Gun Emplacement, Building 578
Recognized Federal Heritage Building
Esquimalt, British Columbia
(© Ian Doull, AHB, Parks/Parcs Canada, 1989)
CFB Esquimalt - Signal Hill, Esquimalt, British Columbia
Treasury Board Policy on Management of Real Property
1903 to 1905
Signal Hill No. 578
FHBRO Report Reference:
Description of Historic Place
Gun Emplacement No. 578 is strategically located on the southern brow of Signal Hill overlooking Esquimalt Harbour. The partially subterranean structure has low massing that is defined by the visible, above ground portions of the structure. It consists of a sunken magazine flanked by two raised gun-support bases encased in reinforced concrete. Two low, wooden structures stand on the gun emplacements. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.
Gun Emplacement No. 578 is a Recognized Federal Heritage Building because of its historical associations, and its architectural and environmental values.
Gun Emplacement No. 578 is associated with the defence of British overseas naval stations at the end of the 19th century and with the defence of Canada during the First World War. Notable as the last joint venture of the British and Canadian governments before the British garrison withdrew in 1906, the gun emplacement was the most powerful of several similar installations in the area.
Gun Emplacement No. 578 is an excellent and rare surviving example of a technologically advanced, pre-First World War defensive heavy gun emplacement. Technological advances include its early use of concrete, and also its shell storage and delivery system which served to meet the functional requirements in the storage of munitions and the mounting of artillery. Good quality of craftsmanship and superior materials and techniques are evident.
Gun Emplacement No. 578 sits on its unchanged prominent hilltop site with a magnificent unrestricted view of Esquimalt Harbour across to the Juan de Fuca Straits. It dominates the partially wooded summit as viewed from land. Its presence continues to reinforce the military character of the site.
Ian Doull, Signal Hill Gun Emplacement No. 578, CFB Esquimalt, Esquimalt, British Columbia. Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office Report 90-050
Signal Hill Gun Emplacement No. 578, CFB Esquimalt, Esquimalt, British Columbia. Heritage Character Statement 90-050
The following character-defining elements of Gun Emplacement No. 578 should be respected, for example:
Its functional design and good quality materials and craftsmanship, for example:
The simple, large, low massing of the partially subterranean structure. The massively reinforced concrete formwork, and the massive protective concrete shields protecting the loading area. The brick-lined magazines and the heavy steel plates tightly fitted around the gun mountings. The door and window fittings, ammunition elevators, and the steel staircases and platforms. The original layout and planning and the two low, wooden structures standing on the gun emplacements. The safety lighting behind recessed glass in the magazine.
The manner in which Gun Emplacement No. 578 reinforces the military character of Signal Hill as evidenced by:
Its unchanged, prominent hilltop site with an unrestricted view of Esquimalt Harbour across to the Juan de Fuca Straits.
Heritage Character Statement
The heritage character statement was developed by FHBRO to explain the reasons for the designation of a federal heritage building and what it is about the building that makes it significant (the heritage character). It is a key reference document for anyone involved in planning interventions to federal heritage buildings and is used by FHBRO in their review of interventions.
The gun emplacement of the Signal Hill battery was built in 1903-1905 to designs by the British Royal Engineers. The emplacement reflects the Victoria-Esquimalt coastal defence plans to protect the nearby naval dockyard, part of a global defence scheme for defence of British overseas naval stations which was initiated in the 1880s & 1890s. In 1938, its guns were moved and wooden structures were built over the gun mounting areas. During the Second World War, the Signal Hill battery housed maintenance engineers. The Department of National Defence is the custodian. See FHBRO Building Report 90-50.
Reasons For Designation
The Signal Hill gun emplacement was designated Recognized for its association with the defence of British overseas naval stations at the end of the 19th century and the defence of Canada during the First World War; for its superior functional design; and for its well preserved site.
The gun emplacement was the last joint venture of the British and Canadian governments before the British garrison withdrew from Esquimalt in 1906. The Signal Hill gun emplacement was the only one in the area designed to hold the powerful 9.2 inch counter-bombardment guns capable of defending the dockyard and the Victoria coastline against an enemy warship.
The structure is a rare surviving example of a technologically-advanced British gun emplacement from the pre-World War I period. The gun emplacement incorporates technological advances in its use of concrete and in its shell-delivery system. The structure consists of a sunken central portion containing two brick-lined shell storage magazines encased in reinforced concrete. The functional requirements for the storage of munitions and for the protection of artillery are met by the use of massive reinforced-concrete and steel-plate construction; by partial burial of the structure in the hilltop; and, to reduce the chance of ignition, by lighting the magazine with lanterns set in recessed, glass-faced wall apertures. To facilitate safe, quick delivery of shells, the storage area is connected by munitions elevators to the gun-loading areas.
The strategic location overlooking the harbour and the camouflaging of the structure by partial burial meet specific military design requirements and are integral to the character of the structure.
Character Defining Elements
The heritage character of the Signal Hill gun emplacement is defined by its advanced functional design and innovative use of materials, by the integrity of the structure, and by the precision of its siting.
The use of concrete in the construction of the 1903 Signal Hill structure is particularly notable. The quality of workmanship and the use of superior materials and techniques for the production of the concrete at the Signal Hill gun site have ensured its survival, and it should be carefully maintained. Any required repairs should only be undertaken in consultation with a masonry expert.
The elements of the structure which reflect its military purpose, such as the brick-lined magazines, original door and window fittings, ammunition elevators, steel staircases and platforms are important functional features which should be carefully maintained and preserved. The wooden structures which cover the original gun positions reflect the evolution in the function of the site during the Second World War, and are worthy of preservation for this reason.
The site, prominently located on the brow of Signal Hill overlooking Esquimalt Harbour, dominates the summit as viewed from land. As intended by its designers, the building is well camouflaged when viewed from the water. The Signal Hill site, the only complete Canadian example of this type of advanced British gun-emplacement design, should be preserved intact, and the integrity of the historical setting should be respected by limiting development in the area.