Linda and Barron Carswell

Cole Island restoration, preservation work recognized

View Royal couple proud of volunteer group’s accomplishments at historic site

Cole Island sits like a lonely sentinel in the middle of the View Royal end of Esquimalt Harbour. It’s a haven for kayakers and other boaters, as well as those looking to get a taste of military history.

But it wasn’t always that way.

In 2004, View Royal resident Linda Carswell had grown frustrated, seeing the island and its historic munitions buildings fall into disrepair, their wood pilfered for various purposes. After a faction of individuals began squatting on the island, she took it upon herself to take action.

“They were using the wood to make leantos, they were burning the wood, they were burning their garbage – they were using Cole Island as a toilet,” she recalled. “I just felt to stand by and let them do that would just be a travesty, so I started the Friends of Cole Island.”

Clearly many others felt the same way about this “floating” park that falls within the boundaries of Colwood, but is considered by many to be a part of View Royal. The community rallied around the efforts of Carswell, who was joined in her efforts by husband, Barron, to help clean up the island, spearhead a period of restoration of the buildings and gain recognition for the island’s significance to Canada’s naval history.

This led in 2006 to Cole Island being officially recognized as a national historic site by Parks Canada. Having gained the support of the Town of View Royal from the beginning, the Friends of Cole Island was honoured in 2015 with a special recognition award from the Town for its protection and preservation of the site.

In February of this year, Heritage BC recognized the Friends and the many tradespeople, parks and heritage specialists, and others who have combined to put in thousands of hours of volunteer work to restore the island and its features, by bestowing an award of honour in the area of heritage education and awareness.

“It’s an important recognition of the community involvement on Cole Island. We see ourselves as a catalyst and champions for the island, but really it’s recognition of the community spirit centred around this particular piece of history,” said Barron Carswell. “I think we’ve tapped into this latent desire to save the historic features that we have.”

The project has been a labour of love for the Carswells and other volunteers, some of whom grew up in the area and have fond memories of spending time as kids on Cole Island.

On Tuesday the couple updated View Royal council on the progress and history of the preservation efforts.

In her presentation, Linda pointed out that the BC Heritage Conservation Act and the related Local Government Act protect heritage values, but do not protect historic places unless their values are “clearly enunciated by citizens.”

That passion and dedication helped convince the province and federal government to invest $200,000 in restoration works on Cole Island. The funds allowed for the improvement of infrastructure, safety and stabilization, and the installation of a dock for both maintenance purposes and visitor use.

Last year, further assessment and stabilization work was undertaken on buildings by conservation specialist company Macdonald and Lawrence. Included in the team was an expert in the field of traditional and historic methods of stone restoration.

Over the years, recreational boaters and others have taken to visiting the site. Last summer, in conjunction with the Canadian Forces Sailing Association, numerous groups toured the island and the ongoing restoration project, including representatives of the Royal BC Museum, Royal Victoria Yacht Club and the Victoria Historical Society.

While most of the heavy conservation lifting has been done on bringing the island and its various aspects back to a place of respect and dignity, future preservation will be up to the public in many ways.

It all comes back to community pride. As Barron Carswell noted, “We feel incredibly privileged to be living with this in our backyard.” For more information about efforts to conserve and restore Cole Island, visit coleisland.ca.

editor@goldstreamgazette.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Colwood hosts pandemic recovery roundtable discussion

Attendees must RSVP for virtual meeting on May 29 from 1 to 3 p.m.

Victoria traffic stop yields drugs, case full of weapons

Police seize firearms, swords and flares

Suspect taken into custody after allegedly attempting to steal a dinghy in Sidney

The incident happened Wednesday morning near Beacon Wharf

Sooke council approves new funding for chamber of commerce

A $16,000 service agreement to be created

Victoria Police arrest man wanted for fraud offences

Michael Friesen arrested on Johnson Street

B.C. legislature coming back June 22 as COVID-19 emergency hits record

Pandemic restrictions now longer than 2017 wildfire emergency

POLL: Do you agree with the provincial government’s decision to increase the minimum wage?

B.C.’s lowest-paid workers will be getting a few more dollars to try… Continue reading

As SD84 schools look to reopen, Kyuquot and Zeballos opt out

Schools in Tahsis and Gold River will open on June 1, with 30 per cent students expected to come in

B.C. sees 9 new COVID-19 cases, one death as officials watch for new cases amid Phase Two

Number of confirmed active cases is at 244, with 37 people in hospital

Illicit-drug deaths up in B.C. and remain highest in Canada: chief coroner

More than 4,700 people have died of overdoses since B.C. declared a public health emergency in early 2016

CMHC sees declines in home prices, sales, starts that will linger to end of 2022

CMHC said average housing prices could fall anywhere from nine to 18 per cent in its forecast

B.C. Paralympian named to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame

Three-time world and Paralympic gold medalist Sonja Gaudet is part of 11-member class

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

Nanaimo senior clocked going 50 km/hr over limit says her SUV shouldn’t be impounded

RCMP say they can’t exercise discretion when it comes to excessive speeding tickets

Most Read