To the Lighthouse guidebook beckons explorers to the islands of southwestern B.C.

Peter Johnson spotlights light stations from Sheringham Point to Cape Scott

    1 of 3 2 of 3

      While some people might yearn to live in a lighthouse, Peter Johnson says light keepers’ jobs were far from easy in their heyday.

      “It was a horrific life,” Johnson told the Georgia Straight by phone from his Vancouver home. “I mean, the myth sounds good. The life was awful. They were the lowest-paid civil servants at the time in Canada in the 1960s. I think they got about six grand in 1971.”

      Johnson is the author of To the Lighthouse (Heritage House), a new guidebook that spotlights 25 of these historic towers. Subtitled An Explorer’s Guide to the Island Lighthouses of Southwestern B.C., the 224-page paperback features light stations in Greater Victoria, the Gulf Islands, and Salish Sea, and on the west coast and northern part of Vancouver Island.

      “There’s never been a book on exploring the lighthouses around this coast,” Johnson said. “It gets you out of the tourist mode of sitting in a goddamn tourist bus and being driven out and about and being told what to see.”

      Many B.C. Ferries passengers have viewed Mayne Island’s Active Pass lighthouse, which is easily accessible by car. Visits to other lighthouses, such as those on Cape Scott and Chrome Island, require a challenging hike or kayak trip.

      “There’s 13 that require two, three, four, and five-day trips into some abject wilderness that’ll blow your brains out in its wildness,” Johnson said.

      Heritage House Publishing has released To the Lighthouse.

      Richard Paddle captured To the Lighthouse’s colour photographs. The book's project manager, John Walls, is a director of the Sheringham Point Lighthouse Preservation Society, which will receive partial proceeds from sales.

      Sheringham Point is located west of Sooke on the Juan de Fuca Strait. According to the book, the “beautiful, classic lighthouse is a marvel to behold” and has attached buttresses.

      Johnson is a retired teacher who previously authored three books about B.C.’s coastal history: Quarantined, Glyphs and Gallows, and Voyages of Hope. He described the province’s lighthouses as “amazing pieces of historical architecture” that represent both “symbols of leaving” and “images of a call home”. And he asserted that they should be preserved.

      “They have such a unique role in our history,” Johnson said. “They really do. They proclaim our sovereignty, like the lighthouse at Fisgard or the lighthouse at Estevan [Point]; they are markers of immigration; and they mark the industrial growth of the province. They’re highly symbolic.”

      Nootka Lighthouse is accessed by boat from Gold River on Vancouver Island.
      Richard Paddle

      Johnson hopes the book will entice locals and tourists to get out and see B.C.’s lighthouses. For each site, To the Lighthouse offers details about its name (and placenames used by local First Nations), design and construction, and keepers; “weird” aspects of its history; and how to get there. There’s also maps, geographic coordinates, and accessibility ratings that range from “dead easy” to “really, really hard”.

      “They’re placed on some of the most beguiling points of land on this coast,” Johnson said. “You’re going to see a lighthouse on a headland overlooking the ocean that’s absolutely striking. They’re not put in swamps, by the way. They’re put in places that are absolutely beautiful, so they can be seen by mariners 30, 40, 50 miles out at sea. I mean, what a way to hook up with nature.”