Reece Hygh holds a Victoria Brewery beer bottle shard from the 1880s he found in the Gorge. Hygh and friend Chris Hill use snorkles and a rake to find the old bottles buried under silt and grasses. He also found a black and a blue glass bottles from the same era

Reece Hygh holds a Victoria Brewery beer bottle shard from the 1880s he found in the Gorge. Hygh and friend Chris Hill use snorkles and a rake to find the old bottles buried under silt and grasses. He also found a black and a blue glass bottles from the same era

Relics of history remain hidden in Gorge waterway

One colonist’s trash is another man’s treasure, given a century or so.

One colonist’s trash is another man’s treasure, given a century or so.

Hunt around long enough in the Gorge Waterway and antique bottles can emerge from the muck.

For Reece Hygh, the Gorge remains a treasure trove of old handmade bottles and clay jugs produced in breweries and factories dating to the earliest days of Fort Victoria.

“The Gorge is one of the first places people partied. For Fort Victoria, the British colonists drank there and would toss in their bottles,” Hygh said.

“You can still find really old bottles, embossed pop and beer bottles. We’ve found bottles marked ‘poison’. We’ve found U.S. Navy mustard bottles that date to 1858, dried mustard bottles. That is cool.”

Probing the grasses and mud using a rake and a snorkel, Hygh and friend Chris Hill recently found a shard of a bottle stamped with ‘VB’ for Victoria Brewery, which is circa 1868.

That early brewery first used water from Swan Lake and then moved into downtown Victoria. They’ve found ginger beer and pop bottles from Alex Phillips, the first bottler of soda pop in Western Canada, and from Christopher Morely, who had his factory in Waddington Alley in a building since refurbished into condos.

The practice of hunting through silt and muck is called mudlarking, and dates back two centuries to impoverished Brits who scavenged the shores of the Thames River.

Hygh, 54, has collected antique bottles for 40 years and enjoys the thrill of treasure hunting and its connection to local history.

“I’m a history buff. I like relics like embossed bottles from Victoria or Nanaimo or Vancouver or San Francisco,” he said, noting that Alex Phillips first imported his bottles from San Francisco. “I do this as a hobby. We are the keepers of relics. We keep them for a while, then pass them on.”

He normally hunts for old bottles “above the falls,” otherwise known as west of the Tillicum Bridge. Many sections of the Gorge were popular for swimming and socializing in the early 1900s, before the era of industry and pollution.

“I walk the Gorge a couple times per year,” said Hygh, who lives in Nanaimo. “Other collectors walk it every day and still find stuff. Some people go in the water with (fishing) boots and wetsuits. That’s not for me. I scrounge around along the side.”

–with reporting from Sharon Tiffin



Just Posted

Mural artist Paul Archer will soon begin work on a piece on the rear of a building at 100 Burnside Road West. (Gorge Tillicum Community Association)
Back of Burnside building in Saanich to feature mural of hope and positivity

Artist Paul Archer says subject will inspire memories, depict children’s future, sunshine, flowers

Victoria Truth Centre and Long-term Inmates Now in the Community (L.I.N.C.) Society are hoping to replicate in Langford the format used on Emma’s Farm in Mission, pictured here. (Patrick Penner/Black Press Media)
Victoria Truth Centre hopes to grow transformative justice in Langford

Purchase proposal would see offenders, survivors and families work on organic vegetable farm

Tyson Muzzillo, regional manager of BC Cannabis Store, welcomes shoppers to their Uptown location, opening on June 16. (Megan Atkins-Baker/News Staff)
Government-run cannabis store opening at Saanich’s Uptown

BC Cannabis Store the first for government in Greater Victoria, 27th in province

The stretch of trail north of Royal Bay Secondary connecting to Painters Trail at Murray’s Pond will be closed temporarily this week for invasive species removal. (Black Press Media file photo)
Colwood trail behind Royal Bay Secondary temporarily closed for invasive species removal

Cloure in effect from 9 a.m. Wednesday to 10 a.m. Friday this week

Law Enforcement Torch Run in support of Special Olympics B.C. kicks off with a run at Swan Lake on June 6. The virtual fundraiser runs until June 20. (Saanich Police/Twitter)
Torch run seeks to scorch previous fundraiser, targets $75,000 for Special Olympics

Global movement shoots for 40,000 km in honour of the 40th anniversary

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

(pixabay file shot)
B.C. ombudsperson labels youth confinement in jail ‘unsafe,’ calls for changes

Review states a maximum of 22 hours for youth, aged 12 from to 17, to be placed in solitary

Eleonore Alamillo-Laberge, 6, reads a book in Ottawa on Monday, June 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Parents will need to fight ‘COVID learning slump’ over summer: B.C. literacy experts

Parents who play an active role in educating their children this summer can reverse the slump by nearly 80%, says Janet Mort

The border crossing on Highway 11 in Abbotsford heading south (file)
Western premiers call for clarity, timelines on international travel, reopening rules

Trudeau has called Thursday meeting, premiers say they expect to leave that meeting with a plan

The B.C. government’s vaccine booking website is busy processing second-dose appointments, with more than 76 per cent of adults having received a first dose. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations stable for Tuesday

108 new confirmed cases, 139 in hospital, 39 in intensive care

Cowichan Tribes man Adrian Sylvester is worried that he was targetted by a trailer hitch thrown from a vehicle. (Facebook photo)
Cowichan Tribes man worried he was target of trailer hitch

Adrian Sylvester says no one has reported a missing hitch after one nearly hit him

Graeme Roberts, who was mayor of Nanaimo from 1984-86, died this month at age 89. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Community Archives)
City of Nanaimo flags at half-mast as former mayor Graeme Roberts dies at 89

‘Giant-killer’ beat out Frank Ney in mayoral election in 1984

Most Read