Vancouver Island Military and Maritime Sites Seek Feedback on Management Plan

Fisgard Lighthouse is part of a dual National Historic Site just west of Victoria/Parks Canada

One is a military site that commemorates the role of the Victoria-Esquimalt Fortifications in the defense of Victoria and the Esquimalt Naval Base for almost 80 years. The other was the first permanent lighthouse on the Pacific coast of Canada.

Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Sites on Vancouver Island are connected by a causeway and managed as a single unit. Now the public has until April 23 weigh on a share draft management plan that will guide the next decade on sites.

The last joint plan came out in 2003.

Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse are two National Historic Sites connected by a causeway and managed as one.

Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse are two National Historic Sites connected by a causeway and managed as one/Parks Canada

A 2019 review found that sites need to pay more attention to their cultural resources (archaeological artefacts and sites) and built assets (including visitor facilities) while building and strengthening relationships with groups First Nations on whose lands the sites are located. Parks Canada has since realized that it needs to address site accessibility, transportation to sites, greening of operations and climate change mitigation.

“Promotion of sites must capture and incorporate the full range of cultural and natural resources that are protected and showcased, as well as the full range of amenities and programs that are offered,” the 16-page plan states. “In addition to a military fort and lighthouse, the sites also offer other opportunities related to outdoor space, ecosystems, First Nations, camping and more.”

There are no public transport options, bus lines or cycle paths to get to the sites, which are only 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) west of Victoria. Downtown signage requires work.

The Belmont Battery at Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site.

The Belmont Battery at Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site/Parks Canada

Greater Victoria is a crowded and competitive tourist market that attracts an international cruise market and around three million visitors a year. Parks Canada plans to increase its collaboration with nearby attractions to entice tourists to leave the downtown core and travel west to sites illustrating Canada’s military and maritime heritage.

The sites are on the homelands of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, known as the Lekwungen-speaking peoples, and the lands and waters surrounding them are an “ecologically, culturally and spiritually significant place” for the Coast Salish First Nations. .

The sites feature abandoned military structures and a lighthouse that dates to 1859 and is still active and operated by the Canadian Coast Guard. In 2015, Parks Canada invested over $10 million (US$7.9 million) to repair, stabilize and waterproof the heritage structures of the fortification.

The Lower Battery at Fort Rodd Hill.

The Lower Battery at Fort Rodd Hill/Parks Canada

“The mix of moss-covered trees, layered history and ocean views creates a sense of wonder as visitors explore cannon batteries or platform tents, walk nature trails and gaze Coast Salish Visitor Centers that recognize and honor First Nations cultures and relationships with the land and water,” the plan states.

The sites offer demonstrations of historic weapons, children’s dress-up programs with performers in period costumes, exhibits, stargazing events and outdoor movies. There are five oTENTiks (roofed accommodation) and camping learning experiences.

The Garry Oak Learning Meadow in bloom.

The Garry Oak Learning Meadow in bloom/Parks Canada

The sites protect endangered coastal Douglas fir ecosystems, including the Garry Oak ecosystem, a managed cultural landscape that supports a Kwetlal (food) system for First Nations. The Garry Oak Learning Meadow, created in 2016 with native species replacing the lawn, acts as a “living classroom”.

Peak season is from early May through mid-October, but some people visit the city from mid-October through April when tours, programs, and special events are limited.

The sites typically attracted about 70,000 visitors a year until that number jumped to more than 98,000 on Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017, then dwindled due to pandemic restrictions. The objective is now to attract 100,000 visitors per year while promoting repeated visits from residents throughout the year.