Imagine loving to travel so much, you would walk across Canada! Imagine falling though the ice in the Northwest Territories, losing all the toes off one foot and the heel off the other to frostbite, thanking Indigenous knowledge that you did not lose more! Imagine not stopping there, traveling by boat and canoe down the Bulkley Valley to Vancouver and then paddling around Vancouver Island to find your future home.
It took pioneer James French two adventurous years to travel from New Brunswick to Victoria. He pre-empted the land west of Sooke in 1885. French was an early naturalist, traveling the world to bring exotic animals to zoos for public enjoyment and education. After an expedition to Africa, French once brought home a small elephant, before selling it to the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.
French died in 1952, survived by his family who continued to live on the property and play an active part in local logging. French had hoped that a much larger section of the west coast of Vancouver Island would be made into a provincial park. His home and favourite beach would become French Beach Park in 1974. Twenty years later, Juan de Fuca Park would further his dream.
French Beach lies within the traditional territory of the T’Sou-ke First Nation. Their economy was based on hunting, fishing, and gathering, and extended families among the Straits people owned the lands and resources, which could not be sold, only inherited.
Beautiful hiking trails lead you through second growth forest of Douglas fir, sitka spruce, western hemlock, and western red cedar to the sand and pebble beach. You will also find salal, Oregon grape, evergreen huckleberries, and a large variety of ferns along the trails.
Once on the beach, there are excellent whale-watching opportunities, particularly for gray whales. These magnificent creatures migrate to northern feeding grounds in the spring and return south in the fall. Killer whales, otters, seals, and sea lions can also be seen offshore.
French Beach is also a great place to observe seabirds, bald eagles, and ospreys. A number of other animals can be found in the park, including frogs, salamanders, and small mammals such as minks, squirrels, and raccoons. Black bears and cougars make their homes in the surrounding areas and may move through the park, especially during warmer months.