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

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

An SUV sits where it crashed through the front window of the 2:18 Run store in Fairfield Plaza, after the driver appeared to lose control on Monday afternoon. (Photo by Phil Nicholls)
Driver crashes through front window of Victoria running store in Fairfield

Phil Nicholls of 2:18 Run said crash sounded like an earthquake at first

Processed sewage is still being deposited at the Hartland landfill rather than sent as biosolids to a Richmond cement plant. (Black Press Media file photo)
Biosolids at Hartland still being placed on landfill in Saanich

Richmond cement plant up and running, but CRD end product not suitable for purpose

Seismic upgrading and expansion work at Victoria High School is about a year behind due to pandemic-related factors, the Greater Victoria School District announced. (Photo by Cole Descoteau)
Victoria High School seismic work, expansion a year behind schedule

Greater Victoria School District now targeting September 2023 for reopening of historic school

Elk Lake Drive area resident Michael Blayney protests a proposed multi-building development for his Royal Oak neighbourhood, outside Saanich municipal hall on Monday (June 14). (Photo by Megan Atkins-Baker/News Staff)
Demonstrators protest 11-storey development on Elk Lake Drive in Saanich

Saanich locals gather at municipal hall to protest development, public hearing goes Tuesday

The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority is calling on Transport Canada to rescind its ban to Feb. 28, 2022 on cruise ship stops in Canada, to allow planning to begin in advance of a reopening of the cruise industry next year.
Greater Victoria Harbour Authority seeks end to federal ban on cruise ship stops in Canada

Greater Victoria Harbour Authority CEO hopes cruises will resume by 2022

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

Neighbours fight a small late-night bush fire with garden hoses and shovels in Cinnabar Valley on June 5. They couldn’t get help from local fire services because the fire was located in an area under B.C. Wildfire Services jurisdiction. (Photo courtesy Muriel Wells)
Neighbours on edge of Nanaimo city limits left to put out bush fire themselves

Cinnabar Valley residents tackle fire with hoses and buckets for two and a half hours

Darren Campbell’s truck (pictured) was stolen when he stopped to check on a car in a ditch on Cowichan Bay Road on Monday morning. (Facebook photo)
Vancouver Island Good Samaritan’s truck stolen in nasty trick

‘Try to be a Good Samaritan and my $20,000 truck gets stolen right under my nose’

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

Creative handmade signs abound at the June 13 Tofino rally for old growth trees. (Nora O’Malley photo)
VIDEO: Tofino stands in solidarity for Fairy Creek Blockades

Over 150 supporters attend rally hosted by Friends of Clayoquot Sound

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. watching U.K.’s COVID struggles but don’t think province will see similar pitfalls

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

Most Read