Pioneer Square

Based on valuable community input, the City of Victoria developed a management plan to guide improvements to Pioneer Square.

About the Park

 

Pioneer Square is a small, rectangular park adjacent to Christ Church Cathedral, fronting Rockland Avenue and Quadra and Meares Streets. Known as the "old burying ground," it served as a cemetery from 1855 to 1873. A City park since 1908, Pioneer Square features mature trees and plantings and is home to close to 1,300 interments, marked by a number of heritage gravestones and bench tombs.

Pioneer Square Management Plan

In consultation with the community, City Parks staff developed a management plan to guide improvements to Pioneer Square. The plan was adopted by City Council in April 2013. The plan's primary vision is to preserve and enhance the rich historic value of the park's cemetery while maintaining a park space that suits the needs of the surrounding community.

Learn more about the Pioneer Square Management Plan [PDF - 2.8 MB].

Recent Improvements

The following improvements to Pioneer Square began the first week of September and are now complete:

Tombstone Preservation
Improvements to the Square included the preservation of eight tombstones situated throughout the park, in addition to the group of tombstones located at the back of the park. As these stones were identified to be in better condition than others, they were easier to preserve. The remaining tombstones and bench tombs in the park will be preserved as joint fundraising efforts with community partners arise.

Pathways
The park's cracked asphalt pathways were replaced, and where needed, were widened to increase accessibility for wheelchairs, strollers and scooters. The pathways were also lifted in areas to minimize root damage to surrounding trees.

Furnishings
Existing benches, lighting and garbage bins were replaced with new stylized furnishings that better reflect the park's history.

Tree Removal and Replanting
An arborist's report identified five, high-maintenance, invasive Holly trees located at the back of the park that required removal. One English yew situated at the rear of the park was also removed to address the community's safety concerns. These trees have been replaced by a new evergreen hedge.

Rockland Avenue Greenway Enhancement and Road Closure

Closing a section of the 900 Block of Rockland Avenue to motorists between Vancouver and Quadra Streets is identified in the Pioneer Square Management Plan to enhance this City greenway for pedestrians and cyclists downtown. The closure also supports the City's network of greenways in its Greenways Plan and its Official Community Plan.

On Monday, January 27, 2014, this section of Rockland Avenue was closed for one year to provide the community an opportunity to experience the enhanced greenway, and for the City to assess any changes in traffic volumes on nearby streets and intersections.  Learn more.

Management Plan Community Consultation

Input received from the community helped inform the Pioneer Square Management Plan. Public open houses, kiosks in the park, and online information and surveys were used to engage the community on how best to improve Pioneer Square. The public was asked in June 2011 what they'd like to see improved in the park, and again in March 2012, when they were asked to provide feedback on the draft plan. Learn more.

Consultation Stage 2

Below is a summary of the survey feedback we received from the community on the draft plan for Pioneer Square. Seventy-five people attended the open house on March 28, 2012. We received 53 completed hard copy surveys and 28 online surveys for a total of 81 responses. Display panels [PDF - 1.7 MB] were available during the second stage of public consultation.

  • 48% of respondents live within a five-minute walk from Pioneer Square
  • 82% of respondents are 51 years or older. We did not hear from the 0-15 year old age range.
  • 63% of respondents visit the park frequently (more than once a week to a few times a month). 33% visit a few times a year.
  • 89% of respondents agreed with the draft vision
  • Recommendations with the highest support included:
    • Preserving existing stones
    • Seeking municipal heritage designation
    • Developing a memorial feature with names of interred
    • Developing interpretive signage for specific monuments
    • While there was support for returning stored stones to the Square and for the guidelines for commemorative monuments, there were comments about the impacts on the amount of green space currently available
    • 55% of people agreed with the recommendation to close a portion of Rockland Avenue to vehicle traffic
    • While the recommendation to install site appropriate furnishings was generally supported, there were numerous comments against the installation of picnic tables
    • There were numerous comments against the use of crushed aggregate as the trail surface

Consultation Stage 1

In June 2011, we offered a variety of ways for the public to learn more about Pioneer Square and provide input. An open house was held at Christ Church Cathedral on June 21 and an information booth was set up in Pioneer Square on June 23 and June 29, where the community could drop by to view displays, meet Parks planners, ask questions and complete a short survey. The community also had an opportunity to set up an appointment at the Parks office or to access the displays and survey online by July 8. Thank you to those who joined the conversation.

The displays below were available for viewing at the open house, information booth, at the Park's office and online. The community was invited to complete a short survey.

During consultation, more than 300 people completed a survey. Below is a summary of the survey results:

  • 50% of respondents reside within a five minute walk of Pioneer Square
  • Almost 50% visit the park at least once a week
  • 75% are already aware of the history of Pioneer Square
  • People most enjoy the park's peace and quiet, green space and tombstones
  • Almost 50% use the park for a leisure walk
  • Activities people would like to see include historical and heritage tours
  • 30% take guests to see the gravestones
  • Personal safety during the day is not an overriding concern, but most people avoid using the space at night
  • Many are not aware that the park is closed from dusk to dawn; most feel that the hours of operation should not be extended, except maybe in the morning
  • The highest support is for fencing around selected remaining tombstones or clusters of tombstones; the lowest support is for a perimeter fence with a few access points
  • Allowing leashed dogs is almost equally divided between no and yes
  • Strong support for interpretive history information in the park
  • There is strong support for displaying the tombstones that have been removed from the park and are currently in storage
  • Approximately 2/3 of respondents support the use of the portion of Rockland Avenue adjacent to the park as a greenway for pedestrians and cyclists