The Ogden Point Breakwater at Victoria, British Columbia’s Outer Wharf

by John M. MacFarlane and Murray Polson 2012

Outer Wharf

Lighthouse on the outer extremity of the Ogden Point Breakwater Victoria BC (Photo Murray Polson collection)

In 1914 the Panama Canal was completed. The canal provided a much shorter route to the Pacific Ocean from the Atlantic and promised to significantly increase shipping coming to Seattle, Washington, USA, Vancouver and Victoria BC, Canada. The City of Victoria wanted to take advantage of the increase in shipping but the entrance to the port is lashed by extremely powerful southeast gales. For shipping to consider stopping, the deep water piers needed to be protected from these vicious onslaughts of southeast winds and waves.

Harbour Engineer Louis Coste was commissioned in 1913 to make a survey of the proposed location for the new docks and breakwater at the mouth of Victoria's harbour. He proposed two breakwaters: one springing from Ogden Point and protruding West and the other starting at Macauley Point and jutting east. The Macauley Point breakwater was considered very expensive for the dubious protection it could provide. It was never built.

A 1914-1915 appropriation of $1,100,000 provided the initial funding for the construction by the Canada Department of Public Works for the breakwater and two concrete piers at Ogden Point. The two concrete piers were originally about 800 feet long and 250 feet wide with a clearance between them of 300 feet.

Outer Wharf

Stretching out across the entrance to Victoria Harbour, the Ogden Point Breakwater is an Engineering Marvel.(Photo Murray Polson collection)

The Sir John Jackson Company won the contract to build the breakwater. They secured a quarry at Royal Bay to supply the materials for construction. The local engineering firm of A.J. Ratcliff &Co. were hired to design and build two derricks to handle the stone material. One was to work at Royal Bay and the other to work at Ogden Point.

Work began in 1913 on the Ogden Point breakwater by a contract issued by the Dominion Government of Canada. The broad design idea was to create a rip-rap mound on top of which a mass concrete wall would be built. Large blocks of granite would then be placed on the weather side of the wall in order to protect both the wall and the rubble. The rubble was to be transported by scow.

The derricks had to be huge machines. They had to handle heavy granite rubble and granite blocks, half of the granite blocks not less than six tonnes and the rest not less than eight tonnes. The lifting timbers were 14" x 16" and 70 feet long. The lifting was done by steam engines with double 8 1/4 by 12 inch cylinders. The depth of water to be worked in varied from about 4 feet near the shore and about 72 feet at the outer end.

Scow–full after scow–full was filled at Royal Bay and towed over to the Ogden Point site and dumped along the 2500 feet of surveyed line. Eventually 1,026,219 tonnes of quarried core stone and rubble were dumped to create the underwater rubble mound. The final works were capped with granite blocks and a concrete superstructure. Roughly 10,000 granite blocks, weighing together over a million tons, were quarried at Hardy Island and shipped to Victoria for use in the breakwater. The last granite block was placed in the breakwater on January 22 1917 by the Sir J.J. No. 10.

Outer Wharf

The granite blocks still carry the marks of the workmen who split the stones and dressed them into their final dimensions. (Photo Murray Polson collection)

Outer Wharf

In spite of the immense weight of the granite blocks, over the years winter storm waves have managed to displace some of the blocks. (Photo MacFarlane collection)

Ogden Point was named for Peter Skene Ogden (1793–1854) a fur trader and explorer employed by the Hudson Bay Company. Completed early in 1917, Ogden Point Breakwater was marked the following year by a square, white pyramidal concrete tower erected by the Parfitt Brothers at a contract price of $1,655. An unwatched acetylene beacon originally provided the light displaying an occulting white light at a height of forty feet above high water. An electrically operated fog alarm was installed on the breakwater in 1919 and in 1926 a cable was laid to supply the needed electricity from shore.

Ogden Point Light

The original lighthouse was built in 1917. Construction was relatively straight forward with the location so close to the offices of the Canada Department of Marine and Fisheries. (The light was always unmanned.) (Photo Murray Polson collection)

Ogden Point Light

Ogden Point Light construction detail Photo courtesy Maritime Museum of British Columbia collection.

Ogden Point Light

Ogden Point Light construction detail Photo courtesy Maritime Museum of British Columbia collection.

In 1925 the Panama Pacific Grain Terminal Elevator Co. Ltd. and the City of Victoria built a 93 foot grain terminal with 22 storage bins to load Prairie grain into ships heading to ports around the world. A railway serviced the $500,000 grain terminal. By 1978 the grain elevator situated on Pier North B had been dismantled.

In 1928 the Federal Government handed over administration of Ogden Point docks to the Canadian National Railway. About this time, British Columbia Packers built a fish processing and cold storage plant. In 1993 the cold storage and fish packing plant was dismantled. In 1969 the Canadian National Railway dredged Ogden Point shipping berths and increased storage space for the busy facility.

Outer Wharf

The breakwater is accessible by the public and makes a great walk out to the end and back. (Photo Murray Polson collection)

In 1970 the Federal Government allocated one million dollars to updating the Ogden Point facilities. On August 8 1977 a devastating fire ripped through Canadian National Railway’s 140,000 square foot warehouse building destroying it and causing more than three million dollars in losses. In January 1978 the CNR handed responsibility for Ogden Point back to Transport Canada. Shortly after Westcan Terminals leased the site. Over the ensuing years various work was undertaken at Ogden Point; Pier A was raised and a 100,000 square foot concrete warehouse was built. Eventually the CNR discontinued rail service to Ogden Point and removed all remaining rail tracks in 1987 with the rail barge ramp finally removed in 1994.


On August 8 1977 a devastating fire ripped through Canadian National Railway’s 140,000 square foot warehouse building destroying it and causing more than three million dollars in losses. (Photo courtesy of the Maritime Museum of British Columbia collection 998.004.0052)

In 1997 the Ogden Point Enhancement Society officially opened Phase I of the Concept Plan. Phase I included allowing public access along the south shore by creating a ‘marine access corridor’ linked to the shoreline corridor that extends from Ross Bay to Clover Point along Beacon Hill down to the breakwater and now Ogden Point for public recreational use and enjoyment while also providing a gateway to Victoria for the visiting cruise ships and naval vessels.

In 2002 the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority was established. Ogden Point, with land stretching from the breakwater to the north of the James Bay Anglers Association site, is among properties owned by the authority. Transport Canada provided several million dollars in start-up funding and to carry out improvements at the sites. Today the Ogden Point breakwater is a very popular and unique destination while still providing an important navigational aid to mariners.

Article Update (2013): One of our Victoria contributors, Ron Drinkwater, sent images of the completed breakwater project mentioned above.


The completed handrail project as built. (Photo courtesy of Ron Drinkwater)


A mural of First Nations art and motifs now displayed on the side of the breakwater. (Photo courtesy of Ron Drinkwater)

To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John M. and Murray Polson (2012) The Ogden Point Breakwater, Victoria BC. 2012.

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