We felt like exploring a bit beyond Victoria one day, so we headed west along the so-called Gorge. This narrow gentle waterway lined by parks and nice homes, empties into Portage Inlet. This was where we caught Island Highway 1A, past Esquimalt Harbour. Ocean Boulevard took us right to Fort Rodd Hill.
Fort Rodd Hill was built in the late 1800’s, one of a much larger system of defensive artillery positions guarding Victoria and Esquimalt Harbours. Decommissioned in 1956, three batteries and many other very well-preserved buildings still stand on the grounds, overlooking the Juan de Fuca Strait. Handed guide and map after paying admission at the entrance station, we begin our self-guided tour of Fort Rodd.
Past ack-ack artillery and field guns, we enter the 2-story brick 1897-built warrant officer’s quarters. Inside, I’m surprised to find an extensive display about Canadian liberating forces in the Netherlands in 1945. I hadn’t realized that then Crown Princess Juliana took shelter in Canada, giving birth to daughter, Margriet, in Ottawa in 1943.
Also unknown to me was that 7600 Canadians perished during the last 9 months of World War II. I recall my mother telling me about jubilant partying following liberation, dancing till late hours with a handsome Canadian soldier named Roy. But no hanky-panky, she was already engaged to my father, who’d been immediately drafted into a temporary peace-keeping police force when it was discovered he’d fought in the Dutch Underground.
From the Battery Command Post we catch our first glimpse of a Columbia black-tailed deer. This sub-species, similar to mule deer but smaller, is native to Vancouver Island and parts of B.C. They thrive on the acorns of the endangered Garry oak, widely present on Vancouver Island before introduction of non-native plant species in the 1800’s. Later, we’ll see more does and fawns browsing and gamboling.
Passing well-signed, well-preserved barracks, kitchen complete with menu list (appears much superior to C-rations), we end up in the canteen, which now serves as store and snack bar. We learn soldiers enjoyed beer, pickled eggs and pigs’ feet here. We settle for a cinnamon roll.
Both lower and upper batteries were built between 1895-97. Belmont Battery, closer to the shoreline, was built in 1900, to defend against torpedo boats, which might slip under the guns of the two larger batteries. Bombs were stored in underground magazines excavated from solid rock. On shore, we examine remnants of anti-torpedo nets, and a cleverly camouflaged searchlight emplacement, made to look like a boathouse. Prior to radar, searchlights were used to detect enemy targets. We descend stairs to a searchlight engine room, where the soldiers were called glow-worms.
We end our tour at the upper battery, where a five-ton gun barrel (the 1897 original) sits on its emplacement in firing position. The battery also contains loop-holed gate and walls, guardhouse, electric light station, and three concrete pedestals, all that remain of the command post.
Entry fee: $4CD adult, $2CD youth – fort and lighthouse