NEWS FEATURE: Back in the swim at Victoria’s Gorge

Summer event aims to welcome back the masses to the warm waters of the once-polluted waterway

A Victoria and Island Athletic Association water polo match is in action at Curtis Point

A Victoria and Island Athletic Association water polo match is in action at Curtis Point

Ask a dozen people whether they would ever swim in the Gorge Waterway, and a majority will likely react with an unequivocal: no way.

Whether warranted or not, the Gorge’s polluted reputation from decades past continues to dog the narrow ocean inlet that winds through three municipalities.

Of course, the Gorge has its defenders, who argue its waters are some of the warmest in the region. In August, the temperature has been recorded at 24 C. Contrary to popular opinion, they also claim the water is cleaner than the popular swimming beach at Elk Lake.

If true, it begs the question: are Victorians bypassing paradise in their own backyard as they drive to the outskirts of Saanich and the West Shore for a dip on a hot summer’s day?

The “yuck” response is an attitude organizers of an upcoming swimming event hope to challenge.

“We have this wonderful waterway in our community that used to be a wonderful swimming hole,” said Jack Meredith, a board member of the Vic West Community Association. “It would be a wonderful thing to celebrate on the (City of Victoria’s) 150th anniversary.”

The idea has caught on, winning buy-in from community groups in Victoria, Saanich and Esquimalt. On Aug. 12, three swimming parties will kick off simultaneously on beaches in all three municipalities. The goal is to attract the masses back to the once-beloved swimming mecca that lured thousands to its shores for water sports, swimming lessons, championships and just splashing about.

“Everybody we talked to is enthusiastic about having the glory days of the Gorge brought back,” Meredith said.

The response suggests there is an undercurrent of people ready and waiting to embrace the Gorge as a place for more than rowing, paddling and other boating.

“It is the best swimming water in Victoria and nobody knows that,” said John Sanderson, who grew up listening to his mother tell stories about swimming in the Gorge in the 1920s.

Sanderson, a board member of the Burnside-Gorge Community Association, is helping to organize the event.

“Once people experience it as a swimming place, it becomes special. And once it’s special, it’s cared for and admired and loved.”

A major clean-up effort in the 1990s has vastly improved water quality. Septic systems draining into the Gorge were removed and annual volunteer efforts see garbage hauled away from its shorelines.

Today, water quality studies are limited, but seem to indicate the Gorge is safe to swim in.

“The water quality at the one beach we do sample is very good,” said Erwin Dyck, Vancouver Island Health Authority’s supervisor of health protection.

“Because there is quite a bit of tidal flushing through there, we wouldn’t expect the numbers would be dramatically different from one end to the other, but frankly we don’t have that kind of information along the full length of the Gorge at this point.”

During swimming season, VIHA takes monthly water samples at Kosapsom Park, near Admirals Road.

More beaches could soon be added to the monitoring list soon.

“It might be useful for us to do a little more sampling at some of the park areas. It is something we are reviewing this year anyways,” Dyck said.

The health authority tests levels of fecal coliforms in the water, due mainly to geese and other animal waste, he said. The Capital Regional District tests for other storm water contaminants, such as metals and nutrients.

Before the big swim day in August, event organizers are partnering with other organizations for more thorough inspections of the water at multiple points.

Meanwhile, they’re looking for volunteers and ideas for fun ways to celebrate Swim the Gorge Day.

It’s been almost a decade since the last organized swimming event on the waterway. That gathering featured swimming competitions and attracted world-class athletes.

This year’s focus will be on fun, with music, a barbecue and prizes for people who take the plunge.

“If you get your hair wet, then you’ve swam,” said Meredith.

rholmen@vicnews.com

Just Posted

Co-creatorsAdrianna Hatton and Malcolm McKenzie stand next to the little free library revealed Sunday at 9710 First St. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Literary crowd helps opens little free library in Sidney

Located at 9710 First St., the book sharing box features original art and reclaimed wood

Deep Cove Elementary School principal Shelley Hardcastle (right) and vice-principal Mary Kaercher help to restock Reay Creek with fish – in this case, coho fry – after a recent bleach spill killed hundreds of fish. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
North Saanich’s Deep Cove Elementary School helps to restock Sidney’s Reay Creek

Restocking followed bleach spill that killed hundreds of fish in creek

The barred owl is the most likely to be spotted in the south Island. (Ann Nightingale photo)
Barred owls dominate Greater Victoria owl-scape

Western screech owl population decimated, partly due to barred owls

Between June 1 and 7, 168 net unconditional sales were made for properties in the VREB region. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria home sales slightly behind last June’s pace

Benchmark value of single-family home in Greater Victoria tops $1 million

A new report pegs the annual cost of hiring a third party to monitor use of pickleball courts in North Saanich at $12,000. (Black Press Media file photo).
North Saanich could end up hiring third party to monitor pickleball courts

Other options up for consideration include use of cameras and timed locks

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Most Read