Nanaimo’s Buttertubs Marsh

Buttertubs Marsh, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

A view of the pretty and serene marsh, located in the heart of Nanaimo

With the feasting, partying and indoor activities of the looming Yuletide season (not to mention this month’s Thanksgiving celebrations) often comes the desire to just get outdoors for a bit of fresh air and exercise. There is a perfect spot right in the heart of Nanaimo that will fulfill that need without killing you if there have been excesses of food and drink in your life of late. Buttertubs Marsh is a lovely, level 100-acre man-made bird sanctuary that offers wide walking trails, peace and quiet and exercise as gentle or rigorous as you care to make it.

Loop trail at Buttertubs Marsh, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The level loop trail offers varying vistas of the marsh and its inhabitants

We still haven’t managed to figure out why this marsh was given its name.  Buttertubs is actually an area in the Yorkshire Dales of England that features 20-metre (65 feet) limestone potholes.  When farmers were on their way to market during hot weather they would pause to rest at Buttertubs Pass and lower their butter into the potholes to keep it cold.

Hawk at Buttertubs Marsh, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Looking for lunch…..

Name confusion notwithstanding, the Nanaimo Buttertubs is a lovely spot that offers pretty sights from viewing platforms and the opportunity to enjoy a variety of wildlife in its natural habitat.

Buttertubs Marsh namesake - the buttertubs - in England

The buttertubs in England, where farmers travelling to market would stop for a rest and lower their butter into the chasms to keep it cool

Our outing was pretty quiet wildlife-wise – we apparently had just missed seeing Trumpeter Swans, managed to observe a few ducks and one hungry hawk on the hunt for lunch.  However, it is apparently not uncommon to see great blue herons, mallards, Canada geese, ring-neck ducks, hooded mergansers, and American widgeons. Violet-green swallows and red-winged blackbirds are not unusual in the spring. Virginia Rails and American Bitterns are vocal denizens of Buttertubs Marsh Bird Sanctuary, which is also Vancouver Island’s only documented breeding site of American Bitterns.

Wooden whimsy at Buttertubs Marsh, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Someone with a sense of humour dressed up a downed tree

Regardless of the lack of ‘things on the wing’ – or in the marsh, for that matter – we ambled along greatly enjoying the various views and the crisp, sunny day.  English oaks arch over the trail at several points, and hawthorn and blackberry bushes provide a cornucopia of feeding options for the winged residents.

Buttertubs Pass in England - Buttertubs Marsh namesake

Buttertubs Pass in England

There are a number of benches located along the trail, and a raised viewing platform offers the perfect vantage point for bird watching or photography.

Bullrushes at Buttertubs Marsh, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia Because it is a sensitive conservation area dogs (even on-leash), bicycles and motorized vehicles are not allowed. Narrow gates at the entrance to the 2.4 kilometre (1 ½ mile) loop trail around the marsh conservation area ensure that no wheeled modes of transportation can access the area. So, the speediest trail user you are likely to encounter will be a runner.  If you aren’t up to anything more than walking (or even if you are confined to a wheelchair) you will be in good company.

The brick miner's cottage at Buttertubs Marsh, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The brick miner’s cottage

At the end of our wandering we also discovered an historic brick miner’s cottage off to the side of the conclusion of the loop trail.  Built around 1910, it is the only brick house known to have survived.  The bricks were made in nearby Wellington and the building now serves as a meeting place.

            Further information about Buttertubs Marsh can be found at the website:

Buttertubs Marsh Park is located at 1780 Jingle Pot Road


GPS co-ordinates are:

Lat.  49.166538123883136  Long. -123.97196259412396

N 49 09.992   W 123 58.318



About Shirley

More years ago than I like to remember, I completed the Journalism program at Vancouver Community College and launched straight into a career as a newspaper reporter (thanks to my journalism professor Nick Russell and an opening at the venerable daily Alberni Valley Times.) My work as a news reporter/feature writer/columnist and ultimately, newspaper and magazine editor, took me to many interesting places and introduced me to hundreds of interesting characters over the years. I loved every minute of it, but burnout caught up with me while I was trying to juggle the simultaneous editing of five trade magazines, and for 27 years I abandoned my keyboard (on a professional basis, at least) and followed my heart in a variety of other careers.
In 2010 I returned to the journalistic fold, thanks to the encouragement (nay – nagging!) of my husband. I feel no regret – only great joy to be back at the keyboard, and to be spending time interviewing interesting folks and discovering great places.

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