Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Swimming in the Gorge

In 1998 Dennis Minaker wrote a book called The Gorge of Summers Gone: A History of Victoria's Inland Waterway. You can find it in the local libraries. He does a great job of telling use the history of how we used the waterway. It was in 1939 that swimming was banned due to sewage and industrial waste. But that has been dramatically changed in the last two generations.

I find it interesting at how reluctant people are to swim in the Gorge. People are of the opinion that it is polluted water, that the waste from the past presists.

It has been a long time since the heavy industry has been on the waterway, the houses do not discharge waste into the waterway, and the rate at which the Gorge recharges is quite high, the water does not remain there for any length of time, fecal coliform is not an issue at all in the Gorge. Fish are in the waterway and people catch them. DFO does not close the area to fishing from pollution. There is a potential of some heavy metal pollution in and around Rock Bay and out towards the Inner Harbour, but that heavy metal pollution was not in the Gorge. It is quite safe to swim there, certainly safer than most lakes in this region in August, but people still think it is too dirty or polluted to swim in.

In the past the Gorge Waterway was the recreational centre of Victoria. There was a tall diving tower at Curtis Point that was 110 feet tall - that is like jumping off a ten storey building. There were regular regattas filling the Gorge with boats from bank to bank. Kinsmen park had a salt water pool and was connected by tram to the city to allow people to get out to the water.

The Gorge was never industrialized, the Harbour ended at the railway trestle leaving the water beyond more or less in its natural state.

I would love to see Esquimalt, Victoria, and Saanich offer swimming lessons on the Gorge and not only in their pools. I would love to see a tall tower for diving be built again. Actually, some bathrooms and changing rooms would be nice.

I am happy to see my boys go to the Gorge and swim off of the dock at the Tillicum bridge. The cove there is a perfect swimming hole and has so much there for kids to explore and play with. It is the sort of place to let them really explore their imagination.

My 11 year old goes to Shoreline, the school is right at the water's edge. We live on Harriet Road in Victoria, 620 meters from the water. He has asked if he could try kayaking to school at some point. I think that is a wonderful idea. With a set of wheels, he could wheel it from the house to the Gorge and launch it from there. It is 3 km by water to the closest spot or 5 km to around Christie Point to get to the school.

I would like to buy couple of kayaks this year so that we can get out on the water, so that I can by on the Gorge and reconnect to that which was the heart of this neighbourhood. I would like to see a lot more people in this region find their way back out on to the water.

15 comments:

postie said...

You mentioned that swimming was banned in 1939. I guess it wasnt banned for too long as I remember as a youngster in the early 60s swimming at the gorge. It was not the greatest but we never got sick from it.

Bernard von Schulmann said...

It was banned again in 1969

Kathreen said...

I paddle the Gorge waterway twice a week and in the summer the water looks and smells very bad. This is especially true just past the trestle.

Bernard von Schulmann said...

The water carries oil and related pollution from the inner harbour upwards into the Gorge, but it does not seem to go beyond the trestle. Once one is over by Banfield Park I have seen little evidence.

The area around the trestle is very shallow and a fully fledged mud flat where Cecelia Creek enters the Gorge. The exposed mud flats there cause a lot of stink in the summer, I suspect much of what you smell is from the nature of the area.

Over by the Bay Street bridge you have Ellice Recycling and they operate a large composting facility. The compost smell can spread through a large area. Last Sunday I could smell it from the Starbucks in Vic West.

Benjamin Madison said...

Interesting post!

Anonymous said...

Many years ago they would hold The Great Innertube Race along the Gorge. Similar to the dragon boat races today but much less serious. My mother did it on a dare in the late 70s and I did it about ten years later.

Two people would paddle an innertube the length of the Gorge for trophies. Hundreds entered.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. I have lived about 200 yard from what looks to be a perfect swimming hole near the Tillicum bridge (no swimming at the bridge due to current) for about 2 years. I've been wanting to jump in but have been told about all the pollution... The water has always looked beautiful to me though.

You're post was all I needed and since today will be a perfect sunny day I'm going to go buy a new pair of swimming trunks and go for a dip!

Anonymous said...

It may've been banned but we swam there as kids in the early 1980s all the time (at Kinsmen Park) and these days, many people are swimming in the Gorge again.

skarpes said...

Indeed, I remember swimming at the Gorge (on the Esquimalt side) in the late 70's/early 80's, (i was born in early 70's so i am right about the years.) There was a very popular/busy swimming 'hole' under the small bridge that now spans the recently 'daylighted' creek in EsquimaltGorge (Kinsmen) Park. This summer (2011) we've been swimming at the dock under Gorge (Tillicum) Bridge a few times and seen quite a few other swimmers on warm days. One fellow I talked to estimated swimming there about 25 times this summer! The water is nice and warm and as far as i can see, it's clean.

Bernard von Schulmann said...

We did not get into the water as much as I would have liked, but there is next summer and the summer after....

Bunny said...

Hi all! I learned how to swim in the Gorge Kinsmen pool in the late sixties. It was warm and wonderful, and had a great dock you could swim up to.

I remember when B.C. Forest Products was also active on the Gorge, and remember the unusually high foaming that would occur under the Gorge bridge.

I have started swimming again in the waterway, from the Gorge bridge, to Banfield Park, to Selkirk wharf. There are now searun Cutthroat Trout, Otters, Seals, Crabs, and all sort of manner of sea and birdlife in the area.

Stay away from the industrial mess in the Rock Bay area! The rest is fine, as the recent testing of the area has proved.

Indcore said...

I just swam in the Gorge for the first time this past Sunday and it was wonderful! Thank you to all who organized a great event and since it is so hot today I will be going for another dip as soon as I get out of the office!

Chris Verr said...

I know this post was put up many years ago - But I've really enjoyed reading it. Does anyone have a picture of that 110 foot tall dving tower? That seems amazing! I wish I could have been there to watch people jump off it!

Bernard von Schulmann said...

I will try to post one shortly on the blog

Bernard von Schulmann said...

You can see a not so good pic on this page

http://www.gorgewaterway.ca/history.htm