Discover WWII-related sites on Vancouver Island and where to find them.
Vancouver Island isn’t just a haven for outdoor enthusiasts; it’s also a living museum with stories etched into its landscapes.
I would like to take a moment to reflect on the impact of World War II and share with you some of the sites that serve as reminders of the sacrifices made during this tumultuous period. These sites can be found across the Island, and they offer a glimpse into the lives of those who lived through the war.
As we explore Tofino’s WW2 Bomber, Dakota Crash Site, Fort Rodd Hill, BC Aviation Museum, and Estevan Point Lighthouse, we are reminded of the bravery and selflessness of those who stood up for our freedom. We pay tribute to the fallen soldiers and honour their memory by visiting these historical sites.
Nestled in the lush forests near Tofino is a relic from the past that you wouldn’t expect to find— the remains of a Canso Bomber. This aircraft was part of the Royal Canadian Air Force during WWII.
In 1945, the Canso Bomber was on a routine patrol mission filled with fuel and four 100-kilogram depth charges when it faced engine failure. The crew had no choice but to make an emergency landing in what is now known as Radar Hill.
Thankfully, all 12 crew members survived and were rescued eleven hours later. The army salvaged the guns and electronics and detonated the depth charges – leaving a crater that still exists today.
The bent metal body still lies in the trees as it serves as a war memorial and a testament to the resilience and bravery of those who served.
This unique site is only a 10-minute drive from Tofino and is located in a reasonably convenient location. To visit it, you’ll need to access it by car and embark on a 1-2hr round-trip hike through the forest.
The trail is well-marked and now has boardwalks to keep you above the bog. As you approach, the sight of the bomber emerging from the foliage is a little surreal. You can walk around and even peek inside.
Not far from Port Hardy lies another aviation relic— the Dakota 576. This site is a bit different from the Canso Bomber with a tragic ending.
The crash site is not visited as often, is a little harder to get to, has less graffiti and is more compelling for those interested in wartime history.
The plane is a Douglas C-47 Skytrain, commonly known as Dakota in the British Royal Air Force. The Dakota aircraft played a crucial role during the war, used for troop transport, cargo delivery, and even paratrooper drops.
The Dakota 576 was on a navigation mission when experienced bad weather it missed the first approach, sadly on the second attempt the plane ran out of fuel and crashed.
Unfortunately, the pilot and navigator were both killed. The wireless air gunner was found by a search party several hours after the crash. The wreckage serves as a reminder of the risks faced even in peacetime.
Located ten minutes from Port Hardy, just down the road from the Port Hardy ferry terminal.
To reach the Dakota Crash Site, you’ll need to hike a moderate 4.5km, 2hr hike with some elevation gain. Once you arrive, you’ll find a memorial plaque in front of the intact fuselage. It’s possible to walk around the twisted metal of the aircraft scattered among the trees.
It’s a haunting yet fascinating experience, offering a tangible connection to the past.
Located near Victoria, Fort Rodd Hill is a coastal artillery fort that predates WWII but played a significant role during the conflict. It’s now a National Historic Site, offering a well-preserved look into military history.
During WWII, Fort Rodd Hill served as a crucial defence point for the naval base at Esquimalt Harbour. The fort was upgraded and equipped with gun batteries, underground magazines, and command posts to protect against potential enemy naval attacks. While it never saw combat, its very presence acted as a deterrent and showcased the preparedness of Canadian forces.
Getting to Fort Rodd Hill is straightforward, with easy access by car from Victoria.
Once there, you can explore the various installations, including the gun batteries and the underground bunkers. It’s like stepping into a time capsule, complete with historical displays and even some original artillery pieces. Walking along the shoreline, you can see the steel nets that once protected the harbour from unseen submarines.
As an extra bonus, access to the park includes the historic Fisgard Lighthouse, built in 1860
Located in Sidney, the BC Aviation Museum is a treasure trove for aviation enthusiasts and history buffs alike. It’s not just a collection of aircraft; it’s a tribute to the role aviation played in shaping our world, including during WWII.
Air power was a game-changer in WWII, and the BC Aviation Museum does an excellent job of capturing this essence. One of the highlights is a Lancaster FM104, currently under restoration.
The Lancaster bombers were a cornerstone of the British Royal Air Force’s strategic bombing campaign, making them an iconic symbol of the war effort.
The museum offers both indoor and outdoor displays, including a 5,000 sqft restoration facility where you can see aircraft being brought back to life, with thousands of artifacts on display, including WWII planes such as the Avro Anson, Bristol Bolingbroke MkIV, North American Aviation Harvard and the Supermarine Spitfire.
Although the Estevan Point Lighthouse is not accessible by car, we have to include this historic WWII location as it’s more than just a beacon for ships.
The Estevan Point Lighthouse experienced a unique event during WWII, as the only Canadian west coast location was attacked during WWII, making it a point of interest for history enthusiasts.
In June 1942, a Japanese submarine targeted the coastline of British Columbia, including a wireless station and the Estevan Point Lighthouse.
While the attack resulted in no casualties or significant damage, it marked the first time enemy forces had fired upon Canadian soil since the War of 1812. The event also sparked various theories and debates, adding another layer of intrigue to the site.
Some believe it is a hoax thought up by Prime Minister Mackenzie King to gain support for conscription. In recent years shells have been found and Japanese naval recorders, note the event, debunking the theory. Source
Although far from the front WWII frontline small hits into history can be found across Vancouver Island.
From the resilient Canso Bomber in Tofino to the strategic fortifications at Fort Rodd Hill, each site offers a unique window into a time that shaped our world. These locations serve not just as historical landmarks but as reminders of the sacrifices, bravery, and complexities of a war that touched every corner of the globe.
So, whether you’re a history enthusiast or just someone looking to add a layer of depth to your Vancouver Island adventures, these WWII sites offer an experience that’s both educational and emotionally impactful. As you stand in these places, you’re not just witnessing history; you’re connecting with it.