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LETTER: Sheltering in historic Victoria graveyard unacceptable

(Black Press Media file image)

It’s enough to make you turn over in your grave.

On several occasions during the week of Sept. 11 there were one or two illegal campers sheltering by the gravesite area of Pioneer Square across from the YM-YWCA near Christ Church Cathedral. A homeless person was observed in one instance skipping over a row of grave markers, pausing midway just long enough to take some drugs.

Originally known as the Quadra Street Burial Ground, and later as the Old Burying Ground, it was the main burying ground for Fort Victoria and Victoria from 1855 to 1873.

There are few places in the province that exemplify as much of the formative years of British Columbia’s growth after 1858, according to the Old Cemeteries Society of Victoria.

It’s reported that pioneers interred there represent a broad cross-section of Hudson’s Bay Company families, plus people who arrived for the 1858 and later gold rushes and who created Victoria as the cultural, political and business centre for the Colony of Vancouver Island (1855-1866), the Colony of British Columbia (1866-1871) and the first few years of the Province of British Columbia (1871-1873).

It’s appreciated that bylaw officers are busy, and do a good job directing homeless people to community resources. But the sheltering situation at Pioneer Square is unacceptable, raising several questions about a failure of governance.

Why is the park signage contrary to city policy? The city website lists Pioneer Square as a park where sheltering is currently not allowed at any time. The park’s signage prohibits cigarette and marijuana smoking, along with vaping and dogs. But a dated sign prohibits occupancy only between dawn and dusk.

Does a complaint-driven policy approach to bylaw enforcement need changes? Why must a bylaw complaint be filed before any action is taken on every unacceptable transgression? Do bylaw officers regularly follow up only if there’s a complaint? Are monitoring graveyards a priority? Does the 10-year-old management plan need updating? Current city residents, their relatives and the souls that are interred at Pioneer Square are wondering.

Stan Bartlett, vice-chair

Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria