Esquimalt is the home of Canada's naval presence on the West Coast. Located in the heart of the Capital Region, five minutes from downtown Victoria, this thriving community is well worth a visit for its beautiful parks and beaches. But history buffs - in particular, maritime and naval history fans - will especially enjoy this community by the sea.
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 and became the first British naval vessel based at Esquimalt.
Here are three thing you can do on your next visit to Esquimalt:
1. Immerse Yourself in Canada's Naval History
CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum, located at Naden on Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt, provides a fantastic insight into naval life. Artifacts include Royal Navy uniforms and weapons, mock-ups of a sailors' mess and sleeping quarters and a Nazi flag from the U-boat that torpedoed the HMCS Esquimalt, the last Canadian ship to be sunk during World War II.
What to do: CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum offers guided and self-guided tours of their exhibits and displays.
Did you know? The museum has also hosted or created exhibits that focus on the service of the Military Police, celebrate the contributions and achievements of First Nations people, and honour the commitment to country of a Canadian family whose members have served in the Armed Forces for three generations.
Image: (right to left) HMCS Algonquin, HMCS Protecteur and HMCS St-Johns. The formation took place during a (RAS) Replenishment at sea, followed by maneuvers. Photographer MCpl Michel Durand
2. Point Ellice House and Gardens
On your way to Esquimalt, be sure to make time to stop at Point Ellice House and gardens. As a historic house museum overlooking the Upper Harbour and Gorge Waterway, it is internationally recognized for its display of 1890-1920 era décor, in its original setting, where the artifacts were used daily by the family.
What to do: Enjoy a self-guided audio tour through the museum portion of the house before sitting down to tea in the restaurant.
Did you know? Built in 1861, Point Ellice House was home to three generations of the O`Reilly family from 1867-1975.
Image: Point Ellice House Tea Room
3. Macaulay Point Battery
Now part of Macaulay Point Park, Macaulay Point Battery was an historic gun emplacement located in Esquimalt. A fort was built here between February 1894 and October 1897 to complement fortifications at the naval base prior.
What to do: In 1985 the area was transformed into a 7.6 hectare municipal park popular with birdwatchers, hikers and dog walkers. A number of trails and access points lead to views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, as well as former military ramparts. Bunkers, lookouts and defensive berms are colorful historic highlights to take in and enjoy when visiting the park.
Did you know? In the mid-1850s Macaulay Point Battery became a fully active naval base. Although Victoria's coastal defenses were never battle-tested, they nonetheless helped to prepare hundreds of local men for overseas service.
Image: On guard at Macaulay Point Battery, 1914. Members of the 5th Regiment sit on a battery gun. Source: Image Courtesy of Craig Cotter at the Museum of the 5th (BC) Regiment Royal Canadian Artillery
Bonus* Fort Rodd Hill & Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Sites
Okay, we know that Fort Rodd Hill isn't located in Esquimalt - but it's close, and it's wonderful. This west coast artillery fortress built in the late 1890s to defend Victoria and the Esquimalt Naval Base and was on active duty from 1895 to 1956.
What to do: Visitors to the fort can tour through secret bunkers, explore gun batteries and underground magazines built a century ago, as well as searchlight emplacements and command posts. Signage, audio and video stations, period furnished rooms, and knowledgeable staff help to tell the stories of this historic site.
Bring a picnic lunch, explore nearby tidal pools, wander through a rare Garry Oak meadow and enjoy the spectacular sea and mountain views. Then grab the wheel as a "master mariner" at Fisgard Lighthouse, the oldest on the Canadian west coast.
Did you know? The site is so genuine, historical societies still use Fort Rodd Hill to re-enact battles. The bunkers, turrets and rifle slits make it Victoria's equivalent to a real military castle.
Image: Fisgard Lighthouse
If you're visiting on a weekend, make sure to visit the Esquimalt Farmers Market! Families visiting the region can also spend an afternoon cooling off at Esquimalt Lagoon or enjoying activities at Esquimalt Recreation Centre.
Don't miss the Esquimalt Arts Festival on August 14!