Irving Park Labyrinth

In Irving Park at Menzies and Michigan there’s a big circular shape made of flat stones sunk into the grass, hardly visible until you’re on top of it. Is this a left-over from the enormous wooden mansion built by John and Jean Irving there in the 1800's, demolished in the 1920's? Is it something prehistoric? Is it part of the children’s playground, intended for hopscotch?

It is meant for walking on, and it was constructed, but in 1999, to a prehistoric design. This is a modern labyrinth.

In ancient Greek oral history, the inventor Daedalus built a famous labyrinth for the King of Crete, a maze of communicating passages so bewildering that Jason the Greek hero had to lay down a secret cord to guide him back out from the labyrinth’s centre where he had gone on a mission to slaughter the monster Cretan bull that specialized in devouring Greek teenagers.

The mysterious remains of labyrinths built by other civilizations lie in many places. For ten centuries the most famous European labyrinth apart from Crete’s has been the one built into the floor of the eleventh-century cathedral in Chartres, France. The Chartres labyrinth was meant to aid religious meditation. Its eleven circuits lay out a path leading only to the centre and out again, with no distracting uncertainties along the way. It has inspired many other labyrinths.

The idea of creating a labyrinth as a spiritual and community centre for James Bay came to Candis Elliott, then a development worker with the James Bay Project, who knew of the use of labyrinths in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. The community was supportive. Terry Loeppky worked with Victoria’s Parks staff to finalize a design requiring almost zero maintenance. The labyrinth opened with fanfare in 1999.

Other beautiful things have happened to Irving Park since. An avenue of young cherry trees now leads to the labyrinth and surrounds it. The twenty shirofugen (pink, late-blooming) trees were given by the Gifu Prefecture Cherry Blossom Society of Japan to promote peace and an understanding of Japanese culture, persuaded to this gracious act by the Grace Human Life Society then of Dallas Road. A plaque commemorates the gift; another plaque, placed by the Victoria Historical Society at the same time, describes the Irving family whose name is now the park’s.

Magnificent old trees from the Irving period shelter the labyrinth and cherry trees from view so that although the park has lots of visitors (with its playground, benches and public washrooms) and occupies a busy site (a neighbouring gas station, bus stop, condo buildings, construction noises across the street) its atmosphere is contemplative and harmonious. Walking the seven-circuit stone path of the labyrinth becomes a spiritual experience.

Walking the labyrinth means entering at its one opening and following the path as it doubles back and forth on itself leading to the centre; then following it out again. The walk must be at a comfortable pace, not hurried. The mind should be calmed and focused on the centring aspect of the walk. Repeat the in-and-out as often as desired.

Other outdoor opportunities for labyrinth walking exist in Victoria. One is on the Burdett Street side of Christ Church Cathedral in a grassy park-like setting enclosed by a wall. This is the Cathedral’s Millenium project built by inmates of the William Head Institution with federal financial support. Another is the labyrinth of Garden City United Church on Carey Road. It is painted on the church parking lot and has a fine view of the hills. Both of these labyrinths are on private land but open to the public for walking.

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