Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Victoria council OKs first steps to overhaul Centennial Square

Victoria council approved $750,000 to cover consulting and design fees to complete the design for revamping of the 58-year-old square beside City Hall, including a splash park, play elements, a commercial kiosk, better accessibility and new seating.

Victoria council took a step closer Thursday to creating a new-look Centennial Square that welcomes visitors with places to relax, play, eat and enjoy events.

Council approved $750,000 to cover consulting and design fees to complete the design to renew the 58-year-old square beside City Hall. Still just a concept, the revamped square would feature a splash park, play elements, a commercial kiosk, improved accessibility, new seating, trees, and infrastructure to better accommodate events.

The money, to come from the city’s buildings and infrastructure reserves fund, is part of $1.05 million council approved Thursday that will also cover the cost of designing, building and installing a recreational swim platform on the Gorge Waterway.

Mayor Marianne Alto said the Centennial Square ­project is ­getting a good start with the funding, stressing that while there are some big moves already decided — like ­removing the existing fountain and monoliths to make way for a new scheme,­ there is room to augment the plans and plan bold moves in the future.

“I think it’s a starting point. I will reinforce some other comments about ensuring that whatever is done in Centennial Square does not preclude what can happen to the north of it,” she said, noting some people remember the “fanciful dreams” of what could become of the buildings framing the north side of the square.

“One day they will not be ­fanciful,” she said. “And so whatever we end up doing right here in my view, really has to ensure that we do not eliminate any possibilities for what can happen in this space that’s ­currently occupied by all of those cars and the adjacent buildings.”

The renewal of ­Centennial Square is planned for a ­number of phases, and the first will tackle the circular courtyard that includes the existing ­fountain and up to the ­existing lawn area. Future phases will convert the undercroft at the west end of City Hall to an indoor multi-use space and deliver transit-oriented ­improvements on the east side of the square.

A staff report notes there are challenges both above and below ground with utilities and other underground infrastructure.

Coun. Dave Thompson said redoing the square is an opportunity for the city to be bold and visionary.

“Centennial Square is vital for downtown residents and for downtown businesses, and ­giving people places to go and having amenities for all the housing that we’re approving,” he said. “I know that this is just phase one and that much more can be coming and I do see a much bigger opportunity to transform the block and maybe even the adjacent streets.”

Council was enthusiastic about the proposed changes, though Coun. Chris Coleman said removing the fountain would be a loss for the city.

Coleman noted it was a gift from Oak Bay, Saanich and Esquimalt and commemorated the centenary of the city.

The fountain consists of three monoliths, one facing Oak Bay, one facing Esquimalt and the third facing Saanich.

“It reflects a bold vision, an award-winning vision in the ’60s,” said Coleman. “I’m very cautious about us moving ­forward and not understanding completely the context or the changes that we’re bringing to the Centennial Square area.”

Also approved Thursday was $300,000 to establish a new swim platform at Gorge Marine Park, the city’s only marine park, adjacent to ­Banfield Park at the north end of Victoria Harbour. The city will install buoys ­delineating a protected swim zone.

In 2021, a floating ­recreational swim platform was installed in the park in the open water east of the Banfield Park dock. The dock was expanded last year when Transport Canada approved creation of an active recreational zone in the park. That prohibited motorized ­vessels from entering a protected area.

[email protected]

>>> To comment on this article, write a letter to the editor: [email protected]