Hamilton’s Victoria Park is one of the major green spaces and recreational areas of the Strathcona neighbourhood. It is surrounded by King Street West to the south, Locke Street North to the east, Strathcona Avenue North to the west and Florence Street in the north. Victoria Park is one of the oldest parks in the city.
This large piece of land was purchased in 1859 as a location for the Great Central Fair, and became the grounds of the Crystal Palace. Opened by Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) on September 20, 1860 the Crystal Palace was modelled after its namesake of London, England’s Hyde Park, and used for many years for holding the largest fall fair in Hamilton and surrounding areas.
Losing its physical lustre and popularity as a public attraction by 1891, the palace was demolished. An outdoor swimming pool, basketball courts, tennis courts, baseball diamonds and a children’s playground featuring a waterworks play area were eventually set up.
A significant redevelopment for Victoria Park occurred in 1980 through the Neighbourhood Improvement Programme when the main pedestrian entrance to the park at King and Locke Streets was redesigned. Back then, the entrance was created in response to a potential street realignment. More than 100 trees were also planted in that redevelopment. The planting scheme included 44 Austrian Pines (Pinus nigra) for the main park entrance and the construction of a raised concrete planter for shrub beds.
Twenty-six years later, the city and the Strathcona community committed to a master plan to revitalize their old park to make it a safe, fun, contemporary and inviting public gathering place. Over the next four years, with the physical changes taking place in 2009 and 2010, a community garden, butterfly garden, shade pavilion named in honour of the Crystal Palace and a 3 metre wide paved path looping the park’s perimeter that can be used by walkers, joggers, skateboarders and inline-skaters were all established.
Forestry and Horticulture experts in the Public Works Department confirmed that much of the park’s arboreal canopy was in steady decline. There could have been a total loss by 2016. The need for more trees was evident to anyone looking at satellite images. A replacement strategy was laid down for the planting of 285 deciduous trees like Maples, Lindens and Tulip Trees with a few strategically placed spruce trees.
The Victoria Park Master Plan has been a successful and much needed project for the area. The park could be a great place for a neighbourhood festival. Adequate public vehicle parking may be the only challenge for holding such an event. The Strathcona community and city should be very pleased with their accomplishments here.
My favourite of the new features is the main entrance gate located at the southeast corner of the park. It appears to be as well-made structurally as it is aesthetically. It is an outstanding design that I think will become Victoria Park’s leading icon. To me, gates are usually symbolic of going to someplace wondrous, interesting and new.
It was almost blind luck that I made this photograph. In trying to illustrate a poem I had been writing for months through street photography, I had taken pictures of this park entrance numerous times but was never satisfied with a single attempt. I’m afraid that’s the nature of the genre, a shot is unlikely to be planned. It’s more likely to be spontaneous, simply candid.
One cool late summer day, my wife and I were driving by and I noticed this guy crossing Locke Street along King. Something told me he was going to the park so as we got closer, I raised my camera, took aim and fired off a single shot as we quickly slipped by. This shot captured the moment I had been trying to capture for so long through more deliberate attempts.
With the posture of the tall slender man making a short stride in the foreground, the image conveys the dichotomy of avidity and caution while approaching any physical or metaphysical gateway to some unique place or experience. I think this is a situation that everyone is familiar with.
Gates are curious things.
They can lead to enlightenment;
They can lead to our demise.
The challenge is in choosing which gate to approach.
Gates tend to vary.
Some allow us to pass only one way;
Some allow us to travel to and fro.
It’s always a question of what powers exist that control our access.
Gates are omnipresent.
There are those we can see;
There are those we can’t
But to every space, place, event and circumstance there is a gate.