The old Royal Navy ammunition buildings half built into the water are slowly falling apart and are among the five remaining buildings on Cole Island. The province is leading a process to come up with a plan to help preserve  a national historic site in Esquimalt Harbour.

The old Royal Navy ammunition buildings half built into the water are slowly falling apart and are among the five remaining buildings on Cole Island. The province is leading a process to come up with a plan to help preserve a national historic site in Esquimalt Harbour.

Conservation ramps up for historic Cole Island

Piles of bricks and lumber linger inside and out of most of the buildings on Cole Island, but that could soon change.

Piles of bricks and lumber linger inside and out of most of the buildings on Cole Island, but that could soon change.

Cole Island is a step closer to a conservation plan after the City of Colwood approved a memorandum of understanding with B.C.’s Heritage Branch laying out the process for public consultation.

The purpose of the agreement is for Colwood to work with the province to find out what nearby residents would like to see done with the island with funding potentially available from the province. The goal is to finish the consultation process by the end of the year, or near to it. A workshop is in the works.

“It’s just a matter of process, to allow things to carry on and to work forward,” said Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton.

Late last month Colwood, with transportation from the View Royal Fire Rescue, hosted a tour of Cole Island for stakeholders and community members to see the historic site and discuss proposed conservation work.

“There really isn’t any public agreement of what the meaning of this place is, what it’s for, so we really are kind of starting from zero,” said Ken Johnson, Hallmark Heritage Society president. “I think that’s a big part of what the challenge is.”

Cole Island began its life as the Royal Navy’s ammunition storage depot in the mid-1800s, picked for distance from the main dockyard, an important safety feature if the ammunition should ignite.

Before that the island was an important seasonal camping and fishing site of local First Nations communities. The island remained a magazine complex until the end of the Second World War, when it was decommissioned.

There are five remaining buildings in various states of disrepair, down from its peak of 17. Recent work stabilized the buildings and made them, for the most part, safe from water.

Cole Island is owned by the province but is located in Colwood, in the northern reaches of Equimalt Harbour. Heritage B.C. is carrying out the process of determining what needs to be done.

“It’s really about community involvement, community engagement,” said Rick Goodacre, Heritage B.C. executive director. “What lies behind it is simply talking to people and finding out what this place means to them, what they think its value is and what would be the best way to … preserve it.”

In the meantime, improvements to the island continue with the help of money from provincial and federal funding and the efforts of the Friends of Cole Island. Funding earlier in the year paid for interpretive work, the sealing of the buildings with metal plate doors and basic vegetation management.

kwells@goldstreamgazette.com