Fisgard Lighthouse and Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Sites are located in Colwood, just 20 minutes outside Victoria, BC. Fisgard Lighthouse was the first permanent lighthouse built on Canada’s west coast in 1860. Fort Rodd Hill was built in the late 1890s to defend Victoria and the Esquimalt Naval Base. Together, they became an interconnected National Historic Site in 1958.
Open year-round, the site is enticing for both history buffs and nature lovers alike—it includes several beaches, a large open meadow, stands of Garry oak trees, a Historic Nature Trail, and spectacular views of the Juan de Fuca Strait and Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. On the history side, the fort includes several original buildings, some of which are open to wander through with hands-on exhibits and period-furnished rooms.
And since 2013, a cross-country Parks Canada initiative has allowed visitors the opportunity to stay overnight at Fort Rodd Hill in “oTENTiks,” or sturdy tent cabins. My five-year-old son and I tried out the oTENTik experience recently, and we can definitely vouch for it as a unique and interesting way to experience the historic fort and lighthouse.
It has to count as the shortest drive I’ve ever taken to go camping—less than half an hour from door to door (even getting caught in the Colwood Crawl on the way out of Victoria). Upon arrival, we were given a light wheeled cart to transport our belongings across the wide open pasture to oTENTik #2. The site’s host, who stays overnight in an RV down the hill from the tent cabins, met up with us soon after we’d arrived and showed us the amenities, including kitchen facilities and bathrooms in buildings on the other side of the pasture, as well as barbecues and picnic tables nearby, and then left us to our own devices.
We toured the fort on our own, sometimes listening to historical recordings and sometimes just exploring. It became very clear how important this fort once was to the defense of the nearby naval base in Esquimalt Harbour and to Victoria in general. One of the tougher questions my son asked me was how the people on a boat that was being shot at would feel; I was very glad to be able to tell him that the fort’s guns were never actually fired in anger, just for practice.
The Fisgard Lighthouse is definitely the highlight of the entire site. It is well maintained and completely accessible to visitors, with historical displays and artifacts to check out. Upstairs, my son enjoyed trying the two video game simulations of steering a 19th-century schooner and a present-day naval patrol vessel into the harbour. He didn’t crash either once.
After the grounds closed at 5pm, we had the whole site to ourselves, other than some deer and geese—there are five oTENTiks available, but we were the only ones there that night. We built a campfire to roast wieners and marshmallows, played boardgames inside, and then tucked ourselves into our sleeping bags for the night. Although it rained some time after midnight we stayed warm and dry, and the abundant firewood provided for us allowed us to stay warm throughout gray, drizzly morning until we packed up and headed back home.