Chronology of Canadian West Coast Security and Defences

Written on a Bronze Plaque at entrance to the Fort Rodd Hill Historic Site:



From 1878 to 1956 coast artillery installations protected the city of Victoria and the naval base at Esquimalt. Temporary batteries were constructed in response to the Anglo-Russian crisis of 1878, and in the 1890s Canada negotiated with Great Britain for the building of a series of permanent defences to be manned by British troops. Canada took control of the fortifications in 1906 and, by the end of the Second World War, they had been rebuilt and greatly expanded. They were declared obsolete in 1956.

Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada


Compiled by: J. Cecil Berezowski, (LCol, RCA, Ret’d)

1848 – HMS Constance, a sailing frigate (later a screw-frigate) of 50 guns first Royal Navy ship to enter Esquimalt Harbour, just five miles along the coast from Victoria, then little more than a Hudson’s Bay Company log fort.

1849 – Victoria becomes capital of new colony of Vancouver Island.

1854-55 – First three buildings constructed for the Royal Navy are on Duntze Head and were to serve as a hospital during the Crimean War.

1858 – Fraser River Gold Rush – Victoria only harbour when US ship Commodore arrives with 400 miners bound for the Fraser River. There were 100 more prospectors on board than there were citizens in Victoria. Within four months, Victoria was overshadowed by a tent city of more than 6,000 American fortune seekers. The colonial governor urgently sought military and police assistance from the British government. The Royal Navy assisted.

1859 – The Colonial Office sent 165 Royal Engineers and 164 Royal Marine Infantry. This force was encamped at Queensborough (New Westminster) on the Fraser River.

Pig War incident on San Juan Island involving American and British forces raises local tensions because Oregon Treaty failed to clearly delineate borders in the Gulf Islands.

1860—Victoria Pioneer Rifle Corps first volunteer unit and composed entirely of blacks.

1862 – Esquimalt becomes new base for Royal Navy Pacific Squadron. Lack of shore batteries or garrison to defend harbours raises fear in case US Civil War spills over.

1866 – Colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia (mainland) amalgamated as united Colony of British Columbia.

1867 – Alaska purchased from Russia for $7.2 million by the United States.

1871 – British Columbia enters Confederation as a province. The West Coast is remote from any defences. The Fenian threat extends the Militia system into British Columbia.

1872 – The Militia Adjutant General, Col Robertson-Ross, visits British Columbia to organize a Militia of five companies of infantry and two of artillery. He also forms new Military District No. 11 (British Columbia)headed by a Deputy Adjutant General, Lieut. Col. C.F. Houghton, who is to raise the new companies of militia.

1873 – Two militia companies of Victoria Rifle Volunteer Corps formed.

1875 – New Commander of Canadian Militia visits Victoria and has Ottawa develop new coastal artillery defence plan for Victoria and Esquimalt.

1877 – War between Russia and Turkey threatens Britain’s communications with India.

1878 – Russian squadron of five ships arrives in San Francisco; war with Russia seems imminent and alarms the West Coast, particularly the Royal Navy in Victoria. The navy provides guns to defend Victoria and Esquimalt. Military District 11(BC) enlists artillery militia volunteers and starts gun drill with three gun detachments on 9 March at James Bay on two naval 64-pounders. Construction of earthworks for gun positions starts at Finlayson Point and Macaulay Point using local labour.

20 July, The newly formed militia Victoria Battery of Garrison Artillery fires the first 7-inch gun at Macaulay Point. (The 5th (BC) Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery in Victoria perpetuates the Victoria Battery today.)

Russia withdrew from Turkey in July and the West Coast scare subsided. The admiral commanding the RN Pacific Fleet ordered a full-scale review of the inadequate defences of Victoria and Esquimalt harbours and strongly advocated permanent fixed defences.

1879 – Lt-Col Thomas B. Strange, Senior Inspector of Artillery, Ottawa, visits Victoria with Col W.J. Lovell, R.E. to determine the defence needs of the Pacific Coast. Following a more modest plan than his British counter-part, he recommends the formation of a four-battery brigade of garrison artillery to increase the number of militia gunners and improve their training.

1883 –Major J.G. Holmes arrives as Acting Deputy Adjutant General of Military District 11 (BC) and as commandant of new Royal School of Gunnery, to be formed on the West Coast. He forms a militia regiment of garrison artillery of four batteries, one in New Westminster and three in Victoria. The Militia Act 1883 also authorized C Battery for Victoria, but to be raised later after Northwest Rebellion. Royal School conducts courses for militia artillery.

1885 – Russian tensions again seen as possible threat to Esquimalt, Nanaimo coalmines that supplied the RN steam-driven warships and the western terminus of the newly built CPR in Vancouver-Port Moody. The Dominion government agreed to provide a permanent artillery garrison to Victoria, but after the conclusion of the Northwest Rebellion.

1887 – Dominion Government forms C Battery, Canadian Artillery with drafts of 50 men each from A Battery, Kingston and B Battery, Quebec to form a permanent garrison in Victoria. On 10 Nov, Mayor John Grant of Victoria greeted Major James Peters and C Battery, the first Permanent Force unit to arrive on the West Coast of Canada.

C Battery temporarily housed in old Agricultural Hall in Victoria. Lt.-Col. J.G. Holmes, now commander M.D. 11 selects Work Point, located halfway between Victoria and Esquimalt harbours, as site of future barracks for C Battery and garrison headquarters. Gunners of C Battery clear Work Point of giant fir trees for builder, James Holland.

In 1887, there was very little of modern armaments for coastal defences that had been provided by the Admiralty to the Victoria Battery in 1878. The best were three 7-inch rifled muzzle-loaders at Macaulay Point, an 8-inch on Brother’s Island. The rest were ancient 64-pounders at Finlayson Point and Victoria point.

1888 – C Battery placed on Active Service and dispatched to the mouth of the Skeena River responding to a reported Indian uprising.

1889 – Lt-Col Holmes requests a 9-pdr gun to be situated at Work Point to fire noon and evening gun salutes. This quickly became the ‘heart-beat’ of Victorians who laid down tools for lunch with the noon gun and locked down with the 9 p.m. salute, as the sailing masters in port set their chronometers. This became the duty of the orderly officer and continued until the last artillery unit departed Work Point Barracks in 1957.

1890 – C Battery occupies the newly built Work Point Barracks including Officers’ Mess and Quarters, three barracks, stores room and stable. Lt-Col Holmes was first Commandant at Work Point and first occupant of the Commandant’s quarters in the Officers’ Mess.

1892 – Menzies Street Armoury is built.

1893 – 24 May – Regiment of Canadian Artillery composed of A, B and C Batteries, is redesignated “The Royal Canadian Artillery”.

18 Aug – Dominion agreed to Britain building an imperial fortress at Esquimalt on a cost-sharing basis. Royal Marine Artillery arrives 18 Aug via new CP Railway, to take over Work Point Barracks. C Battery departs following day bound for Quebec.

Maj. Peters promoted to Lt-Col. and to command M.D.11 (BC), vice Lt.-Col. Holmes.

Royal Engineer detachment (a major, captain and 20 sappers) from Halifax opens Works Office at Work Point to plan and supervise building of the new fortress. This included coastal artillery emplacements, the ubiquitous red brick barracks, dockyard buildings, married men’s housing at Work Point and married officers’ housing at Signal Hill.

Between 1893 and 1906, the British installed the most modern of coastal artillery commencing with the installation of disappearing six-inch guns, three at Macaulay Point and three at Fort Rodd Hill across the entrance to Esquimalt harbour.

1899 – 75 Royal Marines with families were relieved by 322 Royal Garrison Artillery from Halifax, causing second wave of construction at Work Point, mostly of red brick.

One officer and 25 men of 5(BC) Regiment, Canadian Artillery depart Victoria for South Africa as members of the 2nd (Special Service) Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment.

1905 – Admiralty officially closes Esquimalt naval station.

1906 – 17 May, the last British Army garrison to depart Canada left from Victoria. No. 5 Company, Royal Canadian Garrison Artillery, the Royal Canadian Engineers and the Royal School of Instruction took responsibility for the defences. Reverting back to Canada, Work Point again under Col J.G. Holmes continues as Fortress HQ with the new Canadian Army garrison of 120 all ranks that was only a third the size of the departed British. The core of the new units came from the transfer of 3 officers and 37 gunners from RGA and 31 RE sappers.

The British garrison found Work Point much to their liking. They left with regret and a host of very pleasant memories, having established many local contacts socially.

1908 – Col. James Peters returns as Commander M.D. 11 (BC). Lt.-Col. Arthur N. Currie took command of 5th (B.C.) Regiment Canadian Artillery militia. (He would rise to the rank of Lt.-General commanding the Canadian Corps during the Great War.)

1910 – 7 Nov. HMCS Rainbow, an obsolete British cruiser transferred to Canada, arrives at Esquimalt as its sole ship with 300 British officers and Men who are on loan to a newly created Canadian navy for two years, until Canadian sailors could be trained.

9 Nov – Esquimalt British naval base is transferred to Canada, giving new purpose to the Dockyard and the long-established Canadian artillery defences on the Pacific Coast. Witnesses included British Columbia Lieutenant-Governor Paterson, Premier Richard McBride, Col. R.I. Wadmore, M.D. No.11 (BC) Commander and Lt-Col (later General Sir) Arthur Currie, commanding officer of Victoria’s militia 5th (B.C.) Regiment Canadian Artillery.

1911— The fledgling Canadian Naval Service takes over Dockyard from Britain.

M.D. No.11 (BC) Headquarters returns to Work Point Barracks. The Officers’ Mess and Quarters becomes home to district commander and garrison officers.

Once again, the defences of the West Coast depended mainly on militia units that had been trained to a very high standard by their British mentors.

1914 – All batteries were manned by 4 Aug with hastily mobilized regular and militia gunners within Esquimalt Garrison. The British Columbia government had secretly purchased two submarines in Seattle for $1,150,000 and removed them a day prior to war because of the Neutrality Act. The morning of the 5th as the submarines approached Esquimalt harbour, nobody had notified the artillery of this fact. An alert officer, recognizing the submarines as “British,” stopped the guns from opening fire, thus averting tragedy.

1918 – 5th BC Regiment was demobilized in August after manning most of the coastal defences and training and dispatching 777 officers and men overseas during the war, from Work Point Barracks. All equipment and fortress stores were turned back to the local permanent force 5th Company Royal Canadian Garrison Artillery.

1919 – HRH, The Prince of Wales, visits Victoria in Sept. and receives guests at Work Point Officers’ Mess and Quarters during his visit.

1920 – B Coy PPCLI posted to Work Point under MD 11(BC), as a local defence force for the coast artillery defences and Esquimalt harbour and coaling station.

1922 – School of Artillery reconstituted at Macaulay Point to train regulars and militia.

1924 – Two 6-inch QF naval guns replaced the two obsolete 6-inch disappearing guns at Macaulay Point.

1925 – 5th Company at Work Point re-titled 5 Heavy Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery.

1928 – Gen A.G.L. McNaughton, PC, CH, CB, DMG, DSO, while a Brig-Gen, becomes Comd M.D. 11(BC) and Comdt Work Point Barracks. His primary task was to produce a new defence plan for the West Coast.

– Joint Staff Committee Pacific Coast recommended modernization of obsolescent coastal defences. These included searchlights and batteries of 9.2-inch, 6-inch and 6-pounder duplex guns, patrol and fighter aircraft and light and heavy anti-aircraft guns.

1929 – McNaughton departs for Ottawa on promotion to Maj-Gen and appointment to Chief of the General Staff at age 41, the youngest CGS in Canadian history.

1937 – Because of the depression, little had been done to replace the obsolete guns. Mountings for two 9.2-inch guns at Albert Head were started.

1939 – By spring, the two 9.2-inch guns from Signal Hill had been installed at Albert Head. The re-titled 5th BC Coast Brigade was reorganized in Victoria to at least partially man the coastal defences. Readiness was in a poor state and there was no defence plan.

26 Aug – 5th BC Coast Brigade mans six artillery sites of the Victoria-Esquimalt Fortress by 226 all ranks, with headquarters at Work Point.

1940 – Pacific Command established in October with Maj.-Gen. R.O. Alexander as General Officer Commanding and to be district officer commanding of Military District 11 (BC) headquartered at Work Point Barracks.

Canadian and American officers meet at Work Point Headquarters, Esquimalt-Victoria Fortress, to coordinate the defence of Juan de Fuca Strait.

1941 – Americans agreed to loan two 8-inch railroad guns to Canada for emplacement at Christopher Point, covering the entrance to Juan de Fuca Strait.

5 Mar – Officer Training Centre (Western) opens at Gordon Head to train new officers.

29 Aug – Lt.-Col. Joan Kennedy opens Work Point office to enlist women for CWAC.

7 Dec – Japanese strike Pearl Harbour. Joint US/Canada operational procedures activated. Top priority was installation of anti-aircraft defences at Esquimalt-Victoria Fortress. All production of 3.7-inch and 40-mm AA guns directed to Pacific Coast. Fortress reinforced with infantry, field artillery and armoured units over several months.

1942 – 1 Jan – Canadian Coast and Anti-Aircraft Artillery School opened at Esquimalt.

25 Feb – Queen Elizabeth enters Esquimalt dry dock for refit; local fear of air attacks.

18 Mar – Maj.-Gen. R.O. Alexander now Commander-in-Chief, West Coast Defences.

30 May – Lt.-Gen. K. Stuart, Chief of General Staff, arrives at Pacific Command to take personal control, while still continuing as C.G.S. General Alexander posted to Ont.

20 Jun – Public panics over Japanese invasion of Aleutians and shelling of Estevan Point.

New 6th Division Headquarters under Maj.-Gen. Potts moves into Work Point Barracks with brigades in Nanaimo, Port Alberni and the Esquimalt-Victoria Fortress troops under command. (The Work Point Officers’ Mess was busy!)

2 Sep – Maj.-Gen. G.R. Pearkes, V.C. becomes G.O.C.-in-C. Pacific Command.

30 Nov – Pacific Command and MD 11(BC) HQ moved to Vancouver as part of Joint Operational Headquarters.

1943 – During the year, 6th Division grew to 11,462 all ranks on Vancouver Island. October – 6th Division HQ moved from Esquimalt to Prince George. (Kiska)

1944-45 – Coast and anti-aircraft defences gradually reduced as threat subsided.

1946 – Work Point Barracks gains new Royal Canadian School of Artillery (Coast and Anti-Aircraft) until1953. Commandant of School also Commander Esquimalt Garrison.

Two AA batteries, 119 and 129, part of garrison but located at Gordon Head Camp.

1949 – Cold war creates NATO. Militia expands. RCSA-Work Point conducts camps and courses for all militia AA units in Western Canada and trains regulars for Germany.

1951 – Korean War brings expansion of Canada’s military for both Korea and Europe.

Work Point Barracks undergoes major renovations.

Many red brick British buildings circa 1904 are demolished. Construction of new Men’s mess hall and barrack blocks, as well as married quarters at Macaulay Point.

RCA Officers’ Mess (Bldg 1027) has ground floor partitions removed to enlarge dining/ball room and the ante-room.

Nearly 200 officer cadets of the Canadian Officers Training Corps from universities across Canada, undergo 8-weeks summer artillery training at RCSA, Work Point.

Many wartime officers, now Victorians, become associate members of the RCA Officers’ Mess at Work Point that once again resumes social prominence in Victoria.

1953 – School closes and 119 MAA Battery moves from Gordon Head Camp to Work Point Barracks, to be joined by 3rd Field Squadron RCE on return from Korea.

1955 — 119 MAA Battery reduced to nil strength; 129 MAA Battery converted to 4th LAA Battery and moved into Work Point Barracks. 2nd Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada moved from Korea to Gordon Head Camp.

1957 – 4th LAA moved to Picton, Ont. The 2nd QOR of C moves to Germany. 3rd Field Engineer Squadron moves to Chilliwack, B.C. The Work Point RCA Officers’ Mess property is moved to Home Station at Camp Shilo, Man.

Coast artillery defences removed. Gordon Head Camp becomes site of University of Victoria.

1 Nov – First Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry arrives from Germany to take over Work Point Barracks and the Work Point Officers’ Mess, alternating with the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada on subsequent rotations to Germany.

1982–Lt. Col. F.D.H. Nelson (Ret.) conducts a CFB Esquimalt Military Heritage Report with Dr. N.E. Oliver and within that lengthy document Building 1027 is of primary importance and rated fourth out of over 100 heritage structures surveyed.

1994 – PPCLI departs to Edmonton. The Naval Officers’ Training Centre (Venture) moves from Dockyard to Work Point Barracks.

2001 – CFB Esquimalt conducts a survey study of the buildings and lands at Work Point Barracks through Number Ten Architectural Group and BKG Consulting Group Ltd. called Phase II NOTC (DCC Project No. HQ 011 03, June 4th. The Officers’ Mess and Quarters 1027 and a number of other buildings were given a Heritage significance of Primary Importance and suggested a re-use. These buildings were also divided into two Heritage Precincts (Groupings.)

Historic Work Point Officers’ Mess Bldg 1027 was declared surplus to naval needs and a Request for Proposal was issued to remove the building. Included in the applications answering Request for Proposal was a Capital Plan for re-use of the Officers’ Mess and Quarters (1027) by the Professional Arts Initiative (later called Work Point Arts Project Society). Base Commander Capt (N) Adrian Round decides to re-assess removal of Building 1027.

2004, 2005, and 2006 – Three successive Ministers of National Defence refuse to support submission declaring Work Point Officers’ Mess and Quarters (Building 1027) and precinct a national historic site to be preserved.

2006 – Jun 02, contract let by DND/CFB Esquimalt to RALMAX and “deconstruction” commenced immediately by gutting the centre portion of this historic centre-piece of the first Canadian barracks designed and constructed in Canada between 1888 and 1890 at Victoria, B.C.