Portage path proposed to make Greater Victoria marine trail safer for kayakers, paddle boarders

It could be about to get easier to cruise around Greater Victoria in a kayak.

On Monday, township councillors in Esquimalt, B.C., unanimously agreed to explore how to make it safer for recreational paddlers to navigate around dangerous tidal rapids that can keep them from completing the Victoria Waterways Loop. 

The 15.5  kilometre marine trail can be paddled in any direction between the Victoria Harbour and  Esquimalt Harbour along the Gorge Waterway. It is in the Gorge Waterway stretch of the route that paddlers run up against the Tillicum tidal rapids.

"It can be pretty treacherous, pretty dangerous and a lot of people have got into harm's way there," said Brian Henry, owner of Ocean River Sports in Victoria, on CBC's All Points West  Monday.

Henry said the rapids can get up to 11 knots and he advises paddlers to avoid the area altogether if they are unfamiliar with it.

Esquimalt Coun. Ken Armour put forward the motion to investigate options, including building a beach and pathway, that would enable paddlers to carry their kayaks, paddle boards and canoes past the rapids and link to Esquimalt Gorge Park.

Facebook/Ocean River Sports

"Right now, we have this wonderful Victoria Waterways Loop ... it's really a treasure on our own doorstep, but for paddlers who want to circle the route, the one remaining obstacle that gets in the way are the rapids under Tillicum Bridge," said Armour.

He said a plan to overcome that barrier "is a wonderful opportunity" to make the loop safer for everyone.

According to Armour, a number of residents from Greater Victoria attended Monday's council meeting to show their "overwhelming support" for a portage route.

'It would be magical'

Township staff is now tasked with reporting back to council with cost estimates and options to make that happen.

The tentative plan is to create a landing beach that would make it easier for paddlers to come ashore and connect them to the park 500 metres away by building a portage path under the Tillicum Bridge.

"It's very simple but wow, it would save a lot of people and open up an area to recreation that presently isn't," said Henry. "It would be magical."

Amour's motion included a written endorsement from Tourism Victoria. It says 16 per cent of potential travellers to Greater Victoria cite opportunities to kayak and canoe as motivations for visiting the region. 

"The loop creates a new reason for people to experience a lesser travelled side of our destination, leading to more customers for retailers, restaurants and cafés along the loop and another reason for visitors to extend their stay at accommodation properties," said the endorsement letter.

Tourism Victoria has agreed to provide a small, but symbolic financial contribution to the project, as well as help promote the development, if completed.