Aboriginal History / Uses
Beacon Hill was not always a park. It was once part of the land used
and occupied by the Songhees Indians. When first observed by Europeans
in the mid-19th century, there were no Indian villages in the present
park area. However, the evidence of prehistoric activities and oral
tradition tell a different story.
Evidence of prehistoric use of the Park area by native peoples
consists of the remains of village refuse at defensive localities
along the waterfront and burial grounds nearby.
Indian Defensive Sites
Indian defensive sites in the Victoria area were in some cases fortified villages;
in other cases, separate
places of refuge used in times of hostility between native groups. These
sites were usually located on the point of a raised peninsula, separated
by a trench, two metres deep and several metres wide, across the neck
of the peninsula.
A site of this type was located on Finlayson Point,
immediately in front of Beacon Hill.
Another type of defensive site
was located at Holland Point, near the southwest corner of the Park.
This site was located on the edge of a steep bluff with a semi-circular
trench extending in from the sea bluff. A similar one was located
on the bluff at the northwest corner of Clover Point.
There is an interesting tradition about these village sites, recorded
from elderly native informants who were alive in the mid-19th century.
The story tells of a disease that came one summer long ago (possibly
a smallpox epidemic in the 1700s). Indians living in the pallisaded
village at Holland Point fled into the hills while others took all
their household belongings and winter food supply and moved to several
houses within the pallisaded village at Finlayson Point. In the
spring, when the Holland Point people returned, they climbed into
the Finlayson Point fort and found everyone dead in their houses.
Relatives came and buried the bones in stone cairns on Beacon Hill.
Another type of prehistoric site common in the Victoria area were
burial cairns or mounds composed of boulders, stones and dirt. These
cairns occurred in many different shapes and sizes and were often
located on prominent hillsides. They varied in diameter from one to
ten metres and were up to two metres in height.
Beneath these cairns a body was usually placed in a shallow grave
lined with stones. Rocks of various sizes and dirt were placed over
the body and then large boulders placed around or on top of this
Burial cairns once extended from the top of Beacon Hill down the
south-east slope. It was stated in 1858: "An attentive observer
will note circles, and that a center mound is within each located
near the base of the present flag staff was excavated. In it were
found human remains and part of a cedar bark mat for wrapping the
This is a beneath-the surface view of one of the more complex
burials excavated in 1989 in the Uplands area of Oak Bay. The body
was placed inside a grave pit, surrounded by two rock alignments.
In 1871, James Deans, Victoria's first notable archaeological enthusiast,
mentioned that at least 23 cairns "dot the summit and sides of Beacon
Hill, some of whish are surrounded with a circular thicket or scrub-oak."
In 1897, Deans observed that many of the surface boulders of cairns
had been removed. Since the turn of the century, many more of the
cairn boulders have been removed, or shoved to new locations. By
the 1970s, only one intact cairn and the circular bases of several
others embedded in the ground could be seen down the slope of the
hill. In 1986, scattered boulders from some of the original cairns
were moved and used in the reconstruction of four burial cairns.
These cairn reconstructions resemble some of those observed in the
19th century. The bases of some partially intact cairns can still
be seen close to the reconstructed ones.
Later Native Users
In the mid-19th century, the Songhees Indians came here from nearby
locations to gather the edible bulbs of the flowering camas. A Songhees
elder, Jimmy Fraser, gave the name "Meegan", meaning "warmed by the
sun", to the open meadow in Beacon Hill Park where people sat to have
their bellies warmed in summer. This meadow was also used as a playing
field for qoqwialls, a game played with oak sticks hollowed out spoon-fashion
at the end. A ball was propelled along the ground toward goals at each end
of the field. Today, the not-too-different game of cricket is played nearby.
Grant Keddie, Native Indian Use of Beacon Hill Park, RBCM Notes, Note #14/88, ISSN 0838-598x