The region immediately west of Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, is known as the Western Communities, or the West Shore, and stretches westwards from Esquimalt Harbour to Rocky Point, along the rocky shoreline of Juan de Fuca Strait.
This part of southern Vancouver Island was opened for farming in the 1860s to provide fresh produce for the burgeoning population of gold miners and attendant settlers in the nearby Victoria region. As such, the natural ambience here remains pastoral, particularly in Metchosin.
Today, the Western Communities is a largely residential and rural area of Greater Victoria, offering a number of excellent parks, golf courses and many other sports facilities. Western Communities comprises the communities of Colwood, Metchosin and Langford. Sooke is often included under the Western Communities, as is the residential municipality of View Royal and Highlands.
Almost half of Vancouver Island’s population of approximately 700,000 lives within the Capital Regional District (CRD) around Victoria at the southern end of Vancouver Island. Victoria has a temperate climate with mild, damp winters and relatively dry and mild summers. It is sometimes classified as a cool-summer Mediterranean climate due to its usually dry summers. There is a rich diversity of landscapes within the region, ranging from the Douglas fir forests along the coast to the drier, exposed conditions of the higher, rockier elevations that support arbutus (madrona) and Garry oak forests.
Flowers bloom year-round in Greater Victoria, which makes exploring the outdoors here enjoyable in any season. The profusion of flora is a reward for migrating birds that make the Victoria region a semi-annual stop-over point. Bald eagles, ospreys, turkey vultures, herons, shorebirds, belted kingfishers, dippers, winter wrens, and many species of migratory ducks, geese, and swans flock to the delightfully benign environment.
Across the Juan de Fuca Strait, the snow-capped Olympic Mountains in Washington State can be seen. The views are as panoramic and breathtaking here as anywhere in the province. It’s easy to imagine how sweet life was for Native Canadians who once had this all to themselves. A tangled web of events since then has displaced the original dwellers, but their history is evident in the petroglyphs that adorn the shoreline and in the middens of seashells mounded up beside the beaches on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Totem poles new and old stand as proud reminders of this heritage.
The communities, parks, heritage sites and other attractions in each of the towns that comprise the Western Communities are described in detail on the town pages linked below. Included below that are just some of the popular attractions on the West Shore.
Location: The Western Communities area is located to the west of Victoria, and includes the West Shore municipalities of Langford, Colwood, and Metchosin. The area is accessed from Victoria by Douglas Road, which becomes the Trans-Canada Highway 1, and the West Coast Highway 14 (Sooke Road), which extends through Sooke and ends in Port Renfrew.
Originally one of four large farms established by the Hudson’s Bay Company in the 1850’s to supply produce to the steadily increasing population of Fort Victoria, Colwood is now itself a thriving satellite city in the largely residential area of the Western Communities.
Situated between Colwood and the Malahat, and incorporating the head of Finlayson Arm and Mount Finlayson, Langford offers an accessible diversity of beautiful parks and lakes and limitless recreational activities.
A rural community of wide open spaces, pastoral countryside and bountiful farmland, Metchosin was first inhabited by Coast Salish peoples. Metchosin, or Smets-shosin as it is called in the Native Coast Salish language, was incorporated in 1984.
Sooke is often included under the Western Communities, as is the residential municipality of View Royal and Highlands, a beautiful rural district of lakes and parkland bordering on the eastern shore of Finlayson Arm.
Stroll through peaceful meadows at Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Park, overlooking Esquimalt Harbour in Colwood, a coastal artillery site built to defend Victoria and the Esquimalt Naval Base – operational from 1878 to 1956. Located on the large grounds of Fort Rodd Hill is Fisgard Lighthouse, the first lighthouse on Canada’s rocky west coast, built in 1860 by the British when Vancouver Island was still a crown colony.
Fisgard remains the oldest working lighthouse on the West Coast, providing a welcome guide for mariners to Royal Roads anchorage and Esquimalt naval base, and pointing the way to Victoria harbour for merchant ships and recreational vessels. The former keeper’s house now contains exhibits, artifacts and display panels.
Hatley Park in Colwood is Canada’s largest and most diverse National Historic site. At the centre of this authentic and beautifully preserved 565-acre Edwardian estate is a magnificent castle built in 1908 by former British Columbia Premier and coal baron, James Dunsmuir. Enjoy tours of Hatley Castle, visit the museum, or stroll through the Japanese, Italian, and Rose Heritage Gardens. Visitors can also participate in one of the many visitor programs, or enrol in a garden workshop, attend a special seasonal event, or grab a bite to eat at the Habitat Cafe while visiting Hatley Park National Historic Site. Hatley Castle and the park grounds are now home to Royal Roads University.
In the afterglow of goodwill that followed Victoria’s hosting of the 1994 Commonwealth Games, local and provincial governments, as well as interested private companies, joined together to create the Commonwealth Nature Legacy. The grand purpose of the project was to further protect the remaining natural spaces that surround the ever-expanding city of Victoria.
Gowlland Tod Provincial Park in Highlands protects a significant part of the Gowlland Range, one of the last remaining natural areas in Greater Victoria, and a portion of the natural shoreline and uplands in Tod Inlet, which adjoins the Saanich Inlet south of Brentwood Bay near Butchart Gardens. Included in this park are representative examples of the rare, dry coastal Douglas fir habitat that features old-growth forest, wildflowers, and stands of arbutus and manzanita. Old mining and logging roads in the park now serve as over 25 miles (40 km) of wonderful hiking trails.
Goldstream Provincial Park in Langford offers five interconnecting nature walks and trails between the day-use parking lot, the picnic grounds, the Freeman King Visitors Centre, and the south shore of Finlayson Arm. The natural beauty of the environment, including a lush ancient forest and a little waterfall on Niagara Creek, makes this a special place to explore at a leisurely pace. You can easily spend an hour strolling through the impressive old-growth rain forest that thrives here. Black cottonwood and broadleaf maple border the trail to the visitors centre, where fascinating natural history displays are on view. Western red cedar, some as much as 600 years old, shade the trails beside the picnic ground.
The annual salmon spawning run at Goldstream begins in October and lasts through December. Successive schools of chum, coho, and chinook return from the sea to lay their roe in their ancestral spawning grounds – and then die. The transformation in their body colouring and shape, as well as their fervour and determination, make this event both vivid and poignant. At this time of year the Freeman King Visitor Centre hums with activity, as busloads of students and tourists arrive to learn more about the life cycle of this creature that has been vitally important to people of the west coast since ancient tribes first arrived on these shores. Naturalists and volunteers conduct informative lecture tours along the river, which is a short walk from the centre.
Witty’s Lagoon in Metchosin is a natural resting place for migrating birds such as osprey before they attempt the 13-mile (21-km) crossing of the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Olympic Peninsula. Other birds, such as the belted kingfisher, orange-crowned warbler, and dark-eyed junco overwinter in the shelter of the lagoon. In spring, the open meadows above the lagoon contain a brilliant array of wildflowers including camas lilies, saxifrage, and nodding onions. Displays of natural history can be found at the park’s information centre on Metchosin Road. There are several entrances to the park, including Tower Point. Turn south off Metchosin Road on Duke Road, then west on Olympic View Drive to reach the trailhead.
A short trail leads to a small beach at Tower Point where the ocean has hollowed tide pools in the granite outcropping. A rich variety of marine life shelter in the pools and stand revealed at low tide. Bring your rubber boots. You’ll also be rewarded with good views from here of aptly named Haystock Islands, where long, thick strands of grass grow in the shape of old stooks. Farther out in the strait are the Race Rocks, Canada’s most southerly point on the west coast. Hurricane Ridge predominates on the distant southern horizon. At low tide you can wade across from the point to the long stretch of beach that fronts the lagoon; otherwise, approach the beach from the Sitting Woman Falls entrance on the road just south of Tower Point. A short walk past the falls brings you to an intertidal backwater, where the waters of Metchosin Creek mingle with the Pacific, and then to the beach cluttered with driftwood, excellent for building shelters from the cold wind while you bird-watch. The quiet backwater lagoon surrounded by Garry oak and arbutus is popular with seals, too.
At Thetis Lake Regional Park in View Royal, sandy beaches front the park’s two heavily indented lakes, providing a great swimming beach and a family playground. Paddlers with hand-carried boats can launch from the main beach and explore the more remote beaches and many bays and islets that characterize Thetis Lake. A narrow channel connects the two halves of the lake system, just wide enough for a canoe or kayak. Several well-marked, forested hiking trails attract hikers to the park.
The West Coast Road (Highway 14) starts its journey in the Western Communities and runs along the thin strip of Vancouver Island’s southwestern coastline between Sooke and Port Renfrew, including French Beach, China Beach, and Botanical Beach Provincial Parks, and the southern terminus of the West Coast Trail.
To the north of the Western Communities is the Saanich Peninsula, a long finger of land that extends north from Victoria toward Sidney, a bountiful countryside where rural and urban lifestyles blend well together. Flanked to the west by Saanich Inlet and Georgia Strait to the east, the Saanich Peninsula offers a fabulous choice of outdoor recreational activities.