Building a Lighthouse – McInnes Island c. 1953

Building a Lighthouse – McInnes Island c. 1953

McInnes Island (marker with "A" - left) & Shearwater (far lower right)

McInnes Island had a light since 1921. There still are the remains of a wood post and a cement footing high on the SW corner of the island. But then in the early 1950s the Canadian government let a contract to build a lighthouse on the island. This was awarded to Stewart & Slade Construction who worked through 1953 and 1954 to complete the construction.

Ken Stewart 1953

In August of 1953,1 a young man, aged 19 years old at the time, was in the work crew hired by Stewart and Slade Construction. He was actually a relative of the boss as his Dad owned the company! His name was Ken Stewart and he worked with a group of other young men to build the lighthouse.



 “They returned home for Christmas on December 15th and returned in March for 2 months to finish the job. During the time off, Ken managed to get married on January 29th as well. Pretty busy man!

Andy Widson of Shearwater, BC transported them along with materials from his mill to the site in a World War II landing barge.”


Ken Stewart 2011


Ken, now 78, and his son-in-law Brian Lang hired a boat in Bella Bella, British Columbia on June 16th this year 2011, and took a day trip out to McInnes Island to revisit Ken’s lighthouse, to reminisce with the keepers, and  to see what changes had taken place. 


What a change it must have been! The photos in the album below were taken at the time. First of all 2 they would have had to build a highline to move the supplies of wood, cement, and gravel up to the top of the island. Once this was constructed, then supplies would have been offloaded at the top of the island and then another highline erected to transport materials across the island to build the houses in the center, and the lighthouse tower and engine room on the south side of the island.

Trees would have had to be cleared, walkways built, and equipment installed, and they managed this construction in less than a year! Absolutely amazing considering the equipment they had to work with, and the weather.

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And here are photos of Ken Stewart with his son-in-law Brian Lang on McInnes Island in 2011. “Ken has been like a kid with a new toy”, said Brian

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Ken Stewart also wrote out a short book detailing his trip to and from McInnes, the work, living conditions, etc which took place in the early 50’s. Interesting reading, and available here in PDF format. Some drawings from the book below.

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Below are a couple of photos taken in 1963 by Flo Anderson while their family was on McInnes Island. This is ten years later – notice the number of stumps still in the ground. Imagine in the days when Ken Stewart was there – those stumps were giant trees!

Flo has a great book about life on the lighthouses called Lighthouse Chronicles, published in 1998 by Harbour Publishing. Lots of photos.

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1  “I believe we arrived on the Island about August 10, 1953. We had spent the arrival night at Shearwater, BC in one of the old Naval barracks. We were transported to the Island from Shearwater on the landing craft WL2, owned by Andy Widson.”


I wrote later and asked Ken some more questions. He answered:

“The Dept of Transport had installed two 16’ x 32’ tents on plywood floors with 4’ high plywood walls. One tent was the cook’s quarters; his kitchen and dining room for the crew. We had kerosene fridge and cook stove.

The second tent was our crew bunkhouse. These 2 tents would be our home during 1953 from mid August to December 15, 1953, and from March 1 to April 15, 1954.”

“To the best of my recollection, the lighthouse keeper arrived about the first part of November 1953. By that time his residence was nearly completed so he was able to sleep in it. He ate with us. As well as operating both winches during the working day, he carried out construction inspection duties. His wife arrived on the Island about the first part of December 1953. I believe his name was Scott.”

Note: The radio operator [for the radio beacon] also arrived some time in November but was only there for a short time. I believe that he was planning on bringing his wife and children later.”

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Retired (2001) British Columbia lighthouse keeper after 32 years on the lights.

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