It’s been a vital piece of infrastructure helping people navigate their way around Greater Victoria since before the time of Confederation. And now a new interpretive sign helps to share the storied history of the Gorge Bridge.
The current Gorge Bridge connecting Saanich and Esquimalt along Tillicum Road was built in 1967, but that crossing had been used by First Nations for long before that. The first Gorge Bridge was constructed in 1848 by Roderick Finlayson, and consisted of five large Douglas fir logs laid across the narrows. Six other bridges followed, with the current version completed in 1967.
Saanich Parks has now installed a three-panel interpretive sign commemorating the seven bridges that have crossed the Gorge at that spot, featuring photos of each of the bridges as well as a history of the area. The idea came from local resident Richard Bouchard, who frequently trains in the area.
“Every time I came to the Gorge, I thought about how much history there is [on display] around the Craigflower [Bridge] and there’s nothing here,” he said.
Bouchard took his idea to Gorge Tillicum Community Association president Rob Wickson, and in investigating the matter further learned a bridge had been built at the site in 1867 for the Queen’s Birthday Regatta.
“It’s a piece of history for Western Canada,” said Bouchard, adding it was important to him and the association that the sign also included local First Nations history.
The idea for an interpretive sign for the bridge was then taken to Saanich Parks.
“He came to us and said, ‘Did you know there were seven bridges across the Gorge, historically?’” said Gary Darrah, manager of park planning and development. “I didn’t know that and probably a lot of people didn’t know that. The sign talks about the history of those seven bridges, and also incorporates some of the First Nations history and history of the Gorge Waterway.”
While the history of the bridge might be a mystery to some, it’s well known to Pam Gaudio, the great-great granddaughter of Roderick Finlayson.
Finlayson worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company during the building of Fort Victoria, taking charge of the fort following the death of Charles Ross, and being reassigned to second in command following the arrival of James Douglas.
“He was the person that was responsible for laying the [first Gorge] bridge,” said Gaudio of her great-great grandfather.
Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell says the district plans to erect more of the interpretive signs around the community.
“Saanich is 111 years old and it has a storied history to it,” said Atwell. “[The sign] makes your visit to the park or the trail far more interesting to know exactly where you are and what happened before, and about the people who came before.”
Wickson said the project even opened his eyes to further detail on the history of the Gorge, calling it a great conclusion to the research undertaken by GTCA board member Scott Karpes.
“This is more than just a bridge with Tillicum Road going over it,” said Wickson, who took the media to task for calling it Tillicum bridge. “It’s an important place in our history, and it’s fabulous to learn how this crossing came about.”
The sign, which cost about $15,000 along with about $4,000 in staff time, is a tribute to the rich history of the Gorge, which over the years has witnessed First Nations war canoe races, Royal Navy regattas, and bustling crowds of swimmers in the early 20th century.
“The objective is to visibly celebrate our community’s history, because there’s a lot of history here,” said Darrah. “And the average person walking down the sidewalk here, until this sign was here, they would have no idea of the history of not only the bridges but the Gorge Waterway.”