B.C. lightkeepers honour their champion
Under cloudy skies, with the imposing Cape Mudge lighthouse looming in the background, former lightkeeper Jim Abram vowed to keep fighting for lightkeepers – the eyes and ears on the ocean.
Abram,with his family by his side, returned to his former workplace last Friday morning to accept a lifetime membership in the B.C. lightkeepers union, a union he helped form in 1994.
“We felt we were not being properly represented by the people we were working with, so we started our own local,” said Abram after being presented with a commemorative plaque by union secretary-treasurer Glenn Borgens. “We had our first meeting in Victoria and they told us we’d all be fired. Since then we’ve been fighting and we’ve been fighting hard. We had to do it four times and if we have to do it again, I’ll be there.”
Just three years ago, Abram took up the battle and played a pivotal role in convincing then-Fisheries Minister Gail Shea to abandon the federal government’s plan to decommission B.C.’s 27 lighthouses located along the coast. Abram argued that automation could not provide the same level of protection for mariners as a lightkeeper.
In his current position as regional director for Quadra Island, Abram is continuing the fight – this time to stop the federal government from cutting staff on watch at all five B.C. marine centres. Abram’s motion to petition the government to keep current staffing levels was originally brought to the Strathcona Regional District Board and will be in front of the Union of B.C. Municipalities delegates in Victoria later this week.
“We feel you’ve gone way above and beyond,” Borgens said in acknowledging Abram last week. “So we thought we’d give you something that’s lasting. We want to present this to you with a huge amount of thank you’s. We’re proud to have you as one of our own and now you’re one of ours forever.”
Abram said although he’s now retired from the industry, he will continue to promote lightkeepers and the invaluable service they provide.
“This is a service everyone has to understand is irreplaceable,” Abram said. “We’re one of the few nations that still appreciates the fact that lightkeepers deliver the most affordable and efficient service to mariners who come from all around the world to be on our coast. I’ve been very proud to be a member of such an organization and it’s going to stay with me all of my life.”
Abram acknowledged his wife, Wendy, son Jesse and daughter Melissa for sticking with him and supporting his work, which demanded a lot of time away from home.
“They’re all lightkeepers to me,” he said. “They grew up with me at this lightstation.”
As the event wrapped up, Borgens announced he had another surprise for Abram. Borgens returned from his car with an old stamp concealed in a small plastic bag.
“This is the first stamp of Local 20232,” Borgens explained. “I’m not sure if it still works, but it’s yours to keep.
“Welcome back to the family forever.”
More reporting here from the Campell River Courier-Islander.
Abram, former Cape Mudge Lightkeeper and long-standing Regional District area director, led at least four campaigns over the years to block destaffing efforts as well as other cuts to Coast Guard services on the coast.
On Friday morning, Abram was back at the Cape Mudge Lightstation – where he spent 18 years as lightkeeper – to become the first ever recipient of a Life Membership in the lightkeepers union.
“We feel that you have gone way above and beyond the call here,” Union of Canadian Transportation Employees (UCTE) Local 20232 Secretary-Treasurer Glenn Borgens said to Abram. “So we thought that we would give you something that would last, something that you could show proudly. We want to present this to you with huge amounts of thank you’s. We’re very proud of having you as one of our own. Now you are one of ours forever.”
Borgens praised Abram for his tireless lobbying to retain a human presence on 27 lightstations, strategically located along BC’s 27,000 kilometres of coastline. Abram was presented with plaque stating “We can never repay you for the years you spent in these battles but we can thank you and show our appreciation for your efforts in maintaining marine and aviation safety on Canada’s coasts by making you the first Life Member of UCTE Local 20232.”
Abram fought federal destaffing efforts on and off over more than 18 years. The last battle resulted in federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea’s reversal last year of the latest plan to destaff lightstations.
“This is an incredible moment for me and my family,” Abram said Friday. “They’re all lightkeepers as far as I’m concerned. This is unbelievable.
“I used to be the shop steward on the previous local. We felt that we were not being represented, so we started our own local. We had our first meeting when we were brought down to Victoria in 1994 to tell us that we were all going to be fired. We were going to be without jobs, without lightstations, and the coast was going to be without the safety services that we offered.
“Since then we’ve been fighting, and fighting hard. We’ve had to do it four times and if we have to do it again I’ll be there. This is a service that everybody has to understand, is irreplaceable. I’ve been very proud to be a member of such an organization. It’s going to stay with me all my life.”
Abram paid tribute to wife Wendy, who “has been 100 per cent of the fight, all the time. And my kids had to put up with all of the times that I was away.
“I congratulate every lightkeeper on this coast and on the other coast for doing what you do. I want to make sure that you continue to do it. I’ll make sure that I continue to dedicate my time to help you do that if it ever comes up again.”
Abram helped found Local 20232 in 1994 and served as its first president. He began his career as a lightkeeper in 1978 at Chatham Point Light but spent 18 years as Principal Lightkeeper at Cape Mudge until his retirement in 2003. In addition, Abram has been a director of the Strathcona Regional District, and its predecessor, the Comox Strathcona Regional District, for over 20 years, and served as chair for four years. He also served on the executive of the Union of BC Municipalities for ten years, including one term as its president.
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