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Esquimalt road one for the ages, and for the camels

Dec 02 2012
Cariboo-bound camels arrived in Esquimalt in the 1860s. 

Cariboo-bound camels arrived in Esquimalt in the 1860s.

Photograph by: A-00347, Courtesy Royal B.C.Museum, B.C. Archives

Few roads in Canada have rated heritage status, but Old Esquimalt Road is poised to become the next.

Local historian Sherri Robinson calls it “the first planned road in Western Canada” — and hopes it will soon be labelled as such. It was laboriously hacked out of heavy woodland wilderness in 1852, by the crew of the Royal Navy’s HMS Thetis, a backbreaking job. But it was finished before 1853 under the command of Capt. Augustus Kuper of the Royal Navy.

The Thetis crew literally took the high road along the rocky outcroppings, unlike the crew of the HMS Clio, who cut through the swamp in 1865 when building “new” Esquimalt Road that continues as the township’s main thoroughfare today.

At least they got an extra shilling a day for their efforts.

Old Esquimalt Road “served as the only safe overland means of travel between the naval base on Esquimalt Harbour and the Hudson’s Bay Company Fort in Victoria (at Fort and Government streets) until the new road was complete.

The road meant sailors needing to get between harbours no longer had to fear drowning in small boats amid quickly changing tides that had claimed several men.

This is Esquimalt’s centennial year so the timing seems right for the registration of such an important road to the community, says Robinson, a fifth-generation Esquimalt resident who has been a volunteer archivist for 33 years.

The old road’s status as a heritage feature is expected to be formalized at a council meeting on Dec. 10.

The roughly 1.5-kilometre route runs west to east, from Park Terrace to Wilson Street in Victoria, and includes the confluence of Old Esquimalt Road with Lampson and Head streets.

Heritage registration will allow the municipality to place signage informing the many walkers in the neighbourhood about B.C. milestones — everything from beer to baptism, that happened along the road.

Placement on the register will in no way encumber local government, and the B.C. Assessment Authority has determined there will be no impact on property values, Esquimalt planning technician Karen Hay said.

Letters were sent explaining the idea to about 150 residents and property owners along the route. There have been no objections.

kdedyna@timescolonist.com

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