The West Bay Island Magazine
Jack Bates of Victoria, B.C. has an abiding interest in researching, documenting and preserving the history of Esquimalt's and Victoria's military heritage.
To find out more about the history of Work Point, you can visit his website at http://workpoint.opcmh.ca
The munitions and powder stores from the West Bay magazine were relocated in 1898 to the new brick Magazine inside Work Point Barracks, building # 1030, adjacent to the Saluting Battery overlooking Rose Bay. This was to facilitate the field guns that were located there. This new Magazine was built to very unique standards, those being to afford the roof to blow off in the event of an internal explosion, not laterally, thus allowing for a smaller footprint on the property. It had five separate rooms with individual exterior entrances and was “dug in” as well.
The Magazine’s concrete surround retaining walls were refurbished in 1985 but the structure remained intact. This Magazine served as required secure storage, functioned as a RCA Munitions Laboratory for a time, and was a component of an identified heritage precinct. It was eventually demolished in October 2014, amidst controversy.
~ Jack Bates
The West Bay Island Magazine
The powder and munitions Magazine built in 1893 on the island in West Bay offshore Work Point Barracks was intended to replace the increasingly unpopular Powder Magazine situated in Beacon Hill Park, Victoria. The citizens of Victoria, through the city council, had communicated with the Dominion Militia Department for a couple of years, and finally the Canadian Government complied with their requests to eliminate the Magazine. Col. Holmes, the C.O. of “C” Battery - which had recently moved from Beacon Hill to Work Point Barracks - proposed that a Magazine be built relative to the new Barracks.
The site initially chosen was to be within the Barracks and the location of the gun batteries on Dominion property in Esquimalt. This was next door to the extant former Work Point Barracks Guardhouse. This site was rejected as being a possible threat to the integrity of the Barracks. It was then decided to acquire the West Bay Island for the Magazine with a walkway to be built for access to the island. The Daily Colonist September 6, 1892 reports: “The question of the location of a magazine for the storage of the explosives which are now in the park was taken up, and it has been decided to build the magazine on a small rocky island, just opposite the barracks. Hon. Mr.Bowell thinks that to be the most suitable place for it, most especially as access will be easy, and a small bridge can be built to the magazine without much difficulty and at small cost.”
A drawing from Library and Archives Canada's collection (LAC drawing e011061672 - West Bay island Magazine 1893) shows details of the proposed Magazine to be built by contractor William Rockett under contract # 2264, dated April 27, 1893. (In an interesting side-note, the 13 tons of black powder in the Beacon Hill Park Magazine was never relocated to the new West Bay Magazine. It was shipped to Nanaimo in the early hours of October 8, 1896 under command of Col. J. Peters, D.O.C., after agreement couldn’t be reached between the local Militia forces and the authorities at Work Point Barracks.)
The West Bay Island Magazine had various uses by the different “Army” forces that occupied Work Point Barracks. In 1895 it was a Magazine; in 1903 it was used by the Royal Engineers as “stores”; in 1935 “B” Company PPCLI used it as a workshop / carpenter shop / shoemaker shop; and in 1940 it was utilized as the “Soap Factory.” In 1944 it was reported through an excellent story in a Quebec newspaper of how it was used to make soap for the Canadian Army during WW II and Staff Sergeant F.C. MacDonald. This story has been translated by a local Victoria teacher and also by the Department of National Defence.
In the mid 1950s a suspicious fire destroyed the building, or what was left of it at the time. Fire trucks attended the scene, and while the cause was not exactly determined, it was known the island was frequented via row boat or paddling on logs by the local youth. The island was eventually incorporated into the West Bay RV Park in 1985, in time for Expo ’86.