McInnes Island Lighthouse – a Tale from the 1950s

 

I published a report January 04, 2012 on the building of McInnes Island lighthouse in 1953 based on the adventures of Ken Stewart who was part of the construction crew. I updated that post later with more information in the form of a PDF file.

1977

When I arrived with my family in the winter of 1977 the first thing we did was explore the island. Pictured left is a small log cabin buried back in the woods on the trail to the SW tip of the island.

Now let’s skip ahead to December 09, 2012 when I received an email from Mrs. K. Marshall with another photo of the same cabin taken about twenty-two (22) years earlier! What a delight to see what she had written on who built the cabin and also for her to see my photo taken so many years later.

In her email she said:

My grandfather James “Jimmie” Smith was a junior lighthouse keeper on McInnes for a few years in the late 1950s.
He was there with my grandmother Mildred “Millie”, and their 2 daughters who were teenagers at the time, my mother Carol and her sister Sharon.

These photos are of a driftwood log cabin that my Mom and her sister built on the island. I’ve been scanning old family photos this past week and have quite a few from the lighthouses.

I’d be really curious to know if the cabin was still standing while you were stationed there.

Well, as I told her the cabin was there in the winter of 1977, but by the summer of 1978 we had burnt it down as it was very unsafe for anybody to venture inside and could not be repaired. An email from her Mom, the Carol mentioned above, says: 

Pool area – labelled

[To build] the cabin I pulled and carried the logs from just below the cabin from the beach. The shakes I cut those with a hand saw to length. Split them with Mom’s best butcher knife and a hammer on the back of the knife….that didn’t go over at all well…believe me.

McInnes island – no labels

That end of the island where the cabin was. No one had trails there at all. Sharon and I started to explore that area. Dad, Bruce and Tony when they realized where we where disappearing to, they cut the logs of the trail so the adults could get into that area.

The swimming pool was past the

The swimming pool

cabin. You went up the hill and there was the natural crater in the rock. Dad and Mom used a washing soda to clean it all. Then the guys had a pump and hoses. They pumped new sea water up into the basin. Dad made up a bag of concrete to sort of plug one end of the crater. We just lived in that area all good days. Lots of nights we spent in the cabin. Continue reading

Lightkeepers to the Rescue – AGAIN!

 

This is a past and very notable lifesaving rescue by two BC lightkeepers, Lynn Hauer and assistant lightkeeper Wolfgang Luebke who were at Chatham Point lighthouse at the time.

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Chatham point lighthouse - photo from Margaret Lutz

We sleep with the radios always on, and ‘with one ear open’.

At 3 AM on April 30, 2012 I was awakened by the unmistakeable sound of a Mayday distress signal. Being able to copy both sides of the communication, I knew it was within our response area. I sprang out of bed. Comox Coast Guard Radio was responding to the call from a very concerned woman, “We don’t have a lifeboat; we are putting our life jackets on now. We are bailing but it isn’t helping!!”

I knew we could be there in 10 to 20 minutes; we were tasked by Rescue Coordination Center. Assistant lightkeeper Wolfgang Luebke and I responded in our 18 foot aluminum station boat. It was pitch black out, and raining. We made our way by compass bearing, across Johnstone Strait into Burgess Passage.

Arriving on scene, we found a man and woman frantically bailing water with ice cream pails! Their bilge pump was inoperative. Their efforts were futile. Their ‘kicker’ motor was under water, and the large outboard was next. Water was pouring in around the re-boarding gate and inches from flooding completely over the transom, which would have seen them go down in minutes. We began pumping the water out of their vessel, with the Honda pump that is always stored under the seat of our station boat. We were all very relieved to see the flood water level slowly subsiding.

Cape Palmerston

The Cape Palmerston (CG SAR vessel) arrived on scene approximately 40 minutes after us. We saved an $80K boat from going to the bottom, and we surely saved a man and his wife from drowning; they would have been in that frigid water with only PFDs, for more than a half hour, had two keepers from Chatham Point Light not been there…we wouldn’t have been there if not for your SEEING THE LIGHT!

Lynn Hauer

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This letter was from from Lynn Hauer, a lightkeeper at Chatham Point and it was addressed to Canadian senator Nancy Greene, hence the reference to Seeing the Light. Senator Greene and her friends were very important in fighting to keep BC lighthouses manned. If unmanned, these people would probably have died. Many instances happen daily where a BC lightkeeper helps a mariner. Many of them you will never read about as they go into station reports and are lost in the central Coast Guard office paperwork – well, not actually lost, just suppressed.

The only way for the lightkeepers to get attention is to report their rescues to the Press (forbidden) or have it written up by myself, or other people outside the arm of Coast Guard censorship.

As Lynn said in a preface to the email she passed around to the lighthouse keepers:

It is important to keep the Senators up to speed of things that are going on. They support lightkeepers (LKs), we should keep them in the loop. They and the public recognize and care about what LKs do.

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The following emails show how the email  was received by Senator Greene.

Dear Lynn,

First, thank you for your quick action!  You are so right.
Thanks also for passing this on to me. I will circulate it as best I can.
All the best!
Nancy
 

Thank you so much Nancy.
Your recognition means very much to Wolfgang and I. The thank you that we received from the couple that night, we extend to you.

Lynn, Ann, and Thyr

 

I Could Not Have Said It Better!

UN-CRUISE Blog

Five Finger Lighthouse

October 23, 2012 at 11:48 AM by Alyson

By Alison, Expedition Guide, Wilderness Discoverer

 Throughout the season, our boat passed the Five Finger Lighthouse in Frederick Sound. The story about the great fire of 1933 and the lighthouse refit was shared by guides, but upon reflection, we never covered what this lighthouse symbolized for those that used the structure.

 

 

Five Finger Lighthouse in Frederick Sound

This particular lighthouse was a home to the keepers, a guiding light for passing boats, a place to find companionship whilst reuniting with friends or visiting neighbors, and a trading post to deliver and purchase supplies, and now is a whale research station. The only dwelling that stayed constant for those on the seas, living on fox farms, or prospecting for gold was the familiar beacons on treacherous cliffs, which could be why, when we think of lighthouses, the first word that comes to mind is hope.

As the Wilderness Discoverer traveled down the waterways of SE Alaska, British Columbia, and the islands of the Pacific Northwest, the sighting of lighthouses spurred heartfelt conversations. The structure, the light, sea stories and shipwrecks, and those histories similar to Five Finger Lighthouse may have conjured up emotions of moving toward home. Observing lighthouses along the shore gives a feeling of solace and may have acted as a symbol of hope for warmth, love, safety, security, direction, and a lifeline to the outside world.

Read more about the Five Finger Lighthouse: 5fingerlighthouse.com

Oops! What Happened to the Water?

A few days ago I posted an article on the lightkeepers being the eyes and ears of the BC coast. While writing it an incident was brought to my mind of my early days in 1977 on McInnes Island. We arrived on McInnes in August 1977 so this had to have happened in Spring 1978.

Every year on the British Columbia coast the herring start their spawn in early spring. We, being curious lighthouse keepers are always interested in the goings on in the sea, from the arrival of the salmon to the arrival of winter storms. We always had our eyes out for something happening.

Well, one of the things we had been warned about was pollution. One morning I awoke and the ocean around the lighthouse as far away as Price Island, two kilometers away, was a milky white as though lime had been dumped in the ocean. Nowhere could I see blue sea except distantly in front of the lighthouse.

white water – photo Flickr by poecile05

I was astounded! What had happened? I had no idea. Last night everything was normal; today, total chaos!

I phoned Coast Guard Radio in Bull Harbour and reported this accident, not knowing what it was or how to describe it. The operator said he would pass it on to the Coast Guard. 

That was it? The ocean was polluted! I could not see a foot into the water! That was all they were going to do? Continue reading

Happy Birthday to Lighthouse Memories!

Aside

This is a real edible cake from Sweet Treats by Jen - http://sweetsbyjen.blogspot.com/

One year ago today I signed up with HostPapa, a Canadian website service provider, after having purchased my domain name, and learned how to use WordPress, lighthousememories.ca became known on the Internet. So today is the 1st anniversary of the website know as Lighthouse Memories.

Before that time, the site had been running for seven years as a self-hosted site on my son’s server in Canada. It was moderately successful, and I had many contacts, but with the help of HostPapa and Google things have boomed and we have the website as it is today.

Over the past year I have transferred over all the files from my old website, and reposted them on the new site. As well I have tried to keep up on things that lighthouse keepers feel responsible for – pollution, weather, oil spills, wildlife and fish protection, as well as manning the light. The Canadian lightkeeper keeps his eye on everything on the sea and in the sky while performing his job.

Since January 2012, the Canadian government under Prime Minister Steven Harper has been undermining the roles of the Coast Guard on all Canadian coasts, but especially on the British Columbia coast. Firing scientists and inspectors, reducing the number of staff manning MCTS centers and planning on closing SAR and MCTS stations, not to mention declaring most of the lighthouses surplus. Not much of a birthday present. 

I must say though, thanks for all the support, the nice comments and all the stories, documents and photos that have been submitted over the years.

Oh yes! Speaking of photos! Soon I will be starting photo pages for each of the BC lighthouses, and would love to see lots of submissions. I will post each station on a separate page and give credit to all who submit. Thanks.

 

Another Lighthouse Destroyed by the Sea! 1967

 

Pine Island lighthouse after the storm

On February 18, 1967 at 00:30 hours, a giant wall of water slammed into Pine Island, destroying buildings and washing away equipment and personal possessions. [B&W photo left] The following article describes it well.
(If anyone knows the author, or or where this article came from, please let me know so I can give credit. It appeared with the photo on the left of the page and the page was numbered 13. Thanks.- JAC)

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Fury . . . and British Columbia

Pine Island, B.C. – The worst damage in the history of British Columbia’s coastal lighthouses was inflicted here ­recently when a 50 foot wall of water slammed into this tiny island during a raging storm. Continue reading

Reprint – DFO Shutting Down Coast Guard Radio Stations, but Prince Rupert’s Will Be Expanded

 

I wrote an article on January 04, 2012 entitled MCTS To Lose Staff To Save Money. After that date, the department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO or F&O) have changed their plans. They are now closing whole stations instead of a removing a few men! The news article below is well written and explains what is planned for the BC coast. If all goes through we will have only two (2) MCTS stations on the whole BC coast, relying on mountaintop repeaters to reply to ships at sea.

I can also see soon that their plans will include again trying to de-staff the lighthouses. Pretty soon the whole BC coast will be bare of any support for boaters!

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By Alan S. Hale – The Northern View
Published: May 18, 2012 4:00 PM
Updated: May 18, 2012 4:59 PM

The Coast Guard communication monitoring station in Prince Rupert will be even more important to ensuring the safety of seafarers. The Prince Rupert station will be one of only two “modernized” coast guard stations in the entire province – the other one being in Sydney. Continue reading

A Trip by Helicopter up the West Coast to Carmanah Point 2006

 A trip by helicopter up the west coast of Vancouver island to Carmanah Point 
October 25, 2006
 

Bell 212 at Carmanah Point - photo Mike Shepherd

To see what part of the west coast of Vancouver island is like from the air, check out Mike Shepherd’s article Coast Guard Bell 212 Helicopter Trip

There are some really nice shots of the Pacific Ocean and familiar lighthouses.

– Mike Shepherd is a Marine Communications and Traffic Services (MCTS) bofficer at Tofino MCTS, which is located on Amphitrite Point, near Ucluelet, British Columbia, Canada.

The True Story of Egg Island November 2, 1948

The author, Dennis Wilkins, Green Island 1947

There have been many reports, newspaper articles, books, etc. written about the disaster that occurred at Egg Island Lighthouse station November 2nd, 1948 – none of which tell the true story. A few of the newspaper reporters of that time interviewed my father, many more got their stories second, third and fourth hand. None of the authors of the books written since have ever interviewed or talked directly to my father, Robert Laurence Wilkins, my mother, Ada Marie Wilkins or myself, Dennis Edward Wilkins. I mention the names in full to finally get the characters of the story straight.

Many of the stories in print are, in themselves, very interesting and intriguing – lacking only in the fact that that is not what or how it all happened. The fault may not lie with the various authors; the Government of Canada did much to avoid the truth from being heard then and later. Now that both my mother and father are dead, and most of the other players in the story are long since past, I feel reasonably safe in documenting the story.
The purpose of this record is primarily for my family and friends, who have always shown a greater fascination for the story than myself (perhaps since I was there). Secondly, there may be the odd other person who has heard the story before and would appreciate knowing just what really happened that day.

To start the story, some background is required to set the scene. I will start just before the move to Egg Island early in 1948. Continue reading

Incidents at Sisters & Ballenas Islands c. 1920s

– Elizabeth Kate (Stannard) Smithman (Wife of Henry Herbert Smithman who was Senior Keeper at Sisters Island 1927 – 1929). Story donated by her grandson Allen Smithman. 

Sisters Island c. 1927 - photo Allen Smithman

A Near Miss at Sisters Island c. 1928 

One evening while I was taking the night watch till 2:30 a.m. I was sitting writing a letter and all at once I heard a lot of noise like a big engine and lots of music playing. I jumped up and went outside and I was struck nearly speechless for there was a big Alaska liner so close to the lighthouse, just over the highest reef in the rocks that was there. 

The music and singing sounded so close. I stood there waiting every second to hear it crash. I thought of the Titanic instantly and I was afraid to even move. My first thought was of course was that the light had gone out but just then I saw a flash go over the liner and I knew the light was OK. It gave me such a scare, I was shaking all over and I went and called Bert to look at the big liner that had just gone right over the top of the reef. He said “My God”! If those people had only known just how close they had come to disaster they wouldn’t be singing like that – of course they would have sung “Nearer My God to Thee” like the people on the Titanic did. (Strange he should think of that disaster too). It was really a pretty sight. (The liner itself I mean) for it was all lit up and it looked like a big long tall Christmas tree.  Continue reading