Saving Lives Part of the Job on Chrome Island – special reprint

The following article appeared in 2010 and I received permission to publish it here to show the work that lighthouse keepers do, but is not part of their job description.

This is why we need lighthouse keepers! Keep the lights manned!

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Saving lives part of the job on Chrome Island – with permission from Oceanside Star Pamela Suzanne, Smyth Special to the Star – Published: Thursday, August 12, 2010

If you ever hear your spouse say, “Oh look dear, there’s a couch in the sky,” think twice before calling mental health because every few years this happens, especially over Chrome Island.

The picturesque Chrome Island light station, off Deep Bay and Denman Island in Baynes Sound, has helped many a mariner over its rocks to warmth and safety - Photo by Pamela Suzanne Smyth

 

Since 1981, some 48 lighthouse keepers have been moved on and off the ‘yellow rock’ situated near the southern tip of Denman Island in Baynes Sound.

Recently, Adam Pardiac, 9, and sister Sarah, 13, were thrilled when their uncle Gary and granddad Cliff took them there this summer. Greeted by India, the beacon’s watchdog, and lighthouse keeper Roger Williamson, the children were shown the gardens, environmental devices and petroglyphs.

BC’s lighthouses watch over a rugged coastline formed by glaciers. There are deep channels and narrow passages, hidden underlying reefs, rocks and outcroppings. The BC Maritime Museum’s website warns “even modern Global Positioning Equipment and safety systems can’t keep all mariners safe from shipwrecks.”

Undercurrents, tidal changes and strong winds also pose navigational risks, especially to smaller craft, as one couple discovered last summer.

They were on their way to Hornby Island when the winds rose. Waves began swamping their boat. Their bailing efforts seemed futile. Cold and exhausted, they neared the jagged rocks between Chrome and Denman islands.

Spotting the pair, Williamson and his wife Leslie hailed them in. They were checked for injuries, dried-off and fed dinner. Their boat was hauled up and secured. The couple waited with the keepers until the seas calmed. About eight hours later, they departed intact.

A few years ago, another pair was rescued, recalls Richard Wahlgreen, Deep Bay’s Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary Unit Leader. About 1 a.m., Chrome’s previous lighthouse keeper reported “hearing troubled voices on the water but could see no boat” through the hazy air. The Coast Guard was dispatched.

Reaching Chrome in clouded darkness, they couldn’t hear or see a vessel in distress but, “with sound travelling upwards, the keeper continued hearing the voices from high on the rock,” Wahlgreen said. “Yelling back and forth, he led us to the area.”

Search patterns were implemented and the distressed crew was found stuck on the rocks.

Just below the Chrome Island lighthouse, in 7-10 metres of water, is the wreck of the Alpha.

In December 1900, a fierce storm drove the 220-foot iron steamer onto the island’s southeastern shore. People lashed themselves together between the ship and the island and 26 men made it to shore. Nine perished. The keeper, Doug McDonagh, provided food, shelter and first aid until the survivors were evacuated.

Longtime Deep Bay resident Pat Smith lived on Hornby Island in the Fifties. When she was 20, she took her rowboat out alone. The winds picked up, forcing a change of course.

She made it home but remembers feeling comforted knowing the lighthouse was manned. “Eugene Moden was the keeper,” Smith recalls.

When the foghorn was deactivated, she said, “we all missed it, especially the fishermen. It was hard to see the light in the fog and the horn gave us a sense of direction. It was also nice to listen to.”

Chrome Island also almost lost its keeper a year ago, when it appeared on a federal government list of light stations to be destaffed. Fisheries Minister Gail Shea relented after a public outcry and withdrew the management order.

Lighthouse keepers are trained in first aid, vessel operation, fire suppression, radio-voice procedures and the transport of injured patients. They offer sanctuary and escort to the distressed and their knowledge of local areas and conditions is used in coordinating Search-and-Rescue operations.

They provide weather reports to Environment Canada every three hours, monitor vessel traffic, including suspicious traffic as part of the RCMP’s Coast Watch program, relay information, such as fisheries announcements, aid in scientific research, spot and report spills, and track wildlife movements and migrations.

Chrome Island’s waters attract both seafaring tourists and large and small commercial fishing boats. Deep Bay’s harbour, located off Chrome, serves as a natural disaster emergency evacuation point. Local residents have signed numerous petitions to ‘keep the keepers.’

To date, 29 BC beacons have either been automated or decommissioned but 27 remain staffed. However, they remain under review in Ottawa by the Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. Submissions for comment to may be addressed to www.fish-peche@sen.parl.gc.ca.

© Oceanside Star 2010

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The original article can be found here on the Oceanside Star website. 

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