This archival photo shows a regatta on the Gorge from around 1916

This archival photo shows a regatta on the Gorge from around 1916

Saanich history tour highlights the Gorge

The Gorge was once Victoria’s playground, a place where folks would converge to take in the regattas and vaudeville shows

The Gorge was once Victoria’s playground, a place where folks would converge to take in the regattas and vaudeville shows, to swim for the day or dance the night away.

From 1890 to 1930 it was a social hub of the city. Those days are long gone.

This year is a landmark year for Victoria and Esquimalt, with each celebrating their 150th and 100th anniversaries, respectively, and six years since Saanich celebrated its centennial anniversary.

The Gorge, the common border between the municipalities, has been the focus of a push from local community groups to get locals back out there swimming in the waterway again. It’s also been the focus of one historian’s research for the last 20 years.

“The Gorge’s history is probably the most colourful you’ll find anywhere in Victoria,” said Dennis Minaker, author and resident of the Gorge-Tillicum neighbourhood. “It’s quite remarkable, actually.”

That colourful history spans from the early farmlands of the Craigflower area and all along the inlet, where the Royal Navy regularly hosted regatta events.

“It became the centre for outdoor recreation, and that included swimming, boating, picnicking, camping – and the centre for some of the grandest houses ever built in Victoria,” Minaker added.

Those houses, built along Gorge shorelines in all three municipalities in the latter part of the 19th century, have all but disappeared, as did the amusement park and Japanese tea gardens that once lined the waterway. But tales from the day remain and Minaker, author of The Gorge of Summers Gone, is just the guy to tell them.

Minaker hosts the annual Saanich Heritage Bus Tour & Tea on Sunday Sept. 16 from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

This year’s tour highlights the Gorge Waterway, including a stop at the Naval & Maritime Museum at CFB Esquimalt and afternoon tea at the historic St. Paul’s Garrison Church. Tickets to the event, which sells out annually, went on sale today for $30 plus tax.

Register in person or by phone at any Saanich recreation centre or online at recreation.saanich.ca (course code 492204).

For information contact Saanich Archives at 250-475-1775 ext. 3477 or email archives@saanich.ca.

nnorth@saanichnews.com