Today’s breakwater during a winter storm
n 1883 R.P. Rithet extended the Outer Wharves with his Rithet Piers. His pioneering vision brought the world’s shipping to Victoria for the first time in her history. To take advantage of the 1914 opening of the Panama Canal’s promise of a massive increase in increase in Pacific maritime trade plans were laid for two breakwaters and a massive wharf to replace the piers.
A 1914-1915 appropriation of $1,100,000 provided the initial funding for the construction of the breakwater and two wharves at Ogden Point. The British firm of Sir John Jackson was awarded the contract to build the breakwaters. They were to reach out from both Ogden and Macauley Points to protect the soon to be constructed wharves from the winter gales that lashed Victoria’s southern shoreline.
The Ogden Point Breakwater was the first to be constructed. It is a 762-metre (2,500-foot) long granite and concrete wall. Over one million cubic yards of locally-quarried rock was dropped into deep water (up to 27 m [90 ft.]) to support the breakwater’s main structure of more than 10,000 granite blocks. Each block, quarried on nearby Hardy Island, weighing up to 15 tons was stacked in a nine course pyramid. Attesting to the sound engineering and meticulous construction, the breakwater has not required any major upgrades since it was built, and only 136 blocks have ever required repositioning over the intervening years. The Ogden Point Breakwater was completed on schedule in 1916, a notable accomplishment considering the demands World War I places on resources of all kinds. Upon its completion it was determined the Macauley Point breakwater was superfluous so was not built.
In 1917 outboard end was marked by an occulting white acetylene lamp forty feet above high water atop the concrete tower that stands there today. An electrically operated fog alarm was installed on the breakwater in 1919. In 1926 a cable was laid to power the electric beacon that replaced the acetylene lamp.
In 2001 the breakwater and its protected docks were named a National Historic Civil Engineering Site.
The breakwater has always been popular with pedestrians not suffering from vertigo. In 2013 the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority installed handrails has opened the popular walk to many more Victorians and visitors to the city.
The Unity Wall
For thousands of years the abundance of the harbour’s protected shores nurtured the South Salish Esquimalt and Songhees Nations.
To acknowledge their rich traditions and long history, the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority sponsored Na’Tsa’Maht – The Unity Wall Mural. The mural, Canada’s largest, transformed the breakwater into an eloquent expression of the bridge between cultures.