Groceries at Sisters Island c. 1927
– Elizabeth Kate (Stannard) Smithman (Wife of Henry Herbert Smithman who was Senior Keeper at Sisters Island 1927 – 1929)
Light keepers have to take a four-month supply of food when they go on as there’s no way of getting anything otherwise. No stores to run to and no neighbours to borrow from, ha ha. The government boat called the lighthouse tender [probably the CCGS Estevan which was built in 1912] calls around every 4 or 5 months. Light keepers order groceries from wholesalers in Victoria and it is delivered to the government wharf and loaded on the tender and they bring it when they are coming up that way.
Going for Groceries at Sisters Island c. 1928
Many a time Bert and Teddie, and sometimes Stanley, had started out for the mail, 6 miles (9.6 kilometres) over to the Post Office and Store, and before they could get started back it would come up awfully rough. I would watch for them and so often have thought a big wave had swallowed them up, then I would see them again, and I would feel so relieved. Then another big wave would come and my hopes were dampened again.
At last, nearly dark, I would hear Bert calling and there they were waiting for the boat carrier to be let down so they could get the boat up to safety, for it would never do to leave it in the water as it would get battered to bits. It was a big huge row boat and two people were needed to row it, or should I say work it or handle it.
Then they would unload the boat and if they had to get groceries, for sometimes a person runs out of things of their four months supply which they are supposed to have on hand. Sometimes if they had got flour or sugar it would be soaked with the waves going over the boat, but a person thinks nothing of that so long as they get home safely. Believe me, a person doesn’t go over for mail anymore often than they can help. When it gets to be a month or 6 weeks and no mail, well a person takes a chance and goes over for it.
That is one thing disgusting about the Government. Why should a lightkeeper have to go and fetch his mail and take his life in his hands that way? I never understood why a lightkeeper is the lowest paid Government employee. He should be the highest. No fooling! For the risk he has to take and all the responsibility he has! The lightkeepers never got holidays at that time. In the later years the light keepers all amalgamated and demanded holidays with pay and they got it. The government would keep a man employed as a relief man to light keepers and he would go to first one lighthouse and then another until they had all had their two (2) week holidays.
Posting Mail at Sisters Island c. 1928
Talking of getting mail reminds me how we used to get fishermen to mail letters for us during fishing season. Bert would tie the letters in a big bundle and put a big rock on with them. He had to throw them on to the fish boat as he couldn’t get near because of the swell they were making. They were big fish boats going back and forth from Seattle up to Alaska. We never put stamps on the letters in case they were mailed in U.S.A. so we put monev in with the letters. Sometimes we would catch a boat that was going maybe to Victoria.
We never knew just where some of them were going but we did know they would always mail them for everybody was glad to do anything for a lightkeeper. One time I had a couple of letters I did so want to get them to Qualicum Beach as soon as I could for I had had them waiting ready for so long. Bert went out to a boat which looked like a Canadian fisherman and threw the letters onboard. When he came in he said “Well, your letters will soon be there now for their first stop is San Francisco”. (Qualicum Beach was about 8 miles (12.8 kilometres) from us. Ha Ha).
Bert got marooned over on the mainland once when he went for mail. We were on Ballenas Island then and Bert left in good weather to go and get mail and a few supplies as were getting low on eats. We used to get mail at Craig’s Crossing but had to go to Parksville for supplies as it was just a Post Office at Craig’s.
Anyway, Bert got his mail and supplies OK but when he got started out in open water it got pretty rough so he had to turn back and go to a cove for shelter. It started to snow and freeze and he had eggs, flour, sugar etc. in the row boat. He had to dig down into the sand deep enough to bury all his supplies to keep them from freezing and he got into an old shed or cabin at the cove for shelter.
Next day he thought it was calmed down enough to try it again so he dug up his supplies and loaded them up again and started out, but he had to turn back and do the same thing all over again. He did this three or four times and had to keep turning back and taking shelter.
After the first time he went and borrowed some blankets for himself from the Post Office people as he was afraid he might get frozen to death as it was so bitterly cold. Each time he made up his mind to start out he would take the blankets back and then would have to go and borrow them again. Well this went on for over a week, then one day I was looking though the binoculars and I saw a tiny dot on the water miles and miles away and I said “I think Daddy is on his way home for it is in the direction he generally comes.”
You see, we did not know whether he was drowned, or what had happened to him all this time. Talk about being worried (that’s no name for it believe me). We had an assistant light keeper with us at this time thank goodness, for I don’t know how we would have made out for it was snowing a blizzard and the fog alarm had to be kept going all the time as well as the light.
Anyway, after a few hours we saw Bert coming over the island from the boat house, it was about one-half mile to the boat house from the lighthouse at Ballenas. Of course I had kept looking at short intervals through the glasses to try and make sure if it was Bert and I wasn’t really sure whether it was him or someone coming to tell us something had happened to him. You can guess how happy we all were when we saw it was Our Daddy back safe and he was just as happy that he was home after all he had been through. He had a beard and moustache and he sure looked old and different.
If you wish to read more about her life on the lighthouses in her own words,
please go to: Life on a Lighthouse