The story of Hamilton Marsh
Where is Hamilton Marsh? Check maps here.
Located near Qualicum Beach, British Columbia, Vancouver Island, Canada 🙂 Please be advised that Hamilton Marsh and the 360 ha parcel that surrounds it is private land owned by Island Timberlands. Beyond the tour date it is available to the public on a”use at your own risk basis.”
Become a Bug Detective!
Become a Certified Bug Detective with a certificate signed by our head marsh rat! He’ll help you identify what you catch.
Guided Nature Tours
Enjoy guided nature tours with the Arrowsmith Naturalists.
Birdwatching From the Dock
A scope will be available on the dock to see what kinds of birds are lurking this time of year.
A water spider – eeeeeeek!
Detectives in Training...
Fascinating for young and old alike!
Cute little non-bug critters.
What are we catching?
Exploring pond life.
These will turn into tadpoles which will then turn into frogs.
It's the head Marsh Rat!
He will help you dip your net and tell you what you’ve discovered 🙂
Little Bug Detectives
You’re never too young to begin your bug identification education.
All ages enjoy the Marsh
Hamilton Marsh Wildlife
It’s 3 km long and 1/2 km wide — Teeming with life, an oasis for birds, insects, bear, cougar, and other critters. It’s private land but we want to save and preserve it. Interested in helping? Drop us a line on our contact page.
Sandhill Cranes in Flight
“At about 10:00 this morning there were over 100 Sandhill Cranes at Hamilton Marsh! I counted three times and came up with about 106 individuals. They were moving around quite a bit, so not positive exactly how many, but certainly over 100. They were still there when I left around 11:00.
The sound was magnificent!”
Guy L. Monty
Over 120 species of bird have been recorded at Hamilton Marsh. See attached list. There are more than are identified here. Birds need places to nest, feed, and some overwinter. Wetland habitat is disappearing at an alarming rate.
Here is the list just click: BIRDS identified at Hamilton Marsh.
The Northern Pygmy Owl is just one of the many birds on Vancouver Island quickly running out of habitat. Here’s a link to some information about this amazing bird. Northern Pygmy Owl.
The esteemed Dr. Rob Cannings along with John Simaika have published a paper titled: “The Odonata of Hamilton Marsh.” It provides an astonishing amount of detail about the 70+ species that inhabit the area — and describes the ecological sensitivities there. To find out more click the following link:
• Sensitive Ecosystem Inventory: Hamilton Marsh was included in The Eastern Vancouver Island Sensitive Ecosystem Inventory begun in 1993 to develop a systematic inventory of threatened ecosystems and the species that inhabit them.
• Goal 2 Protected Area Strategy: In 1994, the Provincial Government announced a Vancouver Island Land Use Plan indicating that 23 new protected areas would be created and additional Goal 2 protectedareas would be identified. In early 1995 Hamilton Marsh was identified and accepted in the second tier of the Goal 2 protected area strategy by the Vancouver Island Regional Protected Areas Team.
• RDN Parks Plan: Hamilton Marsh was included in the 1995 Regional District of Nanaimo’s Regional Park Plan as a target acquisition.
Ownership: In the mid 1940’s H.R. MacMillan bought a large block of land in the Qualicum area, including Hamilton Marsh. The land has passed through the hands of many owners including: Weyerhaeuser, Brascan, and currently Island Timberlands. (Look up E&N Land Grant ). Approximately four offers have been made to purchase and preserve the land from the various owners. In 2008 Island Timberlands rejected a joint effort by Ducks Unlimited and the Regional District of Nanaimo to purchase the wetland, with a buffer, and it was hoped there would be a progressive purchase option for the rest of the 360 forested hectares.
The Hamilton Marsh Committee, as part of the Friends of French Creek Conservation Society, working with Arrowsmith Naturalists, continues to raise awareness of this amazing wetland with annual April tours during the Brant Wildlife Festival with Island Timberland’s permission.
• Wetlands are critical components for the community’s water quality and quantity. Wetlands help to reduce the levels of sediments, nutrients, and toxic chemicals in the water. Learning from natural wetlands, many communities now use biofiltration wetlands to remove urban and agricultural contaminants before they enter streams.
• Hamilton Marsh is a tributary to French Creek, a watershed on which 8000 people depend. It is also mapped as part of the Grandon Creek Watershed.
• Over 70% of wetlands in British Columbia have been lost to development and logging.
• The economic value of wetlands has been estimated at more than $22,000 per hectare per year for the hydrological, water quality, habitat and other functions they provide.
Red and Blue Listed Species
There are a number of red and blue-listed species that have been recorded using the marsh and surrounds including:
American Bittern (blue),
Western Screech-owl (COSEWIC & SARA Special Concern; blue),
Northern Pygmy Owl (blue),
Band-tailed Pigeon (blue),
Great Blue Heron (blue),
Roosevelt Elk (blue),
Common Water Shrew (red-listed).
The marsh and surrounds are also important for Black Bears, all the species of owls in this area, early migrant swallows, migrant shorebirds, and is used as a roosting area for shorebirds during high tides along the coast. The Grey Wolf has also been seen in the area.
Source for Red & Blue listed species: Neil Dawe, R.P. Bio.,
Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service,
How are species ranked in BC? Click here.
Red and Blue Listed Species at Hamilton Marsh Click here.
Birdwatchers have recorded over 120 bird species at Hamilton Marsh. It’s the largest waterfowl brood marsh on this part of Vancouver Island. Never visit without a pair of binoculars handy! For a list of birds seen click here.
Our Efforts Since 2005
Various members of FFCCS and the Hamilton Marsh Committee have attended local events with our display board to raise awareness of this treasure. This includes: Family Day, Seedy Saturday, Earth Day, Coombs Fair, and many more events.
In 2009 we launched a postcard campaign where we had people from all over send this postcard to every level of government and Island Timberlands requesting they take action to Save Hamilton Marsh.
The TD Bank did a Shoreline Clean-up on the road surrounding Hamilton Marsh as did the Morning Glory School. Some of our members assisted them with this.
Over the years we have collected several thousands signatures on our declaration of support to preserve the entire 360 hectare land base.
This is a view few people enjoy – taken from the air. We have looked at Hamilton Marsh from many angles. This swath of forest surrounding the Marsh is one of the last full undisturbed parcels in the area for wildlife.
Photo courtesy of the Krog family.
History of Hamilton Marsh – as told by Bert Topliffe, June 27, 2008,
“Hamilton Marsh has a varied past. Over the last few years several articles have been written about Hamilton Marsh describing it as a gem or pearl and must be saved at all costs; to this I quite agree. But it wasn’t always like this by any means. So I’m going to take you back approximately a hundred years to when the first pioneer settlers came by horse and wagon to Coombs – Hilliers area and decided to put down their roots and stay. My parents were one of these settlers.
There were no roads or railroads, the only means of transportation was horse and wagon, buggy, or you walked. They found most of the area covered by a massive coniferous old growth forest consisting of Douglas fir, Western Red cedar, with a few Hemlock and Balsams. The only means of employment was the E&N Railway, which was starting to build a rail line from Parksville to Port Alberni and the government of the day was starting to build a road to the same destination.
Now the Little Hamilton swamp, as it was known back in the day, was just another swamp that flooded in the winter and pretty well dried up in the summer; but it did have a small stream flowing through the lower portion fed by springs located above on the south side which flowed into the swamp year round.
One of the early pioneers, a Mr. John West, who I got to know quite well in later years, lived with his family where the Coombs Country billy goat market is today. He would hitch up his horse and wagon in the summer, go down to little Hamilton Marsh and cut hay to help feed his livestock in the winter. Life wasn’t easy by any means.
A mature old growth forest covered the area around the swamp; there were no beavers at this time as there was nothing for them to eat.
Once the road and the railroad came and there was transportation, logging and sawmills took off and was the main course of employment for many years.
During the 1920’s the area around the swamp was clear cut, logged and burned. The devastation was equal to any of the pictures you’ve seen on TV. Where some would have us believe it was destroyed forever, Mother Nature had other ideas.
First came the willow herb, commonly called fireweed; then the wild blackberry, salal, huckleberry, Oregon grape, red currant and others. All these plants produced food for wildlife, and did the wildlife ever come! Deer, bear, grouse, pigeon, robin, blackbirds and many others soon arrived.
Under all this cover was a brand new diversified forest taking hold and around the swamp itself a new deciduous forest was emerging, with alder, willow, cottonwood, poplar — this was all beaver food and did they ever come. They build their dams across the outflow, backing the waters up, making the swamp almost twice its size, and now there was a year round body of water, creating a habitat for wildlife and waterfowl.
But man wasn’t through with little Hamilton yet. During the mid 1930’s in the heart of the depression, a multimillionaire came into the are by the name of A.D. Mc Crae. He purchased a large are of the waterfront in Qualicum Beach and named it Eagle Crest. He also purchased two large farms; Art Thomas farm in Hilliers which he called Number One, and the Stanley Rashliegh farm a-joining it which he called Number Two. He also bought big and little Hamilton swamps and a large area over by Little Qualicum River.
On farm Number Two he built a large frog pond and brought the bullfrogs in, this is how they came to this area. The big Hamilton Swamp was much bigger than it’s little sister and was covered with a shrub called hard hack. This was cleared off, fenced and fodder was grown to feed the farm’s livestock. The little Hamilton Marsh was going to be a fur farm, and in order to have a prolific fur farm there had to be plenty to eat. To accomplish this, seeds and plants such as wild rice, duck potato, sago pond weed and several others I’ve forgotten the names of, would be introduced into the swamp.
The instructions for planting were: roll up your sleeves, reach down, get a handful of mud, imbed the seeds or plants in the mud and drop it back from where it came. Now you couldn’t do this in four or five feet of water so the swamp had to be drained. A powder man by the name of George Ward was hired to blow the beaver dams each morning, as the beavers would build them back each night. It took ten days before they wore the beavers down. The water by this time was about six or eight inches deep. There were four of us working on the gardening crew at Eagle Crest: Tom Lewis, Art Hollingsworth, my dad, who was the head gardener, and myself. We were delegated to carry out this procedure of planting. We wore insulated hip waders and we stomped all over the swamp from one end to the other for about a week and were pretty well fed up by the time we were finished…
One thing that did show up in the low water was the original stream bed where the water flowed through the swamp in the early days.
Before leaving the swamp we had one more chore to complete. That was to rebuild the beaver dams. Emulate the beavers as he called it. We had to go around, pick up all the sticks we could find that had been blown out of the dams, bring them back and push them in the mud and boy, this was when we found out that the beavers were much smarter than we were when it came to building dams.
When the fall rains came and the swamp filled up the beaver once again took over, and this is the result you have today.
The fur farm and the frogs were just another dream he had that didn’t pan out. In my opinion there are three major factors that took place to create this gem as you call it today. First, the removal of the old growth that let the sunshine in. Second Mother Nature, for stepping in and creating a brand new diversified forest. Third the beavers for damming it up and creating a year round body of water. None of this would have been possible without them.
How did the swamp get this name? We checked with the Parksville Historical Society, and there was a Hamilton family living in the are in the early days and purchased several different acreages, whether this is the Hamilton Family I don’t know. The little Hamilton swamp is known today as Hamilton Marsh, the big Hamilton Marsh is now Pheasant Glen golf course.
*All names mentioned except that of the writer are now deceased.
We are the Hamilton Marsh Committee of the Friends of French Creek Conservation Society (that’s a mouthful eh?) A group of volunteers dedicated to promoting the values of Hamilton Marsh and working towards securing it in it’s entirety for future generations.
For more info or to volunteer drop us a line.
Problems with the site? Drop a note to our contact form above.