Saanich’s cache of highly desirable land grew by 41 hectares this week, as the province transferred ownership of the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific to the municipality.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Mayor Frank Leonard of acquiring the beautifully landscaped site in West Saanich, better known as Glendale Gardens. “It’s been a dream of ours (to own this property) but we thought it was unrealistic to achieve.”
Leonard credits late Saanich mayor Mel Couvelier, who was a fervent supporter of HCP and the gardens, for the land transfer.
“In his last days as an advocate he took the opportunity to lobby for this Crown grant with Christy Clark,” he said. Couvelier passed away in May 2011.
“Without Mel Couvelier, the site itself wouldn’t exist,” said Roger Charles, executive director of HCP. Couvelier established the society in 1979 and fought hard to acquire use of the land, on which he helped build the gardens. “He was instrumental in making this happen.”
Every year the province allocates Crown land, through sponsored Crown grants, to municipalities and districts around B.C.
“This land transfer … supports the centre’s ongoing work as an educator and champion for gardeners and sustainable horticultural practices on Vancouver Island,” said Ida Chong, Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development.
Up to this point, the property was leased by Saanich, which then subleased it to the HCP.
“Obviously having it gifted now and it being owned by the people of Saanich, our direct relationship with the Centre is going to give it a much brighter future,” Leonard said.
Charles anticipates little will change in the day-to-day operations of the HCP, now that the landlord has switched over.
“Our ambitions to continue to be the pre-eminent horticultural centre in the province haven’t been forsworn,” he said. “Our expectation is that we owe to (Saanich and the province) the ability to transform this land and continue to grow and build the organization as we seek to put our stamp on Saanich and the Island.”
Saanich’s last sponsored Crown grant was in 1992 when the municipality acquired the 188-hectare Mount Douglas Park.
“It’s once in a generation you get a Crown grant this large. And we’re twice now in (21) years,” Leonard said.
The HCP land is valued at $2.96 million.