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Saanich Inlet looking south

BC Archives - Saanich Inlet looking south
BC Archives - early painting
Institute of Ocean Science Patricia Bay Saanich Inlet
Seals near Saanich Inlet
Looking out over Saanich Inlet
Saanich Inlet looking south

Saanich Inlet

Near the City of Victoria

Saanich Inlet is one of the longest and widest inlets on Vancouver Island and has a number of features than make it a very unique waterscape. For an inlet of its size, it has relatively little inflow from surrounding rivers and streams, and what it does have often comes from agricultural areas, where fertilization may artificially increase the levels of nutrients in the water. It is very deep, approaching 230 meters in areas, but at the mouth of the inlet is a sill, with a high-tide depth of only 70 meters or so. These, combined with other factors, such as the proximity to the University of Victoria and the Institute for Ocean Sciences, make Saanich Inlet one of the most interesting and studied bodies of water on Vancouver Island.



Saanich Inlet, like most on Vancouver Island, was formed through glacial scraping, and was left behind as we know it when the most recent ice age retreated about 11,000 years ago. The sill at the mouth of the inlet is as a result of the glacier’s deposition, and is basically a pile of glacial rubble left behind at the final melting point. Once the ice had retreated, First Nation peoples began to colonize the area, coming from Asia over 10,000 years ago via the proposed Bering land bridge, and appearing on Vancouver Island around 2000 BCE. The temperate climate and rich natural resources made the Saanich Inlet an ideal place around which to live and many groups of First Nations made good use of the area: the Malahat on the west side of the inlet, and the Tseycum, Tsartlip, Tsawout, and Pauquachin on the east side.

European settlers flocked to the area in the 1800s as the land surrounding the inlet was rich, fertile, and easy to cultivate. The rich marine resources that the First Nations utilized were also exploited by the settlers, as the sheltered waters of the inlet provided exceptional food fisheries and economic opportunities. Today, the inlet is surrounded by multi-million dollar homes and agricultural land, as well as Indian Reserves, and is used as a transportation corridor as well as for recreation.


Coordinates: 48°40’N 123°30’W


Beginning at its mouth near Satellite Channel, Saanich Inlet is about 23 km long. Between 3 and 7 km wide for most of its length, it is the widest inlet on the Island, and only narrows near Brentwood Bay, remaining less than 1.5 km wide, until its terminus at the mouth of Goldstream River. The depth of Saanich inlet is fairly consistent, and beginning at the sill, drops from 70m to 200m, remaining at or around 200m until the drastic rise up to land-level within 3 km of the river mouth.

Saanich Inlet, as mentioned, is notable due to its unique underwater profile. The presence of the sill at the mouth of the inlet means that in the absence of severe weather or unusual tides, there is very little turnover of water in the inlet. This results in a stagnant body of water, with water at depth being almost completely anoxic, and incapable of supporting aerobic life. Although the life at depth is limited due to this fact, the abundance of nutrients in the top layers makes Saanich Inlet rich in life. Runoff from farms, as well as the numerous small feeding streams, results in nutrient loading in the top layers, promoting growth of phytoplankton. The Goldstream and Cowichan Rivers provide most of the freshwater that the inlet takes in, and during heavy periods of flow, can turn the top layer relatively brackish.




Surrounded on all sides by developed land, the inlet is accessible from countless points. Some of the more scenic are Coles Bay, Brentwood Bay, Mackenzie Bight, Patricia Bay, and Bamberton. The Mill Bay to Brentwood Bay Ferry operates several times a day, and for a small fee, travelers can skip the drive over the Malahat, while enjoying “Vancouver Island’s most beautiful shortcut.”


Web site ©: The Institute for Coastal and Oceans Research (ICOR) at the University of Victoria, British Columbia Canada.