Stories about the different municipal departments and the men and women who work in them are often forgotten or overlooked. Our public works department stretches back to our very beginning when incorporation took place in 1912.
Makeshift areas were used until 1930 when the original permanent public works yard was established behind the municipal hall, extending along Carlisle Avenue to Park Place. One of the first buildings constructed was a garage to house vehicles. It was designed by architect David Cowper Frame, an Esquimalt resident, who was also involved in the design of the Empress Hotel and the Chinese Benevolent Association building on Fisgard Street. The contract was awarded to the Luney Brothers who built the garage at a cost of $2,649.
In 1979, a parcel of the land was removed from the yard for the construction of the Public Safety Building. The project was overseen by a special committee appointed by Mayor Art Young. The anticipated price tag of $875,000 was put to a referendum, the result being a resounding “no” vote. Undeterred, the mayor decided to move forward on construction. The building, designed to meet the needs of the police, fire department, ambulance, and other emergency services, came in under budget. It was officially opened by MLA Frank Mitchell on June 2 of that year.
The public works yard was the subject of conversation in subsequent years both for its location and future use. In 1994, the council of the day commissioned a space needs assessment for a new facility and a site selection process. But finding an appropriate location proved to be a challenge. In 1995 Yarrows Shipyard went into receivership. The company owed Esquimalt more than $1 million in back taxes, a problem that would ultimately solve the site selection issue. The municipality purchased the land at a reduced rate and a new public works yard was in the offing.
The current facility at the northeast corner of Esquimalt and Canteen roads, designed by Ray Hunt and set on 8,643 square metres of land, was opened on June 21, 1997. The total cost was just more than $2 million. In the event of a disaster, the buildings were constructed to withstand a sizable earthquake in order to serve as Esquimalt’s emergency operations centre.
Today it is the home of the many public works staff that keeps the municipality in “good shape.”