An empty bench at Victoria's Beacon Hill Park (photo: Susan Simmons)
By Spencer van Vloten
August 2nd, 2021
Disability groups in Victoria have filed a human rights complaint over a lack of access to Beacon Hill Park, in a battle with the city that has much at stake.
Located along the shore of the Juan de Fuca Strait, Beacon Hill Park was considered a ‘gem’ for Victoria’s disability community.
With an abundance of colourful flowerbeds, picturesque views of Goodacre Lake, and flat, open surfaces, Beacon Hill offered a wealth of amenities with a level of accessibility that few parks matched.
Disability groups held Qigong classes in the park, wheelchair users took their kids to the park’s playground, and people of all abilities and mobility levels could cross the medieval bridge and relax by the ponds.
But then the pandemic started, and things changed.
Just some of the areas that are no longer accessible to many people with disabilities (photos: Susan Simmons)
To encourage physical distancing, the City of Victoria closed all roads in Beacon Hill Park to vehicles.
One of these roads—Arbutus Way—had been the access point which allowed persons with disabilities to drive through the park, park their vehicle near most of the amenities, and then travel a short distance to them on foot or using a mobility device.
When Arbutus Way closed, much of the park became out of reach for persons with mobility limitations, who could no longer drive right up to those areas and would now have to cover long distances via foot or mobility device to reach the park’s main features.
Although frustrated by the closure, there was initially hope that it would be short-lived, and that access would return once the pandemic was under control and restrictions were eased.
But the closure dragged on. Months and months and more months went by, and when city council finally voted to the reopen roads in the park, they decided there would be an exception: most roads would open, but not Arbutus Way.
FEELING THE IMPACT
For members of Victoria’s disability community, the continued denial of access was felt hard.
Tara Moss, an author with complex regional pain syndrome, uses a cane, walker, and wheelchair to get around.
The closure of Arbutus Way left her unable to reach her favourite parts of the park independently, with the distance she had to travel following the closure proving overwhelming and exhausting.
For the MS Qigong, a group of persons with multiple sclerosis who practice the Chinese spiritual art of Qigong, the flat open surface they used in the park for classes was no longer an option.