Beacon Hill Park has joined the ranks of Canadian icons such as the Rideau Canal and Kensington Market.
The park was named among the 10 top public spaces nationwide, as published by Spacing Magazine dedicated to issues of urban design and community planning.
Beacon Hill stands out because of its diversity of uses as well as its abundance of old growth trees, said magazine publisher Matthew Blackett.
“So many people use it in so many ways,” he said. One hundred and thirty five of the publication’s readers, writers, and other professionals in the field voted on the top 10, as well as the top 100 spaces in Canada.
Glenn Schwartz was out enjoying the park’s free mini golf course Tuesday afternoon with his two kids.
The family bikes or drives from Saanich about every second weekend.
“We’re pretty regular users,” said Schwartz. “In the summer we come here more than we go (to our neighbourhood park) just because the petting zoo is really fun. Anna is a real animal lover, and Theo loves golf so it’s really easy to come here and have something for everyone … We go down the path by the water, we go to the beach. We do it all.”
On Tuesday night, Blackett moderated a panel discussion about what makes a good and bad public space.
“Public spaces are about where you come together,” he said. “They are hugely important to how you perceive the city.”
In town for two days, Blackett said downtown’s main commercial tourist drag caught his eye, but he questioned: “Should Government Street be pedestrianized?”
It’s the kind of debate he hopes to spark.
Victoria boasts four other public spaces on Canada’s top 100 list. They include the Inner Harbour Causeway, the Galloping Goose Regional Trail, Fernwood Square and Dallas Road Waterfront. The vibrancy of some on the list, such as Toronto’s eclectic Kensington market, have little to do with government, said Blackett, adding others have been heavily shaped by public money.
The City of Victoria is in the midst of a traffic management plan for Beacon Hill. The idea is to convert some of the roads for cars, into trails for cyclists and pedestrians. City staff is finalizing the plan and aim to present it to city council by fall.
The current network of roads – criticized by many as being numerous – have been in place since John Blair planned and developed the park in 1889.
Nearby neighbour and historian Janis Ringuette has written extensively on the park.
“As I researched and wrote the history of BHP, it was striking how what happened in the park each decade reflected the values of city residents at that time,” she said, in an email to the News.
Ringette expressed surprise at the park’s new rank, considering it’s relatively small size.
At only 62 hectares, it is less that one sixth the size of Vancouver’s Stanley Park, which did not make the top 10 list.