Esquimalt (pronounced Ess-KWY-malt) is an anglicized version of the First Nations word "es-whoy-malth," which means the place of gradually shoaling water. Located in the heart of the Capital Region, five minutes from downtown Victoria, Esquimalt is a thriving community of over 17,000 and well worth a visit for its beautiful parks and beaches alone.
But history buffs - in particular, maritime and naval history buffs - will especially enjoy this community by the sea as Esquimalt is the home of Canada's naval presence on the West Coast. Esquimalt's location and large, sheltered harbour close to Victoria make it an ideal location for anchorage and defence. The naval port at Esquimalt Harbour was christened in 1848 when British man-of-war HMS Constance dropped anchor in Esquimalt Harbour and became the first British naval vessel based at Esquimalt.
The Royal Navy Establishment at Esquimalt was created in 1865 as an alternate station or base in the Pacific. Esquimalt was part of a worldwide network of coaling stations vital to the Royal Navy's role of defending the British Empire around the globe and by 1887 Esquimalt had a drydock capable of holding the largest warship in the Pacific.
Although Britain's naval presence in the Pacific declined in the late 1800s as the cost of maintaining a global fleet skyrocketed, the Royal Navy kept Esquimalt as a base until 1905 when the Pacific Squadron was abolished and Canada took on responsibility for defending its own coastline.
When the Second World War began, Naden (the naval shore facility at Esquimalt so named for facility's Depot Ship, HMCS Naden) became the principal Naval Training Centre for western Canada. The war years saw a rapid expansion of the facility to meet the huge demands of training personnel for the war effort. During the war, the Royal Canadian Navy grew from just a dozen ships into the fourth largest Allied navy, comprising 100,000 personnel and 373 fighting ships.
The now Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Esquimalt came into being on April 1, 1966, as part of organizational changes which integrated the navy, army, and air force. The Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt is now the largest employer in Esquimalt, and the Graving Dock is the largest non-military site for ship building and repair on the west coast.
Want to learn more? CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum, located at Naden on Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt, provides a fantastic insight into naval life. In addition to exhibits and displays, the museum houses an expanding archive and library that includes thousands of photographs and documents, histories of Canadian naval vessels, navigation charts, biographies of important leaders in the Royal Canadian Navy, and copies of the Navy List, Lloyd's Register of Shipping, and Jane's Fighting Ships.