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Victoria's Pioneer Square revitalization includes memorial for the buried

Oct 27 2012
Preservation of headstones, better lighting and walkway improvements are all part of $700,000 facelift being recommended for Pioneer Square. 

Preservation of headstones, better lighting and walkway improvements are all part of $700,000 facelift being recommended for Pioneer Square.

Photograph by: Adrian Lam , Times Colonist

Preservation of headstones and better lighting and walkways are all part of a $700,000 facelift recommended for Pioneer Square.

The small, rectangular park just north of Christ Church Cathedral was Victoria’s cemetery from 1855 to 1873 and has been a city park since 1908. About 1,300 people are buried in the park — bounded by Rockland Avenue, Quadra and Meares streets — though few grave markers remain.

Over the past year, city parks staff have held open houses, set up info booths and undertaken surveys to develop a management plan for the space.

“It’s certainly one of our most challenging sites,” assistant parks director David Speed told a city committee this week. “It’s probably one of the parks that we get the most complaints [or] concerns from residents. It’s used for a whole bunch of conflicting uses, all the way from memorials to homeless uses to community gatherings in the park.”

Public consultation showed strong support for restoration and preservation of the tombstones and monuments in the square. Also cited as important was better maintenance and the need for interpretive markers for historical elements.

“There was a lot of interest in interpretation because people don’t really know that there are hundreds of people buried there,” said Coun. Pam Madoff, a member of the Pioneer Square advisory group.

Residents said people value the square’s history and the quiet space it offers. “[It’s] a respite in the downtown, where there’s not an overabundance of green space,” said Madoff, noting the nearby courthouse lawn facing Quadra Street is provincially owned and not public space.

“It’s not designated as park so, in theory, there would be nothing to preclude that being developed on — and so that makes the green space of Pioneer Square, in my opinion, even more important.”

The management plan would cost an estimated $700,000 to implement, including about $390,000 for gravestone-related repairs. The plan indicates partnerships would be sought to help fund the stone improvements.

It recommends that priority be given to heritage designation, signage and design of a memorial feature with the names of the 1,300 people interred in the cemetery.

Coun. Geoff Young said he supports the plan but questioned whether the lengthy process of having the square designated a municipal heritage site was worth the expense.

He also said he hoped outside funding could be found for restoration of tombstones. “Obviously, my highest priority would be in preserving the stones that are deteriorating now. The ones that we have in storage, presumably, are not deteriorating further and while it would be desirable to replace them on the site, I would see that as a lower priority,” he said.

Madoff said not all the improvements have to be made at once.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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