Victoria’s waterfront geology, Part 2: Inner Harbo(u)r Glacial Features

Submitted by Bud Hardwick, Bellingham

Victoria's Inner Harbor. Westsong Way follows the rocky northern shoreline from the Johnston Bridge (upper right) off the left side of the image. Red line is 1/2 mile. Google Earth. Click to enlarge any image.

For a special walk following glacial “footprints” take a stroll on paved Westsong Way (Songhees Walkway).  This lovely promenade traces the shoreline of Victoria’s Inner Harbor directly west of historic downtown.  Westsong Way is a popular paved coastline walk that borders two residential neighbourhoods. The 6-km/3.6-mi roundtrip route offers enchanting views of the Inner Harbour and Olympic Mountains. There are benches for sitting along the way, and many places to stop and enjoy a picnic. Rock outcrops protrude beyond the path, and it is fun to explore them. More rock and geology is visible at low tide, but go whenever you have the opportunity and explore. Westsong Way connects with Galloping Goose Trail and the Inner Harbour walkway at the Johnson Street Bridge. The shore hugging route’s west end is at West Bay Marina in the township of Esquimalt. This easy route takes approximately 1-2 hours to complete. There are even a few pubs along the way for a cold one; or a warming something in the winter.

Glacial scours in bedrock at Songhees Point. Looking south across the narrow entrance to the Inner Harbo(u)r. B. Hardwick photo.

Beginning at the Johnson Street Bridge (minutes north of the landmark Empress Hotel and the small boat harbor) it is only a 0.2 mile walk west to Pallastsis Point, “place of the cradle” in the Lekwungen dialect of the Songhees Nation who lived here. The point is also known as Songhees Point.  This is marked by the Commonwealth pole. This was a sacred place for the Songhees people. When their children learned to walk, the adults would place their children’s cradles along this point to ensure a long life for their kids.

Totems at Songhees Point. B. Hardwick photo.

At Pallastsis Point, interpretive panels, totem displays and other outdoor sculptures mark this important location.  The scoured granitic bedrock of the point provides a wonderful display of glacial scours.  Orient a compass and record a bearing along these distinctively formed grooves and compare it to other locations that you’ll find such as nearby Harling Point (or more distant locations like Cattle Point on the south end of San Juan Island).  It’s fun to map for yourself the deflection forced on repeated Pleistocene glaciations as they rounded the south end of Vancouver Island. The most recent, the Vashon lobe of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet, continued to flow out the Straits of Juan de Fuca, completely surrounding Vancouver Island and scouring the north margin of the Olympic peninsula.

Glacial grooves at Songhees. B. Hardwick photo.

The narrowness of the harbor at this point also makes it one of the best locations to watch the boat and seaplane traffic entering and departing the Inner Harbor.  Along the shore, there’s a fair amount of wildlife accustomed to human presence making nature viewing sometimes surprisingly good.  Finally, despite whatever weather conditions you’ve experienced throughout the day, there’s almost always a late afternoon sun-break from over the Pacific, illuminating the point in golden sunlight. There are a bazillion photos taken along Westsong Way on Google Earth.

Westsong Way wends its way west toward Esquimalt. B. Hardwick photo.

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