A Posting to Isolation – Pachena Pt. 1949 – 1955

– Betty Healey (Wife of Arthur Healey – Officer-in-Charge (OIC) Pachena Point Radio station (VAD) 1949 – 1955)
– forward by editor Tom Racine (from his website History of Spectrum Management in Canada

D.O.T.’er Arthur Healey was officer-in-charge at Pachena Point  Marine Radio Station from 1949 to 1955. With his wife Betty and three children, Ann, John and Michael who were then 12, 8 and 7 years of age respec­tively, he spent six years at this isolated post. He went from there to Alert Bay and last summer took over as officer-in-charge at Victoria Marine Radio. 

Access to Pachena Radio, which was closed down in 1958 after 45 years of operation, was by lighthouse tender, or Bamfield lifeboat, and then by workboat through the surf to the bonnet-sling; then highline up the cliff. If one was a good hiker, it was possible to trek the nine miles from Bamfield to Pachena, and that was how the Healey’s first got there. 

Today, living once again in a large urban community, Mrs. Healey recalls the rewarding experiences shared by the family during that six year period. The children are now young adults: Ann is married and the mother of four children; John received a Bachelor of Education degree last year and is now teaching at Burns Lake, B.C., and Michael, working towards a Master’s degree in zoology at UBC, plans to go to Europe for Ph.D. studies. 

The following article first appeared in the December, 1965 issue of Tel-Talk, an interesting newsletter edited by Maintenance Supervisor R. H. M. Lobb for Vancouver region telecommunications personnel. 

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Pachena Point - BC Archives photo

On first hearing that we were going to live at Pachena Point, an isolated station on the west coast of Vancouver Island, I was most apprehensive. There were so many things to consider and provide for-schooling for the children, medical attention, lack of the amenities, separation from family and friends. The fear of not being able to cope with these new situations gave me many an anxious moment. Even the word isolation had an ominous sound. Being a gregarious type of person the thought of being thrown on my own resources was quite frightening. 

How would the children make out with their school work? What if one of them broke a leg or became desperately ill? How could I bear to be separated from family and friends? What if I didn’t like the other people on the station? What if I couldn’t get along with them? I was going to have to leave behind all my electrical appliances. How would I manage without them? There would be no theatre, no concerts, no movies. We are creatures of habit and change of environment from the hustle and bustle of city life to the awesome quiet of wilderness or lonely island shore seemed overwhelming. I needn’t have been afraid. On the contrary, I found it a rich and rewarding experience. 

Fog alarm building - photo - Tom Racine

It is true that judging from the standpoint of mileage we would be far from a doctor and a hospital but in reality, my husband assured me, we would be no farther away than the radio commu­nication at the station. If anything untoward occurred we could get medical aid and assistance by word of mouth. Outside stations are equipped with first aid kits. We provided ourselves with one of our own, too, asking advice of our doctor. He also gave us a prescription for a sedative to be used only in an emergency. Fortunately we never had need of more than a 292 to ease the pain of an infected tooth. There are times when evacuation from an outside station is impossible because of weather conditions but these are rare. 

We discovered that the correspondence school in British Columbia is the finest of its kind. With a little help and encourage­ment from us our children received the best education

Pachena dwellings - photo - Tom Racine

available, perhaps even better than in the average public school. In what other classroom could they have received individual attention from the teacher? What better experience could I myself have had than to review my early education so as to keep one jump ahead of my pupils? 

I think the most important part of our sojourn on an isolated station as far as the children were concerned was the fact that they were free from outside influence-we were able to bend the twigs the way we wanted the trees to grow. They didn’t really miss companions of their own age. We believe they grew up more independent and self-reliant than if they had remained in the city. When the time came for us to return they made the transition from country life to the classroom with less trouble than we had anticipated. They did have difficulties to overcome but they were able to face up to them in an adult manner that impressed both their teachers and classmates. learned a vast number of things about life and living and the country around us that we would never have had the oppor­tunity to discover if we had not undertaken the great adventure. We learned to walk, from our first meanderings on the trails and tentative explorations of the beaches, to the day when with a pack on our backs we could strike out on an 18-mile hike with no trepidation whatsoever. We learned to observe nature at first hand, to scramble up and down cliffs, to explore the woods and the beaches. We examined the myriad shells and sea life. We relaxed in quiet corners. We listened to the never ceasing murmur of the sea; gazed in awe when winter waves thundered and crashed on the rock ledges. We studied the flora and fauna, the migration of birds. We discovered that the forest and the seashore have a special attraction. 

Here we had time to think, to wonder and assess. We learned why glorious music is composed; why great books are written. Music was as near to us as our radio. We put our powers of concentration to work and studied the classics as well as we could within the circle of our limited knowledge. We trained ourselves to listen for recurrent themes, to identify different instruments. We provided the children with some musical instru­ments and taught them the little we knew and persuaded anyone with any musical ability to help us out. 

It was our experience that we did not find ourselves lonely and shut off from congenial company. There were other opera­tors, some with wives and families, some bachelors. Counting the two lightkeepers, there were 17 people, including children, on the station. The personnel changed considerably over the years we spent at this outpost and we were constantly adjusting to new faces and personalities. This was a test of our ability to get along with other people no matter what their opposing ideas and ideals. In the city we had been free to pick and choose our companions and naturally selected those who were compatible. Here we met all kinds of different people. We learned to have patience with their foibles, for as sure as little apples are green we had plenty of our own. We felt then, and still feel, that learning tolerance for the other person’s point of view is a trait well worth culti­vating. For our own peace of mind and for the good of the group as a whole we tried to adjust to and harmonize with these con­flicting nuances of character and behaviour. Whatever we felt about misfits, and there were misfits, we kept to ourselves. We tried to be friendly with everyone and not invade anyone’s privacy. We enjoyed our privacy too; hours, days kept to our­selves to do all those things we had never had time for before. 

How would you fill those hours? Would you like to further your education? Correspondence courses and university exten­sion courses almost unlimited are at your disposal. You want to write a book? Now is your chance. All you need is a corner with a desk and a typewriter, stacks of paper, and the Open Shelf Library will supply you with reference books. Are you a nature lover? The study of the flora and fauna, not to mention bird life, is fascinating. Are you a photographer? Here you have unlimited opportunity to pursue your hobby. Is your need to paint or draw or fashion a collage? All your materials are at hand-grass seeds, shells, fungi, pebbles or whatever. 

Once we became interested in the infinite possibilities that lay before us, we welcomed the chances that came our way. We realized that learning is a very important part of living. If we had remained in the city would we ever have taught the boys the correct care and use of firearms? Would our daughter have been taught household economy, not through having to be careful of the pennies so much, as through the lack of convenience of the ever-ready corner grocery. 

Healey Family Mike, Art, Betty & John - photo Tom Racine

We learned to live amicably in a limited community. We shared some of our leisure time with the group and welcomed them all in our home one evening a week in a kind of community social. We needed their company. We needed to get to know them. We needed to listen to what they had to say; some of it trivial nonsense; some of pithy import. We encouraged their talents. We encouraged our own. We felt that we might never have another opportunity. 

When we had left the city to travel this unknown path we had made up our minds to make it a happy experience. I think we succeeded and our time on an outside station proved to be a joyful interlude in our lives. We knew from our own experience the difficulties our neighbours were facing and we tried to make it agreeable for them. In doing so we helped ourselves. 

My years of isolated experience are a long time behind me now, but I feel from the vantage point of years that living there taught me many things that I otherwise might not have learned. Such things as coping with emergencies (even if only in the larder); getting along with people (many strangers walked in and out of my life-hikers, researchers, frauds, dedicated and sincere men, bewildered young people, sages, countless simple human beings who left some small part of themselves in my hands for which I am extremely grateful); finding out for myself my own capabilities and limitations, for which I am very thankful. 

Life is mostly what you make it wherever you are, whatever you are doing. A posting to isolation can be a grand episode in your life if you will let it be. 


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