Today, Meegan is most commonly known by settlers as Beacon Hill Park – an iconic greenspace located in downtown Victoria, BC, just blocks from the provincial legislature. Following British settlement in the mid-1840s, the Lekwungen were dispossessed of their camas fields throughout their homelands by the Hudson’s Bay Company and the British Crown. These lands were mostly sold by the Hudson’s Bay Company to settlers as private property. However, Meegan and the surrounding lands were designated a park.
Early settlers used Beacon Hill Park as a European-style commons where they harvested wood and grazed animals such as cattle, horses, sheep and pigs. In 1851, it was reported that the Hudson’s Bay Company had a heard of 100 cows that grazed Beacon Hill. In 1882, Beacon Hill Park was granted to the City of Victoria (Ringuette, 2004; City of Victoria, 1992).
The variety of recreational activities and forms of entertainment offered in the park steadily increased through the mid-19th and early-20th centuries. Horseracing was a popular draw that regularly attracted crowds of hundreds. Cricket and lawn bowling facilities were also built. The park was also home to a zoo where numerous captive animals were put on display including buffalo, wolf, and lynx, and two bear pits were built that kept bears captive as a public curiosity. As Thomas Munson, an environmental technician with the City of Victoria Parks Department, succinctly stated in a recent interview, Beacon Hill Park was a “three ring circus” (Munson, 2015).
In addition to these recreation and entertainment amenities, tremendous effort was also put into changing the landscape of the park so that it would appeal to settler aesthetic tastes, reminding them of their British homeland. As Munson noted, “There was no appreciation for what was here, there was only the intention to manage the landscape from a British perspective for many decades.” The park design that was approved by City Council in 1889 envisioned what historian Janis Ringuette has described as “a typical English pleasure garden of the era, with ornamental gardens, non-native flowers, shrubs and trees” (Ringuette, 2004). The design also called for lakes, roads and carriageways, small structures such as a pavilion, and several artificially constructed lakes that would be connected by small walking bridges, all reminiscent of a Victorian-era garden park.
Image 2: Horse Racing in Beacon Hill Park