The Township of Esquimalt is looking into developing a portage beach and safety ramp as part of the Victoria Waterways Loop.
The 15.5 km loop circumnavigates the Township, visiting the shores of Victoria, View Royal and Esquimalt. One spot near the Tillicum Bridge, however, has given paddlers troubles due to the rapid waters at the site, causing some vessels to capsize.
The idea for a portage beach at the site was recently brought forward to the Township by View Royal Coun. John Rogers, and quickly adopted by Esquimalt Coun. Ken Armour.
“This is a really unique and rather unknown inland waterway that we have a chance to take on as a real tourism and business opportunity,” Armour said during a recent council meeting. “The challenge of course is we have the tidal rapids at the Tillicum Narrows, which are dangerous to navigate, especially for inexperienced kayakers and canoers… the idea of this portage beach and ramp is to overcome this safety challenge.”
Armour added that upgrading the site could afford the opportunity for more signage, including those that illustrate points of interest or local history.
While so far the idea has received more than 30 letters and emails of support from residents, the Township also needs to consider possible problems, including any breach of privacy to the nearby Gorge Point Condominiums, the potential of creating a loud gathering space at a new beach and staying aware of a nearby fenced-off First Nations midden site.
“I’m comfortable to move it forward so we understand all the implications,” said Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins.
“I do have many of the same concerns of the challenge that if you open something up that’s slightly hidden, it opens up the opportunity of people to gather, but it could also offer the opportunity to do something around the midden, too.”
Council could use funds from the $17 million McLaughlin fund given to the Township as a one-time grant in exchange for the use of McLaughlin Point for the CRD’s wastewater treatment plant. Of that total, $7 million must be used for waterfront improvements, of which a large chunk has already been allotted to the creation of a dog park and multi-purpose building in the Esquimalt Gorge Park.
Initially, any remaining leftovers from the funds were supposed to be allocated to a boardwalk in Saxe Point Park. Township staff said, however, that nothing is set in stone about leftover funds, including whether much will be available. Council voted unanimously to direct staff to investigate into the options for a portage site, including the potential costs.