There are just a few large tracts of park land within urban area of Greater Victoria. While we currently may not realise just how special they are, as the city continues to grow, the importance of these parcels of land will become apparent. The most overlooked pieces of land that fall into this category, in my opinion, are Rithet’s Bog, Cedar Hill Golf Course, the South Woods and Mystic Vale at UVic, Mount Douglas Park and Swan Lake. The fact that we have these special places all over the city and that they are so large is unique. Currently, Victorians as a whole seem to be underwhelmed by our centrally located natural places, this is likely because it is still relatively easy to escape the city and get into the Sooke Hills or Goldstream Park, but as the city gets busier, those nearby pieces of nature become harder to get to and the ones that sit right in the city will become the choice places to visit, so long as we protect them.
I am reminded of these things every time I visit Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary off of McKenzie Avenue in Saanich. You can also easily visit here along the Galloping Goose Trail if you take the Lochside Spur at Uptown.
The lake was formed in a depression left behind after the glaciers disappeared following the last ice age. The lake is fed from a creek on its eastern edge from Blenkinsop Lake in the Blenkinsop Valley. The water flows out of Swan Lake and feeds into a creek that stretches to Hyacinth Park and into the Colquitz River. When you start to see how all the little creeks and bogs are connected to together it really makes you appreciate the complexity of the region.
Interesting side note, one of the wineries that contributed to the pollution of Swan Lake was the Growers Wine Company. It was the first winery in BC, founded in 1921 and began production in 1923. If you have been to the Keg at the Old Winery on Quadra then you have been in one of the buildings that was used by this company. As you may have guessed, the Growers Wine Company turned into the cider company that we know today. Oh and the wine they made was not made out of grapes, it was made out of Logan Berries.
With that said, we as disruptors of the natural environment, did our very best to completely ruin Swan Lake. Through the first half of the 20th century Swan Lake had run off flow into it from a number of farms, at least two wineries and a sewage plant. On top of that, people would use the lake as a place to toss garbage. By the 1960’s the lake was almost completely destroyed by pollution. Luckily for all of us, Saanich took over the land and began a huge project to clean it up. Even now though, the lake is not completely restored, fish still have a difficulty surviving and it has a higher algae count than it should, but it is improving.
Of course, as a natural area to enjoy, Swan Lake Park is perfect. There is a long loop trail that takes about forty-five minutes with some stops to take in the scenery. You get floating bridges, raised walkways, forest trail and marsh land. It really is a great walk. One of my favourite aspects of it is that as you loop there are spots where you can see the city at its edges and then in the next you are back in the wilderness.
If you want to learn some more about Swan Lake its history and some of the wild inhabitants of the area, there is a very large nature house near the main parking lot. There are interactive displays, a small library, a multi-use space that often has talks and there are even a few animals that you can check out up close. The nature house also has an absolutely stunning view over the lake looking south towards the Galloping Goose Trail.
As it is now, you can see some higher density buildings going in along McKenzie Avenue, but it has been primarily been surrounded by single family housing. As this density increases nearby, the value of the park is going to increase as well. When you are standing at the checkout at Whole Foods, it is only a 400 metre walk to the edge of the park, which really shows you that the high density core of Saanich will have this jewel so close by.
If you are looking for a little escape from the city, you really cannot do better than a loop of Swan Lake!