Edmund Picoti Cole was the Master of HMS Fisgard during the British Admiralty Surveys of the coast in 1846, and Cole Island is named after him.  Within 60 years of this survey 16 magazines had been constructed on the island as well as some other buildings, one of which we’ll be discussing in a future post.  By 1910, the site had been transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy which operated it until WWI.  By WWII the site was deemed obsolete and largely forgotten about.  It wasn’t until just recently when the “Friends Of Cole Island” banded together as a community in an effort to preserve this important link to our past for future generations to benefit from.  Today’s post finds us continuing our photography adventures on Cole Island with our running photoblog series “The Toads At Cole Island“.

Cole Island - Esquimalt Harbour, Victoria, BC, Canada

Cole Island – Esquimalt Harbour, Victoria, BC, Canada –

In this post we’re going to take a close look at what is referred to as the “magazine complex”.  It was a bright, hot and sunny day on the day we visited and were given private access to the entire island and the buildings on it.  It’s amazing when you consider that these buildings have remained standing for well over 100 years now.  This is due in part to great construction, and in other part to the activities of the “Friends Of Cole Island” who have worked so hard to maintain and preserve the complex.

Cole Island - Esquimalt Harbour, Victoria, BC, Canada

Cole Island – Esquimalt Harbour, Victoria, BC, Canada –

Cole Island - Esquimalt Harbour, Victoria, BC, Canada

Cole Island – Esquimalt Harbour, Victoria, BC, Canada –

Cole Island - Esquimalt Harbour, Victoria, BC, Canada

Cole Island – Esquimalt Harbour, Victoria, BC, Canada –

When confronted with the enormity of history, we try to imagine the people who built these places originally.  Even all these years later, the original brickwork remains largely intact and in fairly good condition.  In the late 1800’s, there were no power tools, this was all done by hand.  There was a certain pride in craftsmanship and many of these places were constructed with the intent of them being permanent.  Years of vandalism and graffiti has certainly played a role in the state of things today, but the tireless efforts by the stewards of the site continue to have a terrific lasting effect.  We expect this site will be here for many years to come, but this is most certainly not guaranteed as the cold winds blowing in from the ocean and the humidity do take a toll on our buildings over time.

Cole Island - Esquimalt Harbour, Victoria, BC, Canada

Cole Island – Esquimalt Harbour, Victoria, BC, Canada –

Cole Island - Esquimalt Harbour, Victoria, BC, Canada

Cole Island – Esquimalt Harbour, Victoria, BC, Canada –

Cole Island - Esquimalt Harbour, Victoria, BC, Canada

Cole Island – Esquimalt Harbour, Victoria, BC, Canada –

Cole Island - Esquimalt Harbour, Victoria, BC, Canada

Cole Island – Esquimalt Harbour, Victoria, BC, Canada –

With any shoot of this type, we all want to see inside the buildings.  This was definitely an exciting factor for our visit on this day and we used the opportunity to fully explore the interiors of the old buildings.  Having just recently acquired our new Canon 6D camera, I was anxious to try out its low-light capabilities as the dynamic range inside the buildings was rather extreme.  At this point, the camera was still fairly new to me but I was surprised at how easy it was to use for capturing HDR brackets.  Things that used to be complex or impossible on our Sony a200 were suddenly no longer a problem at all.  I believe the results really capture the textures, details and character of the site perfectly.

As mentioned earlier, there were no power tools during the construction of these buildings.  If you look closely at the beams, you can see the tool-marks from where the builders created these massive beams using just hand-tools.  They are certainly no less perfect for this and even all these years later they remain in great condition.  In the top shot in this set we can see a beam that hangs out the opening, hovering over the waters below where the ships would tie up to load and unload materials.  These were dangerous cargoes being moved around in dangerous times, and as we’ve noted before this was a prime reason for the selection of Cole Island for this site.  The basic premise here is if something were to go wrong, it would happen far offshore from the main community and naval shipyard and would minimize any collateral damage that might otherwise occur.

Cole Island - Esquimalt Harbour, Victoria, BC, Canada

Cole Island – Esquimalt Harbour, Victoria, BC, Canada –

Having seen and photographed everything we possibly could inside, we headed back out to photograph the massive brick support structures for the buildings.  Scrambling down the hill, we entered an open area where we were able to explore the huge brick piers.  Years of constant pounding from the ocean have taken their toll somewhat, as we see spots where the bricks have started to naturally wear and fall away. If you look closely, you can also see the darker water line from where the tides rise during high tide.  All the bricks that are weathered are below this line, illustrating the power and erosive nature of the mighty Pacific Ocean over time.

Again, the dynamic range of light down here on such a bright and sunny day really allowed us to take full advantage of the low-light capabilities of the Canon 6D.  If not for the camera and HDR brackets, we’d never be able to see details in the outside and inside as we do here.

Cole Island - Esquimalt Harbour, Victoria, BC, Canada

Cole Island – Esquimalt Harbour, Victoria, BC, Canada –

We believe this ring was used by the tall ships as they moored up alongside the magazines to move loads on and off the ships.  As we were exploring the catacombs underneath, the enormity of trying to visualize what it was like all those years ago really struck us with awe and wonder.  The sense of history was truly palpable.

Cole Island - Esquimalt Harbour, Victoria, BC, Canada

Cole Island – Esquimalt Harbour, Victoria, BC, Canada –

Even though it was very hot on this day, standing in the shadows beneath the buildings found us with a bit of a chill from the cold air coming off the ocean.  As we look through the arches of the piers here, we look out to see the navy yard in the Esquimalt Harbor in the distance.  This proximity to the yard served several key purposes; it was close enough for servicing and loading/unloading cargo in the ships, yet was distant enough that in the event of a catastrophe the damage would remain central to Cole Island.  Thankfully, this never happened as far as we are aware.

At this time we’d like to extend a special thank-you to the “Friends Of Cole Island” for their generosity and kindness in making this day possible.  As the seasons change, and the landscape with it, we look forward to returning time and time again to capture more pictures of this most amazing place.  If you have a chance to visit yourself we highly recommend it as this was a real highlight for us in 2013.  We are sure you’ll feel the same.

Thanks for visiting us on our blog today, we really appreciate it.  We have several more posts coming from our photography adventures on Cole Island in the coming weeks, including one that showcases a very special building that remains standing.  As always, we love to hear from all our visitors, so please feel free to leave us any comments you may have.  Until next time, my friends!




  1. avatar Linda says:

    Great images – wonderful blog!

  2. avatar Edith Levy says:

    Beautiful images Toad. How are you enjoying the 6D?

    • Best investment we’ve ever made in our practice, that’s for sure, Edith! It’s an amazing piece of hardware, one that never ceases to amaze me with it’s flexibility and incredible imagery. 🙂 Thank you so much for popping by to see us today, and for your wonderful comments, Edith, it really means an awful lot!

  3. avatar Len Saltiel says:

    I love history and you have captured it wonderfully in prose and images Toad.