CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line

Graham, Donald.

Madeira Park (B.C.), Harbour Publishing, c1985. 269pp, cloth, $24.95, ISBN 0-920080-65-0. CIP

Grades 8 and up
Reviewed by Adele Case

Volume 14 Number 5
1986 September

All lighthouses have personalities, while a few, as at Cape Beale, have reputations. Donald Graham's Keepers of the Light flashes a beam onto the dedicated men, and some women, who tended the light stations on the southern coast of British Columbia. As the author points out, excellent life-saving efforts were volunteered long before lighthouses were constructed by the Indians who lived along the coast. With settlement on the Pacific Coast, the need for better navigational markers was recognized, spurred on by increased ship traffic through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This strait is frequently shrouded in fog and was missed by Captain Cook in his explorations in 1777.

In 1696, a lighthouse was constructed on the Eddystone Rock, near Plymouth, England. Beacons had been built earlier in the Mediterranean, and in dangerous places on the European coast. With more shipping around Cape Horn, it was inevitable that the reef-strewn northwest coast of America and Canada had to have better signposts. Fisgard light, close to the entrance to Victoria, was the first tower built in Canadian waters. The keeper of this light, George Davies, travelled 196 days via Honolulu to reach his station. Care and attention to the reflectors and lantern kept early keepers busy with manual tasks. Lenses had to be polished, machinery to be repaired, and wicks to be trimmed. In the late 1920s, the trend to automation began, pointing to the eventual demise of the light keeper. Taxpayers usually applaud any reduction in expenses, but all small boat operators will mourn the loss of human light tenders, for automated equipment will never see boats, fishermen, or sailors in distress. The fact that Graham's book is in its second printing may show the nostalgia that many feel for the days of the dedicated keepers who would never allow their light to be extinguished.

This book relates high points in the history of all the southern British Columbia lighthouses. Graham has collected data under three headings: "Imperial Lights," "Safe Habours," and "The Pacific Graveyard." Many unmentioned British Columbia lights enable ships to move through the Strait of Georgia and Johnstone Strait, and one hopes these will be dealt with in a second volume. This history is brightened by clear black-and-white photographs of many lights and their keepers. As well, there are clear locational charts, line drawings of engineering details, and excerpts from keepers' family journals and ledgers. The book gains much of its fascination from vignettes about the keepers' families, some of whom were exceptionally self reliant and tough-fibred, while others were ill, or emotionally unstable.

The successful keepers were independent and sturdy individuals who had the physical stamina and emotional makeup to adapt to the isolation, dangers, and never-ending routine of station life. Periodically, there were storms or shipwrecks to cope with, especially on the Pacific Ocean coast, where south-east winds are abetted by south-west swells and the Japan current. Ships at times overshot the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, breaking up near Cape Beale, the Seabird Rocks, or somewhere on the rock-bound coast.

Stories tell of bouts of insanity, the sad drowning of a keeper near Quatsino, a hardy keeper's dives for salvage near Race Rocks, hostility between keepers, and countless small incidents that are part of daily life near or on the unforgiving sea. The inside cover identifies the major light locations researched, while the front and back jackets are enlivened by Buzz Walker's paintings of the Cape Beale and Race Rock lights. Truly, Graham's second volume will find eager readers if it is as well presented as this book. Recommended.

Adele Case, Britannia S.S., Vancouver, B.C.
line indexes


1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


The materials in this archive are copyright © The Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission Copyright information for reviewers

Young Canada Works