Kathleen Burton

Kathleen Burton

Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary celebrates 40 years

New executive director Kathleen Burton has big plans for urban sanctuary

Kathleen Burton wanders thoughtfully along a stretch of worn boardwalk, its aging wood bouncing under her feet.

The pedestrian pathway, part of the 300-metre network of floating boardwalk and wharves surrounding Swan Lake, is a passion Burton now shares with a dedicated group of volunteers, naturalists and biologists at the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary.

“So many people are still saying to me, ‘What’s Swan Lake?’ And I’m always surprised,” says Burton, who became executive director with the non-profit society earlier this month. “But in celebrating our 40th anniversary this year, it’s a chance to say, ‘Look what you’ve got in your own backyard.’”

The delicate boardwalks – installed in 1991 – are billed as a “naturalist’s tool to bridge people to nature.” Burton will now oversee fundraising for the estimated $1.1-million boardwalk replacement with updated, aluminum structures.

“The aluminum is still beautiful and doesn’t detract from the setting,” says Burton, as she nears the end of the north wharf for a panoramic view of the lake. “It’s also environmentally friendly, so it won’t leak anything from treated wood into the water.”

Burton has a long and local history in leadership, public relations and fund development and was most recently executive director at Mount St. Mary Hospital Foundation. She’s also a board director to the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce and the Victoria Esquimalt Harbour Society, and volunteers with communications for the Saanich Police Department.

“I tweet for Ace the Mascot,” a secret she shares with a smile.

The sanctuary appealed to her deep love of nature, as it provides an impressive line-up of outdoor classes for children, adults and seniors and is used by many home-schooling parents as an education facility. (Burton’s own children grew up participating in the programs.) Classes range from birding tours for seniors to kindergarten classes on resident ducks, frog and bird habitats.

Christmas Hill, which sits north of McKenzie Avenue near the Pat Bay Highway, is still mostly covered in gnarled Garry oaks and serves as the second pillar of the nature sanctuary. Both properties are owned by the District of Saanich and maintained by the Nature Sanctuary Society through a 1975 land management agreement. Saanich provides about 50 per cent of annual expenses – about $340,000 this year – while the remainder is made up of donations, memberships, program fees and fundraising events such as the annual plant sale this weekend, where 4,000 flora varieties will be available for purchase.

“Christmas HIll and Swan Lake are two very different habitats, but it’s very interesting to showcase both of those natural habitats within the city,” Burton says.

Close to 19,000 people took part in sanctuary programs in 2014, said Joan Cowley, board chair. A dedicated network of more than 100 volunteers contributed over 7,500 hours last year doing everything from site restoration and gardening to bird walks, nature house reception and assisting with the many education programs and special event activities.

“We also have a group of quilters who volunteer their time to make and sell items in our gift shop,” said Cowley, who began working at Swan Lake in the mid-1990s overseeing volunteers.

“There’s something going on all the time. If you drop in during the week, you’ll see school groups, naturalists guiding people through the area,” she said.

Cowley and Burton are both busy preparing for the sanctuary’s plant sale this weekend, and the anniversary celebration happening May 23 at the nature house (3873 Swan Lake Rd.).

“My first week on the job I hiked up to the top of Christmas Hill and I was in awe,” Burton says, as she climbs the stone steps from Swan Lake to the nature house. “It is such an honour to have this opportunity to guide the sanctuary.”

For a list of programs, to volunteer or for more information, visit swanlake.bc.ca.



Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

New programs and services aimed at helping the unhoused find shelter or housing in Victoria, and to take advantage of support services of various kinds, could be funded if a City of Victoria grant application is successful. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria seeks $3M to $4M in grant funds to enhance community services for unhoused population

Various supports, services for unhoused population part of broad-based funding application

A Victoria parks staffer turns compost made from organics collected in the parks. Piles of this steaming, nutrient-rich stuff will be handed out between April 12-18. (Zoë Ducklow/News Staff)
Victoria shovels free home-made compost out to gardeners

Ideal for prepping food gardens, the compost, mulch and wood chips will be at city parks for pick up

Victoria Police Department seized a replica firearm during an early morning call to the 100-block of Gorge Road East on April 11. (VicPD handout)
Victoria police seize replica firearm in early Sunday morning call

Officers called to temporary housing facility in 100-block of Gorge Road East

Road improvements in Sooke are nearing completion . (Dawn Gibson/News Staff)
Sooke road work nears completion

Projects part of $5.7 million in improvements

A few dozen students and parents gathered outside Lansdowne Middle School South Campus Monday morning to protest proposed budget cuts to SD61 music programs. From left to right: Lyra Gaudin, Cleo Bateman, Abby Farish, Brigitte Peters, Enid Gaudin, Des Farish. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
Students protest proposed cuts to SD61 music programs

Proposed $1.5-million cut would hit elementary and middle school programs

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

A youth was arrested following a car crash on Wallace Street on Saturday, April 10. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Onlookers laugh and jeer as B.C. teen beaten, then forced to strip and walk home

Police arrest older teen, call video shared on social media ‘disturbing’

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

A 41-person air task force, including 12 members from 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron at 19 Wing Comox, seized more than $3 million CND worth of cocaine as part of Op Caribbe. Photo by Canadian Armed Forces Operations/Facebook
Vancouver Island team helps make $368 million three-tonne cocaine seizure

12 members from 19 Wing Comox involved in Op Caribbe

Killer whales surface near Sebastion Beach in Lantzville on Sunday, April 11. (Photos courtesy Ella Smiley)
Chainsaw and friends near the beach thrill orca watchers in Lantzville

Jagged-finned orca named Chainsaw and 17 others spent hours off Sebastion Beach this weekend

Nootka Sound RCMP and DFO Conservation and Protection Officers seized this 30 foot vessel, fishing gear and equipment as well as Chinook salmon, salmon roe, rock fish and ling cod after an investigation on Sept. 11. A judge in Campbell River on February hit the owner and his accomplices with significant fines, a ban on holding fishing licences and loss of equpment, including the boat’s motor and trolling motor. RCMP photo
Washington State trio’s fisheries violations the worst veteran officer has seen in 20 years

Judge bans three men from fishing or holding a fishing licence anywhere in Canada

—Image: contributed
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

Most Read