Saanich approves new signs for Shelbourne Street

New street signs will signal Shelbourne Street’s historical status in time for the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1918.

Saanich last week approved the signs as it received and reviewed a report into plans to turn Shelbourne Street into a commemorative space in time for the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.

Shelbourne Street became Canada’s first Road of Remembrance in Oct. 2, 1921 following the end of the First World War. These roads commemorated Canadian war deaths during the First World War by planting trees along major suburban roads like Shelbourne Street, and a local group calling itself Memorial Avenue Committee has been working with Saanich to complete the project under the project heading “Street of Unfinished Dreams.”

While the group had recommended changing the name of Shelbourne Street to Shelbourne Memorial Avenue, Saanich staff pointed out that a name change could be time consuming and costly for the municipality as well as the public-at-large. Staff instead recommended that Saanich attach some sort of a special symbol (like a poppy) to mark the status of the street comparable to the agricultural-themed symbols on Blenkinsop Road.

“The timing is incredibly important for Armistice year,” said Coun. Fred Haynes.

Funding for the new street signs — $13,500 — will come from Saanich’s strategic reserve fund, with the final design subjects to negotiations between staff and the committee. The new street signs would appear at 27 intersections.

Council also approved a number of other measures that do not require additional monies — a commemorative ceremony this year and the planting of new London Plane Trees starting in 2020 through 2050. But council deferred specific actions on several other items with a total cost of $70,000.

They include plans for four interpretive panels ($20,000), gateposts at the north and south ends of Shelbourne ($30,000), and a conservation plan for the new trees.

“I’m delighted that we have gotten at least this far,” said Ray Travers, chair of the memorial committee. But he also acknowledged that more work remains ahead. “In other words, in terms of the Street of Unfinished Dreams, there is still some unfinished business.”

Coun. Dean Murdock acknowledged this aspect in praising the work of the committee.

“This is not something that needs to happen overnight, but I do it is very appropriate that those who fought and died will be remembered by generations, who would have never known them.”

Saanich built Shelbourne Street in 1916 as a major north-south road from Mount Douglas Park to Victoria. Plans to plant memorial trees on both sides of Shelbourne Street to honour British Columbian war deaths started around the same time. Proponents wanted to plant one tree for each killed soldier, a goal eventually rendered unfeasible by the number of British Columbian soldiers (6,000) killed.

Available space permitted 800 trees, and a total of 600 trees eventually appeared, running from Mount Douglas Park to Cedar Hill Cross Road in Saanich, and from Hillside to Bay Street in Victoria. Of those, 500 trees stood in Saanich.

However plans to plant trees along Shelbourne from Cedar Hill Cross Road to North Dairy never materialized, and as urban development intensified during the 1960s, Saanich cut down some 300 trees from Cedar Hill Cross Road to Torquay to widen Shelbourne to four from two lanes.

Saanich also contemplated but never completed re-naming Shelbourne Street to Memorial Avenue.

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