Victoria a beacon for cyclists and BMX racers
As much as Vancouver prides itself on being bike-friendly, our city is no Victoria. A 2001 Statistics Canada study found that 6.2 percent of commuters in Greater Victoria cycle to work, almost four times the number in the GVRD. It helps that most residents of the Capital City live within a 30-minute ride of work. And they are a prudent lot. According to Stats Canada, more than nine in 10 riders sport brain buckets, which makes Victoria one of the bike-helmet-wearing capitals of the world.
In late February, the Georgia Straight journeyed to Victoria to pedal the Galloping Goose Regional Trail, one of the most successful rail-trail projects in the country. As commuter routes go, the section that leads west from the Johnston Street Bridge in downtown Victoria to the nearby community of Colwood is, in a word, ho-hum. The fact that it parallels the Trans-Canada Highway for much of the way through Victoria's western suburbs doesn't help matters either. On the plus side, the trail follows the former Galloping Goose interurban rail line. With little grade to contend with, it's easy to pedal on autopilot while contemplating what lies ahead. (The complete network of trails—which includes paved and unpaved sections, as well as a few Saanich Peninsula links that follow roads—stretches from Sidney to Leechtown, past Sooke, a distance of about 100 kilometres.)
On this particular ride, the intention was to inspect a new bike track in Colwood where the 2007 World BMX Championships will be held from July 26 to 29. With BMX set to debut at next summer's Olympic Games in Beijing, the intricately fashioned dirt raceway represents a major advance for the sport's development locally and for the national cycling scene. Almost totally overlooked by the mainstream sports media in Canada, BMX riders such as Alberta's Samantha Cools and her brother Ken have won world championships. Along with Langley's Scott Erwood, the Cools are considered to be among Canada's top medal contenders in Beijing.
Set beside the Juan de Fuca Community Centre, the BMX site abuts an outdoor cement velodrome track, a legacy of the 1994 Commonwealth Games. By prior arrangement, two local cyclists, David Richardson, former B.C. deputy minister of sport, and Marischal De Armond, general manager of this year's championships, met with the Straight at the track to explain both its history and how Victoria won the right to host the races.
“Our reputation for hosting international events such as the Commonwealth Games, with volunteer and community efforts, is what did it,” Richardson said. “Whether it's triathlons or curling bonspiels, the West Shore [region of Victoria] is committed. Two-thirds of the construction costs of the BMX track were donated by local suppliers. And Victoria is the site of the national team training centre for cycling, PacificSport, which was instrumental to our winning bid.” That win came as good news to groups such as Tourism Victoria that have witnessed a drop in international visits over the past several years and highlighted the fact that sports tourism is a burgeoning sector of the travel market.
Victoria vied with towns in Austria and Australia for the championships. It seems to have benefited by being centrally located between Europe and Asia. Globally, more than 40 countries are expected to send teams. De Armond estimated that as many as 2,500 elite and national-level athletes will compete, plus an additional 4,500 riders in the open recreational categories, where competitors range in age from five up. The sport's broad demographic highlights one of the key factors to BMX's growth worldwide: much like skiing, it's a family-driven affair. “One thing we've heard,” De Armond confirmed, “is that some families from places like Brazil and Bolivia, for example, are treating this event as a summer holiday as well. People who come for the Worlds will look around the province and explore the south island, for sure.”
With that in mind, at the conclusion of the interview Richardson and De Armond suggested that the Straight tack on a little local sightseeing at the Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse national historic sites, an easy 10-minute ride downhill from the track to the shore of Juan de Fuca Strait. A visit there offered the prospect of a walk through Garry-oak forests and open fields that surround the oldest lighthouse on the West Coast, complete with a view across the strait to the glaciated peaks in Washington state's Olympic National Park.
From its establishment in 1878 until it was decommissioned in 1956, Fort Rodd Hill housed three batteries of artillery designed to guard the Victoria and Esquimalt harbours. The notion of poking around concrete bunkers and barracks may not sound compelling. In fact, the site is well-preserved and -maintained, and augmented at every turn by fresh ocean breezes and views of Fisgard Lighthouse, as iconic a sight as anything on Canada's coastlines. A short causeway links the beach with the lighthouse, which stands in solitary splendour offshore. The beacon atop the two-storey brick house still serves to warn mariners away from the treacherous shoals at the mouth of the Esquimalt harbour.
Late April is one of the best times to visit Fort Rodd Hill, as well as the nearby gardens at Royal Roads University. That's when the meadows bloom thickly with deep-blue common camas flowers. Overhead, the long branches of Garry oak will be bursting with new greenery. After several hours, it will be all you can do to tear yourself away and mount up for the ride back into Victoria. Perhaps spring's urge to wander will lead you downhill from the fort and farther west along Ocean Boulevard's open beach, from where you can look back at the lighthouse from a conveniently situated concession stand, drink in hand.
ACCESS: For information on cycling around Victoria, including a copy of the Cycle Map and Guide of Vancouver Island, contact Tourism Victoria, 1-800-663-3883 or visit www.tourismvictoria.com . For information on the BMX World Championships, contact (250) 472-7644 or visit www.bmxworlds2007.com . Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Sites are located in Colwood, 14 kilometres west of downtown Victoria. For information, call (250) 478-5849 or visit www.fortroddhill.com