Mill Hill and Millstream Creek

I recently had an article published in my local community newsletter, which circulates to all the residents of the manufactured home park I live in, so about 73 residences. A small publication, but still nice to have people reading something I wrote! Now that both parts of the article have been published I thought it would be nice to re-publish it on my website blog as well. I hope you enjoy the article and my photos!

Part 1 – published in the June 2023 newsletter

A newt, an amphibian found in local creeks, ponds and lakes.

Mill Hill and Millstream Creek

Living in Arbutus Ridge MHP we are fortunate to be surrounded in all four directions by Millstream Creek and Mill Hill Regional Park. These pockets of wilderness are sanctuary to a wide range of wildlife, rare plants and endangered habitat. 

Chocolate lily, a uncommon plant found along the trails in Mill Hill park. 

Mill Hill and the land alongside the creek is the traditional territory of the Songhees and Esquimalt people, known as the Lekwammen. There is evidence that the Lekwammen people lived in the area and camped at the mouth of Millstream Creek as long as 3000 years ago, or longer. The headwaters of Millstream Creek are at Mary Lake, approximately 6.5 km upstream from here in the Highlands. The Mary Lake area is part of the traditional territory of the WSANEC Indigenous people. Therefore the following tiny bit of history is only a moment in the thousands of years this land has been stewarded by local Indigenous people. 

Camas, the beautiful food plant of the Coast Salish people. The bulbs taste a bit like a potato and feel like the texture of roasted garlic. 

Many smaller creeks run off the Highlands and into Mary Lake, a man-made lake that was created in the 1930s when a small earthen dam was built across Millstream creek. This was later replaced with a concrete dam in 1964. You can visit the dam, walk around Mary Lake, and walk beside the upper reaches of Millstream Creek by taking a guided tour of the Mary Lake Nature Sanctuary. This plot of land is a protected area and will eventually become a park, but for the time being you can only visit for guided tours. It’s a beautiful area with many mature trees, now owned by the Greater Victoria Greenbelt Society. It’s nice to know where our creek begins before it runs south to our little neck of the woods. 

Millstream Creek in the springtime, a lush paradise. 

Mill hill and Millstream creek get their contemporary name from the Hudson’s Bay Company saw mill, the first saw mill built in the area at Mill Falls in 1848. From the summit of the hill you can see 360 degrees of ocean, the city, the hills and mountains north of us. On a clear day you can see the Race Rocks Lighthouse and the Olympic mountains beyond. Large boulders perch on the summit. Trails traverse the hill and connect to Thetis Lake park and all the way up to Gowland Todd park on the Saanich Peninsula. One of our past residents at Arbutus Ridge MHP once hiked all the way from Todd Inlet to her home here, travelling continuously on park trails the whole way. Quite the trek!

Calypso orchid, a delicate flower that grows alongside the Calypso trail up to the summit of Mill Hill.

Millstream Creek and the shoreline area is habitat for many species including freshwater crayfish, cut throat trout and other small fish, turtles, salmon, squirrels and small rodents, river otters, herons, ducks, geese, kingfishers, mink, raccoons, newts and salamanders, frogs, toads, garter snakes, bats and many sorts of insects. Annas hummingbirds hover above the water plucking small flies from the air. These hummingbirds are here all year, despite winter’s cold temperatures. Skunk cabbage and sword ferns grow prolifically along the shorelines. Deer walk the animal trails along the creek ravine, in the springtime followed by their spotted fawns. Black bears and cougars make their way into urban areas by following paths alongside the creek. We even have a few reptiles here, such as endangered Western Painted turtles, the endangered sharp tailed snake, and the endangered alligator lizard, now threatened by the invasive Italian wall lizards we see all over our gardens. 

Coral root orchid, a fabulous flower of the woodlands.
Deltoid Balsamroot, extremely rare plant growing in secret locations on Mill Hill.
A red legged frog in the creek
Fawn lilies, an early spring show in the woods. 
Don’t forget to stop and smell the skunk cabbages!

Part 2 – published in the July 2023 newsletter

grumpy juvenile bald eagle

Many birds call this area home. Barred owls hunt from branches above the creek, catching trout, crayfish and snakes, as well as various rodents and small birds. The owls even bathe in the water. Ravens nest near our houses in a Douglas fir tree. Turkey vultures and eagles ride the thermals over the hill. Other raptors you can see here are Coopers hawks, sharp shinned hawks, saw-whet owls, pygmy owls, great horned owls and feisty little American kestrels. Some of the other bird species include swallows, finches, meadowlarks, vireos, wrens, pileated woodpeckers, sapsuckers, chickadees, California quail, seasonal rufous hummingbirds, Stellars jays, nuthatches, American goldfinches, cedar waxwings, western tanagers, flickers, juncos and so many other kinds!

American Kestrel up on Mill Hill summit.
A pair of barred owls behind my house
Garter snake
Crayfish from the creek
Raven on Mill Hill
California Quail on Mill Hill

Mill hill is carpeted by the rare Garry Oak ecosystem, one of the most endangered habitats in Canada. Most of Victoria used to be one giant Garry Oak meadow, but now only pockets remain, less than 5% of what existed before. One of Canada’s rarest plants, the deltoid balsamroot, grows on Mill Hill in a hidden location. Mature plants that are able to flower only grow in 16 to 20 locations in all of Canada! They look like small sunflowers. If you see one please do not disturb it! These flowers are federally protected endangered species. 

Deltoid balsamroot flower. Being such a rare plant we will want to know, and should know, what they look like so we don’t damage them, and can be excited to have spotted one!

Other special plants and trees that grow on Mill Hill include chocolate lilies, camas, calypso orchids, satin flowers, fawn lilies, mushrooms and fungi, Garry Oaks and Arbutus trees. You can also find Douglas fir, cedars, yew trees, and large big leaf maples. Some of the largest cedars in Victoria can be found here, even though Mill Hill was once logged. Invasive plants such as English ivy, Scotch broom, English Daphne, holly and others are causing problems for native species, so teams of volunteers do the hard work of removing these plants all year.

Fungi on a Douglas fir

The large culvert and waterfall at Atkins Road used to be impassible for spawning salmon, but the recent construction of a fish ladder now makes it possible for the fish to swim much further upstream. So watch carefully in spawning season and you might be lucky enough to see a few salmon returning to the creek after many years of absence. 

Barred Owl caught a trout from the creek

Our park entrance bridge crosses over the creek. The water winds along behind our homes and into Mill Hill Park, then flows underneath and alongside Atkins road. You can cross over the creek again on the E&N Rail Trail trestle bridge before the creek carries on to exit into the ocean by the Six Mile Pub. 

baby raccoons up high in the maple tree
Banana slug
Snail on the Mill Hill trail

Millstream Creek is both a friend and a menace to human inhabitants along its shores. It creates cool, lush habitat and beauty to enjoy in the heat of the summer, even when the waters become so low they barely move. In the winter the water can rise dramatically and even flood dangerously, as we saw in November of 2021 when we had a rare heavy rainfall event. Some of our neighbours downstream lost pieces of their backyards, and the fish ladder was damaged by the flooding. We came very close to being flooded ourselves before the water level plateaued. The raging waters behind our storage compound were shocking to see, and there are still many signs of the flood evident there, including our missing footbridge, sandy deposits, logs and debris, and scoured away vegetation. Clearly the creek deserves a healthy respect for the ebbs and peaks of its power. 

Annas hummingbirds having a fight

After colonization, logging and urban development, much has changed and much is threatened. We are fortunate to have this protected park on our doorstep, and as neighbours to the park and creek we have a responsibility to care for the area. Walk the trails lightly, leaving only footprints, taking only pictures. Living here is a great privilege, and the longer you are here, the more gifts the natural environment will reveal to you if you watch attentively. 

Snow by Millstream Creek

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