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Paddle Victoria Harbour's Waterways

Victoria, British Columbia


Added by Spencer Williams

Paddle around Victoria, BC’s stunning harbour and explore historic waterways once used by the First Nations of Vancouver Island.

Victoria Harbor located on the southwestern tip of Vancouver Island, British Columbia is the southernmost port in Canada. Enjoying a moderate climate year round, one will quickly see why it is also known as Canada's busiest port. Pleasure boats, water taxis, large car and passenger ferries, tugboats with barges, cruise ships and lots of seaplanes operate throughout the immense harbor everyday. Victoria Harbor is also home to excellent recreational opportunities such as kayaking, canoeing, or stand up paddle boarding for people of all experience levels.

Going North 

A great place to start is at Ocean River Sports, they have a dock at the bottom of Swift St. just north of the Johnson St. Bridge. Here you can rent kayaks, canoes and SUPs or hire a guide to show you around the large port. Located at the north end of Victoria’s Inner Harbor, departing from the Ocean River Sports dock give you many different route options to choose from depending on you experience level and desired length of time. A popular route is to paddle north until you reach the turnaround point called Tillicom Narrows, a reverse falls that crosses under Tillicom Bridge. The trip takes roughly 30-45 minutes in one direction. Once you are on the water begin your journey by heading away from Johnson St bridge and into the Upper Harbor. In the Upper Harbor you will see much industrial activity including multiple shipyards and a large scarp mill. 

At the end of the Upper Harbor you will cross under the Bay St Bridge and enter The Selkirk Waterway. On your right you will see a dock leading to the National Heritage Site, Point Ellice House. The house, originally built in 1867, is now open for tours and offers Victorian-Style afternoon Tea.

Next you will come to the Selkirk Trestle, a wooden bridge crossing over the water marking the start of the Gorge Waterways. Now a part of the 37 mile long Galloping Goose Regional Trail, the trestle was originally built for the Canadian National Railway. Just before you cross under the trestle you will go by Halkett Island also known as Deadman’s Island. This was once a burial and funeral site for First Nations people of Canada.

After you have passed under the bridge you will now be in the Gorge Waterways. Here the surrounding shoreline transforms into a densely forested section dotted by houses. At the end of the Gorge Waterway you will reach the Tillicum Narrows, your turn around point. You are strongly advised to use great caution when approaching this area. Though it might not look daunting, this is a reverse falls which can create swirling currents (known as eddylines) up to 12 mph. These currents can and have capsized kayaks and canoes resulting in serious injury or worse. After turning around and heading South you have the option of returning to the dock you launched from or paddling through to the Inner Harbor and beyond.

Going South

To the south of Ocean River Sports you have the option of paddling through the Inner Harbor to the Outer Harbor and even out to sea. Be warned that the Inner Harbor in much busier than the waterways to the north so be sure to always be on the lookout and follow the traffic rules. The beauty of the Inner Harbor is seen in the architecture of the area. The Empress Hotel, Steamship Terminal, and British Columbia Parliament Building are just a few of the grand sites that help tell the history of the famous port city. 

The transition from Inner to Middle Harbor is marked by Laurel Point to the south, followed by the float homes of Fisherman's Wharf. In this area you will also notice yellow bouys, these mark the landing and takeoff areas for seaplane traffic. Be advised that its prohibited to cross this area, so if you are looking to go north from here you must paddle back to Laurel Point and cross from there. 

If you plan on continuing on to the Outer Harbor and Ogden Point Breakwater be sure to stay to your left. As you approach the 2,500 foot concrete breakwater be sure to get a close look at the inner wall. The whole length is decorated with a mural called the Land and Sea Unity Wall, it shares the legends and stories of the Costal Salish people. 

To head back, cross over to the west side of the harbor and follow the coast back through the harbor making your return to the Ocean River Sports dock. When you're all done drop into Canoe Brew Pub, an excellent micro brewery conveniently located behind the docks. 

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