The Township of Esquimalt had its roots just to the west of the main entrance to HMC Dockyard.
The original Esquimalt village was a small settlement of civilians, naval and merchant marine personnel.
While the Royal Navy and merchant ships had made use of deep waters of Esquimalt harbour as early as the late 1830s, it was not until 1865 that the naval base was officially made permanent by an Imperial Order in Council ensuring a future for the fledgling settlement.
The village was centered on Wharf Street, which ran north and south from the harbour to what is still today, Hospital Road with residences clustered to the south-west on Plumstead, Carden, Haig and Crittle streets.
Re-named Pioneer Street in 1917 to respect its early importance in local history, the street offered services and shopping to the citizens of early Esquimalt and members of the Royal Navy. Directories, spanning several decades, show a variety of amenities. Restaurants such as the Royal, general merchants and popular hotels like the Ship Inn, the Globe, the Rainbow and the Esquimalt (aka the End House), provided the necessities of life.
In addition to boat works and an iron and brass foundry, two laundries, operated by Lung Yick and Soue Kee, kept everyone in “good nick” while the post office in McAllister’s store and the Number 4 streetcar provided communication with the outside world.
The village also has a place in aviation history.
Canadian Airways established a seaplane airmail and passenger service in Esquimalt harbour. Operating out of the basement of the Esquimalt Hotel, the office and waiting room provided direct access to the seaplane jetty in Village Bay. History was made in 1937 with the first airmail flight from Montreal to Esquimalt.
The Second World War brought an end to the village. In 1941, the need to expand the naval base to meet wartime requirements resulted in the Department of National Defence expropriating all private land. Commercial and residential buildings were demolished and by 1942, the community ceased to exist. The last to go? Somewhat fittingly, the Esquimalt Hotel.
• Heritage Week runs Feb. 16 to 22. This year’s theme is Main Street: At the Heart of the Community. Please stay tuned toesquimalt.ca for updates on the township’s salute to its historic Main Street, Esquimalt Road.
Greg Evans is an archivist with Esquimalt Municipal Archives.