Lighthouses

mouse over and click

Introduction Lighthouses

Lighthouses have been around since Alexandria in BCE. No two lighthouses are identical, as they are built in a variety of different environments: cliffs, beaches, rocky terrain, and grass. They are also built with different materials, based on local availability, and to different heights. At its core, a lighthouse beacon illuminates treacherous waterways, and serves as a reference guide to mariners.

Even today, if GPS fails, a captain can identify its location based off a lighthouse’s distinctive paint marks, and its light, which can emit unique flash sequences. Lighthouses also may have fog signals, such as horns, or bells, to warn ships of hazards during low visibility. Today there are roughly 54 lighthouse keepers in 27 manned lighthouses, from the southern tip of Vancouver Island up near the Alaska border.

Point Atkinson Lighthouse

   Point Atkinson Lighthouse June 22 1923

   VMM Item number 2000.1001.540

 

The  Point Atkinson Lighthouse is located on a headland in southwestern British Columbia named by Captain George Vancouver in 1792, when he was exploring the Pacific Northwest in HMS Discovery.

Point Atkinson commands an important strategic entrance to Burrard Inlet. The first wooden lighthouse went into service in 1875 and was replaced by a reinforced concrete structure in 1914. Now automated, the lighthouse continues to provide navigational aid to all marine traffic approaching Vancouver from the northwest.

The lighthouse was designated a National Historic Site in 1974 because of its unique structure. It is a reinforced concrete tower with a hexagonal design. It is also federally protected because of its historical significance to the maritime activities of Burrard Inlet. 

Donald Graham was a lightkeeper at Point Atkinson from 1980 to 1996, and during this time he wrote two books, Keepers of the Light (1985) and Lights of the Inside Passage (1986), chronicling the British Columbia lighthouses and the lives of their keepers.

Fisgard Lighthouse

Fisgard Lighthouse was built on Fisgard Island by the British in 1860, eleven years before Vancouver Island became a part of Canada. 

Before the lighthouse was automated in 1929, twelve lighthouse keepers were employed to keep the lighthouse running. Eleven of these lighthouse keepers were men and only one was a woman.

The lighthouses tower, built in the 19th century, has a 56-foot tapering shaft that supports a multi-facetted lantern. The two-story gabled-roofed home is connected to the base of the lighthouse. 

Sitting at the entrance into Esquimalt Harbour, the lighthouse is a defining feature of the area. Fisgard Lighthouse is now designated as a Canadian National Historic site.

 

Fisgard Lighthouse, before 1926

VMM Item Number: LM2016.999.010

Prospect Point Lighthouse

Prospect Point Lighthouse, circa 1920s

VMM Item number: LM2000.1001.011

 

 

After the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the city of Vancouver began to grow rapidly as the shipping traffic in Burrard Inlet steadily increased. On October 1st, 1888, just days after Stanley Park was opened, the Prospect Point Lighthouse was established to help guide shipping traffic in Vancouver, and to prevent common accidents caused by rocks and strong tidal currents.

The first light within the Prospect Point Lighthouse was a fixed white beacon that was housed in a square lantern room. In dense fog, this light and the mechanical bell were the only aid to help guide mariners safely through the narrow channel.

The original lighthouse at Prospect Point remained standing even after the Lions Gate Bridge was built in 1938.  The lighthouse, as it stands today, was established in 1948. It’s red light, which sits atop a square pyramidal cement tower has a focal plane of thirty-eight feet, and has a signature of one second on, one second off.

Merry Island Lighthouse

The Merry Island Lighthouse was established in 1902 on Merry Island in the Strait of Georgia.  The lighthouse was erected after the Vancouver Ship Masters Association sent a petition to Ottawa, praying for the establishment of a much-needed lighthouse and fog alarm on the island.

The first lighthouse keeper was Will Franklin, who along with his wife Mary Ann served the island and the passing ships with a fixed white light and a hand foghorn. A mechanical foghorn was eventually brought to the Merry Island lighthouse in 1924. Shortly after, in 1927, a radio station was established on the island which would pass weather reports and information to passing ships.

The current lighthouse tower was built in 1966 and is 40 feet high. This lighthouse is an example of the modernization of Canada’s lighthouses in the 1950s and 1960s and contributed to the improved navigational system and marine safety in the Strait of Georgia.

Though the island is not open to the public, many boaters and kayakers will pass by to enjoy the sight of a working lighthouse.

Merry Island Lighthouse and Associated buildings

VMM Item Number: LM2003.046.041

Brockton Point Lighthouse

Brockton Point Lighthouse, circa 1920s

VMM Item Number: LM2000.1001.004

Located in Stanley Park, BC, the Brockton Point lighthouse was constructed to prevent ship collisions in the busy water ways around the point. Near the end of the 19th century, as Vancouver’s shipping traffic steadily increased, it became apparent that a lighthouse was needed to ensure marine safety. 

In 1890, a rudimentary light, with red and white lanterns, was erected at the point. However, tragedy still struck Brockton Point. In 1906, a large-scale accident occurred when the MV Princess Victoria crashed into the tug Chehalis. Eight people perished in this accident. To prevent further incidents, in 1909, the lighthouse keeper, “Captain” William D. Jones took on the responsibility of controlling outgoing ship traffic.

The current lighthouse at Brockton Point has an automatic light and was built in 1914. The 35 foot tower is supported by arches, allowing visitors to pass underneath while walking along the seawall. The lighthouse was staffed until 1956 and now stands as a popular destination in Stanley Park.

Lighthouse Artifacts

Telescope used at the Point Atkinson Lighthouse.
VMM Item Number: 1972.033.001M

Air Horn
VMM Item Number: 1972.397.1

This is an air powered signal horn used aboard ships and in lighthouses. It works by manually releasing compressed air. This horn is recorded to have reached 165 hz.

Cape Mudge Light and Lens
VMM Item Number: 1980.0001.001

This lighthouse lens once warned mariners off the dangerous shores of Cape Mudge, at the southern end of Quadra Island at the entrance to Discovery Passage. The lighthouse tower was built in 1915 and was 18-metre tall.

 

 

 

Merry Island Lighthouse Keeper Log Book, 1931 to 1936 
VMM Item Number: 2019.999.026

Designed by Langara Design Formation students Aaron Phillip, Ana Rivera, Brooke Dunbar, Lara Torres and Zoey Nguyen in collaboration with the VMM curatorial team