Life on Nootka Lighthouse c. 1950s

Life on Nootka Lighthouse c. 1950s

Here is another story from Ms. Juanita (Swanson) DuLong. She was a young girl on most of these stations, but living there, and hearing stories from her parents, she has created   lighthouse memories from the 1950s time. Her older stories are found herehere and here. One more to come she says. 

It is said that for every person on earth, there is a place our soul will recognize as home.

Nootka lighthouse

Sometime in 1955, I was lucky enough to find that Nootka was mine. Ever since, no
matter where or how I was living, I went home whenever possible. Today, my husband
and I live on the West coast of Vancouver Island, not far from Nootka Island.

Nootka Lighthouse is picturesque, with 360 degree views of scenery. The area is steeped in history, being the true birthplace of B.C. Brick fragments are still sometimes found from the Spanish fort that so long ago enjoyed those same views.

But , I wasn’t yet ten years old, and history wasn’t uppermost in a little girl’s mind.

When the Coast Guard ship Estevan dropped anchor we were all excited.  Across the breakwater lay the village of Yuquot. Friendly Cove was busy with fishing boats. I saw people, and lots of children! Nowadays there is only one family living at the village. They, and many of the other villages are my friends still.

We also met a family living on Savaedra Island, just around the corner. The Smiths
were part of the commercial fishing fleet then, and later did log salvage. We also have remained friends through the years.

On stepping ashore at the light we climbed a long ramp up to the buildings. Below,
was the boathouse and winch house. Our belongings rode up on a small trolley. At the top we could see the assistant’s cottage, fog alarm building, coal shed, storage buildings and our wonderful new house.

Once again we lived under the lamp room. It was a wonderous old
building, with wood floors and mahogany cabinets in the pantry. At first we had the usual
primitive plumbing and oil lamps. However, taking water samples was a less daunting task
than at Pine Island. The lamp up top was a pressurized type, with mantles very fragile.
Dad cursed them often.

Within the first three years, a new house was built, and a separate tower. We had all
the mod-cons, but I missed the special character of the old house.

We had a wood and coal stove. Water was hand-pumped to the sink, tub, etc. I well remember, one hundred strokes for a flush, three hundred for a bath! There was ample rain, the cistern never went dry.

We had three different assistants in our years at Nootka. A Mr. Aspen, Walter Ginilka,
and Les Smith. Les’ grandfather and great-uncle built and manned the first facilities there.
He was the father of David Smith, the head of the Smith family at Saavaedra.

I soon knew every crack and cranny of the little lighthouse island, and many of it’s
creatures. One garter snake became so used to me that its fat little person slept in the
pathway. I’ve had young mink play over my feet and legs. We saw eagles every day, not
two or three, but dozens. Sea lions, seals and orca were seen on a daily basis. I was only
lucky enough twice, to glimpse a cougar. They still roam Nootka island, along with wolves,
black bears deer and other, smaller species. Sea birds galore, of course. At this time there
were plenty of Marbled murrelets, as the old trees had yet to be logged out.

There is an old Catholic church on the reserve. It stands just above the outer beach
and commands an amazing view. The two room schoolhouse collapsed some years ago.
It stood just across the field from the church. I had a short break from correspondence
courses, and had a decent report card from there!

There once was a tiny chapel at the far right hand side of the village. It too is long gone, as is the V.O.N. cottage next to it.

Dad realized a long held dream and bought a small sea plane, a Piper Cub. It was
interesting to be able to see our surroundings from the air. Pilots from Gold River and
Tahsis would often buzz the station. When they could they would also visit. My brother
Tom was also a pilot. Our home often was awash with aeronautical jargon when he came
to visit! My sister Helen and family came when they could. My neice Rita still talks about
how Nootka’s beauty impressed her.

Yachts from all over stopped once in the cove – some real beauties. Probably the
most impressive was the Fleichmen’s yacht.

The most interesting boat sighting had to be the Russian submarine. It surfaced, the conning hatch opened and a bearded officer and Dad found themselves waving madly through their binoculars. Mom found this hard to believe, but their research proved it was Russian.

Our dog Sandy came with us from Pine Island lighthouse. We also adopted two dogs from the local village. Sandy still stood watch at the first hint of a lighthouse tender. The crew now brought treats for three dogs.

My Mother did a lot of the station painting, also water samples and just about
anything that needed doing. She was an expert baker and made cakes for many village

My parents and I went to our first Potlatch on chief Maquinna’s birthday.
Our first time to see the traditional and ceremonial dances.

In 2011 a “keepers-reunion” was held. Family members of many of the earlier
keepers spent a marvelous day. Speeches and lunch were held at the church.

No one is allowed to ride the trolley now, or slide down the ramp when it’s frosty.
Safety concerns discourage kids from scaling the steep rocks to watch the sea below. The tower’s top is out of bounds. I felt grateful, and privileged to have done these things, (and more!) Enough for my Mother’s grey hairs, and some indelible memories for me.


Published by

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *