Return to Sisters at Christmas c. 1927

Return to Sisters at Christmas c. 1927

– as written by Elizabeth Kate (Stannard) Smithman (Wife of Henry Herbert Smithman who was Senior Keeper at Sisters Island 1927 – 1929)

We were there [Nanaimo, BC ] nearly three weeks and it was two days before Christmas then. I wanted to be back on the lighthouse for Christmas as Bert was there with the other three boys.

I phoned The Government Office to see if any boats were going up that way, but everyone was off on Christmas and New Year’s holidays. I went all around the wharf looking and asking anyone with a boat to please take us up to the lighthouse. No one wanted to go at any price! They knew the old gulf too well and didn’t want to risk it.

I kept going back and asking them to please take a chance and go. At last an older chap said “Alright, we will start out but I don’t think we will make it”.

I went and got Leverne [her son] and my packages (for I had been Christmas shopping). I also had a big pack of fresh meat as we could not get fresh meat and had had none for so long at the lighthouse.

Well we got started out and it wasn’t long before we got in a storm. He wanted to turn back but I begged him to keep going and that we would make it. I felt many times in the next few hours that I should have let him turn back, for I was sick and the boat was rolling terribly. A person couldn’t sit down or lie down. We were tossing about terribly, and then it began to get dark and believe me, you have to be on the water and in a small boat to realize just what it is like to be tossed about without it being dark too.

We just had a headlight on the front and we had a lantern in the little cabin. It started to thunder and lightning outside as if we weren’t going through enough as it was. Well after hours of going through a little H—, we eventually saw the light, but even then we did not know if we could make it. If we did, the next thing was “How were we going to get out of the boat, and where?”

When we got closer to the light the old chap started to toot his horn for all he was worth and at last Bert came out with a lantern making signals in semaphore saying “Whoever we were not to try landing.” The old chap sent the signals “I have your wife and son”. His answer came “For God’s sake on a night like this – better try landing, but come around to the other side”.

Bert had a lasso ready, and pulled the boat in as close as he could. He told us to jump as the waves took the boat up but I told him we had packages also. He said to throw them to him and he would lay them on the rocks and then for us to jump. I told him I had not got enough money to finish paying the old chap. He said for him to go across to a bay with his boat and anchor ’till it got calm then come over and get his money. (You see he couldn’t leave the boat at the lighthouse, for it would get battered to pieces on the rocks, for lots of boats had done just that).

The old chap had to make it across 5 miles to a bay and come over after it calmed down so it was a couple of days before he could come back. We would like to have had him in for Christmas dinner but he could not come in. Bert went out to him and paid him and took him some Christmas cake, oranges, nuts, and a bottle of ginger wine I had made several weeks before. It cost me $20 to get home but it was worth it to be home for Christmas.


If you wish to read more about her life on the lighthouses in her own words,
please go to: Life on a Lighthouse

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

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