The Japanese Gardens

Spring 2003

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The concept of such a garden was first considered by the Mayne Island Parks and Recreation Commission (under the administrative control of the Capital Regional District, Victoria) in late 1987. The Commission had been established the previous year. Conceived as a means of commemorating the Japanese who had settled and worked on the island between 1900 and 1942.

A part of Dinner Bay Park was set aside for this purpose. A large pond with a promontory was created and some cherry trees and other plants were donated by the Nagata and Otzuki families, the first were early immigrants to Mayne. Some shrubs and trees were donated by other residents. Major drainage problems were encountered and various high-cost solutions were considered. Other park priorities intervened and the garden went into abeyance until 1999.

By October 1999 the garden was in a state of abject neglect. It had been fenced off as a safety precaution. The cherry trees still flowered but were almost obscured by hundreds of alder trees growing in very swampy conditions. Then one of the Commissioners (Don Herbert) undertook to recreate and fully develop the garden with the help of many volunteers. It should be noted that all Commissioners are volunteers, and it wasn’t very long before the project took on a community spirit and life of its own. This took the form of volunteering their time, continual donations in money or gifts as a form of support, and donated services by local contractors.

Following the initial clearing the first priority was to clean out the pond, creating an island in the process. Resolving the drainage problem meant digging stream beds and installing pipes. Paths were developed, a bridge connected the island. Next a well was drilled and a pump-house erected. This was soon followed by a new stream, waterfall and bridge donated by the Mayne Island Lions Club. Further donations enabled Don (“Mr. Gardener”) to construct the small meditation hut and a zigzagging bridge (yatsuhashi), together with many plants, shrubs, trees and benches.

The garden was sufficiently developed by May, 2002 that the Commission took the opportunity to invite the Lieutenant-Governor of B.C., the Honourable Iona Campagnolo, to unveil a plaque within the garden in recognition of those early settlers. Some of these family members with their children and grandchildren were able to attend. During the past year a camellia section has been completed behind the plaque, a fuchsia bed has been developed, and a “secret” quiet garden with a small pond and stream surrounded by donated rhododendrons is being developed in the wooded area of the garden. All of this complements the iris beds and mass of flowering plants and shrubs within this small area. A replica of a typical Japanese charcoal kiln is also being constructed in the same area, a number of these kilns can be found throughout the Gulf Islands; they provided charcoal to the fish canneries on the Fraser River in the early years of the twentieth century.

Every year, just before and after Christmas, the elves decorate the garden with an impressive display of festive lights; the opening is celebrated with the junior school choir singing carols and warm refreshments are provided for the occasion. A new Japanese style roofed fence now separates the garden from the sports field in the park. This has enhanced the sense of tranquility when sitting quietly anywhere in the garden. The sound of a tree frog and several ducks paddling in the pond adds to the pleasure and the sense of peace. Even within the idyllic Gulf Islands this is a wonderful place to visit.