Ghost stories, a booby-trapped wall, gun batteries, warships and buildings from a bygone era are just some of the highlights meant to captivate visitors to CFB Esquimalt.
Elena Lopez and Drew Danelesko have the unique summer job of taking the public on behind-the-scenes guided bus and walking tours of the navy base, which began May 22 and continue until late August.
Last summer, about 1,600 people toured the base.
“I kind of wanted to know a little bit more about the military, since it was a big part of my childhood,” Esquimalt resident Lopez, whose father is a naval officer at the base, says of her reasons for applying for the job.
Though she has long been immersed in military life, the University of Victoria political science student had never been to the secure dockyard at CFB Esquimalt before taking on her current position.
“You don’t realize how much active work is actually going on here,” she says.
Victoria resident Danelesko, a fourth-year UVic student, was drawn to the role for different reasons.
“I’m a history student, so being a tour guide (allows me to) relate that same enthusiasm that I have for history to other people,” he says. “This base is over 100 years old, so I think that’s really interesting.”
The pair are enjoying telling visitors about the 112-year-old ghost of Lt. Reginald Scott that is said to haunt the commodore’s residence.
It’s one of many historical aspects of CFB Esquimalt that will capture people’s imaginations.
One of several highlights on the tour is a brick wall built in the late 1800s as a boundary between the military dockyard and the village of Esquimalt.
A section of the wall still stands just beyond the dockyard gate. Visitors will learn of the glass shards placed along the top of the structure long ago – since removed – to keep village children from coming onto military property to steal expensive equipment, Lopez says.
The tours draw out-of-towners, seniors groups, youth groups and schools, families, retired military members and photography clubs.
“The majority of our groups during the summer are tourists, but also there are a lot of new military families that move in (who come for the tours),” says Vicki Laidlaw, CFB Esquimalt tours co-ordinator.
The tours are meant to forge a connection between the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadians.
“It’s their navy,” says base spokesperson, navy Lt. Michael McWhinnie. “We want them to feel connected, and to know about it and to understand the work that is being done on their behalf and in Canadian interests, not just at home, but around the world.”
As CFB Esquimalt tour guides, Lopez and Danelesko help make that happen.
“(Their role is) part hospitality, but also part ambassador for a national organization. There’s a lot of responsibility,” McWhinnie said.
To take a free, guided tour, visitors must have valid photo identification, except children under 12 when accompanied by an adult. Sturdy, closed-toe footwear is required for walking tours. Photography is permitted.
Bus tours: For a 90-minute bus tour, meet the tour guides at 11 a.m. on weekdays until Aug. 24, excluding July 2 and Aug. 6, near the CFB Esquimalt Naval & Military Museum. Enter the Naden gate at the intersection of Admirals and Woodway roads, and follow the blue lines on the road or the signs with the letter ‘M.’
Walking tours: To take part in the two-hour walking tours, which happen Saturdays at 11 a.m. until Aug. 25, excluding June 30 and Aug. 4, head to the main gate of HMC Dockyard at the end of Esquimalt Road.
Custom bus or walking tours can be arranged for groups outside the regular schedule. Requests can be made by calling 250-363-2595, or emailing email@example.com.