The brick and frame heritage buildings that are home to CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum were constructed in the later part of the 19th century, between 1887 and 1892. They were purpose-designed to be used as a hospital complex and consisted of pavilion style buildings with covered verandahs. These buildings centred around a grassed area that later became a gravelled parade square and later still, the paved parking lot you will find here today.
The historic buildings that house the museum, its workshop, exhibits and displays, are part of a network of sites that were officially recognized in 2006 by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board as an historic district of national significance. These sites embody more than a century’s evolution of naval defence by British and Canadian forces.
It is noteworthy that the bricks, slates, door frames and windows for the hospital buildings were reportedly transported by sailing vessel from England, around Cape Horn, and were accompanied by the masons and bricklayers necessary to construct these and other buildings in the Esquimalt area. The hospital structures comprised three wards, staff quarters, kitchen facilities, an area ominously described as the “lunatic room”, an administration block, and a house for the medical Officer-in-Charge. Two of the original wards were known as St. George’s and St. David’s.
These facilities were slowly modernized until 1905, when it was determined that the hospital no longer served a useful purpose. The buildings remained essentially closed until the advent of the First World War. In 1915, they were taken over by the Federal Government and the Military Hospitals Commission (subsequently the Department of Soldiers’ Civil Reestablishment), which operated military hospitals in Canada. Staffed by Army nurses and doctors, the hospital was required to treat wounded servicemen and fit them for return to civilian life.
The hospital closed its doors as a treatment centre for convalescing veterans on Saturday 02 April, 1921. The buildings have since had a variety of uses, including as a training facility for naval personnel, a special investigations unit for police, and most recently, for the Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt Naval & Military Museum exhibits and displays and workshop.