The mystery box of Swan Lake

It was a slow, lazy summer afternoon in the Summer of 2022. I was shooting the shit with a couple buddies as we tried to decide what to do with the rest of our afternoon when one of them proposed an expedition to an elusive mystery box in Swan Lake. Without a better idea we agreed, and our journey to the longstanding mystery began!

So, what is a “mystery box?” First, a bit of background on the area itself. Swan Lake is a 23 acre urban lake in the heart of the District of Saanich. The lake makes up part of a larger, 130 acre, nature sanctuary that is a popular walking spot. One of the most popular hikes is a roughly 30 minute walk along a trail which navigates the circumference of the lake.

Until the late 1970’s large swaths of the nature preserve were used as active farmland, and evidence of this can be seen all around in the form of old fences and abandoned machinery slowly gathering rust. The fabled mystery box was a peculiar looking cube shaped object which could be glimpsed from just a couple of points along the trail. The box looked to be relatively small, but large enough to pose some interest, and even large enough to appear on satellite maps of the area.

You can just make out the box in satellite images

Getting to the box was no easy task, it was some 1000ft away from the trail through some really thick brush and marshland. One of my buddies had actually spotted this box as a child and had spent years wondering what it was, but lacking waders and suitable companions had never tried to reach the elusive object and so the mystery remained.

This lazy summer afternoon would actually mark my second personal attempt to reach the box. It was in the winter of 2021 that I found myself in the same area with a couple of friends and we thought we’d try to reach the box since most of the vegetation was dead and the ground seemed to be frozen. Oh how wrong we were! Fortunately, we didn’t get too far off the path on this winter trip before realizing that the ground was less frozen then we thought and we were sinking into it! The expedition would be put off until a future time.

Fast forward 6 months, and here I was preparing for another attempt at the mystery box.

By August of 2022 the area was pretty darn dry. It had been weeks since the last significant rainfall and the entire region was approaching drought conditions. After the failure the previous Winter we all figured the dry season was the best chance for a successful mission. I grabbed my boots, and a spare set for my buddy and we set off on the short walk from home to the nature preserve.

We took the long walk around Swan Lake to try and catch a better glimpse of the mystery box and to see if there was a possible better angle of approach. While I wouldn’t ordinarily consider rubber boots to be a major pain in the ass to carry around, this was before I found myself lugging them on a 20 minute long walk around the backside of the lake. By the time we reached our first pit stop, I was fed up with the damn things!

As it would turn out, the mystery box was only really visible from the one location – the place where we had tried to approach in the previous Winter. There was one point along our walk where we all felt the box was probably “just” beyond a cluster of trees, however, without visual confirmation no one was eager to undertake additional bushwhacking without significant confidence of success.

We proceeded along the rest of the trail until we arrived at the clearing where the box, in all is mysterious glory, was clearly visible.

While two of us began changing our footwear, my other buddy set up shop on a convenient bench where he was content to watch us from afar. I took a quick look around for anyone walking along the path who might yell at us, and, seeing no one around took the first few steps off the path and into the weeds (literally).

I quickly discovered that while we were technically in a clearing since we had emerged from the trees, what I was plodding through was anything but clear. For the first few meters we found ourselves tromping through knee high grass, but after just a few dozen steps I found myself totally surrounded by brambles well above head height! We did our best to follow what I assume was a deer trail, but even then found ourselves doing some of the most intense bushwhacking of my life.

As if the head high brush wasn’t enough, our next challenge came in the form of swampland. My buddy and I soon found ourselves clambering over piles of solidified muck and then slipping into a mud/water mixture that I can only describe as resembling quicksand. This was actually some of the hardest walking I’ve ever done – the constant changes in elevation accompanied by brambles, and the need to constantly pull my feet out of the mud, least my boots become forever stuck in the smelly marsh below meant that I tired quickly, and more then a few times considered turning back. Our friend, who was watching this all unfold from the comfort of the bench said that the pair of us basically disappeared into the background; if it wasn’t for my bright red shirt bobbing in and out of view as we climbed over and around mud piles he would have had no idea where in the mess we actually were.

After what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was probably only 15 minutes, my buddy tells me excitedly that he thinks we were almost there and we needed to make a sharp correction to the left. I’m glad he knew where we were, because I was completely, hopelessly lost and would probably still be out there looking for the damn box if left to my own devices.

Minutes later we pushed aside a final strand of grass and suddenly there it was in all it’s glory! The mystery box of Swan Lake!

The mystery box in all its glory!

While I expected the box to be anti-climactic but this was almost a letdown. While I originally thought the box could be an old storage shed or maybe some pumping equipment the reality was much more mundane – it was a concrete footing for some kind of tower. Roughly 3 ft square and maybe 4.5 ft high the block was smaller then I thought it would be. On top was a triangular plate which I expect once formed the base of a tower. Being a radio nerd I immediately assumed the tower was part of some communications infrastructure, after all the triangular base was in line with the size of amateur radio towers I was familiar with. The reality is that this was more likely a base for some piece of machinery for the farm which used to occupy the area. I suppose it could also have been a foundation for a building, but I didn’t see anything else in the area that looked like it would go along with a building.

I took a few photos and then climbed up ontop of the block, frantically waving at our friend back on the bench. If I squinted, I could just make him out. My phone rang and I picked it up. “so just how boring was it?” My buddy asked. I smiled and explained the situation. He seemed unimpressed.

I hopped off the block and took a commemorative selfie with my buddy and we began the slog back to the path.

A selfie to commemorate our journey to the box

I thought the trip back would be easier then our outbound trip. I was wrong. I figured we would be able to follow the trail that we had blazed on the way out. I was wrong. I assumed that the time I spent sitting on the block had allowed me to rest enough for the journey back. I was wrong.

The trip back was definitely worse then the trip outbound. The swamp had effectively covered up our original trail, to the point that we were essentially blazing a new way through the mud and brush. We were both pretty beat from our fist trip across the swamp and without the thrill of an impending discovery, our motivation was a little bit lacking. Nevertheless, we pressed forward and eventually arrived back at the bench for a much deserved rest!

And that pretty much concludes the adventure. While the mystery box itself was nothing special, at least it was a great way to kill a Saturday afternoon, and we finally managed to close the loop for our friend as to just what the mystery in Swan Lake was.

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