Bringing out the big guns: Fort Rodd Hill undergoes painstaking restoration
Published Tuesday, July 24, 2018 4:10PM PDT
Last Updated Tuesday, July 24, 2018 4:17PM PDT
Like spider webs, cracks lace a pattern across a wall which makes up part of Belmont Battery at Colwood’s Fort Rodd.
The battery’s railings have been rusting away to the point where they are no longer safe.
"Belmont has been in pretty rough shape," explained Kate Humble, curator of the Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Sites.
“The concrete work is crumbling, the wood is rotting and of course all of the metal is starting to corrode."
Originally built over 100 years ago, Fort Rodd was updated during the Second World War as part of the coastal defence system.
Humble said that’s when there was a major weapon upgrade at Belmont Battery.
“I think the coolest part of Belmont right now has to be something called a duplex six pounder piece of artillery,” she said.
The “quick fire” gun could launch 72 rounds per minute at incoming water craft – compared to the 15 rounds a minute fired by earlier guns.
But it took a group effort to aim and shoot the 1,000-pound artillery gun: Four soldiers working inside the gun to position and fire it, and in the concrete tower behind it, more people doing artillery guidance and searchlight guidance.
The gun and tower have barely been touched since being declared obsolete following the war.
Now Ada Pietrasik, a Mason with OSKAR Construction works on the complex task of fixing the cracks.
He said they go inch by inch, piece by piece and they only use materials which were available at the time.
“We hand-wash the sand here on site because back then, it wasn’t as easy as going to your local plant and buying washed sand, so everything is sifted and washed here on site," Pietrasik said.
As lead carpenter on site, Justin Robertson takes apart the doors and windows that have rotted, seeing how each one was built so he can restore them in the same way.
“A challenge has been the hardware – replacing lost, missing hardware. I can build a door, but it’s not that easy to find a hundred-year-old solid brass hinge or a certain circular clasp or something along those lines,” he said.
Details like that take time and money. The Belmont Battery restoration is coming out of a $2.4-million fund the federal government has earmarked to fix the entire Fort Rodd Hill site.
Work on the battery is expected to wrap up in autumn 2019.
Once the restoration is complete visitors will once again be able to go into the battery tower, which has been closed to the public for years.
Then guests will be able to see the same expansive view the soldiers saw.
“They’re going to see the whole sweep of where the searchlight had to cover. You are going to be standing right where those men and women used to stand 50, 60 or even a hundred years ago,” said Humble.
And for Robertson, being a part of something so big is pretty special.
“This has been a dream job for me. It’s great being able to work with my hands and use hand tools, saws and all that. Not something you get to do every day in the regular framing world, and to have people come and see your work for years to come, it’s pretty exciting.”