Esquimalt First Graving Dock

Where: Esquimalt, BC.

Engineer: Mr. W. Bennett and Mr. Aylen

Date of construction: 1885 - 1887

This site was renamed as Naden Graving Dock in 1971.

HMS Cormorant in Esquimalt dry dock; first vessel to use this dock; opened July 21, 1887. (Source: BC Archives B-02772)

Esquimalt First Graving Dock, 1901. (Source: John Wallace Jones (Wikipedia))

Site Location: Lat.: 48° – 25’ – 55” N; Long.: 123° – 26’ – 00” W. (GPS 48.431890, -123.433432). Located within Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Esquimalt, Canada’s Pacific Coast naval base. From the intersection of Pandora Street and Douglas Street in downtown Victoria, B.C. head 450 m west to Broad Street; merge onto Johnson Street and cross the Johnson Street Bridge (150m) and continue on Esquimalt Road for 4.6 km to the entrance gate to CFB Esquimalt.

Permission and an escort from the naval base need to be arranged in advance to get access to the Graving Dock and to the CSCE plaque. Permission can be obtained by contacting the naval base through the CFB Esquimalt Facebook page.

Plaque Location: The plaque is located in a small green space that overlooks the graving dock and is mounted on a steel post along a gravel walkway. The plaque is located at approximately: Lat.: 48° – 25’ – 51.7” N; Long.: 123° – 26’ – 04.4” W. (GPS 48.430746, -123.434543).

Plaque Location, June 2018. (Source: K. Baskin)

Description: Completed in June 1887. The length of 213 m (700 ft.) can be increased to 274 m (900 ft.) by moving the caisson from its normal position to its outer position. The width is 12.5 m (41 ft.) at the floor and 27.4 m (90 ft.) at the coping. The centre line depth from the coping to the floor is 10.2 m (33.5 ft.). It is lined with sandstone blocks embedded in cement. The sandstone was from Newcastle Island, off Nanaimo BC, now a Provincial Marine Park. Construction commenced in 1875. The completion contract was awarded to Larkin, Connolly & Company in November 1884. Mr. W. Bennett, C.E. was resident engineer and Mr. Aylen, C.E. was the contractor’s engineer.

Historic Significance: The Esquimalt First Graving Dock is the oldest operating dry dock on the west coast of North America. During the latter part of the 19th century, the necessity for a British graving dock on Vancouver Island to ensure maritime security had become apparent. By 1871, an agreement was made between the Canadian Government, Great Britain and the new Province of British Columbia for construction. The dock was one of the terms of confederation of British Columbia into the Dominion of Canada. From the time of its opening until 1999, it has serviced approximately 1900 naval and commercial vessels.

Plaque detail. (Source: CSCE)

Plaque Wording: National Historic Civil Engineering Site. ESQUIMALT FIRST GRAVING DOCK. Commenced in 1875 under the terms of Confederation of British Columbia with Canada, it was completed on June 20, 1887 and has been in continuous civil and military service to the country ever since. Civil Engineers: Kinipple and Morris of London, England, with J.W. McKenzie, Royal Naval Engineer. Canadian Society for Civil Engineering. 1998.

Lieu Historique National de Génie Civil. PREMIÈRE CALE SÈCHE D’ESQUIMALT. Mise en chantier en 1875 aux termes des conditions d’adhésion de la Colombie-Britannique a la confédération Canadienne et terminée le 20 Juin 1887. La cale sèche sert encore aujourd’hui les secteurs civil et militaire du Canada. Ingénieurs Civils: Kinipple & Morris de Londres, et J.W. McKenzie, Ingénieur de la Royal Navy. Société Canadienne de Génie Civil, 1998.

Plaque Unveiling Ceremony: The plaque was unveiled on March 20, 1999. The ceremony was attended by dignitaries including Rear Admiral Ron Buck, Commander Maritime Forces Pacific; Raymond Rice, Mayor of Esquimalt; Peter Hart and Ralph Crysler of the CSCE National History Committee; and, Thor Tandy, Chair of the CSCE Vancouver Island Section.

An article about the unveiling and the history of the graving dock is located at the following link.

Links to Online Documentation:

Messrs. Kinipple & Morris, Report on the Proposed Graving Dock at Esquimalt, October, 1874.

Major F. V. Longstaff, Esquimalt Naval Base – A History of Its Work and Its Defences, 1941:

Career and Obituary for Walter Robert Kinipple (Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History)

Ronald Lovatt, A History of the Defence of Victoria and Esquimalt, Manuscript Report Number 426; Parks Canada, 1980.