Commission on Mount Douglas Park (1930)

Biographical history

From Series GR-0905 Royal BC Museum

The commissioner, Oscar Chapman Bass, Deputy Attorney General, was appointed to inquire into the management, regulation, protection and control of Mount Douglas Park in Greater Victoria. F.A. Graham, a resident of Victoria, had charged that the park had been neglected and spoiled by its administrators, the Victoria-Saanich Beaches and Parks Committee.

What follows is a transcription of the original document.

To His Honour the Lieutenant Governor

Re: Mount Douglas Park, Victoria, B. C.

A Commission was issued to me by Your Honour, under date the 19th of November, 1930, “to inquire into the management, regulation, protection and control of the said Mount Douglas Park” and to report in writing to Your Honour the facts found upon such inquiry.

Pursuant to said authority the requisite oath under the Public Inquiries Act was taken by me before His Honour Judge Lampman at Victoria on the 10th of December, 1930.

Due notice of the opening of the inquiry was published, and Mr. F. C. Elliott, of Victoria, was named Counsel to submit the evidence. The first sitting was held in the Court House, Victoria, on the 19th of January, 1931, His Honour Judge Lampman courteously placing his Court Room at the service of the Commission. Further sittings were held at the same place on the 3rd, 4th and 6th of February, 1931.

Evidence was tendered, under oath, by the following: Messrs. F. A. Graham, C. C. Pemberton, L. A. Gale, A.G.W. Dod, W.W. Bell, F. B. Pemberton, I.R. Johnson, W. Grough, R.R.F. Sewell, F.M. Baxter, H.H. Allen, R. Foulis, F.M. Hunter, H.D. Oldfield, J. Baxter, G.W. Rosson, J.R. Lewis, H. Anscomb, R. Connell and R.J. Costello.

A visit was made to the Park to view the scene and the causes of complaint.

With reference to the witness, Mr. F.A. Graham, I beg to say that I was much impressed with his general demeanour, which was that of a devout lover of nature and its beauties as spread and developed by nature’s laws. The unnecessary destruction of the forest or flora apparently hurt him as would a physical blow. His earnestness and sincerity were unquestionable. Some veiled innuendos were made as to his singleness of purpose, for instance, that he had procured gravel from the park in connection with the building of his house, and that when the removal of gravel generally was stopped he felt umbrage thereat. There was no proof whatever of this, and I fully satisfied myself thereof.

Before dealing with the question of the management of the Park, I wish to express thanks to Messrs, C.C. Pemberton, F.B. Pemberton, A.G.W. Dod, Robert Connell and His Worship Mayor Anscomb, of Victoria.  These gentlemen, in addition to Mr. Graham, already mentioned, were informative and helpful to a degree. They show the true conception of the object of a public park, not merely as a breathing place, but as a rendezvous where rest may be enjoyed, nature admired and peace obtained.

The Park is a property, ideally situated outside the limits of Victoria and still practically in its virgin state. It comprises an area of between 300 and 400 acres, diversified in character, and capable in artistic hands of being a perfect beauty spot, in contrast to the usual run of public parks with their gauche, gaudy and even vulgar modernisms. Set aside in early times by that far-seeing Administrator, Sir James Douglas, and originally named Hyde Park, it contains almost irreplaceable treasures of native trees and plants. To place the desecrating hand of modernism (so-called) on the property would be committing sacrilege to nature, and would be an outrage on the memory of the man who with rare foresight set it aside for the pleasure, education and restful comfort of the people he foresaw following him.

A winding road runs through the Park, at each turn disclosing new beauties in lights, colours and shades, with a view of the Sea which is as beautiful as it is inspiring. With taste for sylvan beauty, combined with engineering skill, this road could be improved in places without impairing the innocent calmness and attractiveness abounding everywhere.

This road has been practically irreparably spoilt at one point (one of the prettiest) by what can only be termed a piece of vandalism in the gouging of a bank for the purpose of getting gravel for road making and building operations. Judging from the immediate locality of the area of this pit must originally have been one of nature’s flower gardens. This taking of gravel is stated by the Saanich Municipal Clerk to have been proceeding for about twenty-five years. The gravel taken has been used by the Municipalities of Victoria and Saanich for road purposes, and has also been sold to private concerns for building purposes. The Reeve of Saanich stated “it has been done by the Parks and Beaches Committee with the sole intention of building an amphitheatre”, but the incongruity of this statement was so obvious that in the succeeding answer he corrected it, and proceeded to explain how the unsightliness could be concealed by a curtain of climbing roses. This was clearly an idea conceived after the protests were launched which brought about the Inquiry, so that no great, if any, weight attached to it.

The only explanation for this incursion and disfigurement is that the gravel supply was on the roadside and convenient for removal.

Along the sea side of the road are several deposits of garbage and refuse of various kinds. These do not add to the beauty of the drive. The municipal officers of Saanich stated, and I believe them, that these defilements have caused them much worry and annoyance, and that they have been zealous in their efforts to discover and punish the culprits.

At what may be called the Town entrance to the Park, a clearing and leveling work has produced a pleasant open space facing the seashore which can be reached by a winding downward path. the space in not large, but is an evidence of what can really be effected, and yet retain the original beauty.

Before reaching this place, on the way from Town, and immediately on entering the Park has been cut a roadway, some distance back from the present original road. It is proposed to abandon the latter, and thus give more room on the seaside for picnic and recreation purposes. It is also stated that the new road is intended to ensure safety to pedestrians, particularly to children. This new way, to cut out which priceless treasures in native growth were sacrificed, from the point of view of the botanist and student of natural history will be a scar on the face of nature which can never be healed. It is a straight, broad gash through virgin growth. Conceived on the principle of the prevailing American straight line and rectangular scheme of American structures, it will be a speedway pure and simple, and is apt to be a vaster danger than the existing road could ever be even if left in its present state. Proceeding as it does through the timber, it can never be beautiful, as the sea is shut off from view, and the inclination will naturally be to rush through this space with as much haste as possible. I would describe this new roadway an unnecessary abomination of desolation of one of nature’s gardens.

It was shown that the Municipalities of Victoria and Saanich have created what is known as a Beaches and Parks Committee, which administers the Beaches and Parks with the municipalities. This scheme may be, and probably is an advantageous form of administration in the circumstances. The authority of this Committee appears to be purely administrative, and it has operated in a large sense beneficially as to providing facilities and comforts for the public in the use of beaches and parks in its control. The financial resources of the Committee are extremely limited, the municipal bodies being rather parsimonious in their allowances, overlooking the obvious fact that wise expenditure of money on these parks and beaches is an investment capable of incalculable returns.

The two municipalities, of course, have an undoubted right to administer their parks, beaches and playing grounds according to their judgment in the best interests of those properties where the complete ownership is vested in the municipality. But I conceive that Mount Douglas Park is a property vested in Victoria in trust, not for the citizens of Victoria, but for the people at large. Therefore it is my opinion that Victoria cannot delegate its power of administration or any of its proprietary rights in the Park. The language of the grant is:

“on trust to maintain and preserve the same as

“a public park or pleasure ground for the use,

“recreation and enjoyment of the public.”

This does not constitute the property a purely Victoria concern, enabling Victoria to delegate its rights or obligation under the grant. I therefore consider this Park to be in a different category from other parks acquired by purchase or terms in the nature of purchase, or setting aside.

For this reason I respectfully convey the suggestion of Mr. F.B. Pemberton that a park of this nature should be under a Parks Board.

Parenthetically it may be remarked that the industrial value of Niagara falls was estimated by an eminent engineer at $15,000,000 per annum. It has been established that the scenic value has been productive of $45,000,000 per annum.

The value of such a property as Mount Douglas Park is incomparable, situated as it is scenically, endowed with such natural floral and forest wealth, and so adjacent to such a beauty spot as Victoria, which makes a perfect setting or ensemble.

The creation of this sandpit, the dumping of unsightly garbage piles, the cutting this road as projected are so desecrating in their nature and effect as to be brutal. One can ascribe this state of affairs only to an entire absence, on the part of the Victoria authorities, of even a partial appreciation of the priceless value of the heritage given to the people of Victoria for future generations by Sir James Douglas,

When the protest against the cutting out of the new road were made, and the same brought to the notice of the City authorities, a tentative undertaking was given, or rather an understanding arrived at, that the work would be discontinued pending examination. I regret to say that I find this undertaking was broken, or the understanding not honoured. Further cutting out was apparently rushed, on the idea that the timber, small trees and brush, once out, could not be replaced. In other words, to employ a phrase of the street: “It’s done, what are you going to do about it?” I think the mere mention of this carries its own commentary.

On the whole case, and on the evidence submitted, and on the ground itself, I find

(a) That the City of Victoria has for many years virtually abandoned this Trust.

(b) That what little conservation or improvement that has been effected has been by the Committee whose means have been most meagre.

(c) That the City, by indifference, and the Committee, or its officers, actively and actually ignored the request of the Province to discontinue the work of cutting the road pending an examination.

(d) That the proposed road diversion is in the first place a disfigurement of the Park, and it the second place an invitation to speeding and therefore a danger.

(e) That by appreciative administration, the dumping of refuse could have been prevented, and that the otherwise neglected condition of the place was really an invitation to such an offence.

(f) That the present road is the logical road for the use of the Park as a park, and could under proper engineering judgment coupled with taste and knowledge of the natural beauties present, be so treated as to increase its usefulness and attractiveness.

(g) That the Park, with the exception of the portion called the picnic ground, may be generally taken as neglected, which is clearly accountable to the indifference of the City authorities, and the starvation allowance meted out to the Committee.

Herewith please find transcript of the evidence taken, the Exhibits filed and the accounts of Counsel and stenographer.

All of which is respectfully submitted.

I have the honour to be,

Your Honour’s Obedient Servant,

“O. D. Bass”


DATED at Victoria, British Columbia, this sixteenth day of March, 1931

Transcription Note:

Transcription Note: This Commission inquiry refers to two events in Mount Douglas Park. Originally Cordova Bay Road went through the Beach parking area and continued from the opposite end of the parking area on a now closed road; the inquiry was concerned with how the current Cordova Bay Road bypassing this section was created. The report also deals with a quarry (gravel pit) near where this closed section of  Cordova Road and the “new” bypass meet. This Transcription is from a fading original copy.

A plan was made by the Friends of Mount Douglas Park Society with Saanich Parks to restore the gravel pit. Without the knowledge of either of these parties, Saanich Engineering, in an attempt to divert water away from the cliff face, created a pond and covered the pit with drain pipes leading to the pond. Parks was then informed they could not proceed with the restoration plan because it could damage the pipe system. Subsequently the pond sprung a leak allowing the ground water to resume its previous underground flow towards the cliff face and blackberries have taken over the area. 

Transcription Note: The comment about the new bypass road that “it will be a speedway pure and simple” was prophetic as this road has changed from a park road to a commuter route seriously damaging the ambience of the Park, especially with the substantial road noise that travels well into the Park.

Transcribed May 2020 Darrell Wick