FRANK LEONARD: Rec opportunities abound in Saanich

Greater Victoria's largest municipality has come a long way since 1986

When I first ran for Saanich council in 1986, two of my campaign promises were about recreation: one was to build a pool on the west side of Saanich; and the other was to purchase the ‘Racquet Club’ in order to secure a sheet of ice on the east side of Saanich.

It seemed to me that having a single pool at Gordon Head Recreation Centre at Lambrick Park was inadequate for such a large municipality. The Racquet Club was threatened at the time and, if closed, would have meant the municipality would only have one sheet of ice at Pearkes Recreation Centre. Now, the facility is owned by the University of Victoria and continues to this day. As for the pool on the west side, Saanich Commonwealth Place serves that purpose today.

Saanich promoted parks and recreation in the 1980s, but might have been a bit too frugal. As our community grew in population, we significantly expanded opportunities for citizens to be active. Where there was a single sheet of ice at Pearkes, the site is now home to two sheets of ice, a library, a new fitness studio, the Blythe Pearkes fieldhouse for activities and exhibitions and Saanich Neighbourhood Place.

Gordon Head Recreation Centre now has an expanded pool, fitness studio, teen space and activity rooms and provides space to Recreation Integration Victoria in Lambrick House. What was a bare bones centre at Cedar Hill Recreation Centre with a tennis bubble now has squash courts, a fitness studio and a beautiful new Arts Centre, hosting the Community Arts Council of Greater Victoria.

The ‘smart money’ was that the pool for the 1994 Commonwealth Games would be built at UVic or in the City of Victoria. But working with then mayor Murray Coell, Saanich council found a way to combine community needs with competitive pools, and Saanich Commonwealth Place is now an incredible success story. It not only features the pools, it contains a library, teen centre, fitness studio and activity spaces.

Parks in Saanich have also changed dramatically. Some didn’t even exist in 1986 or were just bare land, such as Beckwith and Brydon parks. Saanich didn’t even own Lochside Park in Cordova Bay, even though it had playing fields in use. Now the land is owned by Saanich and includes some excellent baseball and soccer fields. One that I enjoy visiting is Layritz Park, just because of how dramatic the change has been.

Layritz was a bare-bones park with a couple of ball diamonds in 1986 when the Saanich director of recreation took me on a site visit.  He walked up to a mound behind the playing fields and said he dreamed that one day it could all be developed for recreation. Today, we have fulfilled that dream, with soccer and baseball fields aplenty.

Trails were simply footpaths through existing parks back then. Now, our trail system connects the entire municipality, with more than 100 kilometres of trails connected by the Centennial Trail network and the Galloping Goose and Lochside trails.

Mount Douglas Park was potentially a crew-cut park – land protected at the top, development along the slopes – but today the entire area has been acquired. More recently, Panama Flats and Haro Woods have been acquired and protected. Senior centres have been added, libraries upgraded and playgrounds are well beyond what were simple swing sets.

Such achievements require significant commitment, resources and money. Saanich councils over the years have endorsed policies that provide a framework for these expansions. Our staff have embraced this as part of our culture and are keen to ensure all citizens have opportunities to lead active lives.

However, none of this is possible without the support of our taxpayers. Parks and recreation is now our third largest budget expense behind police and fire.

A Parks, Recreation and Culture Master Plan was adopted in March and is consistent with our policy of Saanich being a healthy and active community. We hope this continues to be supported, not only by citizens using our parks, trails and recreation facilities, but through council approving expenditures required to meet this need.

Frank Leonard has been mayor of Saanich since 1996.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

VicPD reunites four-year-old boy with family after he snuck out a window

The boy was spotted wandering alone on Wednesday morning

LIVE MUSIC: Artist in Residence reaching into the community

Kathryn Calder to perform livestream show on YouTube channel this Friday, April 3

Camosun College to produce more than 9,000 face shields for Island Health workers

An innovative new design will allow for mass production of face shields for use across Canada

COVID-19: More than 120,000 B.C. food service jobs lost, restaurants begin to shutter permanently

Restaurants Canada estimates $3 billion sales drop due to pandemic

West Shore RCMP search for man wanted on 15 outstanding warrants

Steven Sandhu is believed to be living in View Royal

First Nations, remote communities need special attention in pandemic, Freeland says

Health-care workers, seniors, Indigenous Peoples some of people most at risk, health officials say

POLL: Will you be able to make your rent or mortgage payment this month?

With the COVID-19 delivering a devastating blow to the global economy, and… Continue reading

North Cowichan to police popular trails to ensure physical distancing

“You can expect delays accessing Mount Tzouhalem, or even to be turned away.”

‘We will get through this’: B.C. sees new COVID-19 death, but 57% have recovered

A total of 1,066 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus

Canada’s 75% wage subsidy is coming, but not for several weeks: finance minister

Subsidy will cost Canada $71 billion, but push down cost of emergency benefit, Morneau said

COVID-19: ‘The Ballad of Bonnie Henry’ recorded and released

LISTEN: Quick turnaround for song penned by B.C. Order of Canada musician Phil Dwyer

B.C. adding $300 to monthly income and disability assistance payments

‘Crisis supplement’ for COVID-19 for April, May and June

‘A matter of human decency’: Truckers’ union calls on gas stations, rest stops to fully re-open

Teamsters Canada wants feds, provinces to put pressure on facilities to re-open for transport workers

Hip tradition sing-along planned again for Canadians April 2

The Tragically Hip’s Paul Langlois is encouraging all to join him virtually in a’Porch Session.’

Most Read