Elk/Beaver Lake is often a visitor’s first impression of Vancouver Island as they glimpse its sparkling blue waters from the Patricia Bay Highway. With sand beaches, playgrounds, a boat launch, a fishing pier, an equestrian centre, a nature house, and a 10 km walking trail, Elk/Beaver Lake has something for everyone – to which the nearly 1.6 million yearly visitors can attest!
The lake and surrounding wetlands attract birds such as mergansers, buffleheads, mallards, geese, and eagles, so bring your binoculars. The vegetation along the shoreline has also been known to provide homes for river otters, indigenous (and endangered) western painted turtles, and introduced red-eared slider turtles.
Creeks & Watershed
Elk/Beaver Lake is the headwaters of the Colquitz River. Four named creeks are inflows: Whiskey Creek (Hamsterly Creek), Haliburton Brook, Linnet Creek, and O’Donnel Creek. The main outflow is the Colquitz River at the south end of Beaver Lake. The Colquitz River leads southwards through Saanich and ultimately drains into Portage Inlet at the northern end of the Gorge Waterway.
Elk Lake once served as Victoria’s primary water supply. In 1864 the Spring Ridge Water Company laid log pipes to transport water from Elk Lake to downtown Victoria. Families would either go downtown to fill their water barrels, or have the water delivered to them by horse and wagon. In 1875 water from Elk Lake began to be piped directly to Victoria homes.
The city grew quickly, so the level of Beaver Lake was raised in 1895 to connect it with Elk Lake, thereby increasing the water supply. The current name of Elk/Beaver Lake serves as a reminder that this lake was once two separate bodies of water. Pieces of this era can still be seen in the double track trail on the west side of the lake, which used to be part of the route of the Victoria and Sidney (V&S) railway from 1894 to 1919.
As one might expect, Elk and Beaver Lakes were named after animals. While elk are not present on the Saanich Peninsula today, they can still be found farther north on Vancouver Island. Beavers are still present in Saanich, and beaver dams caused flooding at (you guessed it) Beaver Lake as recently as 2013. Hamsterly Beach likely takes its name from the Hamsterly Farm, which was famous for its strawberry jam in the early 1900s.
The Beaver Lake Store, which once operated at 4808 West Saanich Road, started as a small confectionery on the east side of the road. When their landlord raised the rent, cousins Eulalie and Marie Harrison literally hauled the building across the street.
Skulls of an extinct type of bison, Bison antiquus, have been found near Elk Lake by archaeologists working with the Royal British Columbia Museum. The skulls have been radiocarbon-dated to over 11,000 years old.
For trail maps, access information, and much more, get your copy of the Lakes of Victoria, BC guidebook.