Jack Bates might not live in Esquimalt anymore, but his roots are there and so is his heart.
As a military historian, the View Royal resident has always had an affinity for the past, but now his mission is to ensure those stories make it into the future. Part of that goal includes hosting the fifth annual Fort Macaulay Historic Interpretation Event, May 26.
“It’s a bit of a local project of mine,” Bates says of his role leading guided tours through the seaside park.
“My grandfather and great uncle were involved in building the fort when they were military engineers,” he explains. “[They] helped to administer and build Fort Mac and Fort Rodd Hill.”
Upwards of 200 people are expected to join Bates on half-hour tours through the site, including the point that housed the original gun battery.
Local re-enactors will also be in attendance, dressed in clothing of the period to share their own themes of military history, and local museums will set up displays using various military artifacts and items preserved over the years.
“It’s such a jewel there,” Bates says, describing the 180-degree view the fort has, stretching from Victoria Harbour to Esquimalt Harbour, around to Fort Rodd Hill and Esquimalt Lagoon.
Fort Macaulay was the longest occupied fort in the area, from 1878 through to 1956. Originally built to protect Esquimalt and Victoria harbours with a gun battery, it’s been run by both British and Canadian forces.
The fort survived active use during two world wars and in the mid-1980s it was used for training purposes, as well as housing members of military as part of Work Point Barracks.
Since 1985, the property has been managed as a municipal park; Bates says it takes a lot of community volunteers along with the Township and the Department of National Defence to maintain its presence.
“We’re fortunate the fort was protected by DND involvement,” he says of the current buildings. “It’s quite intact from when it was first built in 1895.”
Bates thinks the fact DND owned the property may have preserved it, but it also kept visitors away.
“Now that it’s open, you can go and people are coming from Victoria, from Vancouver, all over the place.”
In November, the Township installed new interpretive signage for Fort Macaulay, to provide a better understanding and appreciation for the military history of the site. Bates says interest in the site has grown as a result.
“There’s a story on each one of them,” he says. “My purpose is to preserve this history.”