This past summer, I visited the Naval and Military museum at Esquimalt, on the Canadian Forces base there. It is very much on the base proper, and to access the museum you have to go through the gates. To be honest, if you go through the main gates it’s a fairly circuitous route to get to the museum. But it’s much like the museum in Halifax, you actually have to access the military base in order to visit the museum.
As seen on the left here, the museum is contained in old base buildings- there is a very “Royal Navy base in Singapore or some other tropical setting”, which is fairly appropriate for Esquimalt. The museum itself- you have to give them credit for using the space that is available. It’s a series of connected rooms, either side of a main hallway. It was clearly formerly office space or something. There are the totally predictable things, such as a plethora of really very nice ship models, and discussions of the Battle of the Atlantic.
Clearly there’s quite a variety of ships being shown in the models, from submarines to lesser-known refits of Second World War destroyers. If ship models are your thing, and you don’t have any small children who will get bored and run away, then you can absolutely spend an inordinate amount of time looking at the many, many, many excellent models. Of particular interest to me was the model of the drydock/graving dock- not only because of the very impressive engineering but because it shows one of the Royal Navy’s late 19th Century sail/steam corvettes, which just happen to be one of my niche interests.
There is also the required posters and information about the Royal Navy and Royal Canadian Navy’s early days in Esquimalt, which is really interesting. There are also unexpected and lovely aspets, such as the substantial display about WRCNS during the Second World War, focusing on a number of different individuals. LIkely underappreciated but I thought it was better than it could have been, especially given the overall level of resources available to the museum.
Another excellent surprise was the children’s area, which occupied my son for quite a while. It’s only one room, but the equipment they have there (a small climb-in yacht representing the Oriole, as well as one of those photo-boards for the fleet diving unit.
In my opinion, my easily distracted 3 year old son was a bit young for the children’s room, but not by much. it would probably be more fun on an open day, or with other children around. This could also be a good place to stash children and another child minder while the naval history enthusiast checks out the rest of the museum.
There are also a small number of some fairly cool dioramas, in this case showing how ratings lived (with the other example being how officers lived aboard the base). However, these felt quite sterile, while a number of the other rooms felt like a whole bunch of stuff piled in together, and presented as could be. The museum itself lacked a sense of flow, or organization (although, this was not made easier by me having to chase my son around). Also, when we visited there were no staff present, so it all seemed quite sterile, in some ways. Not so much as a museum, but a collection of museum exhibits in storage that were waiting to go into a living museum. That said, very nice exhibits indeed given the limited space and resources available.
Overall, the museum is absolutely worth a visit. Perhaps not with small children but I absolutely suggest that you visit nonetheless. I just hope that in the future the museum gets a little more scope, funding and staffing to fully put what it has to even better use.