Cycling the Three Old Railway Grades of the Saanich Peninsula
There were once three railway lines running north from Victoria up the Saanich Peninsula. Today, all three rights-of-way are a mixture of roads and trails that can be pleasantly cycled in a few hours. The easy grade and rural surroundings make these routes far more pleasant and far quieter than the main roads. Mix and match these routes for a delightful round trip from Victoria. The Victoria/Gulf Islands Cycling & Walking Map is a perfect resource for these rides.
The Lochside Route
The Canadian National Railways dates from 1917, and is commonly referred to as the Lochside right-of-way. If you’re cycling from downtown on the Galloping Goose Trail, take the Lochside Trail spur just after the Switch Bridge crossing the Trans Canada Highway. You can follow the CNR right-of-way, essentially unbroken, all the way to Sidney.
The trail passes next to the Swan Lake Nature Conservancy, through the farm lands of the Blenkinsop Valley, along a quiet residential road to Cordova Bay (the beach at Cordova Bay village is a very short side trip to the right). The trail continues from Lochside Park, shortly after Mattick’s Farm (a great stop for ice cream!), through the hedgerows and fields of Central Saanich, to the Saanich Historical Artifacts Society grounds. From here, take the bike trail that parallels the highway to Mt. Newton Cross Road. Turn right, and then a left on Lochside Drive takes you along Bazan Bay to the town of Sidney. Be sure to take in the view at Bazan Bay Park just south of town. The ferry to the San Juan Islands and Anacortes, Washington, leaves from Sidney. The BC Ferries to Vancouver and the Gulf Islands leave from Swartz Bay (at the northeastern tip of the peninsula). This ferry can be reached from Sidney following a route residential roads as far as the Pat Bay Highway, then go right on the adjacent bike path to the ferry terminal. A spur line of the CNR once branched off to the west from Bazan Bay and crossed the peninsula to Patricia Bay. To follow this route, follow the signs for the airport through a number of traffic circles which will bring you to the other side of the Peninsula and Patricia Bay (West Saanich Road).
The B.C. Electric Route
The B.C. Electric Railway (the Interurban, 1913 – 1924) ran north up Burnside Road, then along present-day Interurban Road to Wallace Drive, through Brentwood Bay and Saanichton, to its terminus at Deep Cove at the northwestern tip of the peninsula. This is all nice level road today. Towards the north end of Interurban Road, at Goward Road, turn onto the gravel bike path which parallels West Saanich Road.
The Red Barn Market comes up on the left – a great spot for delicious sandwiches, fresh produce and BIG ice cream cones! A few hundred metres past the market, turn left onto Wallace Drive and cruise down the Tod Creek Valley to Brentwood Bay. The trail to the Gowland-Tod Provincial Park is to the left, just before Benvenuto Avenue. Butchart Gardens is left on Benvenuto, just down the hill. The ferry across Saanich Inlet to Mill Bay and all up-island points leaves from downtown Brentwood Bay. Continuing northeast from Brentwood Bay on Wallace Drive, pass Centennial Park before reaching Saanichton. Stop for great coffee at Fresh Cup or pop into the Prairie Inn for a tasty pint! Stay on Wallace Drive and enjoy the beautiful views as you continue north along the open ridge. Wallace Drive becomes Aldous Terrace as you enter North Saanich District. The Experimental Farm and Victoria International Airport block off two of the three old rights-of-way, so I recommend joining up with the Lochside route from here. Turn right on Amity Drive and cross the Pat Bay Highway on the overpass. A left on Lochside Drive takes you north to Sidney. Fifth Street, Malaview Avenue, Resthaven Drive, and McDonald Park Road will take you to Wain Road. Cross the Pat Bay Highway on Wain Road and continue to Tatlow Road, which is again the B.C. Electric right-of-way. Turn right on Tatlow Road and continue to Deep Cove.
The Victoria and Sidney Route
The Victoria and Sidney Railroad was the first on the Saanich Peninsula (1894 – 1919), running through Royal Oak and up the west side of Elk Lake. Cycling is allowed through Elk Lake Park on the Cordwood Trail, the only part of the old V & S that is preserved as trail. North of Elk Lake, there is not much of the right-of-way remaining, but a pleasant ride may still be enjoyed. Turn left on Brookleigh Road to Oldfield Road, then right (north) on Oldfield. Oldfield Road features great roadside fruit and veggie stops as you cycle through the fields and the winery, Symphony. Cross Keating Cross Road at the lights, and keep heading north on Seabrook Road. On a clear day you might even see Mount Arrowsmith from this ridge. Cross Stelly’s Cross Road, then turn right on White Road to Veyaness Road. Turn left on Veyaness, to East Saanich Road, to Saanichton. From here, pick up the “Interurban” route to Sidney. Turn right on Wallace Drive (which becomes Aldous Terrace), then right on Amity Drive. Cross the Pat Bay Highway on the overpass, then turn left on Lochside Drive to Sidney and all points north.
Cast your mind back to the great days of rail and enjoy your ride!
Original story by Steve Smith, adapted by Steve Duck
This post was originally published at GVCC Blog
Permission give by Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition