Meet our Partners – The Township of Esquimalt (TOE)

As the Parks and Recreation Director, Steve Knoke’s primary role is to ensure the provision of quality programs, services, assets, special events, and parks stewardship for local and regional residents in the Esquimalt community. “Esquimalt is a compact community with a wealth of parks and recreation opportunities maintained and operated by the Parks and Recreation Department,” Knoke explains.

Knoke, who grew up in Victoria and attended the University of Victoria studying Leisure Services Administration, reflects on his journey: “I have had the incredible opportunity to play a key role in the major construction and commissioning of multiple recreation facilities around the region. My passion is working with people to create opportunities for a healthy, connected community.”

The journey to rebuild the Japanese tea gardens in Esquimalt Gorge Park has been challenging and rewarding. “Esquimalt Gorge Park is a very special place. Generations have experienced the natural beauty and history of this amazing location. To create a community space for everyone to come together and enjoy is very special,” Knoke notes. The Township of Esquimalt took significant steps to support the previous Landscapes of Injustice (LOI) and current Past Wrongs, Future Choices (PWFC) initiative, recognizing the park’s historical importance.

Steve Knoke at the Gorge Park Pavilion opening. Photo courtesy of Steve Knoke.

“This was an excellent opportunity to participate in a major initiative to educate the public about Canadian history,” Knoke remarks. Working with the Victoria Nikkei Cultural Society (VNCS) has been a highlight. “The VNCS is an amazing group of dedicated volunteers that worked extremely hard to achieve the goals they set. The Township has a long history of working with the VNCS. For over twenty years, the VNCS has provided the popular Japanese Cultural Fair in Esquimalt. We have also worked together to support a number of Japanese cultural events at Gorge Park.”

The Township of Esquimalt won the BC Recreation and Parks Association (BCRPA) facility excellence award for the Gorge Park Pavilion. The award, which recognizes capital projects over $3 million, was presented by the BCRPA for the ‘outstanding’ facility design that reflects community culture. Winning the award for the Gorge Park Pavilion is a significant achievement for the Township. “We are very proud of the new facility. We are honored that BCRPA selected our facility for this award, and we recognize the significance this facility plays in bringing our community together,” Knoke states. The community’s response has been overwhelmingly positive. “The facility has been very well used. We have had several major events and activities take place.”

The next phase is a permanent public art project featuring Japanese Canadian and Indigenous artists to honor the histories of both communities at the site. Town Council recently voted to allocate $20,000 toward this public art project. The collaborative project is being co-curated by Andrea Mariko Grant, a post-doctoral fellow of PWFC, alongside Eli Hirtle, a nêhiyaw (Cree)/British/German filmmaker, beadworker, youth mentor, and curator based on Lekwungen Territory in Victoria.

“The TOE is committed to continually strengthening relationships with our community partners. By working together on projects, we can develop new relationships and share knowledge. We recently completed a Public Art Plan and the plan identifies that art is an avenue to help us understand our history, our culture, our lives, and the experience of others in a manner that cannot be achieved through other means. It can also be a source of inspiration, reflection, and joy.”

The collaboration between the TOE and LOI/PWFC began before Knoke’s tenure, facilitated by the VNCS. This led to a ten-year agreement to support several initiatives:

  • Providing Esquimalt Gorge Park Pavilion display wall for a ten-year term.
  • Offering temporary shared public space for exhibition displays in or around Esquimalt recreational facilities and/or around the Esquimalt Gorge Park Pavilion.
  • Creating space for three Japanese garden interpretive display areas in Gorge Park.
  • Providing staff support, including initial consultation, program consultation, setup facilitation, and marketing support.

“This partnership aligns with the Township’s goals of fostering strong relationships and partnerships, and promoting an engaged and healthy community,” Knoke emphasizes. The Parks and Recreation Department plays a crucial role in preserving Esquimalt’s cultural and historical heritage. “We maintain outdoor spaces that include historical significance. The community also connects in our facilities, ensuring that our facilities and recreation spaces reflect our history and culture. We currently have large historical photos throughout our arena plaza and lobby, depicting our community participating in events and community activities.”

Engaging younger generations with local history and culture is also important for the Township. “There are a variety of opportunities to work with youth on art projects that include local history and culture,” Knoke explains, highlighting an ongoing mural project in the Anderson Park Community Garden with Esquimalt High School students.

Looking ahead, Knoke is particularly excited about the collaboration between Esquimalt High School and the Community Garden Association for a mural installation at Anderson Park. “I am interested to see the outcome and to hear about how it went,” he says.

Reflecting on his work, Knoke finds the most rewarding aspect to be contributing to community improvement. “Being a part of something that improves the lives in our community is very rewarding. Sometimes we need to stop and reflect on our work and see how we are contributing to the betterment of our community,” he shares. Esquimalt is a great place to live and play, and the Township’s efforts in fostering a vibrant, inclusive, and active community continue to be deeply valued.

This article was written by Ciel Dong, based on an interview with Steve Knoke, Director of Parks and Recreation Services, Township of Esquimalt, in June 2024.