1936 – 1956

In 1936, a British coast artillery expert, Major B. D. C. Treatt R. A., was brought to Canada to recommend improvements to the defences on the east and west coasts. Treatt’s report formed the basis for a plan for updating the Victoria-Esquimalt defences, but it would require several years to acquire the necessary guns and fire control equipment from Britain. Consequently, late in 1937, an interim plan was adopted, which called for the installation of older guns already in Canada in the new positions chosen by Treatt.

Work had yet to be completed on these interim plan batteries when the Second World War began in 1939. Considering this, and the poor state of training and equipment of the permanent force and militia gunners on mobilization, it was fortunate that there was little danger of attack on the west coast of Canada during the first two years of the war.

By the time of Japan’s entry into the war in December 1941, the condition of the Victoria‑Esquimalt coast artillery defences had greatly improved. The interim plan batteries had all been completed and the militia gunners mobilized to man the defences were well practiced with the new equipment. One of the new batteries, Mary Hill, replaced the Upper and Lower Batteries at Fort Rodd Hill, where the obsolete 6‑inch disappearing gun were dismantled for scrap.

6 Inch Mark 24 Gun

A new 9.2-inch gun battery was constructed at Albert Head, and Macaulay Point received two modern 6-inch guns. In addition, two new anti‑torpedo boat batteries were constructed to protect Victoria harbour, and seventeen 60‑inch General Electric searchlights were installed to provide illumination of the approaches to the two harbours at night.

In order to provide at least one battery with sufficient range to reach across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, two 8‑inch railways guns were accepted on loan from the U. S. government and installed on stationary mountings at Christopher Point in 1941. They would remain there until returned to the U.S. in 1945. This loan was indicative of the close cooperation between the American and Canadian coast defences that had developed even before the United States joined the war.

The threat to British Columbia\’s coastline was at its greatest during 1942. In June of that year, Japanese forces occupied the islands of Kiska and Attu in the Aleutian Islands and in the same month a Japanese submarine shelled the lighthouse at Estevan Point on Vancouver Island. Victorians were practising air raid drills and black outs and, to people on the west coast, the war seemed very close.

The attack on Pearl Harbour had pointed out the need for anti‑aircraft defences. Fortunately, the decision had been made the previous year to manufacture light and heavy anti‑aircraft guns in Canada and the first three 40mm Bofors light anti‑aircraft guns produced in this country were rushed to Esquimalt directly from the factory, within ten days of the outbreak of war with Japan. By the end of 1942, there were sixteen heavy and twentyfour light anti‑aircraft guns in place.

Beginning in 1943, the first modern coast artillery guns began to arrive from Britain. With the installation of modern, long‑range, counter‑bombardment guns at Mary Hill and Albert Head, the fortress system of the range finding was put into use. The latest design of fire control was installed at the batteries, in a series of observation posts at other locations, and in the fortress plotting room at Fort Rodd Hill. All these locations were connected by cable, so that cross observations of targets from the observation posts could be transmitted instantly, computed quickly and passed immediately as accurate data to display dials on the guns. The system was fully operational by December 1943.

The anti‑torpedo boat defences of Victoria and Esquimalt were also updated beginning in 1943. Modern twin 6pounder guns were installed at Belmont Battery, Duntze Head and Ogden Pier and these guns had more than twice the rate of fire of the 12‑pounder guns they replaced.

When hostilities finally ceased, in 1945, the coast defences once again returned to the quiet of peacetime routine. The batteries were placed under the care of maintenance detachments and the guns were only fired during the occasional training exercise. Although new equipment and techniques, such as fire control by radar, were brought into use, the era of coast artillery was drawing to a close. Revolutionary weapons, devised during the war and developed in the years that followed, had stolen the thunder of the great guns. In 1956, coast artillery was declared obsolete in Canada and the guns were removed from the batteries of the Victoria‑Esquimalt Fortress.

Shortly afterwards, a concerned group of local citizens, made up largely of serving and former coast artillerymen, began to lobby to save the now surplus Fort Rodd Hill property. Their campaign was successful and Fort Rodd Hill was acquired by Parks Canada as a national historic park in 1962. Its new role would be to preserve and interpret the long and colourful history of the Victoria‑Esquimalt coast defences.