The Victoria dockyard has been central to many historic moments over the last century and more, and in an interview from 1978, one Victoria resident, Joy Phillips, recounted her experience of some of those events between 1905 and 1951. The memories she shared offer a snap insight into stories that have contributed to the historical framework of the dockyard and beyond and have helped shape this part of Victoria into what it is today.
A regular citizen of Victoria, Joy Phillips nonetheless was an eyewitness to many crucial political and historical changes that took place in the dockyard. Joy’s family came to the area when her father was hired as a “admiralty agent” in 1905, when Joy was only six weeks old. The rugged, rocky peninsula and its sparse naval buildings served as a playground for Joy and other the children. Joy recalls finding a house beneath a sea of blackberry bushes and being so excited by her find that she ran to tell her father. Her excited hopes to use the building as a secret playhouse were soon dampened when she was sternly forbidden from going anywhere near the house––it was an air raid shelter.
In 1910, when Joy was five years old, she saw the Union Jack come down, signalling that the Royal Navy’s base in Esquimalt had come under the direction of the Canadian government. At this time, the government purchased two ships from the Royal Navy, one destined for the Atlantic and another for the Pacific, the latter of which, the HMCS Rainbow, would become the first Canadian warship in the Pacific.
Joy lived in the area through both world wars. In August of 1914, with the advent of World War I, all children were removed from the dockyard. Joy and her sister Betty went to the old wardroom near the Naden Gates to live in the home of Captain Walter Hose, then the commander of the HMCS Rainbow. It was a frightening time––German ships had been spotted off the coast of North America and tensions were high.
Between the wars, in 1924, one British naval squadron paid the base in Esquimalt a visit. This visit was a great excitement for the nineteen-year-old Joy, who remembers attending 10 dances in only two weeks.
Two decades later, Joy played an important role in World War II on the HMCS Dockyard decoding war messages, and was, in fact, one of the first women to stand watch on the signals bridge in 1941. In June of 1944 she was working on this signals bridge when an uncommonly large quantity of messages came in, sparking confusion in the dockyard, until one message had been decoded––it was D-Day.