At a time long before Canada was officially a country, the tall ships were traveling back and forth bringing people and materials to the newly found land. Many arrived on our shores to find a rugged and raw landscape. Even today this landscape is treacherous, finding many sea-going vessels encountering troubles on our craggy shorelines. The need for a lighthouse was profound. November 16th, 1860 Figard Lighthouse came to life as a beacon of safety and hope and today is it still in active service guiding ships from points all over the world into Victoria’s Harbour.
We love stories like the one at the heart of Fisgard Lighthouse. It started life as a means to increase safety in the area and today is still active in this role, but it also has a wonderful secondary role that is really heartwarming to see in this day and age where many of our old heritage and historically significant buildings are being razed to make way for modern construction.
The lighthouse was deemed a National Historic Site in 1958 and over the years countless scores of visitors have flocked here to immerse themselves in a nautical experience and try to find a personal connection with a past. Up until the 1940’s a lighthouse keeper was responsible for maintaining the integrity of the light, and this was a lonely, daunting and sometimes dangerous task. This would take a person of incredible character and strength.
Part of the allure and intrigue of the site comes from the stories that circle around it. Some are true, some are exaggerated and some are fiction, but they all form part of the fabric that creates the incredible character of the lighthouse itself and the area it calls home. Even today, stories circulate how the bricks that built the lighthouse were brought over in the ships from England, used as ballast in the hulls of the tall ships. Before the causeway was built connecting the dot of an island that the lighthouse sits on with the Fort Rodd Hill area, the keeper would paddle to and from the tiny island in a little rowboat. One of the keepers met an unfortunate end when he dropped a paddle in the ocean and tried to reach for it, only to find himself falling into the roiling ocean and becoming part of the legend of the place. There are many other tales from those who lived here, some having stayed less than a year. A few only stayed for days.
From Wikipedia: Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Site
Keepers of Fisgard Lighthouse
George Davies, 1860-1861
John Watson, 1861
W.H. Bevis, 1861-1879 (Died on station, 1879)
Amelia Bevis, 1879-1880
Henry Cogan. 1880-1884
Joseph Dare, 1884-1898 (Drowned in Esquimalt harbour, 1898)
W. Cormack, 1898
John Davies, 1898
Douglas MacKenzie, 1898-1900
Andrew Deacon, 1900-1901
George Johnson, 1901-1909
Josiah Gosse, 1909–1928
The brevity of tenure for many of the keepers speaks directly to the perils and challenges of undertaking such a life. What would motivate someone to take on such a vocation, knowing full well the dangers and isolation that comes with it? As we toured the facility, these thoughts constantly sat at the back of our minds as we tried to form a deeper understanding of the entire vignette.
What once was home to the brave souls who manned the lighthouse, today is two floors of exhibits detailing the history and some of the stories. As you walk through the displays reading about all that has happened here in a relatively short period of time, the connections become palpable, in some cases leaving you with a small sense that you might have known the person at the heart of the story. But honestly, this feeling of understanding is just a facade for there is no possible way you could really comprehend what it would be like without having lived the life yourself.
Parks Canada is responsible for the maintenance and running of the operation today, and they have done a terrific job on this site. The building and facilities are meticulously kept, complete with great displays and presentations, many of them dynamic and interactive. This really allows the visitor to become immersed in the experience as a whole. It’s hard not to feel like you’ve stepped through a rip in time and space when you visit the Fisgard Lighthouse.
This post marks our very first visit to the lighthouse, and we’ll be back many times over the coming years to take a closer look both inside and out. As we strolled around inside the house taking in the presentations, one perspective really stood out. This short brick hallway connects the living quarters with the lighthouse and as you walk through the narrow and tight corridor, the bricks express incredible textures; both palpable by touch and by your higher senses desperately trying to understand the pathos of the entire experience.
Many see our lighthouses as sources of history and romance, and this is most certainly true. Peel away the veneer of the story, even a little bit, and you will find something much deeper. A visit to the Fisgard Lighthouse will reveal a fascinating story of Vancouver Island and our history, and will leave you yearning for more.
Thank you so much for taking the time to visit us here today, we really appreciate it. As always, we love to hear from all our visitors so please feel free to leave us any comments you may have below.