And others....

Ghosts, bones enrich base's colourful history

By Katie DeRosa, Times Colonist June 1, 2010

Ghostly sightings, haunted buildings, unearthed bones: History-rich CFB Esquimalt, which has some of the oldest buildings in Greater Victoria, is ripe with tales of spooky spirits.

It's fitting, then, that the oldest building of them all -- the Commodore's residence, which dates to 1879 and was built as the quarters for the chief engineer -- has a resident ghost.

According to base lore, on April 4, 1900, Royal Navy Lt. Reginald Scott was making his rounds on foot around the base when a nearby sentry spotted him and shouted out: "Halt! Who goes there?"

Scott, unable to hear because of the wind, didn't answer. The guard fired four shots and at least one hit Scott. He was taken to the nearby Commodore's residence, a stately looking two-storey Victorian home on what is now Commodore Road, where he lay bleeding on the front porch until he could be taken to hospital. He died seven days later.

Since then, it's been said the bloodstain on the porch reappears now and then and televisions and radios turn on and off in the home, which is now occupied by Pacific Fleet Commodore Ron Lloyd, who oversees the ships under Maritime Forces Pacific.

Despite Scott's violent death, he's reportedly a friendly ghost, according to a clairvoyant brought in by the navy.

The same can't be said for the spirit that haunts what was once the base's jail, where a man named George hung himself in his cell in the early years of the base.

The jail was later turned into the Esquimalt detachment of the Canadian Forces Cryptographic Support Unit, where classified documents are stored and code messages are delivered.

George's cell is now a women's washroom -- yet George doesn't like the doors being closed, which can be an embarrassing experience for women using the facilities.

Base archivist Joseph Leharcik says visitors to the base are always intrigued by the lore that surrounds the late 19th-century buildings.

"It makes people a bit more appreciative of the past," he says.

Of particular interest to visitors is the somewhat gruesome past to the piece of land south of the base that was once called Dead Man's Island.

"I guess people imagine that something horrible happened if it's called Dead Man's Island," Leharcik quips.

In the mid 1800s, when the Royal Navy took up residence at the base, the small island was a cemetery.

Yet the navy also realized the island would be an ideal spot for harbour defence.

So, in 1878, a gun battery that included two large,

64-pound guns was built there. But by 1886, vibrations from the guns were shaking the island, dislodging human remains from their graves. Moreover, any plans to expand the gun battery were hindered by the cemetery.

A contractor was hired to exhume the bodies and take them to the Royal Navy Cemetery off Colville Road, which is now Veterans' Cemetery.

But bones kept surfacing, and it was soon determined that First Nations had also buried their dead there. The island was renamed Brothers Island, and as a native burial site is now off-limits.

The cemetery isn't the only site that had to be moved because of the rumbling of a gun battery.

St. Paul's Anglican Church was built in 1856, where the entrance gate to Dockyard now crosses Esquimalt Road. Amid plans to build a gun battery on Signal Hill, it was decided the church had to move, lest the stained-glass windows be shattered by the vibrations.

In 1904, the church was moved on rollers about one kilometre away to its current location at 1379 Esquimalt Rd.

In 1912, new guns arrived at the battery, and they often shattered buildings in houses of the original village of Esquimalt.

Leharcik said the fact the church was moved is likely what saved it from being destroyed along with other homes in the village, which were expropriated by the government when the base expanded in 1942.

"I think it holds a lot of memories for the people of Esquimalt because it's one of the few remaining buildings from the original township," he said.

"There's a sense of history there which I don't find in other places in Esquimalt."

kderosa@tc.canwest.com

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