What’s in a name?

13 08 2012

So while we were holidaying in Victoria, I suggested we visited the nearby lighthouse. Its name/location was a bit vague, but good ol’ Google came up with the answer “Fort Rodd Hill“. In hindsight a pretty big clue, but nevertheless it was with some surprise that when we turned into the car-park we saw not a lighthouse (though that was indeed there, tucked away out of sight) but a pretty extensive decommissioned military installation!

Even now, I am sometimes struck by the youth of Canada – especially here in the West. The source of place names are often still very much tangible. Fort Rodd Hill is still quite obviously a fort! I know, I know, it does sound obvious, but if you’re from “The Old World“, the connection between a place-name and its original reason for having that name isn’t always so blindingly obvious. I grew up in a place called Silsden in West Yorkshire, UK. I remember at the age of about 8 being told by a teacher that the name was a contraction of “Sigle’s Dene”, meaning steep sided valley run by Sigle, the local warlord… or something equally unlikely. Nearby Skipton was “Sheep Town” and to this day is a market town. Well, you get the drift of my point.

The armed standoff of U.S. and British forces during the San Juan Islands Pig War of 1859 led to a steady increase in the Esquimalt naval location used by the Royal Navy for its Pacific Squadron.  When Russia declared war on Turkey this sparked the Great Eastern Crisis in 1877-78, which focused attention on the lack of defences for Britain’s only naval station on the western seaboard of the entire Americas. By 1898 a pretty extensive set of battlements was in place including a rather nifty 6″ disappearing gun which used the gun’s recoil to power the gun beneath the protection of the defences for reloading.

With the approach of WWII, the defences were revamped and a more rapid firing gun was put in place to handle the faster modern torpedo boats.

Though much of the building is the original 1890’s concrete emplacements, the place has an eerily modern feel to it. I guess its age is given away more by the quality of the finishing rather than the basic architecture and functional design. Even though this was built only as a military location, the solid concrete walls have neatly rounded edges and attention to detailing around the few inward pointing window-frames.

There’s a lot to see, with three separate gun batteries, a gas-proof targeting command centre, searchlight emplacements, kitchen and barracks. Set in well kept grounds with nature trails too, it’s an interesting way to kill time on a sunny day.