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Victoria Park

Just recently another public meeting was held to discuss a new venture in Victoria Park. This time it was a proposed 10,000 square feet skateboard park. Four sites were proposed: between the Canteen and the Park Keeper's house, to the right of the road to the tennis court, to the left of the road that once went through the park to Brighton Road or along by the playground that is to the west side of the park. The sites, or the use, for that matter are immaterial, because we should not be adding anything more to Victoria Park as a matter of fact we should have a long term plan toward toning it down. AND we are not the first people to say that.

I should begin with the history of the park. It is long and perplexing. When the city was laid out by Holland/Patterson/Wright in the 1768-71 the land that is the park was part of the Common. It was in 1793 [the deed dates May 16th 1789] that our second Lieut-Governor, Edmund Fanning, set aside the land for the use of the Administrator of the Government [ie. himself and those that would follow him.]. It was referred to as The Government House Farm or, often, by the name of Fanning Bank.

The farm was the natural site for Government House when tenders were called in September 1832. It was also the natural area to move and reconstruct the Prince Edward Battery in 1805. It also was a very fine site for the meridional lines to regulate surveyors with the survey stones when they needed "a home" in 1820.

For over the first half of the 19th century it was truly a farm, the site of our fine Government House and the major defence centre for our town. The place was accessed by Christian's Bridge that crossed over Spring Park Brook at the end of Kent Street. In the 1860's there began a effort to create a public park out there. The Islander newspaper on September 1, 1865 encourage that one half the farm should be restored to the inhabitants of Charlottetown as it would "....supply a place of retreat from the dust and filth of the town". This idea was not looked on favourable by the incumbents of Government House at the time and so the debate continued...and continued.

When we joined Confederation in 1873 the Government Farm lands came under a different jurisdiction. During the negotiation that led up to our July 1st. an act was shaped "to vest a certain portion of Government House Farm in the City of Charlottetown... for the sole purpose of a Park, Promenade and Pleasure Ground". The City was to create by-laws for the management of the park.

Over the years this act has caused much legal pondering and the park has evolved sometimes following the aspirations of the community and sometimes not and sometimes bending the laws and other times fighting furiously to protect them. The one thing that is sure, Victoria Park has always been a place of deep pride and concern to the citizens of this community.

Over the years the park has been threatened by cows and horses, nude bathers [particularly men], horse races, by automobiles and an excessive amount of construction and very, very bright lights. Some of the things that we did missed were The Charlottetown Hotel being placed there in the 1927 and Queen Charlotte Armories being located in the field west of Government House in the 1940's . . . so we did win some battles.

In an legal debate regarding Beacon Hill Park, on the very other side of our country, a judge pointed out even in the early 1900's that "...contemporary standards of appropriate public recreation and enjoyment are not necessarily the same as those held in the 1880's" and I think that is exactly what we are up against here in regard to Victoria Park. Another issue is that the Mission Statement of the City's Department of Parks and Recreation. It is very, very much geared toward active team recreation and not at all directed toward Greenways and passive recreation. So there is no question that we need a review of the departments mission statement. Hockey teams, baseball teams and any other team sport present an automatic advocacy group and, if I am pardoned an opinion, they have more experienced at hollering than the average nature lover, birdwatcher, star gazer, swimmer, kite flyer or hiker.

So Victoria Park is under scrutiny again. I loved a letter that I found in the Guardian of May 23, 1936 from Observer where it writes that " citizens must be blind indeed if they fail to see that [the park] is now in danger of being utterly degraded ... death of trees . . . violated by the artificial construction for sports and games . . ." and in 1903 the editorials were suggesting that the park be reserved for pedestrians only on Sunday afternoon.

Yes there is no doubt that Victoria Park has had its watchdogs over the years and they constitute a large caring body of our citizens.

Written Tuesday, February 05, 2002 at 10:56 PM

(c) 2000 by Catherine Hennessey. Questions or comments? Email me@catherinehennessey.com

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