Swan Lake is nestled inside a thriving nature sanctuary in Victoria’s suburban backyard, known as the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary. The nature house is an asset to the community, a living classroom that provides opportunities to discover and understand indigenous plants and animals. It features an impressive reading room, a indigenous plant garden, and a wide variety of interpretive and educational programs for all ages and interests.
The shores of Swan Lake are a marshy habitat with cattails and duckweed providing food and refuge for many species of waterfowl and other residents such as muskrats, river otters, and mink. The trees surrounding the lake are inhabited by wrens, warblers, and other songbirds. The northern harrier, a slim, long-tailed hawk, can sometimes be seen hunting over the marsh.
Of course, where there are birds, there must be insects. Buzzing across the water and through the marsh of Swan Lake are damselflies, dragonflies, water beetles, and water striders. These insects also provide food for the resident newts and frogs.
In addition to the fauna of the lake, you’ll find unique flora and fungi. Look for Garry oak, arbutus, and Douglas fir trees, along with some of the oldest heritage cottonwood trees in the region.
When the warm summer weather passes, Swan Lake is also a great place to be after a snowfall, where you can find tracks in the snow left by critters such as muskrats and mink.
Creeks & Watershed
Swan Lake is part of the sprawling Colquitz River Watershed. Water enters Swan Lake via Blenkinsop Creek on the east side and leaves via Swan Creek on the west side before joining the Colquitz River, eventually emptying into Portage Inlet (at the northern end of the Gorge Waterway).
While its location makes Swan Lake accessible for an afternoon stroll, human settlement around the lake hasn’t been without drawbacks. Swan Lake has previously been under threat from run-off and other forms of human pollution from the nearby hills. In response, the nature sanctuary is actively involved in restoration activities for this valuable urban ecosystem.
Swan Lake has a history in hospitality. In 1864 the Swan Lake Hotel was constructed on its south side. Guests could fish in the summer, skate in the winter, and dance all year long at the hotel until it burned to the ground 30 years later. The hotel was rebuilt but consumed by fire again in 1897. In those early days of settlement, wolves were often seen in the woods near the lake. Bears and cougars continued to be a common sight on the Saanich Peninsula as late as 1908.
The name of Swan Lake may commemorate James Swan, an American resident of Washington and self-taught ethnologist who visited Victoria in 1852.
Did you know?
The southern slope of Christmas Hill (once known as Lake Hill) was originally chosen by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association for use as a cemetery for the location’s Feng Shui, as it is flanked by two ridges, the lake, and two creeks. The oval shape of the lake at the time was thought to resemble a luminous pearl.
Despite land purchase records and verbal accounts, it appears that the area was never actually used as a cemetery. A different site was chosen after residents of the area at the time protested.
For trail maps, access information, and much more, get your copy of the Lakes of Victoria, BC guidebook.