Fort Canada Is Restored on Gibraltar

Fort Canada as seen today
Fort Canada in 1942. The structure was camouflaged as ancient masonry.
Sketch and plan of Fort Canada covering the north and west approaches.
Fort Canada during construction by No 2 Tunnelling Company, RCE
Publication Date 
29 May 2022

The Fortress of Gibraltar Group has recently completed the restoration of a pillbox on The Rock of Gibraltar that was constructed by Royal Canadian Engineers during the Second World War.

The Rock of Gibraltar is the key to the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean. Through the years the Royal Engineers had excavated tunnels and galleries in the rock for defensive purposes. During World War II, Gibraltar was a major naval and air base. It became a vital strong point after the fall of France and upon the entry of Italy into the war since the Germans were on the Spanish border and the Italian fleet was poised in the East. Two Royal Engineer Tunnelling Companies were dispatched to Gibraltar in 1940.

A tremendous amount of excavation was required to improve the defences at Gibraltar and Great Britain sought the expertise of Canadian hard-rock miners, a somewhat uncommon trade in the United Kingdom. In response, Canada first sent a special detachment of No. 1 Canadian Tunnelling Company, which was then operating in England. This detachment commenced work on 26 November 1940. By the end of that year, the War Office requested that the remainder of No. 1 Tunnelling Company be sent to Gibraltar. However, that company was fully committed in England so it was decided to mobilize a second tunnelling company for work in Gibraltar. An additional detachment of diamond drillers and equipment from No. 1 Tunneling Company was dispatched and arrived in Gibraltar on 12 November 1940. No. 2 Tunneling Company joined them early in 1941.

Eventually, some 234 Royal Canadian Engineers were to work on Gibraltar. Among their works, they excavated a series of wards and tunnels to make a hospital area inside the Rock. They also constructed ammunition magazines, oil storage tanks, and pillbox fortifications, and installed heavy timbering where rock conditions required it.

A series of pillboxes was also constructed at key vantage points as part of the 2nd Gibraltar Brigade defence scheme. In the event of a paratrooper attack, these posts would be manned to help protect Gibraltar. Each design was unique as they were built to the specifications of the area where they were located. “Fort Canada” is an example of one of the pillboxes. It was built by No. 2 Tunnelling Company, Royal Canadian Engineers, under the command of Lieutenant M.A Elson.

Fort Canada has remained sealed up since the late 1950s. It has survived in excellent condition. The Fortress of Gibraltar Group has recently carried out the restoration of Fort Canada with support from the Ministry for Heritage and the Gibraltar Heritage Trust. With the assistance of funding from the Canadian Military Engineers Association, an interpretation panel has also been added to the site and adds a point of interest on the route into the Nature Reserve. The restoration team believes this is a testament to the high quality of construction by our Canadian tunnellers.

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