The tract of unused B.C. Hydro land between Haultain Street and Kings Road is not a park, it’s just been treated like one for more than 60 years.
The land is bordered on the west side by fast-flowing Bowker Creek and a uniform stand of trees that follow a well-used path along the creek. Some consider it a dog park. Essentially it is a dog park. Officially, it isn’t, however, and there is a growing concern about exactly what the land might be used for if, in fact, BC Hydro plans to offload the land.
Rumours abound that the land has been sold. One Facebook reader said it was sold to a local Victoria developer. Ted Olynyk, the community relations manager for BC Hydro on Vancouver Island, had to laugh when he was recently told it had been sold to a developer in Vancouver.
However, there is no such plan to date, said Olynyk.
“It’s essentially private property that’s been left un-fenced since the 1950s,” Olynyk said. “It’s not a park. It was bought as part of our future planning process to help meet future growth in the area. It’s been kept by BC Hydro with the possibility of putting up a substation there.”
BC Hydro revisits its land assets annually and as of 2017, there are no plans for the Haultain plot to be a substation. It is also not on the open market. However, there have been past inquiries and proposals made to B.C. Hydro about the land. About 10 years ago, B.C. Ambulance Services inquired about leasing part of the land, which is zoned for institutional use. That never went through.
Therefore, locals who’ve spent a lifetime cutting through the land can be forgiven if they were unaware that it is not a park. BC Hydro even spends money to maintain it, cutting the grass.
“When people find out it’s not protected, that it’s not a park, they are surprised,” said Caleb Horn, former vice-president of Camosun Community Association. “When we were doing our community envisioning for the CCA, that land was identified as of great importance to the locals.”
Many people in nearby Oak Bay also consider the land as an important greenspace, including Coun. Michelle Kirby.
“First and foremost I hope it remains a greenspace and that whatever happens, it respects the 100-year Bowker Creek plan,” Kirby said. “We want to retain the goal of seeing salmon return to the creek.”
However, the region is in a housing crisis, so it wouldn’t be ‘so terrible’ if it was sold for development, though it would be really hard for the neighbourhood to accept it as anything other than a park, Kirby said.
“It’s not an empty space that isn’t used, it’s well used, it meets all the criteria in my mind as something to be acquired as parkland.”
Internet chat forums past (Reddit), and present (Facebook) show there is a long history of use for the greenspace. Teens once referred to it as the Hydro Park, a place to drink booze in the 1970s and waste away the afternoon using the rope swing over Bowker Creek.
If B.C. Hydro ever does consider the land as surplus, it would follow a Crown process where other Crown corporations would have access to the land first. After that, it’s uncertain if Saanich or the CRD could purchase the land, through the CRD land acquisition fund.
If it was sold it would have to be at a price acceptable to B.C. Hydro, Olynyk said.
“B.C. Hydro is held accountable by a [province worth] of ratepayers who would want market value,” Olynyk said.