A kite, a propeller, happy dogs, a picnic table with a view. No, visiting Esquimalt’s thirty-two parks and recreation facilities is not our most unusual or thrilling journey, nor is it a dangerous exploration of unknown territory. It qualifies as a pandemic adventure, though, fully compliant with British Columbia’s social lockdown and travel restrictions. The huge reclining inflatable Frosty the Snowman makes us smile.
“When are you going to visit more parks?” asks a dear friend. We hesitate. The Township of Esquimalt is next on our list, but it is small (one-third the size and one-fifth the population of Victoria), flat, and familiar (we lived in Esquimalt for ten years). We apologize, Esquimalt, for thinking you lack the wow factor. In fact, Esquimalt has lovely parks, scenic waterfront walkways, and panoramic views – even though it’s the highest point of land is just 71 meters in elevation.
Esquimalt’s outdoor attractions are well-documented, too. The handy one-page Parks and Recreation map shows the location of thirteen parks, four greenways and open spaces, twelve waterway and beach accesses, and three recreation facilities.
To learn more about Esquimalt’s history, natural features, neighbourhoods, and parks, download seven walking tour brochures written by local historian Sherri Robinson. Going for a walk or a bike ride are allowed activities under British Columbia’s covid-19 restrictions, and Esquimalt’s map and brochures make it easy to build an itinerary.
The anchors are familiar, but the big propeller is not. Eight years ago we walked the streets of Esquimalt in search of anchors, for a photo study Doug was doing. So focused on anchors, we failed to notice the large World War II-vintage ship propeller at Propeller Park, established to commemorate one hundred years of shipbuilding and repair in Esquimalt.
Bounded on three sides by water, Esquimalt has a long maritime history and a lot of nautical connections. Its natural harbour is home to the Pacific Fleet of the Royal Canadian Navy, the community’s largest employer. Nautical notes abound: ship-shaped playground equipment, streets named for flagships and Navy admirals, memorials to sailors and ships lost, and, of course, anchors.
Popular parks and paths
Saxe Point Park is Esquimalt’s top attraction, according to Tripadvisor. Saxe Point has a few forested trails and a large open lawn suitable for weddings, but most visitors come for the vistas of Juan de Fuca Strait and the Olympic Mountains.
Cross the Johnson Street bridge from downtown Victoria and you will enter the 2.9-kilometre West Bay Walkway. This picturesque path runs along the shoreline, with non-stop views of ferries, seaplanes, self-propelled watercraft, seals, and other harbour activities. The Walkway is heavily-trafficked, especially on sunny weekends, and cycling is not permitted.
Got kids? Like dogs? Macaulay Point is for you. Youngsters and military history buffs will enjoy wandering through Fort Macaulay’s old bunkers, lookouts and defensive berms. Macaulay Point is a large park, with native vegetation, sea views, and room to roam. Most of the park is leash-optional for your Fido.
Highrock Park, also called Cairn Park, is one of our favourites, because of the rocky knolls and natural meadows with Garry oaks and seasonal wildflowers. With minimal huff and puff we reach Esquimalt’s height of land (71m), where there’s a panoramic view and a cairn with directional markers.
Cyclists rejoiced when the Esquimalt section of the E&N (Esquimalt & Nanaimo) Regional Trail was completed two years ago. This paved pathway combines with the Galloping Goose to form a pleasant and safe twenty-kilometre loop linking Victoria, Esquimalt, and View Royal.
Highlights on the E&N: ships in the graving dock and the trackside art wall.
Nine of Esquimalt’s beach accesses are new to us. At the bottom of residential streets, these hidden gems are mostly used by neighbourhood residents.
Four of the new-to-us beach accesses are on residential streets west of Saxe Point. Denniston Park, at the end of Grafton Street, has picnic tables and a path to a rocky headland. Nelson boasts a wooden viewing platform just above the water. Foster and Sturdee have pebble beaches and views.
McNaughton, Forshaw, Glenvale, Dellwood, and Yarrow are access points on the Gorge Waterway. Launch your canoe or kayak, go for a swim, or sit on a bench and admire the views. Note to traffic-averse cyclists: yes, Craigflower Road is a busy street, but it does have a marked bike lane, and to visit all the Gorge Waterway parks you will be on this road for less than three kilometres.
Freeman Ken Hill Park is not on the Esquimalt park map, but we come upon it at the corner of Lyall and Grafton. This little park overlooks Esquimalt Harbour and has a picnic area and a children’s climbing rock.
The big finish
Health Canada approves Pfizer-BioNTech covid-19 vaccine! This big news breaks as we are mobilizing to visit the last parks on our list, those along the Gorge Waterway.
What a great day for science – and for us all! Before we head down to the bike room, Cathy rummages through the filing cabinet for our dog-eared yellow booklets, our International Certificates of Vaccination. When vaccine becomes available for our age group, we are ready. Meanwhile, we are staying active, local, and safe, and we hope you are, too. Seasons greetings, all.