The island was constructed in 1936 as part of a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project to clean up Green Lake and make improvements to it. The lake was partially dredged, and the island was built. Works Progress Administration crews constructed a temporary trestle off the lake's northwest shore to the edge of a cofferdam and pilings. Workers hauled mud along the trestle in countless wheelbarrow loads, creating an island that rose some 10 feet above the water. Swan Island was born.
Not for Swans
In 1937, the Victoria, B.C. Parks Department donated a pair of one-year-old Signet swans in hopes of propagating a permanent population at the new sanctuary. This attempt failed, as did numerous other swan donations made as recently as the late 1970s. For their nesting habitat, swans require shallow waters producing reeds and grasses. Swan Island's steep drop-off prevented such growth; thus, the birds had to nest in vegetation near the shore, exposing themselves and their young to dangers from humans and animals. The Signets did not survive.
Nevertheless, Swan Island or Duck Island has proved a partial success as a wildlife sanctuary. It has served as habitat for other animals, including year-round inhabitants and migratory visitors.