Light at the End of the World

Light at the End of the World
Three Months on Cape St. James, 1941

by Hallvard Dahlie (orig from Raincoast 18, 1998) with notes from Jim Derham-Reid (last keeper on Cape St. James before automation)

Image1A strange interlude in my brief seafaring life took place in the fall of 1941, when I signed on as assistant lighthouse keeper at Cape St. James, a light perched on top of a three-hundred-foot rock at the very southern tip of the Queen Charlotte Islands. I had quit school earlier that year, at the age of sixteen, and found a job on the CGS Alberni, a lighthouse tender operating out of Prince Rupert. But when she had to go into dry dock at the beginning of September for a new wartime grey paint job and a bit of refurbishing, I chose to take a stint out at the lighthouse rather than scrape barnacles and paint for three months. Continue reading

Tides

photo Paul Kurbis

One of the reasons for the establishment of a lighthouse is to mark the dangers from the effect of extreme tides (low and high) on surrounding lands, islands, waterways, and beaches. 

Look at the photo on the left of my old lighthouse at McInnes Island at low tide (click for a larger version). We can tell it is low tide because the kelp is exposed on the rocks, and the high tide mark on the rocks is marked by a dirty black line. Here on the Pacific Coast of Canada, the tides come in and go out twice a day, and the range is between seventeen (17) and twenty-one (21) feet (6 to 7 meters)!

Note the small rock at dead center, bottom of the photo. At high tide that would be covered and become a menace to navigation. In this case this is not a marked shipping channel so no marker is necessary. The reason for the lighthouse (visible on the left of the large island) is that it was listed as a landfall light. A marker for ships coming in from the Pacific Ocean to the British Columbia coastline, and also a marker for the entrance to Milbanke Sound. It really doesn’t mark the island as dangerous; just an indicator of a mariner’s location on the ocean.

Example of a floating dock

To return to a docked boat on the BC coast after a few hours of sightseeing or shopping is sometimes a surprise for many tourists. The docks for the boats are built to float up and down on fixed pilings to accommodate the 21 foot tides (see photo left). To get onto the dock you walk up or down a ramp. A roller on the lower end rolls along the dock as the tide rises or falls. The top part of the ramp is hinged.

The tides change approximately every six hours, so if you left your boat and walked up the steep ramp to the topside dock at 10 AM (low tide) and came back at 2 PM (4 hours difference), the ramp would be almost horizontal (high tide). If you had lots of heavy groceries to move it was always a good idea to plan at what time of day you wanted to move them! Continue reading

Quitting Smoking – Not on a Lighthouse!

I was a smoker when I arrived on my first lighthouse at Pulteney Point in December 1969. I was twenty-two (22) years old, married, with no children when I arrived.

My wife, Karen, and I had never had to order supplies for a month. Our first order was loaded with chocolate bars and stuff we figured we would not be able to do without. Tobacco, as I rolled my own, was not a problem – two cans of Player’s tobacco should do for a month. 

When you live in the city with stores right at hand, you never consider how much you use in a month. It is used until it runs out and you buy more. Well, the tobacco supply was greatly underestimated. I ran out.

Next day I asked the senior lightkeeper, Walt Tansky, if I could borrow the station boat and run into the town of Sointula about 8 kms away. Walt said he had a better idea and invited me into his house. He headed for the basement and came back with a can of Player’s tobacco. IT was c-o-l-d!

Walt explained that he had quit smoking years ago and that a personal motive to quit was to keep a can of tobacco on hand in the freezer. It became a cushion against his addiction.

“But”, I said, “you quit years ago. This tobacco is that old?”

“No”, he siad, “It has been replaced many times.”

“Replaced?”

“Yes”, everytime a keeper runs out, he may borrow this can and replace it at the first available chance. It has been replaced many times – by fishermen, pilots, keepers, and campers.” Continue reading

Drowning at Lawyer Island c. 1904

In the Lighthouses of British Columbia guestbook I came across an entry by an “M. W. Harding”. He stated that his grandfather had been the first lighthouse keeper on Lawyer Island, near Prince Rupert, BC, and had accidentally drowned. I contacted Mr. Harding and got more information from him about his grandfather’s death. – retlkpr

In the words of – Ned Harding (Grandson of Thomas Harvey who was Senior Keeper at Lawyer Island 1921 – c.1905)

Lawyer Island c. 1900s - photo CCG, Prince Rupert.

He said: “I have some information regarding the Lawyer Island Lighthouse. This information was given to me by my mother who was the daughter of the original keeper. The keeper’s name was Thomas Harvey who took care of the light starting approximately 1901. He was married to my grandmother in 1898 and my mother was born in Vancouver in 1899.”

“My mother and grandmother were also at Lawyer Island from about 1902. The grandmother’s name was Hannah G. Harvey, and my mother’s original name was Frances T. Harvey. The light was tended by this duo until 1904 when my grandfather was lost in the sea while rowing to Prince Rupert as was his practice from time to time.” 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 Lightkeepers by Graham Chandler

Originally published in the January/February 2007 issue of Legion Magazine

We hadn’t expected gourmet Hungarian goulash served up on Royal Doulton china. But at the Cape Scott light station on the remote northwestern tip of Vancouver Island–a place that is normally engulfed in wet grey and storms–today is an exception. The sky is azure, there’s not a puff of wind, and Principal Keeper Harvey Humchitt and his partner Assistant Keeper Todd Maliszewski have house guests.

After sweating through 24 kilometres of squishy rain forest trails we’re no match for the fine linens and silver flatware spread impeccably before us on the dining table. The trek through the forest is the only way to get here without a boat or helicopter. After a couple of greeting barks from their dog Lady, Humchitt welcomes us to Cape Scott. Continue reading

Moving Day 1970s

Crates awaiting lowering to the ship - photo Glenn Borgens

One of the problems with moving to another lighthouse was that everything had to be crated and or well-packed to withstand the dangers of the transportation and handling by ship and/or helicopter. It also had to survive unexpected falls and/or water damage, both fresh and salt.

When my wife Karen and I first moved on the lighthouses we had no material for crating so we had to get professionals from a moving company to do the work for us. They did a very good job but were very expensive.

When we got the bill we did not have the money to pay for it, so we told the man we would leave half the furnishings there in the warehouse and get them shipped out next month when we got paid. He was having nothing of that and eventually dropped the price to something we could afford. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Derrick Operation at Boat Bluff c. 2004

Derrick at Boat Bluff - photo Mike Mitchell

The derrick is another lifting device used on stations that do not have a rock in the sea for a highline and where seas were also relatively calm. It was used like the highline to lift and lower items to and from the work boats or lower the keeper’s boat or station boat in and out of the water. 

Definition – “a derrick is a lifting device composed of one mast or pole which is hinged freely at the bottom. It is controlled by (usually 4) lines powered by some such means as man-hauling or motors, so that the pole can move in all 4 directions. a line runs up it and over its top with a hook on the end, like with a crane. It was commonly used in docks.”Derrick (Lifting Device), 28 april 2006 12:06 UTC, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia  Continue reading

Life on Pine Island 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 here and here.

Her husband Roy scanned some nice photos of Pine Island station, but unfortunately they are way too small to show here. When he has time to make larger ones, I will add them.

Roy sent some more scans, but they are limited, but I have posted them because they show details not available before – e.g. the A-frame highline setup.

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Pine Island houses - photo Juanita Swanson

There may be somewhere in the world a place foggier than Pine Island lighthouse, but it’s hard to believe. The horn was often on for days on end, and became only another background noise. A lighthouse tender could arrive in clear weather, and radio that Pine was under a doughnut of fog. Continue reading