This Week in History
Pacific Naval Defense at Esquimalt, British Columbia
For the week of Monday July 16, 2001
On July 20, 1887, the Esquimalt graving, or dry dock, officially opened. Esquimalt offered both Britain's Royal Navy (RN) and later the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) a facility for repairing ships on one of the finest natural harbours on the west coast of the Americas.
Various stores, including "victualling" (food) and ordnance (gun storage) facilities were built in the Dockyard to support the naval presence. As the Dockyard grew, so did its value for British Columbia. B.C.'s conditions for joining Confederation included not only the construction of a transcontinental railway, but also a graving dock at Esquimalt. The Canadian government agreed, and B.C. joined Confederation in 1871.
The graving dock — a dock, kept dry by pumping out water, used to repair ships — was capable of holding the largest British warship in the Pacific. The graving dock is 450 feet long, 65 feet wide and holds 29 feet of water at high tide. The pumphouse, which empties the dock, originally contained bucket pumps operated by high-pressure steam. The dock's creation was one of the largest projects in Canada at the time. It still is constantly used, servicing both naval warships and merchant ships.
Esquimalt was abandoned in 1905 when the RN was reorganized to focus on its home fleet. In 1910 the Royal Canadian Navy was established and Esquimalt became Canada's Pacific naval base. The RCN at Esquimalt participated in the two world wars and the Korean War. Currently, the Dockyard is a part of Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt.
The Esquimalt Naval Sites, including the HMC Dockyard, Former Royal Navy Hospital, Veteran's Cemetery and Cole Island, are of national historic and architectural significance.
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