Happy 20th Anniversary,  Irving Park Labyrinth! (1995-1998)

Happy 20th Anniversary, Irving Park Labyrinth! (1995-1998)

Above: Walking Irving Park Labyrinth on its 20th Anniversary are Dorothy Rich (left), Terry Loeppky, Candis Elliott, Joan McHardy, and Jordan Zinovich (right). (Adele Haft, photographer)

Part 1/4: Irving Park Labyrinth, A Treasure to Preserve  

By Adele J. Haft     Inspired by Jordan Zinovich 

Much of the continuing and immediate appeal of the labyrinth is that...its complexity is indeed very simple.... Its design is one of mankind’s earliest original artistic creations, a shape not copied from a world anyone saw...but an act of the imagination.

―David Willis McCullough 

Twenty years ago, James Bay acquired Irving Park Labyrinth, a treasure that is still a surprise to many. Though obvious from neighbouring highrises, its sinuous spirals remain “hidden in plain sight” within the park’s back corner (Rayne 2010). Since 2015, entrance signs on Menzies and Michigan Streets have beckoned us toward it. A gravel path created for the Labyrinth sweeps us past 21 shirofugen cherry trees that semi-circle around it. Nearby, a plaque announces that the trees are a 2002 gift from the Cherry Blossoms Group to build “bridges of friendship” between Japan and Canada. 

Exactly twenty years later, at 7:30 PM on July 29, 2019, six James Bay residents met at Irving Park Labyrinth (IPL or “the Labyrinth”) to celebrate the anniversary of its opening. Together, they walked the Labyrinth, to whose existence and longevity so many had contributed. This piece, the first of four, is dedicated to the creative cast who brought Irving Park Labyrinth to life. 

First is Candis Elliott, the Labyrinth’s muse. In 1995, she’d read an article about a replica of the medieval labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral that the Reverend Lauren Artress had installed inside San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. The article inspired Elliott, who recognized the labyrinth’s potential as a “community development tool” (1). She decided that James Bay needed one of its own. As community development worker for the James Bay Community Project (JBCP), Elliott understood the extent to which churches were losing congregants, and even their places of worship. She also realized that her neighbours still craved connections with their community and “sacred” spaces within it. A labyrinth, whose history spans thousands of years―and encompasses religions and cultures separated by time, temperament, and geography―could satisfy both cravings and act “as a spiritual and community centre for James Bay” (Switzer & Switzer 2007; Goldsworthy 2000/2001), especially if it were located in a public space, accessible to everyone. 

Irving Park fits the bill. The intimate park is kitty-corner to the enormous block immediately south of the Legislature. Today, our new library sxʷeŋxʷəŋ təŋəxʷ is part of a mixed-use development plan of Capital Park based on the Victoria Accord (1992-1994), an agreement between the Province of British Columbia and the City of Victoria (2). Knowing that the Province and the City were committed to revitalizing Irving Park as part of the Victoria Accord, Elliott shared her idea of a James Bay labyrinth at a community meeting about the use of park space (3). After approval from the Neighbourhood Environment Association (NEA), the Labyrinth Working Group of the JBCP was formed. Hoping to encourage more community use of Irving Park, especially of the “underutilized area” in the far corner (4), the committee began working with the City Parks Department to have a labyrinth installed in the public park (5). With their feedback and the support of other participating community groups―the James Bay School, NEA, Youth Centre, and James Bay New Horizons (6) ― Elliott secured funding for the Labyrinth: $5,000 from a “Victoria Accord park improvement grant” and a matching grant of $4,000 from the City of Victoria in the form of a Neighbourhood Development Grant (7). The City and JBCP became partners (Ross 2013), with Elliott acting as the interface between the Labyrinth Working Group (LWG) and the City. 

Dr. Joan McHardy was another pivotal member of the committee. McHardy first learned about labyrinths and mazes from her grandmother, with whom she also shared the joy of imaginative and cultural storytelling. Well aware that “labyrinth” and “maze” have been synonyms throughout most of their history (McCullough 2005, 219-20), Joan also knew that Irving Park Labyrinth embodies the distinction made between them in the past generation. A maze is a puzzle with high walls, diverging paths and dead-ends meant to challenge, confuse, frighten or simply amaze. A Minotaur may lurk in its centre; and Theseus, should he survive, would need Ariadne’s thread to retrace his steps. Today, Vancouver Island corn and blueberry mazes resemble the 17th-century garden maze in England’s Hampton Court Palace: tame, commercial, and extremely popular with families. By contrast, a labyrinth is wide open and features a single path: you can’t get lost no matter how complex its circuits may be as they double back and forth unerringly toward the centre. Thus, labyrinths—like the one in Irving Park—offer a calm, quiet space for meditating, healing, resolving problems, working through grief, escaping routine, finding inspiration, being in the moment, and having fun. At its opening in July 1999, McHardy would speak about the potential benefits of Irving Park Labyrinth. 

Like McHardy, fellow LWG member Jo Ann Allan espoused the participatory nature of labyrinths, i.e., the fact that they make you “do something” (McCullough 2005, 229). Allan did extensive research on the labyrinth’s history, design and symbolism. At the opening, she would say that “there are all kinds of symbolic ways of looking at them. ‘Medieval Christians thought of the path as a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Sometimes labyrinths were used as hideaways. But one way or another, they all symbolize a life journey’” (Litwin 1999). Allan subsequently gave talks on the world history of labyrinths, most notably at a JBCP workshop on mazes in the new millennium (8). But, meanwhile, three years would pass from the time that the Labyrinth Working Group commenced its journey until the opening of the Labyrinth. 

The labyrinth that Terry Loeppky and his father mowed onto the lawn of Irving Park, perhaps in 1997. Note the arrow at the entrance and the curving cross of conventional classical/Cretan labyrinths. (Bruce Stotesbury of the Times Colonist, probable photographer)

The labyrinth that Terry Loeppky and his father mowed onto the lawn of Irving Park, perhaps in 1997. Note the arrow at the entrance and the curving cross of conventional classical/Cretan labyrinths. (Bruce Stotesbury of the Times Colonist, probable photographer)

Terry Loeppky was growing restless. Performance artist, history teacher and community volunteer, Terry wasn’t formally part of the group who worked with City on the Labyrinth. Nevertheless, through contact with Elliott, he ultimately consulted with the Victoria Parks Department on the materials and provided the design that the City built. Labyrinths differ in shape, number of circuits, and design—most being replicas of historical labyrinths. Since 1996, the LWG had been considering a labyrinth “with a floral design” (9). Terry chose instead a design that would be simple to make and easy to maintain. Often referred to as a “classical” labyrinth―some early examples having appeared on Greek coins from the last three centuries BCE―, the seven-circuit design that Terry initially had in mind is also known as “Cretan” because the Greek coins originated on that island. Illustrations in the library books that Terry consulted show a curving cross near the centre of classical labyrinths. So too does a photograph of a conventional seven-circuit classical/Cretan labyrinth that illustrates the tongue-in-cheek “Martians arriving for a visit?” published in the Times Colonist. According to its author, Bruce Stotesbury, residents overlooking Irving Park woke up to find a labyrinth mowed into the lawn below them. Wits speculated that it resembled a crop-circle, the work of extraterrestrials! To which David Aason of the Parks Department, drolly responded: “It [is] the work of someone with a weedeater or a lawn mower. The grass will grow back.” 

And so it did. Not until 2013 did we learn that this labyrinth had “come into being with a man and his father pushing a lawnmower through the green grass to create the first inward spirals” (Jeffries 2013). But the James Bay Beacon didn’t reveal who the “man and his father” were. Turns out that Terry Loeppky, frustrated by the glacial pace made on the Labyrinth, decided to take matters into his own hands. With strings, sticks and a push mower, he and his dad mowed a labyrinth into the grass near present-day IPL. For Terry’s dad, a former career civil servant, guerilla art was wildly out-of-character. Terry, as he himself confesses, not only knew his Greek mythology but also identified with the hero of Carol Shield’s novel, Larry’s Party (1997), in which an ordinary man becomes a famous maze maker! Sure enough, Loeppky would go on to design and build labyrinths for Victoria’s celebrated Luminara Lantern Festival. 

City of Victoria diagram of Irving Park with a labyrinth in its western corner. The “Irving Park Layout and Grading Plan” (title, lower right) accompanied Deborah Bate’s August 14, 1998 letter to Candis Elliott from the Engineering & Parks Department of the City of Victoria (Loeppky archive).

City of Victoria diagram of Irving Park with a labyrinth in its western corner. The “Irving Park Layout and Grading Plan” (title, lower right) accompanied Deborah Bate’s August 14, 1998 letter to Candis Elliott from the Engineering & Parks Department of the City of Victoria (Loeppky archive).

An official letter to Candis Elliott, dated August 14, 1998, reveals the names of two others who worked alongside James Bay Community Project to make IPL a reality. One is the letter’s author, Deborah Bate. A landscape technician in the Engineering and Parks Department of the City of Victoria, Bate would subsequently “generate” the Labyrinth “on her computer” and credit city surveyor Ted Isaac for “laying it out on the ground” in 1999 (Litwin 1999). But in 1998, she was referring to previous discussions between the JBCP and the second individual mentioned in her letter: Joseph Daly, the sympathetic City Parks Design and Development Manager assigned by City Council to work on the Labyrinth.  

Accompanying her letter were colour copies of three labyrinths whose materials resembled those suggested for IPL, among them, one that had “interesting stone work which has potential for the center.” Bate also enclosed “revised drawings of the proposed labyrinth.” In Loeppky’s personal archive, these revised drawings include two identical letter-sized copies of the City’s “Irving Park Layout and Grading Plan” (10). Although much reduced and difficult-to-read, one object leaps off the page: the outline of a labyrinth situated precisely where Irving Park Labyrinth is now.  

Stay tuned for Part 2/4: “Path to the Labyrinth’s Official Opening, 1998-1999” 

Special thanks to the following for sharing their memories as well as archives, websites, and books: Candis Elliott, Kaye Kennish (JBCP Executive Director), Terry Leoppky, Dr. Joan McHardy, Aryana Rayne, and Dorothy Rich. 

Bibliography

Artress, Lauren. 1995. Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool. Riverhead Books.

Capital Park Urban Design Guidelines. 2015. “Appendix B: The Victoria Accord.” February 16: https://www.victoria.ca/assets/Departments/Planning~Development/Development~Services/Documents/Capital%20Park%20Urban%20Design%20Guidelines.pdf.

Goldsworthy, Rachel (author), and Partlo, Spence (photographer). 2000/2001. “Amazement.” Pacific Coastal InFlight Magazine, Vol. 1/No. 5 (December/January), 20-21.

Jeffries, Joy. 2013. “The Hidden Jewel that is James Bay.” James Bay Beacon (November) http://jamesbaybeacon.ca/?q=node/1123.

Litwin, Grania. 1999. “Splendour in the Grass.” Times Colonist July 29, D9, D12: http://proxy.gvpl.ca/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/345723930?accountid=6051.

McCullough, David Willis. 2005. The Unending Mystery: A Journey Through Labyrinths and Mazes. New York: Anchor Books.

Rayne, Aryana. 2010. Labyrinths of British Columbia: A Guide for Your Journey. Victoria: Labyrinth Circle Books.

Soodeen, Jeanine (author), and Redden, Euphemia (photographer). 1999. “Beauty of New Labyrinth in Eye of Beholder.” Victoria News July 28, 3.

Ross, Ted. 2013. “Then and Now: Irving Park.” James Bay Beacon (December): www.jamesbaybeacon.ca/?q=node/1129.

Switzer, Gordon, and Switzer, Ann-Lee. 2007. “Irving Park Labyrinth.” James Bay Beacon (March): https://www.jamesbaybeacon.ca/archive/2007marstorylabyrinth.htm.

Stotesbury, Bruce. [1997?] “Martians arriving for a visit?” Times Colonist [n.d.]. 

Archives

JBCP (James Bay Community Project) Labyrinth Project Archive, file folder, 1995-2000.

Terry Loeppky, Personal Archive, large envelope, 1997-1999.

Aryana Rayne, Personal Archive, 4 pages of book notes, 2008-2009. 

Notes

1. The article was “Walking the Labyrinth,” New Age Journal May/June, 1995; see James Bay Community Project [JBCP] archive, Elliott, letter to Artress, May 29, 1995; and Artress 1995. The indoor labyrinth at Grace Cathedral is a 1994 tapestry replica; in September 1995, the Cathedral opened a second labyrinth, this one terrazzo and outdoors (JBCP archive: Source Newsletter, Fall 1999, 16-17).

2. Capital Park Urban Design Guidelines, 2015.

3. JBCP archive, Elliott, letter to Artress “Re: Labyrinth Installation in Victoria, British Columbia,” July 11, 1996.

4. JBCP archive, Elliott, Letter of Intent, April 29, 1998, 1.

5. See note 3, above.

6. JBCP archive, “Information Sheet” in Letter of Intent, April 29, 1998.

 

7. JBCP archive, “Matching Project–Final Report,” ca. June 20, 1999; Soodeen 1999 reports what was applied for.

8. JBCP archive, program of May 6, 2000; Rayne archive.

9. See note 3, above.

10. The letter and its accompanying photographs and diagrams are in the JBCP project archive and in Terry Loeppky’s personal archive; in this respect, both archives are identical except in the number of diagrams contained in each.

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