Sunday, September 21, 2014

BC Lighthouses

Beacons of hard work and commitment

Lighthouses have always fascinated me...withstanding weather and waves, lighting the way for many seafarers, doesn't that seem grand, heroic and a bit romantic?
As we prepared for our "explore BC tour" I knew we would hit the coast and I started to research which lighthouses would be on or near our route.
In my research I stumbled over Donald Graham's books, which drew me into a completely different world:"The fact that the men and women who came before us [the light keepers] to this life were among the most ill-used in all of Canada's long and troubled labour history, who knew real hunger, deprivation and despair as constant companions in the absence of any others, who contemplate and sometimes carried out the ultimate escape from their nightmarish existence subtract nothing from their marvelous sacrifice."[1] Now that doesn't quite sound that romantic anymore.
But after reading his books I got even more interested and so I "collected" as many Lighthouses as I could on our trip.
Each of the following lighthouses has a rich history. Sometimes entertaining, sometimes cruel. To tell all the stories I read would be way beyond the scope of this blog, so I just picked some interesting tid bits.
I will list all my resources at the end for further reading.

Since the location of the lighthouses in most parts reads like:" Situated on Robb Point on Surf Inlet this light guides into the entrance of Seaforth Channel when moving across Milbanke Sound." [3], and since I'm quite confident that only a very few will actually know where that would be, I highly recommend this google map that a genius lighthouse fan created if you would like to know the exact location of any of the below lighthouses:
Lighthouses of British Columbia

The first two lighthouses we saw on the ferry from Tsawassen to Swarzt Bay (aka from Vancouver, to Vancouver Island)

This is the Active Pass (est. 1885) lighthouse. Above how we saw it and below how it looked in it's early days. Quite a change....On our way through all the little islands it became quite clear why lighthouses are needed. The fog was wafting in and out at all times. Strong riptides and narrow clearance made this busy waterway a treacherous one before Active Pass was established.

From "Lights of the Inside Passage" by Donald Graham

Portlock Point Lighthouse was established soon afterwards in 1896. Low lying rocks in the area were feared in the times before Portlock Point.  One of the most scenic ones we saw but..."Today, thousands of visitors view the diminutive lighthouse on Prevost Island as they comfortably slip past the Portlock Point aboard a ferry, but most will remain ignorant of the pain, suffering, and death that occurred at this seemingly peaceful outpost."[2]

The following lighthouses are on Vancouver Islands coast. The closest one to Victoria is Trial Island (est 1906). Trial Island is one of the few BC lighthouses that survived the governments de-staffing program. It might have helped that a watchful light keeper as recently as 2009 saved 5 capsized kayakers by informing the coast guard.

Trial Island's original Fresnel lens, that was used until 1970 stands now in front of the Maritime Museum in Victoria.

Next stop: Fort Rodd and Fisgard National Historic Site, location of the oldest lighthouse in BC, Fisgard. Fisgard lighthouse got automated as soon as 1928. Time took it's toll but after it was declared a historic site 1960, Parks Canada restored the lighthouse in the 70s and early 80s to it's former Victorian style looks.

In 2009 followed another renovation and now it is a real gem.

Window details

the old staircase, unfortunately closed to the public...

and a closer look of the lantern room

Sheringham Point lighthouse (est 1912) was a bit off our path, but well worth the detour.
It's on Vancouver Islands west coast overlooking the Juan de Fuca with great views of the Olympic mountain range.

To get to the lighthouse one needs to walk through a little forest with hundreds of blackberry bushes. Our timing couldn't have been better....;-)
With it's "mainland" location and so close to Victoria, Sheringham Point was a favorite place to work for the light keepers. One daughter of the last light keeper liked it so much that she got married in the lantern room with 16 people attending in 1976.
Sheringham Point got de-staffed in 1989.

Dryad Point Lighthouse (est 1899) was the first lighthouse we saw on our journey along the Inside Passage. The first one we should have seen, Addenbrook, was so completely fogged in we couldn't even catch a glance. Located close to Bella-Bella and with a lot of First Nation heritage it's no surprise that the first light keeper was a First Nation decedent "Rainbow" Carpenter. And he was not only the first, he also held this job the longest, for 31 years!

Due to it's rather isolated and exposed location, Ivory Island lighthouse saw quite a few light keepers since it got established in 1898. To demonstrate just how rough the weather can be there I would like to quote what light keeper Sweers wrote on Christmas 1981:
 "Our only indication that we were “over our heads” came when the outer door to the radio room filled entirely with white sea water.
For a second the door seemed to resist – then the dam burst, flooding sea water and debris into the kitchen pantry, basement, living room and cistern. Neither keeper was injured by flying glass, even though I had bare feet and fled the room while it was still awash.
Andrew [Findlay] followed abruptly, since the same wave in uprooting small trees and severing larger limbs had stripped the radio room roof bare of shingles.
With an outer kitchen window shattered, we moved back into the safety of another room, but were again interrupted while ebbing the flow of water.
There is no way of knowing whether the 32-foot metal tower was knocked down by the same wave or one succeeding it, yet the DCB 10 main light shone [its] search beam hard through the living room windows for several minutes before burning out. In the confusion I had briefly mistaken it to be the beam from a ship driven off course by the storm."

The last lighthouse on our journey through the passage was Boat Bluff (1931), safe guarding the very narrow Tolmie Channel with fast flowing tidal currents. The average weather at Boat Bluff sounds really tempting: "Boat Bluff gets more rain during the summer than any other British Columbia ligthstation, and during the dark winters, it is constant rain, snow, and then more rain."...;-)

And just to proof this right Boat Bluff disappeared before our eyes into a fog so dense it was almost a drizzle.


"Keepers of the Light" by Donald Graham [1]
"Lights of the Inside Passage" by Donald Graham [2]
Map of Lighthouses of BC
"Points of interest along the Inside Passage" BC Ferries brochure [3]

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