As the Gorge Swim Fest enters its third year, society director Jack Meredith hopes on taking the Gorge back to the turn of the 20th century, when thousands of Victorians spent the weekend soaking in the sun on the waterway.
The Gorge fell from favour in the 1940s, partly due to the appearance of swimming pools in Victoria, and as a result of becoming increasingly polluted.
It wasn’t until 1996 that the Gorge became a priority again, with a cleanup campaign led by John Roe.
Presently, the beaches on the Gorge hold some of the lowest fecal coliform levels in Greater Victoria, according to the Vancouver Island Health Authority. Still, its reputation hasn’t been so easy to clean up.
“The response from people is almost predictable,” Meredith said. “Yhey’re surprised people are swimming there. I’m often asked ‘isn’t it dirty? Isn’t it cold?’ The water was 26 degrees the other day, that’s almost too warm to swim in.”
Meredith said that a huge draw for swimmers is the Gorge’s proximity to town, and as it sees more and more use each summer, an expansion of infrastructure is due.
He cited a rejuvenation or removal of the seawall at Banfield Park, as well as an expansion of the dock at Esquimalt Gorge Park, as future possibilities.
“I went down to Banfield Park (last Wednesday) and there so many people on the dock that it was to the point of congestion,” Meredith said. “Its starting to get really exciting for us.”
The Gorge Swim Fest takes place Aug. 10, noon to 4 p.m. at Banfield and Esquimalt Gorge parks. Following a “picnic in the park” theme this year, the festival will feature live music and food trucks in addition to swimming.