Colwood considers claiming Cole Island

GOLDSTREAM GAZETTE Colwood considers claiming Cole Island By Kyle Wells August 29, 2013
The City of Colwood is looking into the possibility of taking at least part ownership of Cole Island, as conservation efforts are set to move forward at the heritage site.
One of the steps towards sprucing up the site is to add signage explaining some of the history of the island, which was once used as an ammunition storage site for the Royal Navy in the mid-1800s. This move is part of the Cole Island Conservation Management Plan.
As discussions surrounding these signs moved forward, however, attention turned and is continuing to focus on ownership of the site.
Currently, the provincial government owns the site, through Heritage B.C. A possibility does exist for Colwood to obtain tenure or some sort of license to the island, along with the responsibility for maintenance and restoration.
“It’s quite exciting,” said Chris Pease, chief administrative officer for Colwood. “But the information that came from the committee suggested we need to look into the ramifications of this a bit more before we say ‘yes’ to it.”
Council passed a motion Monday night instructing city staff to look into what exactly taking ownership of the island would mean. Any decisions related to the management plan are on hold until the ownership issue is addressed.
One of the main concerns is the money side, said Pease, and figuring out who would pay for what and whether the province would continue to support restoration efforts.
Pease also wonders whether View Royal might be interested in also getting involved, as the island is technically closer to the municipality.
“I think that would be probably be a good thing for us to do somewhere along the way, to see if they’re at all interested in assisting,” Pease said.

Reprinted with permission

Parks Canada Supports Preservation


PARKS CANADA
Parks Canada announces contribution for infrastructure improvements at site

Esquimalt, British Columbia, December
20, 2011 -- On behalf of the Honourable Peter Kent, Canada’s Environment Minister and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, the Honourable James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, Minister responsible for British Columbia, and Member of Parliament for Port Moody - Westwood - Port Coquitlam, today announced that the Government of Canada is investing in infrastructure improvements at the Cole Island Magazine at Esquimalt Naval Sites National Historic Site.

“Our government is proud to invest in Canada’s historical sites”, stated Minister Moore. “By supporting the groups that operate sites like the Cole Island Magazine at Esquimalt Naval Sites National Historic Site, we help protect Canada's history, support local economies and encourage more Canadians to explore and discover our national heritage.”

Through Parks Canada’s National Historic Sites Cost-Sharing Program, the Government of Canada is contributing up to $68,000 and the Province of BC is providing $68,000 for stabilization work to preserve the five remaining structures on Cole Island, including two shell storages, two powder magazines and a guardhouse.

The Cole Island Magazine was established in 1859 and retired in 1938. Its distinctive forms, materials and design have contributed to our understanding of the development of Canada’s Pacific naval experience. Esquimalt Naval Sites was designated a national historic site in 1995. It is owned by the Province of British Columbia and managed in partnership with the Friends of Cole Island Society.

“One of our Government’s objectives is to inspire Canadians to develop strong and meaningful connections with Canada’s national treasures,” said Minister Kent. “Our national historic sites are vital to our history, our identity as Canadians, and our tourism industry. By investing in them and by building lasting relationships with the groups that operate them, we ensure that they will continue to help support local economies and encourage more Canadians to explore and discover our national heritage.”

“Cole Island speaks to the significant role naval defence has played in the development of our coast line in British Columbia. We are pleased to work with the federal government to preserve these buildings for future generations,” said Steve Thomson, B.C. Minister for Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

“We are really excited that these buildings will be stabilized,” said Linda Carswell, founder of the Friends of Cole Island Society. “These essential repairs will contribute to the renaissance of a site of such immense heritage value and, at the same time, will provide the public with a touchstone to Canadian and British naval heritage.”

The Cost-Sharing Program reflects the Government of Canada’s dedication to protect Canada’s heritage through funding towards the conservation of our national historic sites. In this centennial year, Parks Canada is pleased to continue its efforts to ensure that Canada’s historic and natural heritage is protected for the enjoyment, education and appreciation of all Canadians, today and in the future.

For additional information, please see the accompanying backgrounder at www.parkscanada.gc.ca under Media Room.

-30-

Information:
Adam Sweet
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of the Environment
819-997-1441

Media Relations
Parks Canada
819-953-8371

News Release

Cole Island gets injection of funds for building repairs


TIMES COLONIST

Historic Cole Island in Esquimalt Harbour gets injection of funds for building repairs


By Sandra McCulloCh
December 21, 2011

A small island in Esquimalt Harbour – known alternatively as Cole Island, Magazine Island and Cole Island Magazine will be spruced up, thanks to Tuesday's funding announcement from the federal and provincial governments.

Part of the Esquimalt Naval Sites National Historic Site, the island is owned by the province and managed in partnership with the Friends of Cole Island Society.

Its wooden and brick buildings were built by royal engineers after the 1858 gold rush. The buildings, believed to be Esquimalt's oldest, were used to house gun powder and shells for the Royal Navy ships.

"Our government is proud to invest in Canada's historic sites," Heritage Minister James Moore said in release.

"By supporting groups that operate sites like the Cole Island Magazine, we help protect Canada's history, support local economies and encourage more Canadians to explore and discover our national heritage."

Cole Island represents the significant role that naval defence has played in the development of the B.C. coastline, said Steve Thompson, B.C. minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

"We are pleased to work with the federal government to preserve these buildings for future generations," Thomson said in release.

The joint announcement by the two levels of government means that up to $136.000 will be available to stabilize and preserve the five remaining structures on Cole Island, including two for shell storage, two powder magazines and a guard house.

The island was established as a naval site in 1859 and retired in 1938. It was designated a national historic site in 1995.

The funding announcement was an early Christmas present for a group of View Royal residents who have taken Cole Island under their wing.

"This is great news, absolutely great news," said Linda Carswell, founder of the Friends of Cole Island.

Work has begun on repointing brick on one of the buildings and replacing beams on others, she said.

"They're starting to resurface the roofs and they're also rebuilding part of the wall on the guard house, which was probably the most dangerous building," Carswell said.

The island is accessible to anyone with a boat and it is a popular destination for visitors during the summer.

"In the summertime, there's someone on that island pretty much constantly," Carswell said.

"There hasn't been any vandalism for nearly 18 months, she said. The Friends of Cole Island live in homes around the bay with views of the island.

"If you go into anybody's house, there's a pair of binoculars right at the window and quite often I get calls that there's someone on the island looking suspicious."

Group members who fear for the historic structures call in the RCMP.

The latest funding will leave the structures on Cole Island in good shape for the future, Carswell said

"I think that island will last many more years and we're hoping eventually it becomes a place where families can come on a kayaking trip," she said

The group will request permission from the province to put a picnic table there "and maybe a small dock," she said.
Reprinted with permission

Welders secure Cole Island


GOLDSTREAM NEWS GAZETTE Welders secure Cole Island By Amy Dove September 2009

Cole Island's history has been sealed.

Dan Bauer and Ben Davidson spent a week cutting windows into existing 200-pound steel doors and re-attaching them to the buildings. The intent is to keep people out of the heritage structures while still allowing them to see in.
“These buildings are getting really savagely destroyed,” Bauer says. “People are bringing big tools over here (to dismantle them).”
It’s not a typical job for Bauer’s company Heavy Metal Welding and Fabrication. The island is only accessible by boat and there is no electricity available.
Bauer’s small commercial boat allows him to access the island and he also has portable welding equipment.
Unloading their supplies took six hours and as it couldn’t be left unattended, Colwood waived the no camping bylaw for the job.
“It’s a neat feeling knowing we might be the last people ever to legally camp on this island,” he says. “It’s kind of cool.”
The risk of fire was very real as the men welded and cut metal on the tinder dry island. Every pathway is six-inches deep with wood chips, Bauer says.
“It’s just not a place that’s conducive to cutting metal,” he says.
They had to take great efforts to ensure the buildings and the island did not ignite under the flying sparks.
The surrounding area was raked of debris and gallons of water are poured over each work area, he says. As Bauer welded, Ben Davidson stood at the ready with water, looking for wayward sparks.
Bauer purchased a new welding machine specifically for the job. It is a “powerful wire-fed welder,” he says, which emits fewer sparks than an arc welder.
“On a scale of one to 10, this (location) is a 10 for danger,” he says.
In addition to the doors, Bauer and Davidson also crafted steel patches for several holes in the brick work. “What we are doing right now is getting rid of all the easy ways to get in,” Bauer says.
The Royal Navy used Cole Island as a live ammunition storage site from 1860 to 1905. The Canadian navy took over use of the structures from 1910 until the Second World War. The island once had 16 buildings on it. The quarter master’s house and four magazines are all that remain. The steel doors were installed in the 1970s but most of them were ripped off as vandals broke into the buildings for shelter and to steal building supplies.
The Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts provided a $25,000 grant to address safety concerns on the island after pressure from the Friends of Cole Island. Further federal funding has been applied for to repair the roofs, walls and gutters to keep the buildings standing.
In the meantime, the secured funding will cover the cost of sealing the building’s doorways and holes. Signs will also be put up alerting visitors that the island is a heritage site and not to remove any artifacts found. The Friends are also looking at installing fencing and planting vegetation to keep people off the crumbling foundation of a demolished building.
Reprinted with permission

Province moves to protect Cole Island


GOLDSTREAM NEWS GAZETTE Province moves to protect historic Cole Island By Amy Dove July 2009

Hazards on Cole Island are being remedied thanks to an infusion of money from the province.
“It allows us to invite the public to Cole Island to enjoy its beauty and understand its historical significance without risk to their safety,” said Friends of Cole Island member Linda Carswell through an e-mail. Located in Esquimalt Harbour, Cole Island was home to 16 buildings used by the Royal Navy as early as 1860. Only five buildings remain standing, all with safety concerns. Members of the Friends of Cole Island, a neighbourhood watch for the island, have campaigned for restoration of the site for years. Now with a $25,000 grant through the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts, immediate safety concerns will be addressed. Further funding through matching grants has been applied for a total of $200,000, which would see the buildings secured as “roofed ruins.” That means that repairs to the gutters, walls and roofs would be made, but no further restoration work undertaken. “(We want to) try and make the buildings basically secure and safe for the long term so they can be maintained by modest routine maintenance,” said John Halliwell, heritage branch stewardship and finance manager. The funding was applied for through the National Historical Sites of Canada cost sharing program. In the meantime, the Friends will deal with minor infrastructure projects such as fencing and signs this summer, Halliwell said. If funding is approved and the buildings are converted to “roofed ruins” the next step would be to look at interpretive information to teach people about the island’s historical significance, he said. Time and vandalism have damaged all of the buildings. The two-storey quartermaster’s house is particularly bad because people have removed bricks from the foundation, Carswell said. Steel doors were added to the buildings in the 1970s to keep people out, but many of the them were ripped off. Metal bars across the doors are being considered so people can see in, but not enter, Halliwell said. If people can see there is nothing in there, it might deter them from trying to get inside, he added. “The cliff, located on the north-west corner, looks like a solid stone wall but it’s actually part of a crumbling structure that was back-filled with dirt many years ago,” Carswell said. “There’s nothing holding it up and visitors often climb up the bank or use the wall as a vantage point.”
That wall could collapse in a decade or tonight, Halliwell said. Signs and fences are needed there so people are aware of the risk. Without proper signage the island looks more like a deserted ruin than a national historic site, Carswell added. There have been issues in the past with people removing original bricks, slate and other building materials which could have been used to restore the buildings. It’s important that what work is done doesn’t effect the appearance of the island, both from shore and on site, Carswell said. Signage, fencing and other materials need to be discreet, she added, “so that Cole Island remains a ‘postcard perfect’ view from shore.”
Reprinted with permission

Saving the history we see


GOLDSTREAM GAZETTE Saving the history we see By Amy Dove May 21, 2009

There are countless ways to put a value on history, but what is it worth if no one can access it?
A textbook can never convey the feeling of a place, the textures or smell. It’s those experiences that help people become passionate about protecting pieces of the past. Close enough to see, but seemingly miles away from access, Cole Island in Esquimalt Harbour is in danger of slipping away. Visible from the Island Highway, near Six Mile Road in View Royal, Cole Island is no doubt a familiar sight to many commuters. Few of them have ever taken the short boat ride there though, and many may not even know what the structures are. That lack of awareness may see Cole Island reduced to nothing more than words and photographs. More than a century ago, people lived and worked there. The Royal Navy used it to store live ammunition unloaded from the fleet’s ships as early as 1860. An official 1887 site plan for “Magazine Island” shows three large ammunition magazines, a small arms ammunition building, a caretaker’s house, boat house and several other structures. At its peak use, the island had 18 buildings on it. Now, there are five. B.C. Parks took over stewardship of the island in the 1970s. Heightened vandalism followed, the worst of which when some brazen individuals took out a section of the most northern magazine’s roof. Parks staff demolished the structure for safety reasons, storing material from it inside the remaining buildings. That is not where it stayed though. Pieces of the roof trusses have been stolen. Steel doors installed to keep people out were taken as more of a challenge then a deterrent. Graffiti stains the walls. Much of the salvaged material – which could have seen aspects of structures recreated –have been stolen or burnt in fires on the island as recently as last summer. What remains showcases strong bricked arches and Asian-inspired roof lines. The bricks themselves came from around the globe in a time when travel was anything but easy. A July 2007 report by the province states it could cost $500,000 to consolidate – or secure – the buildings in their present state. From there an estimated $100,000 annually to maintain the site. A recent provincial grant of $25,000 to address safety concerns on the island will go a long way to help, but residents need to help decide how it is spent. Members of the Friends of Cole Island, a sort of neighbourhood watch for the island, are looking to install steel bars on the derelict building openings so people can see in, but not enter. The money will also be used to place signage on the island so people know it is a provincial heritage site. In the scope of the provincial report, Cole Island gets far less attention than more accessible locations. Emily Carr House in Victoria or Bakerville in the Interior are more likely to acquire significant funding as they in turn can generate revenues. Accessible only by boat, it would take some very innovative thinking to make a profit from Cole Island, let alone staff it. With a little creativity, however, Cole Island could be a tourist destination in its own right. If the buildings were stabilized and secured, or even better restored, information plaques could tell the story without staff. Add a few picnic tables and the island is the perfect day trip for those with a small boat. Cole Island’s location calls for a unique approach, but one that is deserved as much as any other heritage site. There is a fine balance, of course, between inviting people on to the island and ensuring it isn’t damaged. With more stewardship and provincial backing that balance can be achieved. If the community sees the vlue, now is the time for more residents to make the point that Cole Island better serves the community as a destination, not a yellowing photograph.

Reprinted with permission

Cole Island in Esquimalt Harbour


HARITAGE BC NEWS Cole island in Esquimalt Harbour By Rick Goodacre May 2009

A little known heritage gem that is hidden right in plain sight is benefitting from funding for B.C. Heritage Properties announced this spring.

Cole Island is located at the head of Esquimalt Harbour. This tiny place holds a lot of history. When the Royal Navy first located the Pacific Fleet in Esquimalt, Cole Island was identified as a safe location for an ammunition depot. The first building, a powder magazine, was completed in 1859. A total of sixteen buildings had been constructed by the time the Royal Navy left the coast in 1905. Five years later the island depot was transferred to the new Canadian Navy.

By world war two the island was a surplus facility. Over the years, essentially derelict, Cole Island fell into decay. While the Esquimalt navy base continues as a busy military facility, and nearby Fort Rodd Hill became a National Historic Site, the island languished, a target for vandals and scroungers after bricks and roofing slates.

But being surrounded by water has provided some measure of protection, and, while easily visible from shore nearby, the heavily-treed site is to an extent hidden and a bit of a mystery.

The site passed from federal to provincial hands several years ago, and the Heritage Branch has struggled to cope with the handful of moldering buildings that remain. Other provincial heritage sites, open to the public, make more pressing demands on scare heritage dollars.

However, in the latest round of funding for provincial Heritage Properties, $25,000 was allocated for Cole Island. The funding is going to the Friends of Cole Island who have taken the historic place under their wing. Established four years ago, the Friends are dedicated to preventing further vandalism, preserving the heritage buildings, making the site safe for visitors, and having the island recognized as a marine park.

The new funding will be devoted to maintenance issues. The Heritage Branch has also made an application under the recently-announced federal cost-sharing program for National Historic Sites (Cole Island was included in a 2006 NHS dedication that recognized the Esquimalt Naval Base as a National Historic District). If successful, that funding will be dedicated to preserving the existing buildings essentially as ruins, stabilized to prevent further decay.


Cole Island is a short paddle from several launching spots and can be visited at any time. Visitors are advised, however, that there are hazards and due care should be taken.

Funding will give a great boost to a volunteer group that has befriended one of B.C.’s most important sites of military history.

Reprinted with permission

Quest to Preserve Cole Island


GOLDSTREAM NEWS GAZETTE Quest to preserve Cole Island By Amy Dove December 21, 2007

View Royal residents push for government action on crumbling military heritage site.

Hazards on Cole Island are being remedied thanks to an infusion of money from the province.
What the water hasn't carried away vandals have, leaving the historic site a shell of what it once was. Square footprints from former wooden buildings dimple the small island's landscape while those that stand reflect engineering and craftsmanship rarely surpassed.
Reprinted with permission

"It was designed to contain an explosion – they are pretty well built," said Barron Carswell, a member of the Friends of Cole Island.

He is referring to the five remaining buildings on Cole Island. The small rocky island once held upwards of 16 buildings, many designed to hold ammunition for the Royal Navy's fleet in the late 1800s. The four brick and mortar magazines and one guard house are all that is left of an important, albeit small, part of Canada's history.

"It was built to basically defend Canada's sovereignty", Barron said.

"It's part of history and I think it tends to get overlooked by people it shouldn't be overlooked by," added his wife Lina.

The island was included in a national historic district last year. While the province recognized its historical value, little is being done to protect it, the Carswells say.

The site is part of the Esquimalt Harbour district heritage site. But unlike the 1880s hospital complex at Naden and the Veterans Cemetery, Cole Island is hard to supervise, said Charles Suenderman, spokesperson for the Ministry of Tourism Sport and the Arts. Unable to staff the island, protectiog the site isn't an easy task, he said.

A condition survey was commissioned by the province last year the results of which have not been made public.

The report did state work is needed to repair the roof, along with timber and brick restoration and modest foundation work, Suenderman said. Rainwater management was also cited as necessary although no work has been scheduled at this time.

The province has been criticized for moving too slowly to address problems with major structures, but it is critical to ensure that ay done to structures does not compromise their heritage integrity," Suenderman wrote in an email.

The isolated island across from Six Mile Bridge in View Royal doesn't get a lot of visitors wither, he said, noting it actually falls into Colwood's boundaries.

The Friends aren't so sure, however. There has been an increase in traffic to the island, Linda said, noting the couple once ran into German tourists there. "The kayak traffic is increasing. There are always people here," Linda said.

The increase in people on the island is great, but the 20-plus members of the Friends of Cole Island feel compelled to warn people about the unsafe conditions of the buildings.

With some investment the island could be a destination point on a marine trail. People taking to the water for recreation is a community that is only going to grow, Linda said.

"Historically it has been inaccessible," Barron said.
"But that is changing faster than you think," Linda added.

Using the many kayak tours that ply the surrounding water as an example, it's clear the site has potential to generate revenue locally, Linda said.

Eager to protect what is left, the Friends commissioned their own survey of the buildings in April. Conducted by local engineering firm G. Ovstaas & Associates Lt. pro bono, the study highlights the safety hazards of the buildings. All five of the buildings need new roofs and the roof beams re-enforced. Steel doors installed by the federal government in the 1970s have been ripped from the buildings. Large holes chipped in the walls show alternative ways in before the doors came down.

At the guard house, on corner of the brick wall has been dismantled–leaving a gaping hole where beer bottles rest. This building has unique bricks, Linda pointed out. It is thought the distinct red, yellow and orange bricks came to Esquimalt Harbour as ballast in a ship in the 1800s.

Addressing immediate concerns, such as the roofs, would cost $335,500 according to the report. Additional work to restore the buildings over a five-year time span would cost another $376,200.

The province is being cautious about the site, Suenderman said, noting the work has to be done right to ensure heritage value is retained.

The present rate of erosion of heritage value is nowhere near as rapid as the rate of loss fro an interventionist approach," he wrote.

Ideally the Friends would like to see the site restored, but there are simple things that could make a huge difference, Barron said.

Last spring more than 20 volunteers stripped the island of invasive species such as daphne and broom. The event is set to become an annual affair. The Friends have organized "Cole strolls" to patrol the island periodically, but there is only so much that can be seen from the shore. As with any work on the island, permission from the province is needed to remove more plant life from the island's coast.

There has been great local support from residents, Colwood, View Royal and the Department of National Defence, the Carswells agreed. But all of that doesn't amount to much without the provincial support and financing.

"We can't just sit here and watch this place be torn apart," Linda said.

For more information on Cole Island go to www.members.shaw.ca/cole_island

Historic Island given offiicial heritage designation


GOLDSTREAM GAZETTE Historic island given official heritage designation by federal government By Mitch Wright July 5, 2006.
Efforts to preserve and protect Cole Island's crumbling historic site got a little easier last week, as the tiny Island was given official heritage designation. The island was included in the commemoration of four Esquimalt Harbour naval sites by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board Thursday. Friends of Cole Island founder and president Linda Carswell said the recognition is great news, and hopes it will jump-start her group's efforts to safeguard what remains of an important historic site. "It sort of puts Cole Island on the national stage," said Carswell, who formed the citizens' group last summer in response to increasing vandalism on the island. "It's a pretty important designation." Cole Island, visible from Parson's Bridge near the Six Mile Pub, was one of four sites recognized June 29, three of which - the island included - comprise the oldest portions of the CFB Esquimalt base. Other sites recognized were the Veterans' Cemetery, the former Royal Naval Hospital and the Dockyard. (See story Page A9.) Cole Island was first used by the Royal Navy as a munitions depot dating back almost 150 years, with original buildings erected in 1860. At one point there were as many as 17 structures, including a wharf and guard house on the 16,000-square-foot island. Deemed obsolete as a military facility after it was handed off to the Department of National Defence around 1940, responsibility for the island was shuffled for decades. Since the 1970s, it's been a provincial responsibility under the B.C. Heritage Branch. Sitting idle and neglected for years, Cole Island's valuable heritage aspects have been steadily degraded and destroyed. View Royal resident Carswell formed the Friends after a further bout of destruction a year ago, and has since enlisted a legion of volunteers keeping their eyes and ears on the island. "We certainly have the volunteers," Carswell said last week. "We've got all of View Royal watching out for that island." Their efforts resulted in signs posted by the City of Colwood - which ironically has municipal jurisdiction, although the island is almost exclusively visible to View Royal - prohibiting fires. That hasn't stopped people from abusing the island. "It's still a problem and of course, we're worried about the buildings," said Friends director Rob Duffus, adding that there was a fresh bout of vandalism just last month. Those buildings once had large, steel doors securing them in the 1980s, until vandals simply tore them down. Carswell is proposing a volunteer work party to clean up recent damage and cut down overgrown vegetation, which obscures sightlines for watchful citizens across the water, such that "you wouldn't even know if anyone is on the island." Colwood is supportive of that effort, and offered to co-ordinate with the city's fire department. Meanwhile, Carswell is hopeful the new heritage designation will help efforts to establish a co-ordinated stewardship plan for Cole Island. "Everybody thinks everybody else is looking after it," she said.
Reprinted with permission

Action needed to perserve site


TIMES COLONIST Action Needed to Preserve Site Letters to the Editor June 2006
Tiny Cole Island is located in a sheltered bay in Esquimalt Harbour with a history dating back to B.C.'s earliest days when the Royal Navy first established its presence in 1859. An ever-increasing number of kayakers and other day-trippers regularly visit the site to explore old brick and mortar buildings, some of which have stood for more than 150 years. In June, national attention will focus on Cole Island as the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada officially recognizes it as part of a "National Historic District". Sadly, what should be regarded as a valued heritage site, instead sits in shameful abandonment and neglect. Vandals have moved in, tearing apart what's left of the remaining buildings making them extremely hazardous to other visitors. Graffiti is everywhere and garbage litters the island Recent appeals have been made to the provincial government to repair the damage, clean up the island and promote its use as a marine park. If action is not taken soon we run the risk of loosing this unique heritage site forever. The safety of the visiting public alone should be enough to prompt immediate action.
Linda Carswell
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Our orphan island


TIMES COLONIST Our Orphan Island Norman Gidney, Monday, December 05, 2005 The 140-year-old buildings on tiny Cole Island have been falling into disrepair. Now efforts are underway to salvage this remnant of our naval heritage The old brick buildings standing amid the arbutus and Douglas fir look romantic on a grey December afternoon. But the picturesque ruins on Cole Island are falling apart from neglect and vandalism, literally dropping into the sea. "A lot of work went into these buildings years ago. It's remarkable workmanship," said Lloyd Brooks, who lives on the waterfront in View Royal a couple of hundred metres from the island. "It's a shame to let them go down," he said. The Friends of Cole Island, a group that keeps an eye on the place, calls the little island with the Victorian-era military structures "the orphan of Esquimalt Harbour." Orphan is the right word for a forgotten place that has been passed around between different governments and agencies over the four decades since the navy declared it surplus. The Friends have warned municipal governments, the province and the Canadian Forces about the danger of losing a piece of naval history dating to the 1860s, when Britain's Royal Navy defended the Pacific coast. The sturdy wooden and brick buildings were built on Cole Island more than 140 years ago to store powder and shells for Royal Navy ships. The buildings are the last remnants of coastal work carried out by the Royal Engineers who came from Britain after the 1858 gold rush. They are believed to be among the Esquimalt base's oldest structures. "As they stand, the buildings are extremely hazardous," says the Friends of Cole Island website. "Escalating vandalism continues to take a toll," it says. Vandals have stripped buildings of sheet metal, wood and bricks -- some of the first bricks came around Cape Horn as ballast in sailing ships. Crude shelters have been built around the island with the materials. Responsibility for Cole Island has been pushed around over the years. In the late 1950s, Ottawa offered the island for sale, then backed away under protest. It went to Parks Canada when Fort Rodd Hill historic site was established. The federal agency stabilized buildings and installed steel doors to keep people out of some structures and dismantled others considered too hazardous. But it decided naval history didn't fit the mandate of showcasing an army fort and passed the island to the B.C. parks branch. The province in turn has been trying to pass Cole Island to someone else. "It's on the radar," said Ken Pedlow, heritage stewardship officer with the heritage conservation branch. The province has been "devolving" its heritage sites to local groups. Pedlow said the first priority has been to find operators for the active sites which draw visitors, as happened with Craigflower Manor. Brooks said one big issue for anybody assuming responsibility is liability, since the island's buildings are dangerous. Since the Friends turned their spotlight on Cole, some new efforts are being made to stop the destruction. The navy recently took over responsibility for Esquimalt Harbour and does a daily patrol around the island as part of CFB Esquimalt's heightened security. The Friends, mainly a View Royal group, went to Colwood asking if it would agree to a boundary restructuring to put Cole Island inside View Royal. It declined, but did take action of its own. Colwood Fire Chief Russ Cameron has asked the province to secure the vacant buildings and to put up appropriate warning signs. Colwood supports designation of Cole Island as a marine protected area. “To me it’s integral with Fort Rodd Hill,” said Cunthia Day, former Colwood councilor. “There are beautiful old trees and the old brick buildings are certainly picturesque. I think it needs to be maintained in some way as a heritage site.”
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Cole Island crumbling


GOLDSTREAM GAZETTE Cole Island Crumbling By Erin Kelley-Gedishck October 19, 2005
Arched loading bays in the shell storage buildings on Cole Island were convenient for loading ammunition for Royal Navy ships anchored across Esquimalt Harbour. As the dilapidated buildings continue to crumble on Cole Island, so too does a connection with Canadian naval heritage. Friends of Cole Island, a group of concerned View Royal residents, wants the neglect and pillaging to stop. The group has appealed to the City of Colwood to have the island moved within the boundaries of View Royal. "I call it the little orphaned island because it's been tossed from one government level to another for years," said historian and View Royal resident Maureen Duffus. The original buildings on Cole Island, erected in 1860, once housed highly explosive ammunitions powder and shells that supplied the Royal Navy.
Eventually, 17 structures, including a wharf and guard house, were built on the 16,000-square-foot island. In 1938, concern over the island's proximity to Esquimalt Harbour resulted in Cole Island closing as a powder magazine. The Royal Navy handed the island off to the Canadian Department of National Defence. Soon after the transfer, DND deemed Cole Island an obsolete military facility. The site then became an extension of Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Park. In the '70s, the island was passed on to the provincial government, where it has been held under the care of the B.C. Heritage Branch. Although the buildings were secured with steel doors in the '80s, it didn't take long for the vandals to tear them down. The province approached the City of Colwood in 2003 to discuss devolving the responsibility of managing Cole Island to interested organizations. Colwood declined the offer due to liability concerns. Last June, after a bout of further destruction, View Royal residents formed Friends of Cole Island, with the aim of protecting and preserving the island as a park. "I hope the various levels of government will be able to work together to preserve the Island," said director of Friends of Cole Island Ross Duffus, Maureen's son. "Our first goal was to get eyes on the island," he said. Members of the society have organized a neighbourhood watch, nicknamed "the Cole stroll," during which volunteers routinely canoe or kayak to the island. Duffus said as a result, a significant drop in vandalism has occurred. "The second goal is to determine a strategy to deal with municipal and provincial governments." Coun. Cynthia Day, chairperson for Colwood's parks and recreation standing committee, said she would like to see Cole Island remain within the municipality. "We are always interested in preserving parts of heritage," she said, "but we want to ensure that no liability is passed on to the City of Colwood."
The protective services committee will discuss recommendations for the maintenance and preservation of Cole Island today (Oct. 19).

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Rescue call for Cole Island


GOLDSTREAM GAZETTE Rescue call for Cole Island By G.E. Mortimore August 10, 2005
Vandals are destroying a historical treasure on Cole Island in Esquimalt harbour, three minutes' boat ride from the View Royal shore.
The bureaucrats who continue to look the other way while intruders dismantle the old naval powder magazine buildings on the island, may soon have more on their consciences than the loss of irreplaceable heritage. They may have to answer for the deaths of louts who could bring a building down on their heads by continuing to smash holes in the brickwork and gouge out structural supports. I visited the island - also known as Magazine Island - in company with historian Maureen Duffus, who often explored the abandoned munitions depot when she was a child. Now she and a group of View Royal people are working to save the island, which is a historic site of national importance, dating back to colonial times. It was named after Edmund Picoti Cole, master of the Royal Navy ship HMS Fisgard. Maureen's son, Rob Duffus, who is a director of the Friends of Cole Island, (www.members.shaw.ca/cole_island) ferried us to the island in his inflatable boat. Both Maureen and Rob live in harbourside houses within view of the endangered buildings on the island. Those buildings stored the munitions that enabled the Royal Navy to hold this coast for Britain against the expanding United States and the retreating power of Russia - Britain's enemy in the Crimean War. At dead-low tide, Rob steered his boat past the arches of the two-story brick-and-masonry buildings, where ammunition barges once moored under the projecting beams of cargo winches to load shells for warships. "We used to row over from my grandparents' place, which was about four bays from here," Maureen recalled. "At dusk, when we went under the arches, it echoed, and it was ever so scary." Those buildings were deserted by then, but still in good shape. The arsenal on the tiny wooded 200-by-400-foot island continued to serve the Royal Canadian Navy until it was replaced by larger facilities early in the Second World War. In the First World War, sailors were stationed in a guardhouse on the island. In the 1920s a caretaker lived there, and in the 1970s Parks Canada began strengthening the remaining buildings, and documenting the site for possible future restoration of some demolished structures. Please The site had a brief revitalization as part of a complex that included Fort Rodd Hill, which has been conserved by Parks Canada. Then the island was detached from the fort and abandoned, for a narrow bureaucratic reason: Fort Rodd Hill was Army; Cole Island was Navy. As the site passed beyond careful management, and alternated among couldn't-care-less overseers, inter-governmental disputes between groups of politicians and bureaucrats resulted in the loss of all the heritage-protection ground that had been gained. Negligence opened the way to vandalism and looting. On the day of our visit, Rob manoeuvred the boat to a landing near the wrecked wharf. We trudged up weedy stone steps past the empty residence and guardhouse, through a crackling litter of arbutus leaves and vegetation that gave evidence there had once been a garden here: Struggling lilacs, carpets of St. John's Wort. Looters had whittled holes in brick and masonry and pushed down steel doors. A grafitti figure with skull face carried the motto: "We recycle souls." Broken lines of bricks marked the now-vanished sparkproof wooden walkways where sailors used to carry gunpowder from zinc-covered sheds. We toured a newly-built kids' clubhouse made from boards plundered from the heritage buildings. Plank steps nailed on a fir tree led to a lookout platform. Another harbourfront resident, Lloyd Brooks, told us how he had hurried over to the island in the 1970s when he heard a loud explosion. Someone had blown the roof off a building with a pipe bomb. "It must have been a huge bomb, at a strategic corner of the structure, and down it came," Brooks said. "Maybe they had a long fuse. The building was just a jungle of broken timbers." Among the 16 buildings that have existed on the island over the last century and a half - most of them now demolished and marked only by traces of their rock or cement foundations - some wooden Royal Navy structures were of special interest to pillagers because they were fastened together by brass or copper Royal Navy nails that had a market value. "There was an anchor embossed on those nails," Brooks said. "They were a collectors' item. I found a kid in the middle of the structure, pulling these nails out, it was just ready to collapse on him. I said 'You're lucky you're alive.' One more nail, that whole thing could have come down on you.' After a time, National Parks pulled out. B.C. Heritage Properties assumed nominal ownership, providing some protection with heavy steel doors, but hands-on management was lacking. A new wave of vandalism began. At the municipal level, the island theoretically lies within Colwood, but View Royal is negotiating to bend the boundary and include the island within its jurisdiction.
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Gunpowder - Magazine Island protected Canadian coastline

GOLDSTREAM GAZETTE Gunpowder - Magazine Island protected Canadian coastline By G.E. Mortimore August 17, 2005
If history had taken a different course, the Canada-U.S. border might be at the mouth of the Columbia River, putting present-day Washington in Canada. Alternatively, the boundary of the lower 48 states might lie north of Prince Rupert. One of those scenarios could have unfolded in real life, if the 19th-century balance of power had been fractionally changed.
I thought of both possible outcomes as I followed the wooded paths of Cole Island in Esquimalt Harbour, on a visit to the old naval-ammunition storage site in company with historian Maureen Duffus and her son Rob Duffus, who is a director of the Friends of Cole Island. The Friends are trying to save the endangered buildings from destruction by vandals and looters, and conserve the island as a national historic site, with some of the Royal Navy architecture of its damaged or demolished structures restored. Ammunition warehoused on the island underpinned the British sea power that helped push President James K. Polk and Congress toward a moderate policy, denying the jingoist slogan: "Fifty-four forty or fight." (Draw the border at latitude 54 degrees 40 minutes north, or face war). British warships and British settlement did not offer sufficient power to counter the westward flow of American settlers. The growing number of covered-wagon migrants downgraded the Hudson Bay Company's claim to the Oregon Territory, and jostled aside the longer-established First Nations title. But if it had not been for the polite menace of British naval guns supplied from the Cole Island arsenal, a big chunk of B.C. might have suffered the fate of California, Texas and other Mexican territories that were digested into the U.S.A. Those ideas rattled around in my head as the three of us explored the bushy paths of the island. It was cleared of trees and shrubs in colonial times to make way for buildings. Now we moved among new-growth fir and arbutus trees, underbrush and garden-plant relics of the days when people lived here. The inevitable clumps of colonizing broom bristled among the escaped plants. "I remember a lovely stand of Canterbury bells," Maureen said. She pointed out the spot where a pipeline used to bring in fresh water. The people who once lodged on Cole Island are long gone - munitions workers, small groups of naval and marine guards, a resident caretaker. Only the eyes of people in View Royal beachside houses now provide security. Watchers can summon an RCMP police boat. The armed forces could join the campaign. "The island is within the navy's new controlled access zone," Rob said. "It's a security zone." Huckleberry-Finn-type adventurers, ignorant of the built heritage and unaware that they were committing a crime, have stolen planks and sheets of corrugated metal to build their own forts and clubhouses on the island. Serious troublemakers might infiltrate the island just as easily as the kids who built their forts within sight of the armed forces base. Hooligans have chiseled out bricks to leave ragged holes in the surviving buildings. They have extracted heavy structural timbers, and flattened a steel door. The Friends of Cole Island hope to sharpen the vandal watch and co-operate with three levels of government. I'm not sure whether or not the Friends would agree, but I feel the following steps should ensue:
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lobbying for the transer of responsibility to Parks Canada;
  • requesting and organizing harbour patrols by police, armed forces and volunteers;
  • writing a strategy for investigation and repair;
  • strengthening damaged buildings and starting restoration; and
  • This detective work would map the life, buildings and landscape of Cole Island as the naval ammunition depot grew and changed over a century and a half. Actors might be hired to replay Pacific coast naval history. Films and animated cartoons telling the Coast narrative, in which Esquimalt naval base and its Cole Island arsenal are key points, might be produced for Imax theatres. Dramatized history would add a new dimension to tourism. A restored Cole Island would be the mirror opposite of Louisbourg, the 18th-century French fortress and town on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia that was conquered by British-Americans. They blew up Louisbourg to bury the danger of revived French power. Archeologists partly excavated the site. Louisbourg was partly rebuilt and staffed beginning in the l960s, with actors impersonating French townspeople, traders, artisans and soldiers. (In the run-up to Canada's 1967 centenary, all the archeologists quit and had to be replaced, because they thought scholarship was being sacrificed to centennial showbiz). Louisbourg is huge. Cole Island is tiny. Louisbourg is a relic of a bloody clash of nations. Cole Island fed the ammunition for an armed standoff that led to friendship. Gun-powered agreement seems an image worth marking in the realm of story-museums and tourism, until we learn to seek peace, justice and relief of world hunger without national guns and bombs
    plugging the site into a circuit of scholarship, history and tourism.Cole Island is a natural target for historical archeologists, who jigsaw together past events and old patterns of community by digging up and analyzing fragmentary clues and co-ordinating them with documents.
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