We thought it would be helpful to record some additional ideas and information for consideration by the Cedar Hill Park Stakeholder Working Group about the future of the hillside that extends from the Recreation Centre’s Arts wing to McRae House.
1. McRae Farm House – cultural and historic value
The house and surrounding lands have significant historic and symbolic heritage value. Built in 1901, the home is a designated site in Saanich’s Heritage Registry. It has a unique and prominent location in a ‘farm-like’ landscape setting in a public park close to the Arts and Rec Centre.
The McRae family’s rich history as one of the early European settlers in this area and Mrs. McRae’s perseverance raising her family on the farm is documented in Saanich’s Archives. The McRae family is associated with the golf course and farm buildings subsequently replaced with the Rec Centre. The history of McRae house featured in recent Saanich, QCHCA and FCHP’s 50th celebration of CHP.
Should Saanich Volunteer Services, the current occupants of the house, move to another location in the future, the building and surroundings could become a gallery, pioneer and first nations museum as an historical point of interest for the many visitors to Saanich and CHP.
Most of CHP including the hillside is in the Agricultural Land Reserve and it would be appropriate to use the location to reflect the agricultural history of the area. Within this context, there could be a heritage garden and orchard. A number of apple trees planted by the McRae family are still growing in CHP and the hillside is planted with Timothy grass, a species brought from Europe for cattle feed.
2. CHP’s Hillside landscape – unique and valued
The beauty of CHP’s natural, rolling landscape was clearly a major factor in Saanich’s decision in 1967 to acquire the area a public park and it is the park’s greatest attraction. The residents of Saanich are the beneficiaries of a remarkable legacy from those that cared for the farm and landscape in the past.
This landscape has made the golf course a successful amenity for almost 100 years and the need to preserve the views across fairways, hills and Garry Oak meadows and rocky outcrops has been a primary focus of Saanich Parks Department and golf course maintenance team.
The views from the Arts wing north to the McRae house’s natural setting at the edge of a remnant Garry Oak ecosystem and south to the Recreation Centre, ball fields and Bowker Creek are valued by the large number of walkers and golfers using the south end of the park for exercise and enjoyment. The value the community places on the natural landscape was evident in the responses to the community survey results.
The hillside is part of the Bowker Creek watershed and natural springs and water run-off keep the area very wet for most of the year. Tree plantings will improve the hydrological function of the hillside, improve water quality and reduce downstream flooding events.
The CHP Management Plan could use the planning process to preserve these important historical landscape vistas for the future and avoid construction and inappropriate use of the hillside. Saanich could consider extending the heritage designation to include the hillside as an integral part of McRae House. More research of the historical significance of the area will guide decision making in the Management Plan.
The preservation of landscape and McRae House supports the objectives in the Saanich OCP, Heritable Management Plan (1999), Heritage Action Plan (2007) (“Conservation of heritage resources also plays an important role in creating a sustainable environment….”) and Saanich Parks Master Plan’s local food production objective.
The Plan should incorporate uses for the area that have least impact on the beauty of the landscape. These may include extending and revitalizing the Garry Oak meadow, planting a heritage fruit orchard and a garden for McRae House and use of the lower part of the hillside as a natural amphitheatre.
We should give the community a clear opportunity to further demonstrate their support for preserving and enhancing the hillside between the Arts Centre and McRae House as an important natural landscape instead of using the site for construction and development.
The Management Plan for CHP should avoid the prospect of bringing increased vehicle traffic and parking from Oceanview onto the Chip Trail. Other options are available.
Peter Haddon and Luis Netter on behalf of QCHCA and Friends of Cedar Hill Park