Who put the “Pat” in the Pat Bay Highway?
By Danda Humphreys
The major artery out of the city going to the ferry terminal misses Pat Bay (and common sense) by a country mile.
That’s Pat (Patricia) Bay. But the road is not the Pat Bay Highway, which is on the other side of the Saanich Peninsula. And don’t even ask about Swart’s Bay.
Controversy raging over the proposed Pat Bay/McTavish Road interchange begs the age-old question: What’s in a name? One inspired after a long-ago visit by a Governor General’s daughter still causes confusion on one of our major highways. And at its northern end, where a squatter once laid claim, a major corporation continues to highlight an early map-maker’s error.
First, who was “Pat”? Way back in 1912, Princess Patricia accompanied the Duke of Connaught on his 1912 visit to our Island. Victorians were so enamoured of the beautiful British princess that they renamed Union Bay “Patricia Bay.”
Meanwhile, well to the north, at the top end of the peninsula, lay a small sandy beach that had once been home to American squatter Lansing O. Swart.
In Swart’s day (1870s), horse tracks and wagon-trails crossed “Sanetch” (now Saanich), which in the Sencoten language of the Salish people means “good soil.” Later, and for decades to come, access from Victoria to this area was via Quadra Street, East Road (now East Saanich Road), through the bustling village of Saanichton, to Sidney and beyond. The advent of “motors,” as they were called, turned those Saanich trails into rough country roads, marred by potholes and craters that rippled like miniature lakes after a rainfall. Progress was slow, but no one really minded. The pursuit of speed was not yet a preoc- cupation; in those days, motorcar travel was enjoyed at leisure. Horse-and-buggy was a popular mode of travel, or for 50 cents you could ride the stagecoach from Saanichton to Victoria and back. A freight service provided the means to transport goods. By the early 1900s, no fewer than three separate railway companies had laid tracks that linked communities, industry, and water transportation from one end of the peninsula to the other.
Passenger ships had formed connections with the mainland and other parts of Vancouver Island. But in June 1930, when a Gulf Island Ferry Company vessel sailed away from a small clearing at the peninsula’s north end, it made history. Pointing its bow toward Salt Spring Island on that memorable June day, the Cy Peck was the first ferry to sail out of what by that time was commonly called Swartz Bay. With as many as 12 cars lined up at the ferry approach, traffic became heavier on the East Road, still the major artery from Victoria. Then in the late 1930s, the Royal Canadian Air Force built a base on the peninsula’s northwest side. It was named Patricia Bay Airport, after the bay that adjoined it. The road that led to the airport became known as the Patricia (or Pat) Bay Road. Eventually, expanded and increasing ferry service demanded easier access. The road was relocated and renamed the Patricia Bay Highway, even though it was now a considerable distance east of Patricia Bay. Plans were made for extensions at its southern end, with diversions at its mid-section and north end, but over the next decade, improvements were painfully slow. Bottlenecks formed along the route and at its north end. Oftentimes, frustrated southbound car-drivers found themselves trapped behind trucks that were always—much to their chagrin—let off the ferries first.
Then in 1958, after strikes by the Canadian Pacific and Black Ball Ferry services cut the Island off from everything around it, Premier W.A.C. Bennett formed the BC Ferry Authority. On June 25, 1960, the first of the new ferries sailed from Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen. Shortly afterwards, BC Ferries swallowed up the competition and the rest, as they say, is history.
The new ferry service demanded major improvements on the Pat Bay Highway. It was widened to four lanes. There was re-routing in some areas, straightening-out and detouring in others. The old East Road became a secondary route, and the little village of Saanichton, once a bustling community with buildings, a general store, and a hotel clustered around a railway track, all but disappeared. The peaceful tranquillity of the Saanich Peninsula would never be the same again.
Today’s Pat Bay Highway pushes northward from Victoria, across McKenzie to Royal Oak, past Elk Lake, through a First Nations Reserve, along the west side of Sidney, and on up to Swartz Bay.
Next time you head for the ferry, look right and left as you go. This highway has history! You’re driving through land lived on for millennia by First Nations peoples, then farmed by the first Europeans to populate this area—farmers with names like Rogers, Rithet, Rey, Spotts, Michell, Ferguson, Reay, Brethour, Roberts, John, Armstrong and McDonald, whose descendants live here to this day—along with the ghosts of a pretty princess from England and an American squatter who, because of an erstwhile recorder’s error, acquired a “z” at the end of his name.
Danda Humphreys has written several books about the historic origin of this area’s street names. She is of the humble opinion that,”Pat Bay Highway” being redundant “Swartz Bay Highway” would make much more sense. www.dandahumphreys.com.
This story was published in the June 2009 edition of Focus Magazine.