This beloved hillside park has been cherished by its humans for many centuries. In Lekwungen language, the hill was called Meegan, roughly translated, bellies warmed by sun. Partly, Beacon Hill got so much sun because Straits Salish people unobtrusively cultivated the land, growing camas, an onion-like food crop. Their yearly spring weeding, and fall burning of grasses and bushes led to a very open landscape dominated by Garry oak and vast fields of thriving blue camas.
Meegan was a favorite place for playing qoqwialls, a hockey-like game, played with spoon-ended oak sticks, ball, and goals. The first activity we saw in Beacon Hill Park was also a game, croquet, played by locals on a grassy field. But soon our attention was drawn away by a brilliant blue peacock who didn’t seem to mind being photographed at all.
May and June, when the camas fields bloomed like a sea of blue, were the months for gathering bulbs. Traditional preparation of this important root vegetable included roasting the bulbs in grass-lined stone pits, then drying and pulverizing them. They were used as flour, or mixed with berries to make cakes. Besides growing camas, playing qoqwialls, netting duck, and using the area as temporary camp and lookout, Straits Salish people buried their dead in cairns on the hillside, some dating back to 1000 years ago.
Fur traders and white settlers in the area were highly attracted to the open meadows of Beacon Hill. They didn’t recognize camas as a legitimate "crop", and didn’t understand the land management practices being so effectively used by Lekwungen-speaking people to maximize their crops.
In 1844, first nations people of Beacon Hill were forced to "share" their land with white men, their cattle and horses. Hudson’s Bay Company decided to plow and plant a portion of the camas prairie that in their view was sitting fallow. With every acre plowed and planted, every animal put out to graze, the camas fields diminished. To make matters worse, an abrupt stop was put to burning of fields, and invasive plant species began to take over.
Today, though lovely, Beacon Hill Park has few native grasses or species. It’s been largely Europeanized, from its naming after the actual beacons (masts) placed on the hill to alert mariners, to its plant, animal, and human occupation.
As we walked around, we saw people of all ages thoroughly enjoying themselves, letting the sun warm them, and in some cases, also their bellies. Clearly two older ladies who’d brought their lawn chairs were sitting in their favorite spot in front of a pond, conversing and watching Canada geese, mama duck with ducklings, and black squirrels. Babysitter and two young girls were playing a game surrounded by a riot of blooming flowers, looking flower-like themselves in brightly colored clothing and caps. Preschool boys in swim trunks were running repeatedly through fountains near a playground full of kids enjoying climbing, sliding, and swinging structures.