Victoria’s waterfront geology, Part 1: Harling Point

Harling Point, The Harpoon Erratic, and Migmatite Bedrock  Updated geology, Oct. 10, 2013.

By Bud Hardwick, Bellingham; additional geology by Gerri McEwen (U Vic).

Reference: The Geology of Southern Vancouver Island, A Field Guide. C. J. Yorath, H. W. Nasmith. 1995, Orca Book Publishers, Victoria, and an unpublished undergraduate thesis by Gerri McEwen.

Harling Point is at the lower right. Victoria is at upper left. The red line is 1/2 mile long. Google Earth image. Click to enlarge.

Harling Point protrudes into the Strait of Juan de Fuca at the southeastern tip of Vancouver Island. It is located in the municipality of Oak Bay, immediately east of Victoria. The shoreline geology at the point is complexly folded seafloor volcanic rocks overlain by marine mudstone. Overlying Pleistocene deposits are highlighted by the Harling Point erratic and glacial grooves and striae.

The Harling Point erratic. This is a panoramio photo on Google Earth by crobinso2010.

The Harling Point Erratic, also known as Harpoon or Devilfish Rock, is exceptional both in appearance and location.  So distinctive is its appearance that oral legends among the Songhees First Nations people about this stone have been passed down to the present day.  The stone’s vertical orientation is said to have resulted when a disrespectful complaining seal fishermen was turned into a stone harpoon by the angry Transformer.  Another legend explains that if one were to walk out to the stone and touch it (low tide is necessary) the protein rich devilfish (Pacific octopus) would rise up and be easily captured.

The Harllng Point Harpoon erratic sits beyond a deep glacial groove ground into bedrock. Bud Hardwick photo.

The geologic setting of this large vertical stone is worth noting.  The erratic sits on a bedrock platform of marine mudstone scoured by sediment carried in the base of the Vashon glacial lobe around 15,000 years ago.  The large, long parallel grooves are unmistakable.  It is easy to imagine (if not correctly) that this very stone was responsible for the groove it straddles.

Argillite/greenstone contact (this unit can be seen by the really big tree on the rocks just beneath the hill). Photo courtesy G. McEwen.

Dark argillite overlies brown-weathered greenstone near the really big tree on the rocks just beneath the hill. Photo courtesy G. McEwen.

 The hilly outcrop to the east of the Chinese cemetery is folded ocean floor volcanic rock.  The mudstone north of the Harpoon erratic was deposited on top of it in deep water.  

Salt-and-pepper granodiorite of Harpoon Rock. Bud Hardwick photo.

A portion of the Chinese cemetery at Harling Point. There may be as many as 1000 burials here. Bud Hardwick photo.

The human history of this area is also outstanding. Besides the millennia of use by the indigenous people this small point figured in the more recent history of a colony and later a young nation.  In the time of sailing ship dominance the point was known as Foul Point for the many submerged rocks that could damage or sink ships rounding too close to shore.  In the early 1900s, displaced Chinese immigrants made this deserted piece of land the location for their cemetery with its rare funerary burner, at which time it was called Chinese Point.   In the 1930s a local dentist, Dr. Fred Harling, died while attempting to rescue a family caught in a small boat during a storm off this point.  It was subsequently renamed Harling Point to honor his bravery and selfless sacrifice.

The funerary burner at Harling Point. Bud Hardwick photo.

When visiting Harling Point be respectful of the cemetery and funerary structures which are part of the National Historic Site.  Interpretive panels describe the point’s cultural history, geology, and natural history including the rare and protected flowers that bloom in the spring.  A trail corridor located outside the southeast entrance to the cemetery, allows for a short pleasant hike to or from Trafalgar Park Lookout on a bluff a short distance to the east on equally scenic Beach Drive.  Inland and above the cemetery but clearly visible are the interesting summits of Gonzales and Walbron Parks.  Seaward views from the shoreline and the surrounding parks are exceptional.

For an interesting walk along more glacial “tracks” visit nearby Westsong Way along the west shore of Victoria’s Inner Harbor (coming next on Northwest Geology Field Trips).  You can record the orientation of the glacial grooves with a compass and compare them to different locations and see for yourself the deflection forced on the glaciers as they rounded the southern end of Vancouver Island.

Getting there:

2099 Penzance Rd, Oak Bay, Vancouver Island; approximate coordinates  N 48° 24.348′  W 123° 19.338′

Harling Point street map.

From the south shore of Victoria below Beacon Hill, follow scenic Dallas Road east and continue as it becomes Crescent Road in Oak Bay.  Soon after passing Gonzales Bay, follow Crescent Road as it turns sharply south (right).  In a short distance take Penzance Road angling off to the left and continue along the cemetery fence-line to the east gate.  The Harling Point erratic can be found through the gate and directly south close to shore but in the tidal zone.  It is best seen or visited during lower tides.  Please be respectful of the cemetery and protected natural areas. BC transit buses from downtown go to the Gonzales stop, only two blocks north of the point. BC Transit Map Route 3 from Downtown to the Gonzales stop.

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