Oral tradition and archaeological evidence around Esquimalt Lagoon and Coburg Peninsula indicate that the region has been used by First Nations for thousands of years, for habitation and resource use. Prior to European contact, the intertidal clam beds at the entrance to the lagoon were extensively harvested by ancestors of the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations. Other abundant resources were fish, birds, mammals and other riches of the surrounding forest lands.
In 1854, a naval base was established at Esquimalt Harbour, and Coburg Peninsula was reserved as a firing range. A large influx of settlers followed the gold rush of 1858 in BC’s interior, and several farms were established around the lagoon. In 1863 a sawmill was built at the mouth of Colwood Creek. It was replaced in 1871 by a tannery. In 1902, James Dunsmuir, a politician and coal baron, purchased a large portion of land to the west of the lagoon, and built a castle and gardens known as Hatley Park. In 1940, 20 years after the death of Dunsmuir, the federal government bought the land and established a military college, later known as Royal Roads Military College. The military continued to use Coburg Peninsula as a rifle range, and a degaussing station was also built on the spit. (A degaussing range tests the build-up of magnetic field on ships’ hulls.) In 1994, the military college closed, and Royal Roads University was established at Hatley Park in 1995.
Some of the historical activities that had known or possible environmental impacts on Esquimalt Lagoon include: logging; construction of various shoreline structures; dumping of waste; military training exercises; farming and ornamental gardens which introduced fertilizers and invasive species; residential and recreational land use with its associated pollution.