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101 - 1041 Richardson St
Victoria, BC
V8V 3C6
(250) 592-6659

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Beacon Hill Park  - A Walk on the Wild Side by Agnes Lynn

I first visited Beacon Hill Park as a child in the summer of 1954. Everything else in my life has changed since then but the park is still the same. Thatís the appeal of Beacon Hill Park. Letís take a wildflower walk through the part of the park most people normally overlook, the wild side. The best time of year to take this walk is late April. Weíll start from the new cross-walk from St. Annís Academy on the north park boundary on Southgate Street, between Douglas and Quadra Streets. Letís scramble up the rocks and head south into the park. There is a sidewalk running along the ridge. The purple satin flowers (Olsynium douglasii) may be finished by this time of year but the spring gold (Lomatia utriculatum) will appear in splotches here and there. What I scan for are my favourite, the chocolate lilies (Fritillaria affinis). The challenge is to spot them hidden in the grass, generally up near the base of one of the many garry oak trees (Quercus garryana). Many other species of wildflowers will keep you interested as you meander along towards Goodacre Lake.

No time today to stop and feed the ducks. Cross the road towards the playground (sorry no stopping here either). See if you can spot the plaque near the edge of the road commemorating those mighty oaks. Today weíll quickly traverse the Ďcivilized areaí. Head in between the services building and the ladies washroom. Look down and to the left to see a lovely patch of easter lilies (Erythronium oregonum). Some people call them fawn lilies due to their mottled foliage. Although these are in a cultivated flower bed, they were probably there before the flower bed itself existed. The area behind the washrooms is rich in native flora. This was more by accident than on purpose. It was simply left alone all these years. Look for evergreen yew trees (Taxus brevifolia) and wild cherry trees (Prunus emarginata). You can recognize them by the bark that looks just like the domestic cherry tree you might have in your own back yard. The indian plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) is the first flower in the spring so its blossoms will be finished by now. Later it has interesting fruit but I donít think Iíd try to eat it, just look. The hard-to-find flowering red currant bushes (Ribes sanguineum) are not as plentiful as they should be but are easy to spot. You might even Ďhearí one as the hummingbirds will tell you exactly where they are. Look for the arbutus menziesii trees before you cross the roadway. The peeling red-green bark is fascinating. It is the only broad-leaf evergreen tree we have in this area.

Wander along the rocks in behind. Your nose will tell you if your feet crush the masses of wild onions (Allium). They do not flower very well. Cross the road and work your way across the rocks in the direction of the petting zoo. No stopping at the zoo today.

Walk along the edge of the field in the direction of the tallest totem. In this giant field , you will find masses of the early camas( Camassia quamash) as well as many shooting stars (Dodecatheon hendersonii). Sprinkled in between are a few death camas (Zygadenus venonosus) and a very small number of the rare yellow prairie violets (Viola praemorsa). We pause to mourn the loss of the golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta) that only disappeared a few years ago from here. Dr. Chris Brayshaw, retired from the Royal BC Museum, has walked the park for over 25 years and has been our mentor. Regrettably, he has told us of other species long gone from the park. On the bright side, a few years ago, a group of Girl Guides mapped and estimated 1 million camas on that hillside so extrapolated to estimate two million camas in total in the park. Does anyone know of another such expanse of blue anywhere?  Watch for more details of the on-going plant mapping project in the park. Participants includes both parks staff and volunteers from the Friends of Beacon Hill Park.

Continue walking along the bottom of the field towards the woods behind the tallest totem. We call this area the South East Woods. See what birds you can spot in the high canopy of douglas fir trees (Pseudotsuga menziesii). Birds such as woodpeckers enjoy the protected habitat of this wooded area. There are some very wet areas on the left side of the closed-off road (Loverís Lane). It would take a whole day to explore the many trails, some almost tunnels winding in amongst the towering black cottonwoods (Populus trichocarpa). The original plan for the park had suggested a formal lake in that area but that part of the plan was never implemented.

In 1990, two Friends of Beacon Hill Park, Helen Oldershaw and Anne Fletcher, convinced the Parks Administration to allow a restoration project in this area. They wanted to preserve the habitat for the birds and other fauna and wanted to demonstrate to the parks workers that it could be left in a natural state and still meet their criteria. Our goal was to eliminate the weedy plants that had invaded the woodland such as ivy, holly, dandelions, sow thistle, and the list goes on.  We worked with my Girl Guides for over 5 years weeding and then planting plants that would have originally grown in the area. Our successes include trilliums (Trillium ovatum), oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), sword ferns (Polystichum munitum) and others. The easter lilies which we planted were rescued from a Broadmead wild flower meadow which was being made into a condominium project. We also tried to re-establish douglas fir and grand fir (Abies grandis) in an area where a lot of burning had been done in the past. This was only partly successful as there was little nourishment in the soil. Parks workers are trained to keep the park tidy so they raked the leaves off the ground every year. We have now convinced them to let nature enrich the soil when the leaves fall. The selective weeding allowed the false lily-of-the-valley (Maianthemum dilatatum), fairy bells (Disporum hookeri), tall fringe cup (Tellima grandiflora) and large-leaf avens (Geum macrophyllum), all of which were already there, to spread to cover wide areas. Itís actually hard to tell where our work was done as it was intended to look like the plants had always been there but watch for the trilliums and easter lilies at this time of year. Large shrubs in the area include the fragrant mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii), salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) thriving in a moist hollow, red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa), and ocean spray (Holodiscus discolor). You might also spend time wandering through some more of the paths nearer Dallas Road before checking out the wild bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa) near the base of the tallest totem.

Itís time to carry on. Cross the road back to the camas fields. Youíll find several paths leading up the hill. As you get nearer the top, youíll find more easter lilies and watch for more chocolate lilies along the path. Notice that the parks workers have left bushy patches around the garry oaks. As well as the pesky introduced broom, youíll find snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) and the native rose (Rosa nutkana) that blooms in June. We are trying to get more seedling garry oaks in the open areas. The park nursery staff has been helping to raise the trees as well as grow on other seeds for us. The top of the hill is covered with fields of camas, intermingled with western buttercups (Ranunculus occidentalis). There are more of the taller great camas (Camassia leichtlinii) up here as well. The annual Camas Day wildflower walks start from this area every year. The Friends of Beacon Hill Park have worked hard along with the Victoria Natural History Society to make this event a growing success. It is generally held near the end of April each year. We always have dedicated botanists such as Dr. Adolf Ceska leading the walks. One day we hope to undertake a grasslands restoration project on the field on the front side of the hill leading down towards Dallas Road and the water.

We could spend a whole day if we diverted down to the beach-front area. There are many wild flowers unique to the area on or near the cliffs. I always enjoy the ladiesí tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana) near there and the Harvest brodiaea (Brodiaea coronaria) in the long grass at the road edge. These bloom later on. Itís these late bloomers that give rise to complaints of messiness as we have asked the parks workers to hold off mowing these areas until the plants have gone to seed. Mowing too early weakens the population and gradually they decline. Hopefully now we have a schedule which is a compromise between what the plants need and what the fire department wants as they worry that the dry fields are a fire hazard. There are interesting plants all along the waterís edge, as far down as the yacht pond.

 But weíve diverted, so letís get back to the top of  ĎBeacon Hillí. Walk down the hill near the road to enjoy the fantastic view. Cross the roadway by where the old Chinese Bell has been replaced by a hanging basket. You can see some big old black cottonwoods near Douglas Street but, otherwise, youíre into the civilized section of the park for a stretch. Wander in behind the Cameron  Bandshell, another forgotten corner which holds secret treasures in the woodsy areas. I hesitate to reveal this location but we will put a curse on anyone removing native plants from the park. Cross over Emily Carrís little stone bridge nearby. We always feel the spirit of Emily Carr with us in the park. She is our incentive to work at keeping the wild areas she so loved. The herons use to nest high in the Douglas fir trees near Douglas Street but the eagles scared them off. You can still see the remains of the old nests. Now itís getting late and itís time to head back. Re-cross the little stone bridge and head for the big stone bridge. An eagleís nest is in one of the Douglas fir near the roadway just before you cross the bridge. Unfortunately they havenít nested for the last couple of years. Cross the big stone bridge and then turn right, continuing along the lake edge until you reach the roadway leading north out of the park.  As you walk along the road, admire the bed of shooting stars on the left side of the Vancouver Rock & Alpine Garden Societyís garden. They were rescued from a construction site. Farther along, itís good to see the parks workers have been clearing away some of the broom to open up more areas for the wildflowers. As you walk along the roadway, notice there is a double row of arbutus trees, one at the edge of the road, one farther in the lawn, probably remnants of a much wider roadway in the past.  It must have been very difficult to get these temperamental trees to grow to maturity in rows like that. As you head out of the park, see if you can figure out where the old quarry was in the rocky area. Fortunately all the old scars have been covered with rich green moss on the rocks.

The wild areas of Beacon Hill Park are very precious as it is one of the few native vegetation areas easily accessible to the public in Victoria. Letís not forget this wild side when we next come to the park.