Swartz Bay, North Saanich

Swartz Bay, North Saanich

by | Sep 15, 2021

Swartz Bay is on the north end of the Saanich Peninsula and is the location of a BC Ferries terminal that provides the marine link connecting Highway 17 on Vancouver Island with the mainland, about 25 miles (40 km) southwest of Tsawwassen and 2.7 miles (4.3 km) north of Sidney, British Columbia. Swartz Bay was named after John Aaron Swart, who purchased the land around the bay in 1876, however, Swart’s Bay was incorrectly spelled Swartz Bay when it was adopted by the government. The island section of Highway 17 is known as the Patricia Bay Highway, or the Pat Bay Highway, named after nearby Patricia Bay, and is the main traffic artery through the Saanich Peninsula. Patricia Bay was named after Princess Patricia of Connaught, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria and the daughter of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, the Governor-General of Canada. At Swartz Bay, Highway 17 leaves Vancouver Island and starts on a ferry route covering 24 nautical miles (44 km) through the Southern Gulf Islands and the Strait of Georgia. The ferry route between Swartz Bay and the mainland is the oldest and most heavily used route in the BC Ferries system. After winding through the Gulf Islands, the route enters Active Pass between Galiano and Mayne Islands. After Active Pass, the Highway 17 ferry proceeds northeast across the Strait of Georgia landing at the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal.

In the 1870s, when John Swart lived at the north end of the Saanich Peninsula, only boats and wagon trails made access possible from Victoria. The trails evolved into rough country roads and a stagecoach provided scheduled transportation between Sidney and Victoria. Three separate railway companies once had tracks that linked communities along the peninsula. In 1888, a rail line between Victoria and Sidney was built by the Victoria & Sidney Railway with a plan of expanding this to a rail-steam-rail link to the mainland. The V&S proved a popular route for excursion passengers traveling to the beaches of Bazan Bay, just south of Sidney. In 1902, the Great Northern Railway, headquartered in the U.S., saw the business potential and purchased the V&S. The V&S was renamed the Victoria Terminal Railway and Ferry Company, the connecting steamers were the SS Victorian and SS Strathcona, and the mainland line was the Vancouver, Victoria and Eastern Railway. In 1913, traffic started declining largely because of competition from two other railroads. The British Columbia Electric Railway built an interurban railroad from Victoria to Deep Bay, just north of Patricia Bay, supplementing its well-established streetcar lines in the city of Victoria. Also in 1913, the Canadian Northern Pacific Railway started building a railway on the east side of the Saanich Peninsula from Victoria to Patricia Bay, with a plan to connect with a ferry service to Port Mann on the mainland. This line was operational in 1917, but by late 1918, the rail line was owned by the Canadian National Railway, a Crown corporation. Competition from these two rivals was too much for the V&S Railway, and in 1919, the rail service was shut down, but the ferry service continued out of Sidney. At the same time, the Canadian National Railway discontinued passenger service to Patricia Bay. In 1924, the British Columbia Electric Railway was closed due to low ridership. In 1935, the remaining tracks of the V&S and Canadian National Railway were removed.

 In June 1930, the Gulf Island Ferry Company started service to Salt Spring Island with the Cy Peck, the first ferry to sail from a small clearing at the north end of the Saanich Peninsula which by that time was commonly called Swartz Bay. A rough unpaved road provided a connection to Sidney and Victoria. In the late 1930s, the Royal Canadian Air Force built an airbase at Patricia Bay, and the road that led to the airport became known as the Patricia Bay Road. Eventually, as increasing ferry service demanded easier access, this road was relocated and renamed the Patricia Bay Highway, even though it was a considerable distance east of Patricia Bay. The Union Steamship Company of British Columbia provided extensive passenger service, and together with the Puget Sound Navigation Company, also known as the Black Ball Line, which dominated ferry operations in Puget Sound, and the Canadian Pacific Railway Coast Service, served the needs of the province until the acceleration of postwar development. The main services to Vancouver Island relied on miniature ocean liners which became inadequate with increasing demand for transport of highway vehicles. In 1956, Black Ball displaced Union Steamship on several main cargo routes, and declining passenger revenues and lack of economical fleet replacements contributed to the demise of Union Steamship. Negotiations to increase federal subsidies on Union Steamship routes failed and the company decided to discontinue passenger services. Black Ball and Canadian Pacific ferry services were also in difficulty. A crisis occurred in 1958 when employees struck for more pay. Simultaneously the British Columbia Premier W.A.C. Bennett formed the BC Ferry Authority and announced that the government would establish its own ferry service to provide a connection between lower Vancouver Island and the mainland. In 1959, the search for a new ferry terminal north of Victoria involved consideration of existing ferry facilities at Sidney. Swartz Bay was chosen instead because of the naturally sheltered harbor and shorter distance, although a paved extension of the Patricia Bay Highway was necessary. The first scheduled sailing from the new terminal was on June 15, 1960. A major expansion of the terminal was completed in 2006 that involved the replacement of old marine structures, a counter-weighted ramp lift system, and a new floating berth. The facility now covers more than 30 acres (12.1 ha) and provides BC Ferry service to the Tsawwassen Terminal on the mainland, as well as all the major southern Gulf Islands. Read more here and here. Explore more of Swartz Bay here:

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