Rare photo collection tells the story of Dockyard’s rich history


Photograph collector Chris Nixon discusses one of his many photos from his collection that lines the walls of Shop 172 in Dockyard.

Rachel Lallouz, Staff Writer
Chris Nixon, a marine industrial labourer with Fleet Maintenance Facility Cape Breton shop 171, has an unusual hobby that has been on display to passerby in building 215 for over three years.

Lining the walls of the building’s first floor north end are over 300 meticulously dated photographs of Dockyard.

“As a kid, I grew up in the Work Point area and always had a fascination with military bases,” says Nixon, who recalls visiting Dockyard as a little boy for Armed Forces Day. On that special day every year, Nixon and his friends would tour warships, fire blanks out of guns, and talk to the sailors.

His love of the military turned into a hobby in 2013 when he was researching photographs of the Dockyard’s dry dock online. He printed off two four-by-eight black and white photos of the dock under construction in 1887 and fastened them to the shop wall.

“The next thing I knew, people were stopping and looking at the photographs with amazement,” says Nixon.

As his collection grew, so did his knowledge of Dockyard’s history. He began to print off “before and after” copies of photographs to more clearly reveal the historical development of the base to onlookers.

One before and after set shows a photograph of St. Paul’s Church just outside the dockyard front gate in the late 1800s, before it was moved to its present location at the corner of Esquimalt and Grafton Street in 1902. The main gate area has a dirt road and more pines are visible in the fairly undeveloped area. The photograph next to it is of the familiar, present day Dockyard main gate.

His ever growing collection of images now spans from the mid 1800s to modern day. Nixon estimates that about 90 percent of his photographs are of the CFB Esquimalt area, and the remaining 10 percent document bases on the East Coast, or feature ships and aircraft.

“You’ll notice looking at the photographs of the much older vessels, as far back as 1860, that they are simply sailing ships. They have no engines and have cannons on the sides of them,” says Nixon.

He says the visual reminder of Dockyard’s history is important for younger military members or employees who might not be aware of the historical significance of the area.
“They can take a look at something dated from 150 years ago and build that appreciation,” he says.

The best part of his hobby, says Nixon, is how he feels when he sees visitors from other shops slow down during a busy day to peruse the photographs.

“Some of the older folks are prompted to share their stories when a certain photograph jogs their memory,” he says. “The collection just brings up a lot of chatter and reminiscence.”

Though Nixon’s shop will be moving to a different building in the next year, he has been assured that his sprawling collection will have a new home on its walls.

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