Standing tucked in a corner of a Saanich park, Rutley faces unexpectedly away from the nearby play equipment, perhaps a reflection of the trashy early days of the pink concrete elephant.
The name is relatively new for the bright creature that has called Rutledge Park home since the 1960s – at least as far as anyone can tell. It bears a fairly worrisome look on its face, perhaps contemplating the future in the face of yet another home renovation.
The elephant – said to be a cousin of fellow famed Saanich resident, the Cadborosaurus, was dubbed Rutley during the 2003 official opening of the last revamp of the park when the Quadra Cedar Hill Community Association hosted a contest.
“It’s interesting it’s called Rutley, but most people call it pink elephant park,” association president Susan Haddon said.
The pink elephant is the creation of an unsung artist in Saanich public works, first created as a garbage can and now a landmark to many, according to a stone poem rock – another district art installation. The series of rocks scattered through the space outline the history of the park at the end of Rutledge Street, bound by Cloverdale Avenue, Inverness Road, Glasgow Avenue and Scotia Street.
The elephant moved to its current location near the playground with the last renovations in 2003.
Saanich hopes to start the latest upgrades – new playground, splash park and restroom building – later this year, said parks planner Mike Goldsworthy.
While starting to look its age, Rutley is a park fixture and well-loved by folks in the neighbourhood. The pink elephant won’t lose its home, and may even be celebrated in the new design, Goldsworthy added.
Preliminary plans are expected to come before the community for input later this month or early next. If they can get work underway later this year, parts of the park may be closed during prime outdoor time.
“It will be worth the wait,” Goldsworthy said.
The latest upgrades are decades in the making – much like the park’s history of slow growth.
It was originally created in the early 1960s as just a small playground with a well-loved pink elephant on just a hair more than an acre of land, roughly where the tennis courts are now.
In the ‘70s, Saanich started buying single-family lots to build on the park, as apartment buildings began to densify the neighbourhood. Over three decades later, Saanich had amassed more than 4.5 acres, according to district information. The park that officially opened in fall 2003 had originally included a splash park – but that suffered a budgetary axe.
In 2015, the Quadra Cedar Hill Community Association suggested a water park and started applying for grants while conducting public engagement.
“This neighbourhood is so densified, but with this (park) as its centrepiece … it’s just a lovely place to live,” Haddon said.
Eight years and a pandemic later, this spring, council approved a contract for a design and construction team for the latest upgrades. That team is keenly aware of Rutley and its iconic status so early designs of the new elements take that into account.
“We’re hoping we can bring those to the public soon and see what everyone thinks,” Goldsworthy said.
Rutley is not the only iconic creature among Saanich’s 57 parks. An ode to its “cousin” Cadborosaurus was named an internationally acclaimed slide in 2018. Adjacent to the giant octopus in Cadboro-Gyro Park, the slide is in the shape of the giant green sea serpent Cadborosaurus. Also called Caddy colloquially, the slide draws on a local legend of sightings in Cadboro Bay in the 1930s.