Latest wave of Gorge Swim Fest

Celebrate local waterway at fourth annual festival

With warm, dry weather over the last few months, more and more people are taking advantage of the cleanest, warmest and closest swimming hole in the region – the Gorge.

To celebrate the waterway’s family-friendly nature, the fourth annual Gorge Swim Fest takes place from noon to 4 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 9 at Banfield Park in Vic West, Esquimalt Gorge Park and Curtis Point in Saanich.

[Swimming in the Gorge] has been done probably for 140 years back,” said Gorge Swim Fest co-chair Jack Meredith. “In the 1800s the Gorge swimming hole was a vacation spot for people. Back then it was the outskirts of town. People used to flock to it, there’s tons of pictures from the 1800s with people lining the shores for swimming races and picnics.”

After the Crystal Pool was built, outdoor swimming fell out of fashion and slowly the Gorge became a place for people to dump unwanted items.

“It got a bad reputation, there was pollution from a sawmill down there – it was not great,” said Meredith.

It was only through the “heroic efforts” of environmental advocate John Roe who prompted the cleanup of the waterway in the 1990s that the Gorge began to earn a new reputation.

“Through a variety of efforts they held an open water race from the Tillicum Bridge to the Empress and back,” he said. The 10-kilometre race celebrated the return of regular swimming in the Gorge.

After the turn of this century, the yearly swim fests faded away until Meredith, a frequent Gorge swimmer, and a few friends resurrected it in 2012.

“This is not the original swim fest, it’s the new, new swim fest – the latest wave of Gorge swim fest-ers,” he said.

Meredith has noticed an increase in swimmers using the Gorge and wants to encourage everyone to come out and see what they’re missing.

In addition to swimming, the Gorge Swim Fest includes games, crafts, Esquimalt Lions’ concession, music and food trucks at the Banfield Park and Esquimalt Gorge Park locations.

“There’s no music or food trucks at Curtis Point,” said Meredith. “You just swim off the rocks there – I can’t tell you how many people tell me it’s their secret swimming hole.”

For more information go to gorgeswimfest.ca.