Mary Lake Nature Sanctuary

Greater Victoria Greenbelt Society

Greater Victoria Greenbelt Society (GVGS): 1979 – to present

GVGS is a registered non profit society S-0014941 with an elected, volunteer Board of Directors. We are also a registered with the CRA Charities Division (BN11894 6953 RR0001). As a registered society GVGS has a constitution and a set of by-laws to which we adhere.

We transitioned into the new Societies Act, in Nov. 2017.

Constitution and Bylaws

Download our constitution and bylaws here.


“To promote the reservation, acquisition and protection, and where necessary the purchase of greenbelt
lands, potential parklands and outstanding examples of our natural and cultural heritage for the benefit of all citizens
of the Greater Victoria metropolitan area.”

Back Ground

This mission developed out of the concept of a Capital City Forest in the BC Capital Region.
We were inspired by the City Forests of Europe such as Hanover, Frankfurt and Oslo which are large forested sites adjacent to metropolitan areas .

  • 1980-87 we developed detailed Trail Plans for the Saanich Peninsula and Western Communities and proposed Trail Construction Guidelines.The Capital Regional District used these “linear park” plans as the basis for the Regional Trail System.
  • The Greater Victoria Greenbelt Society (GVGS) has a history in advocating and taking action towards preserving local properties. Before the Mary Lake project, some members were directors of the Gowlland Foundation which spearheaded the conversion of 1,400 acres of the Gowlland Range to become a main feature of the Gowlland Tod Provincial Park in 1995.
  • 2010 we began working with the Highlands Stewardship Foundation (HSF) to purchase, conserve and establish the original 114 acres of the Mary Lake property as a public area and this pursuit was subsequently taken over by the GVGS. ​


The Great Victoria Greenbelt Society considers the natural world to be a precious and necessary partner to the healthy existence of all beings including humans. We believe that all aspects of nature deserve to be respected and protected now and for future generations.

In spending time in nature, we undergo a process of deepening our insight and awareness, a process in which we strengthen our connection with the natural environment. This fundamental shift in our perspective allows us to realize our ties and responsibility to all life.

By mindfully cultivating our relationship with nature, we can re-awaken our understanding of the critical interdependence of all life, and naturally be inspired to protect it from destructive practices.


Current Project: Mary Lake Nature Sanctuary

Connection, Conservation and Education are the three pillars that will guide and support our work at the Mary Lake Nature Sanctuary.

GVGS would like to acknowledge the importance of initial donors who supported the Mary Lake initiative. Without their generous support we would have been unable to launch this campaign.

  • July 2016, GVGS secured an option to purchase the remaining 94 acres of the Mary Lake property for $2.6 million with a $75,000 deposit from a private donation.
  • In Nov. 2016 the CRD contracted with us to contribute $500,000 for a 25 acre strip of land along the south and west border so they could build a regional trail link.
  • During Dec of 2016 support from larger funding bodies, local businesses, hiking and environmental organizations along with the District of Highlands enabled us to construct a viable financial plan.
  • Dec. 23, 2016 we partnered with MJ Architecture to close on our option to purchase the Mary Lake property with a mortgage of $1,740,000 with Vancity’s Community Impact Business dept
  • The Greater Victoria Greenbelt Society  began working with our supporters in the general public, local businesses, hiking and nature clubs, and environmental organizations to raise the additional funds needed to do research of species at risk, habitat restoration and development of the Nature House.
  • In November of 2018 we signed a Declaration of Partnership with the Tsartlip First Nation who also had a desire to keep the property in it’s natural state for future generations.The GVGS is looking forward to continuing our collaborative partnership with the Tsartlip First Nation to determine how the Mary Lake Nature Sanctuary and Highlands Nature House can be managed to promote conservation, respect for nature and cultural values.
  • On March 29th 2019 we received funding from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy of BC to retire the remaining mortgage thus ensuring conservation of the property in perpetuity.
  • Forthcoming covenants with the provincial government will designate the property as conserved nature sanctuary with monitored public access to ensure the protection of species at risk and endangered plant communities found there.
  • We are now doing research and preparing for the rezoning process to change the property from Greenbelt II Residential to a special conserved area with a nature house for public use for hosting retreats, workshops, art programs and classes focused on nature and ecology. New upgrades to the original residence will be done to meet building codes for public assembly.
  • This is a unique project that brings together a non profit charity (GVGS), government and local First Nations to protect the natural world and  build our relationships  to support reconciliation.


GVGS board of directors and advisors

Bob McMinn (Chair)

Bob is a retired forest ecologist with work experience throughout BC. He has a passion for keeping the Highland’s as natural as possible which became his motivation for entering local politics and becoming first mayor of the District of Highlands. During his term in office he increased parkland to 30% of the district.
Awards: the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and Canada 125 Medals, and the Highlands District’s Freedom of the Municipality in recognition of many years’ service to the Highlands and the Greater Victoria community.

Koi Neah (Vice Chair)

Koineah lives in the Highlands and has been involved with the GVGS since 2010. Her creative and collaborative skills were developed during 15 years as a designer in the theatre, television and film industries. For 25 years she facilitated community workshops for holistic wellness and alternative living. She initiated the MLNS Management Plan, cultivated relationships with local environmental groups and First nations as well as acts as project manager of the renovations of the Highlands Nature House.

Ben van Drimmelen (Secretary)

BSF, LLB Retired, Biologist and Barrister

Ben worked as a wildlife biologist, habitat biologist and natural resources lawyer for the BC government and for the independent Forest Practices Board. He has been on boards with the Land Trust Alliance of BC, the Victoria Natural History Society and Habitat Acquisition Trust

Eric Bonham (Director)

Formerly a Director with the Ministries of Environment and Community Services, Eric Bonham is a founding member of the Convening for Action on Vancouver (CAVI) Island Leadership Team, and is the Past-Chair of the Highlands Foundation. He is also a member of the BCWWA Water Sustainability Committee. He is an advocate for community action and is involved with stewardship at both the provincial and local level.

Christine Bhopalsingh (Director)

​Christine’s work experience has criss-crossed both the private and public sectors over the past 30 years. Her most recently held positions as Workforce Development Manager and Senior Human Resources Advisor, have informed her drive to achieving excellence by serving others. A recent graduate of Royal Roads University, Christine has completed a graduate certificate in Executive Coaching and is also currently working towards an International Human Resources Accreditation. Striving to give back to and broaden leadership in the community realm, she was the President for the India School of Dance, Music and Theatre (Winnipeg MB) from 2010-2014 and Vice president from 2008-2010.
She is currently the President of the West Shore Arts Council and artist at the Coast Collective Gallery.

Emma Ross (Director)

Emma is currently working as the engagement and community outreach specialist for the Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society. She recently graduated from Royal Roads University with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science degree. Prior to that she studied Ecosystem Management at Fleming College in Ontario. Her passion for protecting the Mary Lake Nature Sanctuary began with through her education at Royal Roads University. She and a team of peers were tasked with conducting research on the water quality of Mary Lake and the creation of a lake and stream monitoring program. Since then she has joined the board of directors and continues to conduct water quality testing on the property.

Ellie Rayner (Director)

Ellie is a registered nurse and retired after many years working in infectious disease and cancer research. She has lived in the Highlands for over 20 years and has been active in many community projects and committees including the beginnings of the Mary Lake Conservation Project.

She currently serves on the Sustainable Land Use Select Committee in the District of Highlands

Chair: Highlands Advisory Planning Commission

Past Chair: Environmental Committee in Highlands OCP review; Highlands New Community Hall Construction


Robin June Hood is a cultural geographer, educator, filmmaker and activist/academic. During 40 years as an international development consultant and educator she has focused on protecting endangered peoples and landscapes and creating strategies for educational renewal. She was on the Rainforest Solutions team that crafted the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement and was the Director of the Community Based Research Institute at Vancouver Island University until 2011

Tom Sampson is a respected elder of the Tsartlip Nation and a vocal environmental advocate who served as Chief of Tsartlip for 24 years, and chairman of the South Island Tribal Council for 22 years. He launched the Coast Salish Sea Council, participating in the proposal for the Marine Protected Area at Race Rocks in 2000 and raising awareness about the impacts of the proposed LNG plant and Bamberton Development on the Saanich Inlet. 

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Mary Lake Nature Sanctuary

1772 Millstream Rd,
Victoria, BC V9B 6E4

Greater Victoria Greenbelt Society

499 Millstream Lake Rd.
Victoria, BC. V9B 6H5
Registered Charity BN: 11894 6953 RR0001

WSÁNEC Coast Salish

Mary Lake lies within the traditional territories of the WSÁNEC (Saanich) Coast Salish Peoples.

​We recognize the integral role the ancestors of the WSÁNEC Coast Salish Peoples have played as past stewards of the Mary Lake and Highlands lands.

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