A river running alongside the land perfect to accommodate the Victoria Hospice Society’s growth is both a key draw, and the biggest challenge.
While surprised to learn of the hefty document outlining a 100-year plan to improve the health of Bowker Creek, the hospice society quickly conceived a plan in its bid to purchase Greater Victoria School District land behind the former Richmond elementary, adjacent to the creek, said CEO Kevin Harter.
“This is a response to try and look at how we would restore the creek and honour some of the intent of the blueprint,” he said.
In 2011 the Bowker Creek Initiative, a coalition of government, community members and organizations, created the Bowker Creek Blueprint, a 100-year plan to restore the watershed that runs through Saanich, Victoria and Oak Bay.
For the creek section running through the Lansdowne south campus, the blueprint includes widening the creek and sloping its banks to make them more resistant to erosion, and enable them to handle heavy rains. It includes meandering the creek to slow the water, and removing non-native species and replacing them with native plants and shrubs.
All things Victoria Hospice now has in its proposal, Harter said.
“Victoria Hospice and Bowker Creek are both essential to the health and well-being of our community and we are committed to working with all stakeholders to protect these treasures for years to come,” he said.
Some of the things that make the land special to the neighbourhood are the qualities that make it ideal for the work of hospice.
“We like to create a natural garden-like environment for patients to gather with family and friends … to enjoy some nature and quiet and ambience that is restoring to them,” Harter said. The society’s preliminary plan for Bowker includes areas for families and those using hospice services to enjoy – as well as the public – as well as an outdoor classroom.
The site is also close to the current hospice centre at Royal Jubilee Hospital, an in-patient unit with 18 beds. The society looks to expand its capacity to 30 to meet growing and anticipated needs. The population of people aged 75 and over on Vancouver Island is expected to double by 2035.
The society hopes to host both its in-patient unit and community support centre on the near two-acre site. That would require 30,000 to 33,000 square feet, Harter said. They’d like to see a minimum three-storey building.
“We want to keep the footprint as small as possible so we can maximize the greenspace,” he said.
Too many questions about the plans remain for some community members and groups, including the Friends of Bowker Creek.
Hospice is trying hard and they’re doing it on behalf of the school district, whose trustees made the commitment in 2018, said Soren Henrich, director with the Friends of Bowker Creek Society.
The consultation process fell short, he added, and the Friends see it as a rushed sale. The district announced the potential sale in October 2021.
“This is public land for the purposes of education,” Henrich said. “We’re forced to say ‘is this the only option?’ What are some of the other options for Bowker creek restoration, for an outdoor class opportunity?”
Discussion of the school district bylaw that would allow for the sale is expected before the board Feb. 28 for consideration of third reading.
If approved by the board, the Ministry of Education would need to sign off and the Saanich would have to approve rezoning and development permits.