Former pavilion in Victoria park has checkered past, uncertain future

Council must decide what happens to this iconic, yet neglected Beacon Hill Park structure

The Checkers Pavilion atop Beacon Hill

This version of the story contains different information than what was originally posted, in order to correct an error.

It was 1931, and as the world sank into Depression, the City of Victoria responded with a relief program aimed at beautifying Beacon Hill Park after years of neglect.

Up to 160 unemployed men were brought on, at $1.40 per day, to help the parks department clear trees, dig lakes and streams, and other maintenance work, park historian Janis Ringuette writes on her website (see box, below).

In 1936, the cheap labour also helped to build the Checkers Pavilion, which Victorians enjoyed for decades as a glassed-in lookout atop Beacon Hill. Old men played checkers, using long poles to move the pieces on one of two large boards painted on the floor.

Young people knew the spot as a sort of lovers’ lane after hours.

Today, these are distant memories. The boarded-up building has deteriorated into an eyesore after decades of indecision over its fate. The city is taking the first steps toward securing the building, but a plan to restore it for use and enjoyment is a long way off.

An assessment of the structure is underway and a report is due by May.

“All that’s going to do is tell us what would need to be done in order to protect its heritage integrity and its structural integrity,” said Victoria parks director Kate Friars. “Then we would look at what the restoration would look like.”

That’s when the tough decisions begin. How to proceed, and even whether to invest, continues to spark disagreement among the park’s interest groups.

Ringuette originally wanted to see the building demolished, but changed her position when no other interest groups supported this course of action. She now supports the idea of restoring the building as a lookout and interpretive centre.

“It stands in an aboriginal burial ground still sacred to First Nations,” she said in an email to the News. “I (previously) thought respecting the burial ground and rehabilitating the original Garry oak/camas meadow should be the main values.”

The Hallmark Society has listed the structure as one of 12 “endangered sites” in the region.

“The Observation Pavilion is a reflection of the Beacon itself,” said president Ken Johnson, referring to the historical hilltop poles that once served to warn mariners. “In 1936, those were gone and we put up a pavilion so people could look out from Victoria to the sea.”

The story of its construction by relief workers adds to its significance, he said. “There’s very little around to remember those guys. They dug a lot of holes and this is the only thing that’s left that’s substantial.”

Restoration, however, will cost money and the city has little appetite to invest during today’s economic hard times.

Recently, Heritage Canada rejected the city’s request for a Legacy Grant for upgrades.

Restoring the building could be helped by a bequest by park lover, George Stone, made in two instalments in 1996 and 2002. With interest, the $400,000 bequest has swelled to $570,000. At the city’s request, a lawyer reviewed the bequest and determined the Checkers Pavilion to be an appropriate use of the funds, Friars said.

But not everyone thinks so.

“(George Stone) wanted a building which could be used for parks programs and for park meeting space,” said Roy Fletcher, chair of the Friends of Beacon Hill Park Society, who used to chat with Stone in the park. Fletcher would prefer to see this money put toward a nature house at another site, which can better accommodate people and programming.

The city is exploring possible uses for the pavilion. “We’ve had some preliminary conversations with some interested folks,” Friars said.

“I don’t foresee the Checkers Pavilion’s future being anything more than a viewing pavilion. We don’t see it as a commercial venue, like a restaurant.”

She envisions a nature and heritage interpretation centre, with information panels on subjects such as the history of the park possibly mounted inside. The fact the building has no power or water connections limits its potential uses. Adding these services would be very costly, Friars said, adding the city hasn’t ruled this option out.

A slow decline

• After years of vandalism, the city removed the glass walls of the Checkers Pavilion in 1971, transforming it from a lookout to a wind shelter. In both 1986 and 1994, city council considered demolishing the building. Neither council could agree to knock it down or invest in it. In 1995, the pavilion was boarded up for good. Find further history at www.beaconhillparkhistory.org.

rholmen@vicnews.com

Just Posted

Nearly a dozen coonhound puppies and their mother to reunite at Saanich park

Dogs’ former foster family initiated one-year reunion plans

Trio brings roller skating fever to Greater Victoria

Roller Skate Victoria offers workshops, summer camps and more

Motorcylist ticketed for excessive speed, bike impounded by Saanich Police

The 22-year-old was issued two tickets – one for a bent licence plate

Concrete beams for McKenzie interchange set for installation this weekend

No lane closures expected during weekend work, says ministry

Government Street to be transformed into ‘people-priority’ zone

Victoria city council voted to limit traffic in the area by 2022

Rich the Vegan scoots across Canada for the animals

Rich Adams is riding his push scooter across Canada to bring awareness to the dog meat trade in Asia

POLL: Do you carry reusable shopping bags?

While a court ruling determined the City of Victoria’s plastic bag ban… Continue reading

Greater Victoria wanted list for the week of July 16

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Body, burning truck found near northern B.C. town

RCMP unsure if the two separate discoveries are related

Couple found dead along northern B.C. highway in double homicide

Woman from the U.S. and man from Australia found dead near Liard Hot Springs

UPDATE: West Kelowna fawn euthanized, not claimed by sanctuary

Gilbert the deer has been euthanized after a suitable home was not found in time

BC Wildfire Service warns wet weather no reason to be complacent

Fire risk currently low for much of B.C. compared to same time over last two years.

Bank of Canada lowers qualifying rate used in mortgage stress tests

Home sales softened last year after the federal government introduced new stress test rules for uninsured mortgages

Port Hardy RCMP cleared in arrest that left man with broken ribs, punctured lung: IIO

The IIO noted the matter will not be referred to crown counsel for consideration of charges.

Most Read