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Memberships 

The Nature Sanctuary is both a non-profit society and a charity. We are fortunate to have support from both the District of Saanich and from community members like you! Membership in the Nature Sanctuary is a great way to further engage with nature and to keep up to date on the work that we do. With your support, we care for 170+ acres, provide nature education to 17,000 learners, and maintain our beautiful natural space for the enjoyment of 70,000 visitors to the site every year. 

 

Volunteers 

The Nature Sanctuary is supported by 250 active volunteers! From invasive plant pulling to serving on the Board of Directors to baking cookies, there are so many ways to support us by sharing your time. In 2022, volunteers worked for over 7,720 hours, pulling 20 truckloads of invasive plants, supporting educational programming for local school children, and raising nearly $12,000 in support of the Nature Sanctuary through the sale of handmade items. 

 

Programs 

The Nature Sanctuary offers all sorts of programming for our community! From educational programs for K-12 school groups to workshops on drought-tolerant gardening (proudly sponsored by the CRD) to mindfulness in nature, we want to educate as many people as possible about the natural world around us and how to increase our connection to it.  

 

Site 

Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary oversees 170+ acres of two distinct ecosystems. Swan Lake and the surrounding area is a wetland ecosystem, home to waterfowl, fish, and all sorts of riparian plant life. Christmas Hill is an oak meadow ecosystem, and the site represents 2% of the remaining ecosystem in British Columbia. In ~8% of Saanich’s total park area we protect 10% of the rare, threatened and endangered species. 

Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary

 

The Nature Sanctuary is comprised of two physically and ecologically distinct areas – the low wetland area surrounding Swan Lake, and the rocky oak-forested hilltop of Christmas Hill. All of the 170+ acres Nature Sanctuary lands are owned by Saanich, (except for two small Nature Trust BC parcels) are managed by the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary Society under the terms of a Land Management Agreement between the Society and the Municipality of Saanich.  The area was shaped by the last glacial period and its effects are vividly illustrated on rocky hilltops like Christmas Hill and the deep marine clay beds underlying Swan Lake.

Traditional Territory

Swan Lake is located on the traditional territory of the Songhees people and was an important hunting and gathering area. Over the years, a number of arrow heads and spear tips have been found in the fields and hillsides surrounding the lake, indicating a high level of hunting.  Over a hundred species of plants are known and still used by the Songhees for food, medicines and for numerous items used in food gathering and preparation, shelter and ceremony.

History 1850s-1960s

Sailing on Swan Lake

In 1857 the first Hudson Bay settler farmed the area raising sheep, livestock and vegetables.  Farming continued in a variety of forms around the lake and hillside through the 1930s and included a dairy farm and two wineries.  Other developments included the Swan Lake Hotel on the south side of the lake, which was built in 1864 it was reputed for excellent fishing in the spring and summer, and ice skating in the winter.  In 1894 the prosperous hotel burned to the ground but was quickly rebuilt.  It tragically burnt again in 1897 and was never rebuilt.

Haying – Swan Lake

As the city expanded, Swan Lake went through a period that has been referred to as “rampaging cultural eutrophication” (addition of nutrients and filling in with sediments). Three “cultural” sources of nutrients were added to the inflow from the watershed – fertilizers from the Blenkinsop Valley and Swan Lake farms, effluent from a sewage treatment plant at Quadra and McKenzie which served almost 500 homes, and two wineries, which between them discharged more than 2,000 kilograms of sludge from the fermentation process into the inflow stream each year.  This span of land use and urban development resulted in Swan Lake and adjacent areas experiencing a loss of ecosystem health and services.

Development of the Sanctuary

In a progressive move, during the 1960s the Municipality of Saanich began acquiring lands around Swan Lake and Christmas Hill, with the aim of retaining the area in its natural state for the use and enjoyment of the public. Records indicate that much of the property around the lake had been purchased by 1973, for approximately $230,000!

After consultation with local naturalists, school districts, the University of Victoria and the Regional and Provincial Governments, the Municipality decided to assist with the formation of a society under the Societies Act of B.C., to develop and operate the site. It was named the “Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Centre Society” and was duly incorporated in June of 1975. Many of the organizations consulted along the way became members of the Board, and sent representatives to serve on the Board, making the Sanctuary truly a community effort.

A small dedicated staff was hired to begin habitat restoration and the development of a trail system.  These projects were followed by a floating boardwalk, and new office and educational facilities in the form of the Nature House (completed 1988).  Swan Lake continues to grow and steward this oasis in an urban environment, where native plants and animals flourish, and people enjoy and learn about nature and their place within it.

Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary was created in many ways and in many times, beginning with the last glacial period around 15,000 years ago, through many thousand years of first nation use, followed by 165 years of agriculture, and finally culminating in the stewardship, facility development and educational activities that have taken place recently during the last 40+ years. Located near the heart of Greater Victoria, the site helps to foster stewardship of ecosystems for future generations.

Read more about the history of the Nature Sanctuary written by the first Executive Director, Terry Morrison, here:

Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary From the Ground Up: A Brief Guide and History