We spent a week on Van Isle after Krystopf and Atlas’s wedding. It was really cool to show the Pie all the things I used to do when I was growing up. I lived in Esquimalt, the town next to Victoria, for five years from 1990-1995, and it was definitely a memorable time in my life. We visited all the tourist-y spots in Victoria, and I took lots of pictures of the time we spent there (you can check out some of the photos here), but I’d like to focus more on one particular place we visited.
If you grew up in a military family, chances are you spent some of your time living on a military base somewhere. That’s common enough. Esquimalt is home to three such military bases: Workpoint, the army base, Naden, the navy base, and Dockyard, which is also a navy base. Thing is, there were only seven houses in Dockyard, which is not open to the public, so the fact that I got to live there for five years was a unique experience. And what a great place to grow up! There were only three little girls on a top-security navy base and we had the run of the place. How safe can you get? Of course, it was the only place I have ever had a gun pointed at me (I walked a little too close to a US nuclear submarine one day and learned never to do that again), and the only place I have ever been forced into the back of a military police car (totally not my fault, I swear), but these things happen …
My parents and I revisited the Dockyard in 2002, just after the horrors of 9/11, and it was a different place indeed. The genial commissionaires at the gate were replaced by very serious soldiers holding AK-47s, and in my walks around the place I definitely didn’t feel that same sense of safety that I had as a child. I think it was more that I was the outsider at this point. This was no longer my home.
It seems that the schtick with the guns at the gate has only recently been removed, and we’re back to the genial commissionaires again, but even so, my dad had to get a special pass just for us to go and check the place out again. Much of the base was under construction, and a lot of the operations there have been shut down since my time, but it was still so familiar. As we drove around, my dad would talk about the history and use of the buildings we passed, while I would add my own anecdote about which battlements and cliffs and trees were climbable and which hidden places had the best blackberry bushes and apple trees.
The playing field behind our house where the Coast Guard used to land its helicopters (and take all the laundry off our line and put it on our roof) is now a parking lot. The arbutus tree that the paratrooper landed in accidentally (and whom my dad rescued because he had the tallest ladder handy) has been cut down. The student barracks with its secret tunnels (where we used to catch the cadets sneaking out for a drink) is now empty. The deer are the same, though.
These tiny things are everywhere in the city, especially the base. They swim across the harbour from the conservation area and eat all the plants. Which I guess is why the base’s famous rose gardens are all gone. Even the ships are different, and the buildings mostly empty.
Some things never change, though. This was my house. It looks the same, except the garden is smaller. My parents do love their gardens.
And directly across the street was the ocean, and this, Dead Man’s Island.
If you slid down the short cliff (now there are stairs built) then you were on MY beach. In the five years we lived on the base, I think I was at this beach every single day, rain or shine, or even snow (which did happen occasionally).
This fallen tree has been on this beach for as long as I can remember, though in my day it jutted out over the water and made for an interesting place to jump off into the frigid Pacific.
On a clear day you can see the Olympic Mountains, in Washington.
And there is always stuff to be found, if you’re looking in the right places. Like these tiny crabs I routed out from under a rock. They’re well-camouflaged.
And some bits and bobs of pottery and sea glass. I still have some pieces I collected as a child. You may remember I made some of them into my marine mobile a while back.
It was nice to play around for even a few minutes in a place where I had spent so much of my life. We have lived so many different places, but this place is the one I remember the best, so it was nice to see it again.
On Monday I’ll have my final trip post for you, about the Pie’s and my adventures in a Smart Car. Stay tuned!