Esquimalt Naval Sites National Historic Site of Canada

Esquimalt, British Columbia
Aerial view of Esquimalt Naval Sites, showing the location and siting, ringing Esquimalt harbour, 2001. © Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, 2001.
Aerial view
© Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, 2001.
Aerial view of Esquimalt Naval Sites, showing the view facing north, 2001. © Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, 2001.Aerial view of Esquimalt Naval Sites, showing the location and siting, ringing Esquimalt harbour, 2001. © Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, 2001.
Address : Esquimalt, British Columbia

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 1995-11-24
  • 1855 to 1966 (Construction)
  • 1855 to 1966 (Significant)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • British Royal Navy  (Architect)
  • Royal Canadian Navy  (Architect)
  • Department of Public Works  (Architect)
Other Name(s):
  • Esquimalt Naval Sites  (Designation Name)
  • Cole Island, Former Royal Navy Hospital, HMC Dockyard, Veterans' Cemetery  (Name of contributing resources)
Research Report Number: 2000-39


Existing plaque: North corner of CFB Esquimalt Naval & Military Museum parking lot Colwood, British Columbia

The long naval presence here has produced a unique legacy among defence sites in Canada. From its establishment in 1865 until Britain's Royal Navy withdrew in 1906, Esquimalt served as headquarters of the vast Pacific Station. In the Dockyard, the Admiralty built wooden storehouses and repair shops for the Pacific fleet. Well-crafted brick buildings, many still in use, replaced the original structures in the 1890s. A hospital complex was installed at nearby Pilgrim Cove. Sailors who succumbed to disease or to the hazards of life at sea were buried in the Royal Navy Cemetery. Cole Island, isolated at the northern tip of Esquimalt Harbour, housed gunpowder and high explosives. In 1910, the new Royal Canadian Navy took over the base, eventually expanding the Dockyard and hospital sites to provide training and administrative facilities, and the heavy industrial complexes needed to service the modern Canadian fleet. These sites embody more than a century's evolution of naval defence by British and Canadian forces.

Description of Historic Place

Esquimalt Naval Sites National Historic Site of Canada is a historic district that incorporates four important naval station sites forming a ring around Esquimalt harbour, British Columbia. These are Her Majesty’s Canadian (HMC) Dockyard, the former Royal Navy Hospital, the Veterans’ Cemetery and the Cole Island Magazine. Official recognition refers to all these sites and the associated historic resources they contain.

Heritage Value

The Esquimalt Naval Sites were designated a national historic site of Canada in 1995 because: they contain a wealth of built resources, unique among Canadian military bases and sites, and they represent a continuum of defence themes, from the Imperial defence period, through the creation of the Royal Canadian Navy, to Canadian naval institutions in wartime and as a member of post-war alliances; they are in homogeneous groupings which promote a distinctive sense of place, and the Royal Navy Dockyard compound is a rare surviving, largely intact, example of the many 18th- and 19th-century Admiralty bases which once circled the globe; they illustrate the range of facilities required for the operation of an Imperial naval station headquarters and successor operations of the Canadian Navy.

The heritage value of Esquimalt Naval Sites National Historic Site of Canada lies in the range and richness of the naval history illustrated by the site, setting, and the built and landscaped forms of the four components. While each has value as a homogenous grouping with a distinctive sense of place, together their distinctive design, forms, materials, functional priorities and technologies reflect a complete and legible record of the development of Canada’s Pacific naval experience.

HMC Dockyard was established by the British Royal Navy in 1865 and has, since then, been the heart of Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Esquimalt. Today it has two major sub-areas: the 12 hectares (30 acres) developed by the British Royal Navy before 1906, and a second section developed by the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War era and consistently expanded and rebuilt by the Department of Public Works and the Royal Canadian Navy. The other components in this historic district include the former Royal Navy Hospital (built 1860s, rebuilt 1887-1901, 1929), the Veterans’ Cemetery (established in 1868, expanded 1901, 1960s), and the Cole Island Magazine (established 1859, expanded 1887-1904, retired 1938).

Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minute, 1995, 2000; Commemorative Integrity Statement, July 2000.

Character-Defining Elements

Elements key to the heritage value of this site include: the location and siting, ringing Esquimalt harbour; the legibility of each of the four component sites with an individual and distinctive identity (ship repair and West Coast military headquarters, medical compound, contemplative resting place, guard and munitions establishment); the completeness of each component site with its range of historic resources, orientated to a central function; legibility of the layers of expansion exhibited within each individual complex; legibility of the layers of development as reflected in the design, forms, construction materials and techniques of buildings and structures typical of 1850s, 1885, 1937-1941, 1942-1945, and 1945-1995 construction periods; the different forms and spaces of cemetery gravestones and monuments linked to these periods; the consistent location of core functional areas in each complex over time; the surviving archaeological remnants of previous facilities and activities in their locations, forms and materials; the core circulation routes and landscaped areas in their locations, extent, design and materials, as defining features of each complex; the spatial relationships within the individual and among the four district sites; the continuity of the nature and location of long-term plants and trees, particularly in the cemetery; the specific natural geographic features impacting the definition and development of each individual site, including the secure natural dockyard harbour, the shallow harbour and vulnerable strategic placement of Cole Harbour, and the cemetery’s rolling open countryside; viewscapes to Esquimalt Harbour and the Strait of Juan de Fuca from each of these sites.