preserve as far as possible the unspoilt parklike meadow land - treed areas and watercourses” [Cuthbert Holmes Park Terms of Reference].

Parks can broadly be divided into two categories: natural areas and recreational parks. Cuthbert Holmes Park is most definitely a natural areas park as reflected in the philosophy behind its creation and it current zoning. I believe that your suggested uses of the park (concerts, playgrounds, community gatherings) are not compatible with such a natural area. The online survey conducted as part of the open houses for the reveals that the community is not in favour of recreational facilities in the park, rather they are overwhelmingly in favour of protecting and restoring natural areas while attempting to reduce negative social activity.

Given the designs that various entities have had on the area over the years I think we are extremely lucky to have a park such as Cuthbert Holmes in our midst. We are in an urban area, yet we have a park which hosts a river with a wild salmon run. A couple of years ago, the park contained the largest Great Blue Heron colony on Vancouver Island. The park is not, as you suggest, “a potential jewel”; the park IS a jewel. I will be the first to admit that the jewel has its flaws, but it is not beyond redemption.

The homeless issue is a complicated one. There are definitely some undesirable activities that take place in the park, but it is not “full of garbage which includes broken bottles and needles”. There are undeniably localised occurrences of these things, but Saanich Parks and/or Police are very much alive to the problem and are quick to act when such problems are reported to them. I will not claim that the park is perfect, but I do believe that you are over-stating the problem. I have been in the park frequently and have not encountered “menacing attitudes of the people hanging out there”. Generally speaking I believe the park is a safe place for people (including families) to walk.

Julian Anderson said...

Part 2 of 2

Referring to an area as an “empty wasteland” and stating that “for the natural environment to return one would basically have to plow everything up and start again” reveals a lack of understanding of natural processes. We cannot create nature by plowing it up and starting again. We need to work with natural processes instead of fighting them, because nature will do what comes naturally. The area you are referring to is former agricultural land that was abandoned without a restoration or management plan in place. Invasive species took hold, but there are still habitat values in those lands. It will take planning and some effort, but those lands can be restored. Given enough time, they would revert to forested land without intervention, but not in a time-frame that we humans would abide by. In the meantime, the fields provide a valuable service in that they are a buffer for the forested area of the park. The Environmental Review commissioned by Saanich found that even the low sensitivity to human disturbance areas had some wildlife values, and the vast majority of the park is medium or high sensitivity.

I agree with you about the invasive species in the park. I too would like to see more work done to control the many invasive species in the park (such as English ivy, Holly, Privet, Spurge Laurel Daphne, Common Hawthorn and Himalayan Blackberry). Over the past several years, the Friends of Cuthbert Holmes Park has been working with the community and Saanich Parks to remove literally tons of invasive species from the park, as well as doing general cleanups and sometimes planting native trees and shrubs. We would love to see more people come out to help. It really is a great way to spend time, learn about nature and meet new friends.

This park is indeed a jewel. It can provide a backdrop for a relaxing nature walk in an urban area as well as the antidote to nature deficit disorder. These days more than ever, young people need a place to unplug from the electronic devices that surround them so they can reconnect with nature. Cuthbert Holmes Park is the perfect place for that.

To learn more about the activities of the Friends of Cuthbert Holmes Park, email or visit our Facebook page at!/CuthbertHolmesPark