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Esquimalt celebrates 100

Sep 09 2012
Daniel Lapp at Esquimalt celebration days. 

Daniel Lapp at Esquimalt celebration days.

Photograph by: Darren Stone , Times Colonist

From where she stands in the middle of Esquimalt Gorge Park, June Beattie can point to her childhood home. It's the place where she grew up, in the community she'll always call home.

June and her husband, Jim Beattie - both longtime residents of Esquimalt - joined thousands of people on Saturday to celebrate the community's 100th birthday.

Live bands played on two stages and community groups set up under tents scattered around the parking lot.

"We've had great interest in this event," said Mayor Barb Desjardins.

"The people have been flocking down here all day, just having a great time."

In the late afternoon, June and Jim could be found manning the Esquimalt High School alumni tent.

They were looking at old black and white photos of Lampson Street Elementary, trying to remember which years they attended the school. They both went to classes there about 60 years ago, though they didn't meet until high school.

The couple, who married shortly after graduation, said they would never want to live anywhere other than Esquimalt - an attitude representative of the type of people who live in the community, Desjardins said.

The township was incorporated on Sept. 1, 1912, and there has been a long history of families settling and staying in Esquimalt for generations.

"One woman lived here for more than 90 years," Desjardins said, "and we have many third-, fourthand fifth-generation families here."

Desjardins began planning for the centennial party after she was first elected in 2007 and has been working on the celebration ever since.

The township boasts a population of 16,200, a far cry from the farming community that it was in the 1850s, when the Hudson Bay Company used the crops grown to supply forts in the region, including the newly formed Fort Victoria.

By the late 1880s, the Royal Navy had completed its dockyard, setting up a repair and refitting site. Around the same time, the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway was built.

(Desjardins, now in her second term after being acclaimed in 2011, has been trying to garner support to restore the old E&N line - which was shut down to passenger service in April 2011 because of the poor condition of the track - as a way to ease traffic congestion.)

Desjardins says she is proud to be mayor at this monumental point in the township's history.

"I'm so privileged," she said, after swapping the period costume she wore during the festivities for more contemporary clothing.

"We've had some struggles over the years, but it's the resilience of the residents that keeps us going. We're still going to be here in 100 years, and we're looking forward for what's to come."

June and Jim plan to be in the town for years to come, close to both their son, who now calls View Royal home, and their daughter, who lives across the Gorge waterway in Saanich.

"We moved here when I was nine years old," June said.

"I've always been an Esquimalt girl. This 100-year celebration means a lot."


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