Northwest of Victoria is where you can find the recently (1993) incorporated municipality of Highlands. This thinly populated (approx. 2000) rural residential community is amazingly picturesque and provides an opportunity for those who are seeking a retreat from urban life, while maintaining an easy commute to the city and amenities.
There has always been a strong commitment to conservation in this community and a tradition of stewardship in support of the local ecosystems. Development in the area is subject to bylaws intended to lessen impact on local flora and fauna, as well as preserving the rural ambiance. People are encouraged to build homes that minimize negative environmental effects, and that blend into their surroundings. Stategies include positioning homes to be less visible from roads or viewpoints, avoiding vegetation removal where possible and employing natural materials in construction. The result of this commitment is a community that treads softly in nature, and is molded by the land rather than drastically altering the environment to suit its needs.
It may seem isolated when you are there, but the people living in the Highlands enjoy an easy commute to communities on the Saanich Peninsula, the Western Communities and Victoria. In fact, many residents commute regularly for work as the municipality offers little commercial or industrial activity. If you need to travel, the Victoria International Airport and the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal are close by. Highlands has its own Fire Hall operated by volunteers and policing is provided by the RCMP.
Homes in the Highlands range from rustic cabins to massive estate properties. There are people who live here full-time and those for whom the Highlands is their summer getaway. One thing you won’t find here is an urban style subdivision, a purposeful exclusion planned by the municipality to safeguard the rural atmosphere. People who choose to live here do so because they enjoy nature, and there is an ingrained tradition of volunteerism and a “help your neighbour” attitude that evokes the pioneer spirit of the past.
During the winter months the Highlands receives about 30% more rainfall and slightly cooler temperatures than Victoria, mostly because of its marginally higher altitude. This is important to top up the wells that are relied on by residents for water supply.
Regional, municipal or provincial parkland encompasses fully one third of the Highlands, and within these are some of Greater Victoria’s most extensive trail systems. There is even a wheelchair accessible boardwalk and trail at Francis/King Regional Park. Residents and visitors can enjoy some of the most impressive local parks, including:
Caleb Pike Heritage Park – is a three acre park containing heritage buildings as well as a heritage orchard. The municipality uses this site for council meetings and community events are held here as well. Caleb Pike settled here in 1883 as a widower with five children, he died in 1888 shortly after completing construction of his homestead;
Gowlland Tod Provincial Park – Located on the east shore and uplands of the picturesque Saanich Inlet, the park was created in 1994, a legacy of the Commonwealth Games held in Greater Victoria. Local and provincial governments along with private companies came together creating the Commonwealth Nature Legacy, the aim being to protect this and other natural spaces which could easily have been compromised by the rapid development taking place around Victoria. An extensive network of trails links Gowlland Tod and Mt Work Regional Park, and there are endless options for day hikes;
Mount Work Regional Park – contains three small freshwater lakes within its 536 hectares, and popular hikes including the Summit Trail which will lead you through forest and open meadow to the top of Mt Work;
Lone Tree Regional Park – on the slopes of Lone Hill is famous for an outstanding show of native wildflowers in the spring, and for an amazing 360 degree view from atop the hill. The namesake, now a decaying trunk of an ancient Douglas Fir, has been replaced by a solitary Arbutus struggling for survival in the harsh conditions, and
Francis/King Regional Park offers 11 km of forest trails including the Elsie King Trail and boardwalk which is accessible to wheelchairs so the less mobile can experience the joys of a wilderness excursion.
Residents of this tight-knit community enjoy several annual events not unlike what might have been popular in pioneer communities of the past, these include:
Highlands Markets – are held the last Sunday of the month May through September at Caleb Pike Heritage Park and feature locally-grown fresh vegetables and locally-made products, including preserves and jams, eggs, honey, crafts, quilting, baby crafts, plants, and more;
The Annual Winter Craft Fair – usually scheduled for late November, is held at Caleb Pike Heritage Park;
Highlands Halloween Celebration – and bonfire is held at Caleb Price House and across the road at the fire-hall;
The Annual Highlands Fling – is the biggest party of the year for this community, there is a family picnic, entertainment and games;
Annual Easter Egg Hunt – a bit of traditional fun held on Easter Sunday at Caleb Pike House, and
Highlands Coffee House – the second Saturday of each month October through August you will find locals meeting at Caleb Pike Heritage Park to socialize and discuss community concerns and happenings.
Those who would like to step back a bit from urban life will find the Highlands has much to offer. The pristine natural beauty of the mountains, highlands and shorelines, which offers numerous options for recreation within the parks, the friendly, close knit community that is determined to protect biodiversity in the area, and the proximity of amenities and services provided by nearby communities. These are some of the many reasons why the municipality of Highlands might be the right place for you to live.