It may seem that Victoria is all about nature, fleece jackets and coffee shops, but what if I told you that really a lot of what made Victoria exist as it is today, was the military. For the British Empire of the 1800s, Victoria's strategic location and natural harbours were ideal, not just for protecting British interests in North America, but securing the whole Pacific Ocean. This strategic importance is no where more evident than at Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Park.
About a twenty minute drive from downtown Victoria, Fort Rodd Hill is set on the western shore of Esquimalt Harbour, near Royal Roads University. Construction work started on the batteries around Victoria in the late 1870s, with Fort Rodd Hill being the largest one (work on this one started in the 1890s). There were others located at Macaulay Point and near Beacon Hill Park. Each of these batteries, was enlarged over the years through many different conflicts until the end of World War Two. In the 1960s Parks Canada took over Fort Rodd Hill and created the space we have today.
The little ticket hut that greets you at the parking lot is quite diminutive compared to what you will find on the other side. Once through the gates you would usually enter the Upper Battery, however when I went last weekend, it was closed for remediation. Instead you walk down the main trail towards the lower battery, the beach, the Belmont battery and Fisgard Lighthouse. To the left as you walk in is an expansive field and along the right are a few restored buildings including the Officer's Quarters.
You can explore in any direction you want, however I find walking down to the Belmont battery first allows for a nice loop walk. On the day we went, the air was chilling and spending time in the wind was painful, however, if you visit during the summer the beach between the Belmont battery and Fisgard Lighthouse would be perfect for a picnic.
Even if the wind is blowing, it is worth making your way out to the lighthouse. It was built in 1860 and was one of the first lighthouses on the West Coast. The light keeper's house has been turned into a small interactive display, but the just getting to see the craftsmanship of the building is quite impressive. Across the water from the lighthouse you can make out several of our Pacific Naval Fleet and just next door to that is the Victoria Shipyards, home to apparently "the largest solid bottom commercial drydock on the West Coast of the Americas". Last weekend you could see two BC Ferries waiting to get fixed up.
After the lighthouse head back to the fort and explore the lower battery. It is one of my favourite places here, especially the operations planning room in the basement. More generally I like the shapes of the ramparts and how the walls seemed to curl in to give defenders every last advantage.
As you leave the lower battery heading back towards the exit you will see a row of very large tents on the right hand side of the field. In the last couple of years, Parks Canada put these in giving people a ready made and easily accessible camping experience. I haven't done it yet but being allowed to wander around the grounds in the evening is a pretty tempting thought.
Even if it is not at night though, Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse are worth a visit and if you can get there before the end of the year, they are still free!