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Location DB > Canada > British Columbia > Victoria > Cole Island
Cole Island
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 Database Info
created by Forgotten BC on 1/21/2013 6:57 PM
last modified by Luigi on 4/15/2015 5:36 AM
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Historic Cole Island is located in Esquimalt Harbour on the west coast of British Columbia. Because of its close proximity to Victoria, BCs capital city, the island is easily accessed by boat. Cole island was strategically important to the Royal Navy as an ammunition depot from 1859 when the first two powder magazines were constructed by the Royal Engineers. Five of the original structures remain.

 Basic Information
Type: Buildings
Status: Abandoned
Accessibility: Moderate
Recommendation: worth the trip
 Physical Information

Victoria, British Columbia
Owner: Government of British Columbia
  • See a map of this location
  •  Hazards
  • water
  •  Interesting Features
    Powder magazine storage facilities. Several buildings left, and many foundations and ruins on a very small, beautiful island. Lots of history in this place.
     Security Measures
  • welded doors
  • wooden boarding
  •  Historical Dates
    Built: 1860
    Closed: 1905
     Required Equipment
  • boat
  •  Recommended Equipment
    camera, swim trunks
    By Lloyd Brooks

    Better known by visiting boaters than by most Victorians, the picturesque little island at the head of Esquimalt harbour is visible from the Six Mile bridge on highway 1A.

    Cole Island was strategically important to the Royal Navy as far back as the 1860s, when construction of the ammunition storage depot began. Eventually there were 17 solidly built brick and metal structures on the island, including a wharf and a guard house. Only five remain standing – barely. Even two massive brick ammunition storage buildings now show the relentless impact of tide, weather and vandalism.

    It is a lonely little island dominated by tall firs, arbutus and tangled brush. Open spaces are carpeted with a mass of flowering St. John's wort long escaped from some early caretaker's garden. One gets an eerie feeling wandering through huge empty vaults and under high arch-supported floors designed to support heavy loads of artillery shells, but now home to nesting geese, fluttering pigeons and the occasional curious river otter.

    Everything speaks of abandonment as a modern world focuses on more important issues of survival and entertainment, indifferent to the relics of a dynamic and colourful part of West Coast history.

    The island and its aresenal were first abandoned in 1905 when the Royal Navy left its Esquimalt base. After 1910 the newly formed Canadian navy continued to use the magazine storage facility until it became obsolete for military purposes during World War II. Then it was abondoned again until it became a logical addition to nearby Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Park.

    After a brief flurry of stabilization and restoration in the '70s, it was abandoned once again to be foisted on to a reluctant provincial government. It became the charge of the Heritage Branch, a sort of holding agency for historic buildings. Another flurry of activity followed in the '80s for public safety reasons and to secure the buildings against further vandalism through installation of steel doors and shutters. It wasn't long before persistent youths removed steel doors and the destruction continued.

    The most recent threat to the remaining structures is from nature itself, seemingly tired of man's sporadic attempts to defy decay. There is now serious erosion from tidal action on the main supporting columns of the arches holding up the main floor of the largest arsenal. Collapse appears to be imminent.

    What, is the longer term future of these brooding historic structures? Cole Island straddles the boundary between View Royal and Colwood but is technically within Colwood's boundary.

    This historic Island would make an ideal provincial marine park complementing the marine park on the other side of Victoria at Discovery Island.

    Its adjacent waters are a haven from the Juan de Fuca Strait storms. The harbour has good holding ground for visiting vessels to anchor and the attractive tree cover provides shade for sun-baked visiting boaters.

    Are these unique remnants of earlier days to succumb to nature's persistent attack and be left to the geese, the pigeons and the river otter?
     Media Coverage
    The June 2006 issue of Pacific Yachting Magazine referred to Cole Island as "the most picturesque anchorage in Esquimalt Harbour".

    Stories like this continue to attract visitors but our local press has played a major role in bringing attention to the issues.
     Future Plans
    In June 2006, Cole Island was officially recognized as a national historic site. It was designated part of a "National Historic District" by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

    The Friends of Cole Island Society is working with various levels of government to safeguard the old arsenals from further damage and to stop the vandalism that has plagued the site for years.

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     Photo Galleries
    Click to view gallery
    Haunted BC's visit, Jan 2013
    Mon, Jan 21st, 2013
    posted by Forgotten BC
    13 pictures
    Click to view gallery
    Cole Island
    Wed, Apr 15th, 2015
    posted by Luigi
    14 pictures

    Add your own photos

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     Web Links


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     Moderator Rating
    The moderator rating is a neutral rating of the content quality, photography, and coolness of this location.

    Category Rating
    Photography 7 / 10
    Coolness 7 / 10
    Content Quality 7 / 10
    This location's validation is current. It was last validated by Mike Dijital on 4/17/2015 12:46 AM.

     Latest Changes
  • on Apr 17 15 at 0:46, Mike Dijital validated this location
  • on Apr 15 15 at 5:36, Luigi changed the following: Web Links
  • on Apr 15 15 at 5:33, Luigi updated gallery picture Cole Island
  • on Apr 15 15 at 5:33, Luigi updated gallery picture Cole Island
  • on Apr 15 15 at 5:32, Luigi updated gallery picture Cole Island
  • on Apr 15 15 at 5:32, Luigi updated gallery picture Cole Island
  • on Apr 15 15 at 5:32, Luigi updated gallery picture Cole Island
  • on Apr 15 15 at 5:32, Luigi updated gallery picture Cole Island
  • on Apr 15 15 at 5:32, Luigi deleted picture 376000 from gallery Cole Island
  • on Apr 15 15 at 5:32, Luigi added some pictures to a gallery
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