The Yarrows diving team

The Yarrows diving team

Louis Charles DeCosta earned title of ‘hard hat’ diver

Esquimalt pioneer dove to some of the most notable ship wrecks in the world

Louis Charles DeCosta arrived in Esquimalt in 1901 from Liverpool, England. Born in Sunderland, County Durham, England, DeCosta spent seven adventure-filled years in sailing ships before arriving on our shores.

Within days he started work in Bullen’s Shipyard (later Yarrows) where he became first officer on the Salvor, the company’s salvage steamer.

Early in 1907, he was onboard the Salvor in Alaskan waters, attempting to raise the steamship Northwestern.

It was on that trip that he started his career as a hard hat diver, a job that in subsequent years took him to numerous stranded or wrecked vessels from Alaska to South America.

In 1917 Yarrows hired him as yard foreman and diver, a position he held for many years. He knew and worked on all types of ships from fishing boats and barges to the Queen Elizabeth, when he oversaw the cleaning and painting of this famous ship in 1942.

An expert diver, he was held in high regard especially by the London Salvage Association. Often his damage surveys were so complete that underwriters relied on them to estimate repair costs.

However, diving was not without its dangers.

On Dec. 30, 1913, while working under water on new rails for the cradle at the shipyard, his air line became fouled. After being pulled to the surface, he was seen to be in serious trouble.

Quick thinking Gerard Bolton, realizing that DeCosta was suffocating, smashed his fist through the glass of his  helmet, cut open his diving suit and started resuscitation and saved his life.

When not working, DeCosta spent time playing soccer for the Esquimalt Football Club, gaining a reputation across the district as an excellent player. As a Mason, he was also a long time member of the United Service Lodge.

For many years DeCosta and his wife Florence lived right inside the shipyard, in their home Rose Cottage built for Florence by Norman Yarrow.

Eventually torn down and replaced by a water tower, the company built another house for them in 1924, which was moved later during another yard expansion, to Juno Street. They had four children: Wilfred, Louis Jr., Edward, who served on Esquimalt Council (1959-1974), and Elsie.

DeCosta died in 1961, at age 82, and received full Masonic honours at his burial in Ross Bay Cemetery.

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Greg Evans is Esquimalt’s municipal archivist.