Saturday, March 01, 2014

Beacon Hill?

Somehow I always understood that the park called Beacon Hill in Victoria was named for a beacon at the top of its hill, not for somebody whose name was Beacon. Stand at the top of that hill, and you can see to the west along the Metchosin shore to East Sooke Park, or across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Olympic Penninsula in Washington State. It's easy to see that any ship entering Victoria Harbour or Esquimalt Harbour could have a good view of this hill.

There's a terrific map from 1860 in the BC Archives showing a chart of Victoria Harbour with numerous soundings right up to the Gorge Narrows. Check it out at this website written by some students from the University of Victoria. One particular difference from the present harbour in 2014 is that the Causeway was not yet built in 1860 -- the present site of the Empress Hotel is shown as a muddy tidal flat. Another difference from the present harbour is the working shoreline in the Upper Harbour and Selkirk Water has changed, what with docks and fill; but the 1860 survey stayed out of shallow water where kayakers like to noodle around the shorelines. Frankly, it looks like the surveyors stayed out of James Bay, Rock Bay, West Bay, and Lime Bay entirely!

What I didn't know before looking at this chart is that there were TWO beacons on the hill: not so much lights as visible markers. The one on the crest of the hill was a green square, and the other to the west near the shore was a blue triangle. As the website authors note: "If the sailor could see the square through the triangle he was on Brotchie Ledge- which meant trouble!"

Charts and maps are terrific aids to navigation. I'm still learning how to use the beacons and charts in my own home waters.

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