Ocean vistas, orcas, hidden gems like Canada's oldest Chinatown - there's a long list of reasons to visit Victoria, B.C. For history buffs, the region's rich military heritage is also high on that list, as Greater Victoria has played a prominent role in military history since before Canada was even a country.
1. Learn About Victoria's Naval & Military History
Pay a visit to the CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum on the Esquimalt navy base and you'll come away knowing all about the British admiral whose efforts led to Esquimalt's first on-shore base, or the strange story of the only warship in history known to have voted itself out of a war.
Permanent displays at the museum focus on four themes: Canada's Navy on the West Coast; Canadian Women's Army Corps; Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service; and the West Coast Defences. Temporary exhibits feature additional themes and have included a tribute to military police, a celebration of First Nations military achievements, and a history of Canada's submarines.
For visitors who like their military history up close and personal, Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site in nearby Colwood delivers on several fronts. Visitors can wander through the coastal artillery fort 364 days a year to explore the gun batteries and magazines built more than a century ago, or take it to the next level and book a Fort Rodd campout or water-gun battle to "Capture the Flag" in summer months.
2. Take in the Natural Beauty of Your Surroundings
Should someone in your party not be up for a day of military history, no worries. Fort Rodd is located on one of the most picturesque properties in the region, complete with beach, birding, and the beautifully preserved Fisgard Lighthouse, built in 1860 as a beacon for the British Royal Navy's Pacific Squadron.
3. Enjoy a Military Reenactment
For a truly unique experience, visit Fort Rodd during the three-day historic military encampment every May, hosted by the Victoria-Esquimalt Military Reenactors Association (VEMRA). Walk through the grounds while history happens around you as local actors re-enact daily military life from past decades.
Did you know? Fort Rodd Hill was the last location in Canada to still have permanent British troops stationed there at the turn of the last century, as Canada's own military gained strength. When the 300 members of the Royal Engineers and Royal Garrison Artillery were ordered home in 1906 from Fort Rodd, 60 chose to stay behind, and went on to join the fort's first two Canadian units.
4. See Vintage Military Aircrafts
If fantastic flying machines attract you, the BC Aviation Museum in nearby Sidney has a diverse collection of rebuilt, restored and replica planes, ornithopters and gliders dating back to the 1890s, including three World War II combat planes.
The museum opened in 1988 in a single hangar on Victoria International Airport lands, but now has three hangars housing its growing collection including a three-quarters replica of a Supermarine Spitfire.
5. Visit The Bay Street Armoury & Ashton Armoury Museum
Upstairs at the historic Bay Street Armoury in Victoria, the many stories, images and memorabilia of more than a century of Canadian militia service are on display at the Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary's) Regimental Museum. Visitors will learn about the earliest days of the regiment and on through more recent assignments with NATO, United Nations, and in Afghanistan.
The armoury alone packs a lot of history within its walls. The 1912 heritage building is notable not only for its military role, but for the December 10, 1945 exhibition boxing match that saw legendary boxer and world heavyweight champion Joe Louis beat U.S. Navy boxing champion Bob Frazier in three quick rounds.
You can also pay a visit to the Ashton Armoury Museum, a military museum representing the combat support units located in the Ashton Armoury. The museum commemorates their history in both war and peacekeeping activities, as well as the British heritiage of the predecessor Corps.
Did you know? Reservists have played a vital role in Canada's military history, and now account for a fifth or more of active Canadian troops overseas. Click here for stories on Victoria veterans Randal Evans and Gordon Quan, both with long histories in the Canadian Scottish Regiment.
If you'd like to find out more about Victoria's history including our rich First Nations roots, you can also plan a visit to the Royal BC Museum on your next visit.