The largest municipality in Greater Victoria, Saanich offers the charm of country life mingled with the convenience of urban residential neighbourhoods and close proximity to the provincial capital of Victoria.
For thousands of years the Coast Salish people inhabited the Saanich Peninsula. The Songhees and the Saanich First Nations used the area for hunting, fishing and gathering plants.
In the 1850s the Saanich Peninsula was purchased from the Coast Saanich people for 386 wool blankets. The name Saanich is derived from the Native word meaning ‘elevated’ or ‘upraised’, possibly describing what Mount Newton looked like when approached by sea from the east.
Saanich is one of the oldest agricultural settlements in British Columbia, and an area rich in local history still evident in many of the old buildings and structures. The homes, schools, churches, commercial buildings, and farm buildings of heritage significance reflect the efforts and aspirations of the pioneer era and later periods of development.
As early as the mid-1850s, employees of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the first colonial settlers embarked on the arduous task of transforming the virgin forests of the Peninsula into productive farmland. The farms and dairy herds of Saanich soon became a vital source of food for Victoria’s expanding population and by the turn of the century the district was renowned for its cultivation of fruit and flowers. Since that time Saanich has become a major residential area in the Capital Regional District while still maintaining an important agricultural base.
Almost everywhere you turn in Saanich there’s a place to enjoy the great outdoors, be it meadows of wildflowers and Garry Oak trees, mountain parks and scenic viewpoints, serene forests and riverside paths, or quiet coves and ocean beaches. It’s a pleasure to drive or stroll around Saanich, not just to admire the area but also to let your eyes drift across the pleasing landscape.
Dominion Astrophysical Observatory on West Saanich Road is a major institute for astronomy. A dome houses a 1.8-metre-aperture telescope, once the largest in the world (1918). The Centre of the Universe interpretive centre has a 16-inch telescope and displays about the planets, the different types of stars and galaxies, and Canada’s role in discovering things in our cosmos. The centre also has a theatre for presentations on astronomy. Bikers challenging the steady 5-6% climb to the summit are rewarded with panoramic views of southern Vancouver Island. Note: Due to budget cutbacks, the Centre of the Universe will be closed to the public for good at the end of the summer 2013.
The University of Victoria located on 160 verdant hectares in suburban Saanich is one of Canada’s leading universities, serving approximately 18,000 undergraduate and graduate students. A full schedule of concerts, plays, exhibitions, films, lectures and athletics events attracts more than 300,000 people a year to the UVic campus.
Scenic Drives: The Marine Scenic Drive begins on Dallas Road at the south end of Douglas Street, near the Victoria harbour, and follows the coastline east and north for about 20 miles (32 km) to Sayward Road in Saanich. The well-marked route follows Dallas, Beach, Arbutus, and Cordova Bay Roads, always within sight of the ocean.
Mattick’s Farm includes two golf courses, miniature golf, small boutiques, tea room and produce, garden and wine stores that open onto landscaped grounds. From here, Cordova Bay Road leads to the Pat Bay Highway, where you can turn left for a quick drive back to downtown or turn right toward the B.C. Ferries terminal.
Swan Lake / Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary provides a great family outing, with bird blinds, trails, ponds and a floating boardwalk. Swan Lake and the surrounding lowland area provide a rich habitat for a variety of wildlife.
Glendale Gardens & Woodland features demonstration gardens and a conservation park at the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, where beauty and education combine on a rural 103-acre site at 505 Quayle Road in Saanich. The 9 acres of spectacular display gardens showcase over 10,000 varieties of plants. The 93 acres of conservation park includes pockets of Garry oak habitat, sensitive native plants, and second-growth Douglas fir surrounding wetlands that provide a feeding area for over 35 varieties of birds. Cycling and walking trails include loop trails and the Saanich Glendale Trail.
Visit Saanich Commonwealth Place, where Victoria proudly hosted the aquatic portion of the 1994 Commonwealth Games, the 1997 Indigenous Games, and the 2000 B.C. Summer Games.
Picnic in magnificent Mount Douglas Park, walk the shores of Cordova Bay, or hike trails lush with the abundance of ferns and wildflowers amid towering Douglas Fir and Cedar trees. You can drive to the 213-metre summit lookout for a spectacular 360-degree view of rural Saanich, the city lights of Victoria, and further, the Olympic and Cascade Mountains in Washington State.
The Francis/King Regional Park offers 6 miles (11 km) of secluded trails where the forest buffers the hum from the nearby Island Highway. The park is the ideal recreational spot for anyone using a wheelchair, walker or cane – check out the gentle Elsie King Trail with its convenient and pleasant cedar boardwalk. Francis/King Regional Park is located on Munn Road in Saanich. Follow Hwy 1 to Helmcken Road. Turn north on Helmcken, west on W Burnside, then north on Prospect Lake Road to Munn Road.
Elk and Beaver Lake Regional Park is a mecca for windsurfers, rowers, anglers, horseback riders, joggers and swimmers. Located on the west side of Highway 17 just north of Victoria, the park is rich in natural and cultural history. A feature of the park is the 10-km circular trail circling both lakes. Several picnic tables stand beneath the spreading trees next to Eagle Beach, and a stand of tall Douglas firs shelters North Beach and the beach around Cowquitz Creek at the south end of Beaver Lake from highway traffic.
Bear Hill Regional Park covers nearly 46 hectares of hill top landscape, some of the oldest rock on Vancouver Island. The last of the glaciers, 1,000 metres thick, passed over the Saanich Peninsula nearly 15,000 years ago, scouring out Elk and Beaver Lakes, and leaving behind residual hills, called monadnocks like Bear Hill, the result of the smoothing and rounding action of glacial ice. The park is popular with hikers and horse riders, and a profusion of wildflowers attracts naturalists every spring.
Golf: Golfers have a few golf courses to choose from, including Cordova Bay Golf Club, Prospect Lake Golf Course, Mount Douglas Golf Course, and Cedar Hill Golf Course, one of the busiest courses in Canada with over 90,000 rounds played each year! Blenkinsop Valley Golf Centre adjacent to Mount Douglas Golf Course has a public golf driving range, and Highland Pacific Golf Course is Victoria’s newest public golf course, located between Victoria General Hospital and Thetis Lake Park.
Victoria Golf Vacations.
Vancouver Island Golf Vacations.
Hiking: Trails in Beckwith Park on North Quadra Street in Blenkinsop Valley weave through a natural Garry Oak forested area next to natural ponds. Cedar Hill Park (Golf Course) has a 3.6-km walking trail through a beautiful wooded area and past Kings Pond. Hike to the 120-metre summit of Mount Tolmie on Shelbourne Avenue for panoramic views of Saanich and Victoria across to the Olympic Mountain Range and Mount Baker in the Cascades. Bear Hill Regional Park is popular for its woodland trails through Douglas-fir, Arbutus and Garry Oak forest.
Mountain Biking: Hartland Mountain Bike Park is the best all-purpose mountain biking trail in Victoria. Trails are well marked and rated accordingly. Technically challenging trails extend out from powerlines through fire roads and singletrack. Hartland is undoubtedly the most populated trail in Victoria. Many fanatical Victoria riders swear by Hartland as the best overall course for training to race cross-country. Access is via Hartland Road. Detailed information and maps for this superb mountain bike park are available at most bike shops in Victoria and from the South Island Mountain Biking Society.
Cycling: The Saanich Bicycle Touring Route circumnavigates Saanich, using the Galloping Goose Trail, the Lochside Trail, and rural or residential roads. The eastern section offers spectacular ocean views; the northern section passes Elk and Prospect Lakes, both with excellent swimming and picnic facilities; to the west are rural undeveloped forested areas and farms; the southern section follows the Galloping Goose trail, which overlooks Portage Inlet. The total circle route is approximately 45 km, but cyclists preferring a shorter route may follow a smaller loop by taking any of the many other bicycle routes within Saanich. Bicycle symbols on a bright yellow background clearly mark the route direction.
The Galloping Goose Trail was one of Canada’s first Rails-to-Trails conversions. Starting in Victoria, it runs for nearly 61 km through some of the island’s finest scenery. The official trailhead is in Victoria, and travels through Metchosin following backroads to Sooke and beyond. The Galloping Goose is very much a family ride. A paved trail with abundant scenery makes for a smooth journey.
Paddling: The Elk Lake Rowing Club operates from Eagle Beach in Elk and Beaver Lakes Regional Park where a public boat launch welcomes those with small outboard motors of 10 horsepower or less. Water-skiers with more powerful boats have the northwestern corner of Elk Lake reserved for this activity. The boat launch is located on Brookleigh Road east of Oldfield Road. The Gorge is a meandering waterway that leads from Victoria’s upper harbour through a landscaped urban environment, before finally widening into Portage Inlet. A daily tidal surge occasionally creates near-whitewater conditions in the narrowest passages, a thrill that kayakers will particularly enjoy. The best place to launch is the dock at Gorge Park near the intersection of Hwy 1A (Gorge Road) and Tillicum Road, just west of downtown Victoria. There’s more paddling here than you can explore in one day, which guarantees a return visit.
Wildlife: Next to the fall salmon run at Goldstream Provincial Park, the spring herring run in Victoria’s Gorge waterway is one of the major events of the year in local waters, with the bonus that the fat, sardine-like fish are easier to catch.
North of Saanich on the Saanich Peninsula is Central Saanich, a bountiful countryside where rural and urban lifestyles blend well together. Central Saanich has a rich agricultural heritage, with farmland in the rural community comprising almost two-thirds of the municipality.
South of Saanich is Victoria, the capital city of british Columbia, Canada.