Naval history at the bottom of Esquimalt Harbour

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Navy News / February 27, 2017

Contaminated sediment isn’t all they’re dredging up at the Esquimalt Harbour. Clean-up crews have recovered buttons from military uniforms, several service medals, and a few thousand pairs of leather boot soles.

Today, our modern Royal Canadian Navy has a very strict “nothing over the side” policy, but that wasn’t always the case. And, after more than 150 years of naval history at Esquimalt Harbour, Duane Freeman, a Senior Environmental Officer at CFB Esquimalt, expected to find some contamination, but he did not expect to find so many pieces of tangible naval history.

A now-retired Vice-Admiral’s personalized coffee mug that disappeared 30 years ago was also recovered, and has since been returned to its rightful owner, and crews also found a perfectly preserved wallet, with a Navy ID card from the 1940s or 1950s. “It’s really interesting to try to reunite people with some of their items. We realized that it was actually telling a bit of the history of the navy,” said Freeman. Historians are cataloguing the thousands of items and determining which ones have historical value. Freeman estimates that before environmental remediation is complete in 2020, thousands more items could be recovered.

The Department of National Defence (DND) has set aside up to $160 million to dredge Esquimalt Harbour to remove contaminated sediment and encourage a healthier aquatic environment at the home port for Canada’s West Coast navy. Several other areas of the harbour will be remediated as part of the Esquimalt Harbour Remediation Project, along with the modernization of jetties at the base. Special cranes, equipped with GPS technology are being used to accurately scoop up the top metre of sediment in areas that have been found to contain pollutants.

The dredged material is then sifted and contaminants are disposed of in a way that meets environmental standards. It is during this process that many items of historic interest have been discovered. The dredging and harbour cleanup work is happening in conjunction with the replacement of the aging, 1940s-era A and B jetties at CFB Esquimalt and is vital to the environmental clean-up of the Esquimalt Harbour legacy sites.

Article republished from the IE Focus­.