There has been a lot of activity in James Bay and Ogden Point to restore natural habitat and improve ecosystem function. Here are just some of these efforts.
Shoreline Trail: Part of the revitalization of the downtown waterfront in Victoria involves constructing an attractive trial following the shoreline. In the past, armouring the bank up to its top would have been done with large boulders to protect the bank from erosion by the tides. At this site an area about 2-3 m wide was landscaped using native vegetation. Oregon grape, kinnikinnik, deer fern and red osier dogwood were chosen to vegetate this challenging site that would be exposed to both the harsh dry summer of this growing region and the occasional salt spray.
Salt Marsh: In one small pocket perhaps 15 m2 in area, large boulders and sand were used to create a sandy bench that was planted with sea asparagus. Located just at the high tide line, this salt marsh recreated a small patch of what used to be a much more extensive habitat at this site.
Tidal Gate: There is a small inlet at Fisherman’s Wharf where a storm drain serving James Bay exits into the harbour. As part of the stormdrain upgrading for this area a tidal gate was installed to prevent saltwater from backing up into the system at high tide. The city installed a much larger stormdrain pipe in 2009 in an attempt to reducing flooding in the area which during heavy rain events saw some of its roads 30-60 cm underwater.
Seals: At the bottom of the ramp down to the docks are a few shops. Barb’s Fish and Chips is renowned and is a favourite destination for locals and tourists when it is open during from mid-March until the fall. Next to the fish and chip stand is a fish shop that sells fresh seafood. It also sells herring to feed seals that are always there to receive these gifts from avid adventurers. The seals reach way out of the water for the fish dangling from someone’s hand and they can be made to twirl as well.
Vortex ceptor: Next to the parking lot for Fisherman’s Wharf is a playing field that sits on top of 5 m of loose fill brought in over the years from various construction sites around the city. The site is unsuitable for building. The city recently installed a large ceptor to capture sediment coming from the stormwater in drains before it empties into the ocean. This large concrete chamber about 5 m deep contains a vortex that slows water down and allows sediment to be collected in a trap that is regularly cleaned. This reduces turbidity in the receiving waters for the pipe.
Stream daylighting: In the past, streams and small waterways in natural areas were confined in culverts and covered with fill so development could occur overtop. More recently people have come to value these scarce open waterways in their community and look for opportunities to excavate the “lost streams” and daylight them again. There used to be six streams in this area of James Bay, one of which flowed under the playing field. The City of Victoria now plans to daylight this stream through the park. They will need to excavate down 5 m to the water so the banks of the stream will need to be very wide to avoid having a steep slope in the park. Along the road are several black locust trees. This tree is native to eastern Canada but it is not found naturally yet in the west. It is planted in cities because it is hardy and grows fast. Unfortunately, it is invasive and not very long-lived.
Dallas Road: The Shoal Point condominium development has impressive landscaping. There is a rock face with a waterfall planted with many shrubs. In urban situations it is unusual to find running water on the surface, available to wildlife. Open water with shrubs supports many native bird species. James Bay is known for the Bewick’s Wren that sings often; its song is characteristic of a walk in the morning around the neighbourhood. More recently, though, a Winter Wren has also been in the area. Normally a woodland bird, it is at home in a landscape like that around Shoal Point.
Coast Guard: Across the street from Shoal Point are the offices of the Coast Guard. They also have a landscape planting that is valued by wildlife, in this case a large cluster of willow shrubs that are an attractive view for the people working in the building. Above the offices the roof of the Coast Guard building is planted with grasses and shrubs with a small plaza. This is in fact a green roof that helps to maintain water on the site rather than direct it into a stormdrain. On the road next to the Coast Guard are rows of street trees. These are primarily Wheatley elms. A large number of street trees in James Bay are elms that survived the Dutch elm disease that has laid waste to most elms in most other Canadian cities. The disease has not yet made it onto Vancouver Island. If and when it does it will devastate much of the urban forest of James Bay. The Wheatley elm is invasive and many of the rows of what appear to be shrubs along parking lots are actually the suckers of nearby elms.
Angler’s Boat Launch: The James Bay Anglers Association has a boat launch close to Ogden Point. Many nonprofit rod and gun clubs and other nongovernmental organizations such as environmental clubs like the Sooke Salmonid Enhancement Society play a major role in ecological restoration in urban areas. raising salmon fry or restoring stream habitat as an example. One of the largest organizations restoring wetlands in Canada and the United States is Ducks Unlimited. The Amalgamated Conservation Society of Victoria has a proposal to raise thousands of pink salmon fry in an open water pen next to Ogden point opposite the boat launch. This is not a fish farm though, it would be more like a pen in a salmon hatchery, providing protection for the fry as they grow larger before being released, hopefully to return in two years as adults.
Ogden Point: Ogden Point extends about one kilometre out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Consisting of about 10,000 large granite blocks, it provides shelter for Victoria’s harbour. At the beginning of the breakwater is the Ogden Point Cafe with the dive shop underneath. In the parking lot next to the dive shop are several reef balls. These hollow domes of concrete about one metre in diameter will be part of a restoration effort that will see hundreds of these balls submerged in the subtidal zone next to the breakwater. This area is already a provincial underwater marine park rich with life and the reef balls will enhance this habitat. It is also part of a Victoria Harbour Bird Sanctuary, established in 1923, that extends along the shoreline all the way from Esquimalt to Ten Mile Point. In 2008, The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority installed an electronic noise device on the Ogden Point Pier Warehouse A roof to scare away gulls but was required by the Canadian Wildlife Service to remove it because it interfered with other birds protected by the sanctuary. The breakwater protects the harbour for Pilot Boats that move pilots as needed to and from ships passing through the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Beach Front: Large sections of the banks along the beach are covered with Scotch broom, a troublesome invasive shrub that was brought here by settlers in the 1800s and has been a serious problem in local habitat of Garry Oak Ecosystems. The plant is a legume and can fix nitrogen, enabling it to colonize disturbed soils. Once established, it keeps out local native vegetation by greatly increasing the nitrogen content of the soil (a situation hostile to many native species) and produces a chemical that suppresses the growth of other species (an allelopath). Erosion of the banks is a serious problem and a great deal of effort has been made to stabilize the bluffs. They cannot simply be armoured with large boulders or cement walls because the sand eroding from these sites is carried to beaches further along the coast – without some erosion here these distant beaches would disappear. The foot of the bluffs is a common place for squatters to set up camp, some of whom have been known to excavate into the banks, accelerating natural erosion. The top of the bank at Holland Point shows outlines of raised earth mounds that are associated with previous settlements of First Nations at this location thousands of years earlier. Found here are some burial sites and many artefacts associated with the middens at the settlements.
Beacon Hill Park
Beacon Hill Park: Invasive species control is a big issue at Beacon Hill Park. English ivy has long been an issue and many volunteers have worked many hundreds of hours trying to control this vine that covers the forest floor and climbs trees. More recently, in the last few years carpet burweed arrived in the off-leash area of the park. It first appeared in British Columbia in Ruckle Park on Saltspring Island in 1997 and has spread to campgrounds and recreation sites in other parts of the province. For 27 years Beacon Hill Park was also home to a large colony of Great Blue Herons. Usually such colonies only last about 10 years before the guano from the birds kills the trees. Victoria Parks actively maintained the trees though, protecting them from the damaging impacts of the guano. However, in 2008 the colony was devastated by transient Bald Eagles. A nesting pair of Bald Eagles lived by the colony but the male died and left the territory vacant. The undefended territory was entered by many other eagles who ate all of the Great Blue Heron young from the 2007 nesting season. Also, a number of Lawson cypress trees in the colony died from an infection of Phytophthora fungus that managed to survive the winter (possibly due to climate change). The opened-up canopy created by these dead trees exposed the nests of the herons to predation. The heron colony has since dispersed with smaller groups of birds aqppearing in various locations around the Saanich Peninsula.
LifeCycles Garden: Straight up Menzies from Dallas Road and close to the parliament buildings is a small allotment garden in the corner of a parking lot. It is operated by the LifeCycles Project Society, founded in 1994. Allotment gardens play an interesting role in ecological restoration. They represent a form of ecological restoration known as the “working landscape.” This gained prominence in ecological restoration projects on pasture lands by various nature trusts – they worked with farmers to restore their land while at the same time retaining its role as pasture for livestock. An allotment garden in a city retains the people function while providing some wildlife habitat. The garden plots tend to be rich in flowers from ornamental plants and vegetables which support pollinators in the ecosystem. The healthy populations of pollinators such as butterflies, bees and hummingbirds benefit both native and non-native species. The LifeCycles Garden also contains a cob house made of mud that illustrates more eco-friendly building practices that may be appropriate in some situations.