West Shore Neighbourhood News

The Seven Wonders of the West Shore

Here's our seven picks for known or hidden gems around the West Shore. Do you have any others to suggest?
— image credit: Graphic by Black Press

Recently we chose seven notable, if not all well-known, spots that make the West Shore unique, interesting and a pleasure to live in or visit.

Have a read over our choices and help us find others by sending your comments to editor@goldstreamgazette.com.

Thanks,

Don Descoteau, acting editor

Albert Head Lagoon Regional Park

For those looking to hit the beach on the West Shore, but hoping to find somewhere more secluded than Esquimalt Lagoon, a short drive into Metchosin takes you to Albert Head Lagoon Regional Park.

This sweet spot for locals and visitors alike offers views of downtown Victoria, the Olympic Mountains and the Albert Head Cadet Summer Training Centre. The pebble-and-sand beach is ideal for a sunset walk or a lazy day reading a book while leaning against a piece of driftwood.

Like Esquimalt Lagoon down the coast, Albert Head Lagoon is a wildlife bird sanctuary, offering frequent opportunities to spot swans, ducks, herons and other shoreline birds. Bird watchers will not be disappointed.

Calm seas make the area an ideal casting-off point for kayak and canoe enthusiasts, who need only paddle a short way to explore magnificent rock outcrops before heading off around the point to Witty's Lagoon.

To reach Albert Head Lagoon from the city, drive northbound along Metchosin Road and turn left onto Farhill Road, following the road to the left. A left turn onto Park Drive followed by a right onto Delgada Road takes you to a small parking lot at the lagoon.

Cole Island

A lack of access and an excess of history makes Cole Island one of the lesser-known but most rewarding wonders of the West Shore.

This small island is located in Esquimalt Harbour, viewable from the Parson's Bridge in View Royal and accessible only by private watercraft. Its isolation means Cole Island is a place where you can often have the chance to explore and experience history all on your own.

The island was given its name in 1847, in honour of Comm. Edmund Picoti Cole, master of HMS Fisgard. Buildings were erected on the island in 1860, when the Royal Navy began using it as a munitions depot. Ammunition at the time was known to be unstable and it was wise to keep it away from the main base.

At one point there were as many as 17 structures on the island, though only five remain standing. The island's military purposes ended in the 1940s and in the 1970s it was handed over to the B.C. Heritage Branch. It lay idle for decades, with buildings slowly degrading.

The island's saviour came in the form of a group of local residents who banded together to form the Friends of Cole Island, with a commitment to restoring and preserving the historic landmark. Vandalism and time were taking their tolls on the island, and the friends were determined to reverse the trend.

Thanks to their efforts, and those of local municipalities and the province, the island now has signs explaining its significance and the buildings and landscape have been improved to make the island a safe and informative destination. A dock was installed in 2013 to improve access from the water.

Annual work parties continue for general maintenance, invasive species removal and to improve safety and security. There is no camping allowed on the island and no beach fires are permitted, making the island a great daytime stop for more adventurous explorers.

Lookout Lake Park

Triangle Mountain has long been known for its stunning vistas of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Olympic Mountains and downtown Victoria.

While the hillside shared by Colwood and Langford continues to be developed upon, area residents and visitors looking for respite from the urban sprawl can find it at Lookout Lake Park.

Tucked away at the end of a pathway leading from an easily missed sign on dead-end road Batting Place, the park includes a sparkling little lake that is stocked with rainbow trout and smallmouth bass and is a popular fishing and swimming site for locals during the summer months.

For sun worshippers in the crowd, the elevation of the park allows visitors to enjoy hours of direct sun in summer. Make sure to bring your lawn chairs or air mattresses.

For anyone looking to tone their calves, a long, steep stairway connects the lakefront with a trail leading from Sun Estates Road far below. Get your exercise, then cool off with a swim.

For the slightly more adventurous, the park features a trail leading through the trees up toward the rugged hillside – which doubles as the back yard for homes high atop Blue Sky Place – and another short one that leads to a point further up into Sun Estates.

Another entrance to the park is  to along the  treeline that connects with pathways further up Blue Sky Place.

Directions: Turn left on Fulton Road off Sooke Road, one block west of Veteran's Memorial Parkway. Follow Fulton up the hill, then turn right on Sunheights Drive. Find one entrance to the park a block away at the corner of Blue Sky Place, or follow Sunheights and take the second left on Batting Place. Parking is available nearby both entrances.

Esquimalt Lagoon

If there's any place essential on the West Shore for dog owners to take their four-legged friends for a good stroll, it's Esquimalt Lagoon in Colwood.

They may have to stay on leash due to the area being a bird sanctuary, but with sandy beach as far as the eye can see, walking the length of the peninsula is sure to tire out pup and owner alike.

The saltwater lagoon, located next to Fort Rodd Hill and at the foot of the Royal Roads University lands, offers quintessential views of downtown Victoria and the Olympic Mountains in Washington state.

The lagoon is a favourite spot for shorebirds, including seagulls, geese, blue herons, ducks, swans and more exotic varieties. With a long line of sight the area is perfect for bird watchers and photographers.

The calm waters of the inner lagoon are also a draw for those who enjoy a pleasant paddle by kayak or canoe.

Used at one point as a firing range for the Royal Navy, the lagoon has a rich cultural and industrial history. First Nations used the area for thousands of years for habitation and harvesting seafood. After European contact, it was the site of farms, a tannery and a sawmill in the 19th century. It continued to be used as a rifle range by Royal Roads military college well into the 20th century.

Today, fighting erosion is a constant concern for the lagoon, which makes the planting and maintenance of plants and grasses essential for its future health. The plants' root systems help hold sand in place, but more may have to be done to prevent parts of the peninsula from sinking into the sea.

In the meantime, Esquimalt Lagoon is a popular place on any sunny day, a hub of activity for people and animals alike and truly a wonder of the West Shore.

Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Sites

Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Site is truly a treasure on the West Shore, alive with natural beauty, community events and a history which rivals any landmark in Greater Victoria.

Built in the late 1890s, Fort Rodd Hill played the role of protector of Victoria and the Esquimalt Naval Base through two wars until the 1950s, when it was declared a national historic site.

During its history, the fort has been home to three gun batteries, underground magazines, command posts, guardhouses, barracks and searchlight emplacements.

The fort housed the British Royal Engineers and Garrison Artillery until 1906, when the Canadian Army committed to protect the harbour until 1956.

Fisgard Lighthouse dates back even further, to 1860, when it was built as the first permanent guide for mariners en route to Esquimalt Harbour and the naval base.

Today, the fort and lighthouse act as prime destinations for locals and tourists alike. Visitors go there either for a nice walk outside and some time on the beach, to explore the fort's bunkers and view the historic artifacts on display, or both.

The lighthouse keeper's quarters holds games for younger visitors, along with information on the coastline and its animal and bird inhabitants.

The site is host to a number of events throughout the year, including Canada Day celebrations, an art and wine festival, car shows and military encampment recreations, including battle re-enactments.

The introduction of Parks Canada oTENTik tents to the fort in 2012 opened up the fort to overnight stays, with groups able to book the cabin/tent hybrids for a more luxurious version of camping.

Entrance to Fort Rodd Hill is by paid admittance, except during special events, and is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the summer. The fort is located in Colwood on Fort Rodd Hill Road, off Ocean Boulevard, which connects with Island Highway.

Mount Finlayson

Rising 419 metres above Goldstream Provincial Park in Langford, not far as the crow flies to Bear Mountain, Mount Finlayson stands as a challenge to those looking to step up their climbing game.

Exactly when you choose to haul your body up the mountain depends upon whether you're worried about the conditions. Frequent climbers don't so much pay heed to the time of year, as they're content to add the challenges of grip and footing to their workout. Those looking for that once or twice a year vertical outing need to concern themselves, for safety reasons, with how slippery it might get up the side of the mountain.

Signs at the trailhead, a stone's throw from Goldstream River – home to the hugely popular annual salmon spawn – inform hikers they are about to enter a "rugged mountain environment" and warn of various the potential for danger on the very steep trail above.

It's a good idea at any time to wear hiking boots or shoes, take an extra layer and don't forget a plentiful supply of water.

Once you get to the top, it's easy to spot the B.C. Parks sign, but be sure to look for the Mount Finlayson Trail plaque. It indicates the trail was built and is maintained by the South Vancouver Island Rangers, a Langford-based social and target shooting club.

Thetis Lake Park

It's tough to be all things to all people, but as recreation spots go, Thetis Lake Regional Park comes pretty darned close.

The 833 hectare park offers hiking, swimming, canoe or kayaking and fishing for rainbow trout. A beach area is available, but many people choose to hike a little ways and find their own spot at lake's edge to enjoy the sun or some peace and quiet.

Thetis Lake Park, a gem shared by View Royal and Langford, was established initially as Canada's first nature sanctuary in 1958. The tranquility remains during non-summer months, as does the ability to observe native waterfowl and birds.

Maintained by Capital Regional District Parks, it is a frequent hiking spot for folks with dogs off leash, as well as runners looking for more of a challenge. Its two trails offer varying degrees of difficulty, from moderate to challenging, and bikes are not allowed.

Separated into upper and lower sections, the lake offers deep water for swimmers who want to avoid weeds, and attracts thousands of Greater Victoria residents during the summer.

To reach the park by car from the West Shore, take Six Mile Road off the Old Island Highway straight up to the parking lot, or ride the Galloping Goose south to the Six Mile Road exit then up into the park.

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