Nanaimo’s Westwood Lake
In the southern half of Nanaimo, not far from Jinglepot Rd. is a place that pretty much everyone in Nanaimo knows about for its beauty, nice walking trail and great swimming. People who aren’t from Nanaimo seldom know about it and tend to be wowed by it upon discovery. It apparently has an in teresting history which I didn’t know about until I saw the following article in the local newspaper.
Scroll to the bottom of this post to see some images of the lake itself.
Man-made lake is one of city’s favourite natural destinations
Evidence is scant of Westwood Lake’s history as a dairy farm
Westwood Lake is Mike and Jo Creedon’s favourite place to enjoy nature, but longtime residents know the lake is about as natural as the road leading up to it.
The lake is on land where a farm was flooded and dammed for electrical power generation a century ago.
Westwood Lake’s human origin is one of the lesser-known facts surrounding Nanaimo’s favourite swimming lake and a top destination for day hikers.
In summer, sun-worshippers converge on the lake, most of whom are unaware it was once a successful East Wellington dairy farm owned by an ambitious English homesteader, before changing hands to a miner and then to an electric company.
Today, it also serves as a backup water source for salmon during the dry summer months.
Westwood Lake is one of Nanaimo’s hidden gems, with water warm enough for summer swimming and sufficient trails to share among walkers, runners and cyclists. An off-leash park is popular with dog owners. The lake is stocked with two kinds of trout, offering great fishing opportunities.
Ten years ago the Creedons moved to Nanaimo from the Comox Valley, choosing a property within walking distance of Westwood Lake. When the weather gets hot, sun-worshipers flock to First and Second beaches, but the Creedons enjoy it year-round.
“It’s a great place to walk any time. When it’s raining, you’re covered and when it’s blistering the trees help you stay cool,” said Jo.
The couple have picked up plenty of local folklore about the lake since becoming residents in 2004. They know, for example, about the beavers that lived there until they were removed in the 1990s.
“Turtles live here, at the north end,” said Mike. “When the sun is shining we see as many as five.”
They and other area residents have a limited knowledge of the lake’s history.
“I know this is a man-made lake,” said Lil Frank, a Resort on the Lake resident. “I saw all them stumps and someone said it used to be a farm. And they’ve got a dam at the end of the lake. If it gets too high, they let it go.”
Precise details on the origin of the lake are sketchy. The lake is named after William Joseph Westwood, who operated the dairy farm that was there first.
Born in 1817, he and his first wife left a successful grocery business in England for St. Louis, Missouri, in 1849. She died and Westwood remarried a year later, but his blacksmith business flourished until the lure of the gold rush drew the growing Westwood family to California in 1853.
Westwood soon traded in his mining plans for ranching and soon the Westwood ranch was the finest in the area.
In 1860 the Westwoods boarded a steamer bound for Victoria. After making a small fortune in real estate, they moved to Nanaimo in 1864. Westwood paid $1 an acre for the 650-acre East Wellington property as a homesteader.
The dairy farm prospered until Westwood’s death, on Jan. 29, 1872.
He left behind a wife and 10 children by two marriages. The farm buildings were destroyed by fire that same year. His widow sold 600 acres to Richard Chandler of San Francisco, who wanted the coal rights, for $150,000. It was a considerable sum at the time.
The Nanaimo Electric Light, Power and Heating Co. bought 200 acres on the banks of the Millstone River in 1907, damming the river and flooding the land, according to historian Jan Peterson.
The B.C. Power Commission later acquired it. It isn’t clear when the power plant was decommissioned.
A Westwood descendent became an MLA and launched an unsuccessful bid to make it a provincial park some time in the 1950s. In January 1957 the City of Nanaimo bought the land for $1.
Oldtimers know bits of the lake’s history. Ed Singer heard from his grandfather that a farm was flooded to build the lake, and Singer, a diver, has explored the lake’s murky depths several times. On the silty bottom he caught glimpses of what could be remnants of the old “Westwood ranch,” as it was known.
“All I saw was something shaped like a roof but covered in mud,” Singer said.
“If there was some kind of building there, it completely collapsed.”
Along with its recreational values, the lake has proven valuable to conservationists to enhance the Millstone River’s salmon-bearing capacity.
The city teamed up with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the B.C. Conservation Foundation to build a side channel around the Bowen Park waterfalls, allowing coho to spawn the upper Millstone.
A weir built in 2008 raises the lake level 15 centimetres, providing reserve supply for the young fish in August and September.
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WESTWOOD LAKE FACTS
– 62 hectares: Westwood Lake surface area
– 106ha: Total park land area
– 420: Average daily beachgoers daily (July)
– $150,000: Price paid for most of the Westwood farm after the owner’s death
SOURCE: DAILY NEWS RESEARCH