Howard Frazer Chamberlin Family Adventures c.1930s

Howard Frazer Chamberlin Family Adventures c.1930s

– Narrated by Sharlene Macintosh with help from her cousin Zellie Chamberlin Sale (granddaughters of Howard Frazer Chamberlin, lighthouse keeper c. 1930 – 1941)

Nootka Light -photo - Bill Maximick of Maximick Originals

My grandfather was Howard Frazer Chamberlin who was lightkeeper at a few lighthouses around Vancouver Island  – Nootka , Pine Island , Quatsino , Trial Island  come to mind – my Mom knows them all. His brother, Charles Benjamin Chamberlin was also assistant at Nootka.

My Mom, Mina Peet (née Chamberlin) was born in Oct 1933 while her Dad was a lightkeeper. He originally did various jobs such as farming, prospecting, trapping, and logging with horses. He had a sawmill at Coombs, BC and he was injured while logging with horses on Vancouver Island. He was put into hospital where he met my grandmother Dora Anna Wordsell who was a nurse. 

They married December 12, 1928 in Nanaimo, BC. They had three daughters: Connie (who died in 1985), Pearl, and Mina. The first child, a son, died up near Prince Rupert, BC right after birth, so my grandmother was sent the next time to New Westminster, BC  to give birth (at a real hospital) where her parents lived, and the second two times to Victoria, BC. 

The births were about a year apart and after the last birth she went into a coma due to a type of sleeping sickness – encephalitis – a lot like polio, which saw her into a wheelchair. About a year later she was sent home, but the next time she went to be checked at the hospital my grandfather was sent a letter that stated the government felt he had enough to do on the lighthouse, plus caring for three infant daughters, so they sent his wife to a full time care home in Marpole, BC , near Vancouver, and were deducting the cost of her care from his pay cheque. The family would visit when they could. 

So my grandfather was a single father who saw all his daughters safely married before he passed away. Each daughter gave birth to a baby girl just months after his death. 

He became a lightkeeper as it did not require him to use his back to the same extent logging did. My grandfather raised the three girls on his own. At some periods he had no assistant so the girls had to man the lighthouse for the day shift while my grandfather grabbed a few hours sleep.

My grandfather retired to Langley, BC , when Connie was about 12 years old (well, retired as much as you did in those days). He bought a modest place with a mortgage, planted strawberries and sold the plants for a living. 

My Mom has so many interesting stories – seeing the Japanese bomb Estevan Point  wireless station during WWII; seeing a Japanese plane (a small one from the submarine) fly around the lighthouse when they were in the light. Connie and Aunt Pearl say it happened as written in the official record of the Canadian Government – that it was a submarine which had a little plane. My mother, Connie, said Grandfather hid them in the rocks down by the ocean because he was afraid they would bomb Nootka light next, so he moved them out of harms way. 

I do have a letter in the logbook where he explains how he knows the difference between mining or logging explosions, to gun blasts from say a submarine or boat, and in fact he called over to Estevan Point to make sure they weren’t being “plastered” again. (see “Transcript of Interview July 19, 1942” in photo at left) 

My Aunt Pearl told me the story about the day the military came to get the paperwork from the logbook. The Navy visited father after the bombing and removed pages from his logbook. She said that a group of men arrived and they were sent outside to play. They put men as guards at the door with rifles – one on each side of the door, and they were there for hours. It scared the girls badly because they were not sure what was going on. 

Permission to shut off main light in case of enemy attack document - Zellie Chamberlin Sale

From what I have read on the subject it would seem the Japanese were trying to knock out communication between the US to Alaska (Estevan Point at the time was a radio communications center – JC) but their aim was not very good. Most of the shells missed the lighthouse and wireless station and in fact hit nearer to the Indian village behind it. The Indians feared the Gods were angry and headed way back into the bush. They finally sent men to coax them back home because they feared that many children would be exposed to the elements, and would suffer negative health problems because of it.

There are various stories about Nootka such as the girls visiting the native village on their own; accidents the girls had such as her sister falling off a cliff and going into a coma, and how difficult it was to get her to a hospital. 

The girls saw the Ogopogo sea serpent twice at Nootka, if I remember right. Both times my grandfather, who was up in the light, yelled for them to get away from the water. One time it grabbed a baby deer right off the shore. Mina drew us a picture of it, and later hand-drawn pictures of it matched hers. Dora even saw the serpent at Trial Island. My Mom isn’t taken to making up tales – this is what she believes it was. 

She also has tales such as a native couple helping her Dad pull up a boat and how the native woman couldn’t hold on any longer, and a part of the rope sheared off the top of the woman’s head. Her husband just took her home and she died. 

Things were different in those days – we would have had a rescue helicopter on the way in this era. She also has stories of her Dad rescuing people, and also stories of how they could only stand and watch someone go under, as the waves were too fierce. 

Definitely a different life. 

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

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