Urban Oases of Victoria - Esquimalt Gorge Park
Some people may get the idea that I don’t like parks due to my somewhat continuous push back on the addition of green space downtown, but nothing could be more wrong. I love a well laid out and a well used park. One of my absolute favourites in the city is Esquimalt’s Gorge Park, which should not be confused with the Gorge Park on the other side of the Gorge waterway in Saanich. This park has so much in a relatively small space and it deserves to get much more attention than I think it does currently.
If you are arriving by car there is a main entrance driveway off of Tillicum Road, which winds its way down to a parking lot located sort of in the middle of park. When I last visited, I arrived on bike and not wanting to dart across Tillicum to the main entrance, I hopped of my bike just at the west end of the Tillicum Bridge. At this point there is a small ramped walkway that leads down to a path under the bridge. It is worth stopping here!!
Tillicum bridge was built in 1967 and it is perhaps one of the most beautiful bridges in the city, though it is hard to see why from the road. Once underneath you will see these graceful arches that go over top of the Gorge Narrows. It is brutalist perfection. The narrows themselves are quite amazing and have a significant tidal current. This is Victoria's mini version of the reversing falls. Winding north from the bridge along the water is a paved walkway lined with these stark bright red lamps. It makes for one of the most dramatic urban park experiences no matter what time of year you visit. Before you leave the underside of the bridge make sure you note the fenced off and well signed midden that indicates that this has been an important place for people for a millennia or more.
If you follow the waterside walkway to its end, you will find a great playground that has in my opinion the best swings in the entire city. There is also a beach here but unfortunately due to the popularity of it with the local goose population it is not a pleasant place to swim. It is really too bad that you can’t enjoy the water directly from the park as this was at one time (Okay a really long time ago…) one of the best places to come for a swim or to enjoy a boat race. There are options for both nearby though so I can get past it.
The western edge of the park which actually goes almost right up to Craigflower Road. A number of years ago some significant flood diversion was added in here and there are some great pathways and bridges. There are parts in this area that feel quite raw and wild, which is the exact opposite of the main part of the park that has that well curated urban park feel that I thoroughly enjoy. Still that the park is large enough to easily contain both of these contrasting elements is truly special.
Heading back to the playground, this spot is also home to a significant nature centre. There are quite a few of these centres across Victoria and perhaps worthy of a post on their own. The one here is focused on Greater Victoria’s waterways including the gorge but also Colquitz and Swan Lake. There is actually a pretty cool model to show kids (and adults) how connected all of the different waterways of Victoria are. In the summer there is a concession here and this is also the location for the bathrooms.
As if all that I have covered so far wasn’t enough, the best part of the park is near the entrance. What I am referring to are the absolutely stunning Japanese gardens. The mind blowing part of it is that in all their beauty they are only a small part of the original Japanese Gardens. Surprisingly, these were apparently the first Japanese gardens in all of North America when they were built. You can read more about them here and here. In the time before and after the first world war this was one of the premier attractions for the entire region. The tea house had an extremely popular tea serving and people would travel from all over the area to have it. This was of course on purpose. The park was originally created by the BC Electric Railway Company in 1905 as a tourist destination and the best way to visit was on one of their streetcars that were heading to the park.
There is some word recently that the tea houses will be rebuilt, in part to start repairing the wrong that led to their demise in the first place, the internment of Canadians of Japanese ancestry during the Second World War. I certainly think that the rebuilding of the tea house would be a great asset to the park and would help illustrate this sad chapter of Canadian history. Still even now, the garden is beautiful and if there were nothing else in the park, it alone would warrant many visits. When you visit make sure to take as many of the different paths through the garden as possible as each one is unique.
Esquimalt Gorge Park is such a multi-layered park, with a myriad of distinct areas and more history than you can find in almost any other park with the possible exception of Beacon Hill. Let me know below your favourite parts of this regional jewel below in the comments!