From back to front: the breakwater, Ogden Point Dock A before the construction of the Westcan warehouse, Dock B with the Pacific Grain Terminal, Rithet’s Piers (to the left) and a BCSS Princess liner steaming into the harbour.
rom its construction in 1918 the Ogden Point Wharves have been Victoria’s most significant maritime construct.
From 1883 to 1914 Rithet’s Piers established Victoria as Canada’s largest seaport on the Pacific. They were located on the current Canadian Coast Guard Station site, an extension of the previously constructed “Outer Wharves”. Though the piers opened the city’s economy to world trade, its great weakness was its exposure to the Strait of Juan de Fuca’s strong winter southwesterly’s. To address the problem, a new breakwater / dock complex was constructed south of Rithet’s piers at Ogden Point. At a cost of five million dollars it was British Columbia’s first mega-project. The docks were named for Peter Skene Ogden (1790–1854), a prominent trader and explorer for the Hudson’s Bay Company.
The Breakwater was completed in 1916 and the Ogden Point Docks in 1918. The complex was constructed to take advantage of the increased Pacific maritime trade created by the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. Prior to the canal there were but two ways to reach the Victoria from Canada’s east coast or from Europe—an arduous transcontinental crossing, or a dangerous voyage around South America’s Cape Horn. The investment in the Ogden Point Docks, and their Breakwater brought an economic boom to Victoria that lasted well into the 1970s.
In 1911, prior to the construction of the docks and their breakwater a 140,000 square-foot warehouse was erected. In 1914 contractors Grant, Smith & McDonnell were hired to build new docks. The docks were constructed by establishing a perimeter of 533,000-ton concrete caissons, watertight structures used for laying underwater foundations. The caissons were built in Esquimalt Harbour, then towed to Ogden Point then sunk in position. Over one million cubic yards of dredged material was then used as fill to form the docks.
In 1918, the Department of Public Works transferred ownership of the warehouse, breakwater, and the docks to the Department of Marine, who in turn transferred the complex later that year to the Department of Railways and Canals (DRC).
The DRC transferred operation of the complex to the Canadian Northern Railway Co. in 1919. The company constructed a rail ferry slip and laid tracks to each side of both A and B piers and a deep track within the Pier A warehouse.
In 1925 the Panama Pacific Grain Terminal Elevator Co. Ltd. and City of Victoria invested in the construction of a 93 foot high, 22 cell rail-serviced grain terminal to store and load Prairie grain destined for the world’s ports.
Rail on the Wharves
Through a Federal Order in Council, the Canadian National Railway (CNR) assumed operation of the Ogden Point docks in 1928. That same year B.C. Packers, the Steveston fishermen’s co-op, built a concrete five-storey fish processing and cold storage plant in the yard between Piers A and B. Millions of board feet of lumber, millions of bushels of grain, and thousands of tons of fish were then passing over the docks. In 1969, the CNR increased available storage space and dredged the dock’s berths to accommodate larger vessels. This would become a significant benefit in the dock’s cruise ship era.
During the 1960’s (1940’s and wartime construction?) Victoria Machinery Depot established a shipyard just north of the Ogden Point facility and built a number of large vessels including five of the first BC Ferries. In 1970, Transport Canada spent one million dollars on a facelift of the complex.
Disaster struck in 1977. Fire destroyed the 140,000 square-foot CNR warehouse and much of the lumber stored there awaiting shipment. The flames could be seen as far away as Port Angeles and people there reportedly thought that the entire City of Victoria was on fire. A year later, the CNR handed administration of the facility back to the Federal Government and discontinued its rail service to the site. Westcan Terminals leased the site in 1978 and constructed the 100,000-square-foot concrete warehouse currently standing on Pier A. In 1978 Panama Pacific’s grain elevator, constructed in 1925, was dismantled. In 1984 Sooke Forest Products, the last lumber exporter on the facility, went bankrupt. Ogden Point’s 70 years of providing resource prosperity to Victoria came to an end.
As the complex’s resource era closed a new era of passenger service began. In 1985 Island Jetfoil operated a passenger-only service to Seattle and Vancouver from the head of Pier North B while in 1985 and 1986 Island Ferries ran a passenger-only service to Vancouver. From 1987 to 2000 BC Steamships – Stena Line operated a car-ferry service to Seattle from Pier South B.
Ogden Point established a new milestone in 2001 when the facility welcomed its first regularly scheduled cruise ship of the modern era, the 77,104 ton, 828 ft. (252.4 m) Norwegian Sky. She brought approximately 1,928 passengers and 766 crew from Seattle on the first of her weekly cruises. Ogden Point’s service to Victoria had been revitalized and her passenger era had come of age. Since the arrival of the Norwegian Sky Ogden Point has served as a gateway for millions of cruise tourists to Victoria.
That same year, the Ogden Point Docks and her Breakwater were named a National Historic Civil Engineering Site.