Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Site, on Fisgard Island at the mouth of Esquimalt Harbour in Colwood, British Columbia, is the site of Fisgard Lighthouse, the first lighthouse on the west coast of Canada.
The lighthouse was literally a life saver for the many local and foreign cargo and passenger ships that travelled the unforgiving seas of the Juan de Fuca Straight, especially on foggy or stormy nights, but it was also what allowed the Royal Navy to operate at nighttime safely from Esquimalt Harbour, getting their ships in and out without running up onto the rocks.
Additionally, it was a real expression of British sovereignty.
Only a couple of years before the lighthouse was built in 1860, there was a huge influx of American gold miners into both the Victoria area and the Fraser Valley for the gold rush in the latter, around 25.000!
Given that until 1844, American politicians were campaigning to extend their territorial control, this influx was alarming because it threatened to upset Britain’s dominance of the region’s.
Putting this British lighthouse here underlined the fact that this was British territory and they were not going to permit it to be annexed to the USA.
It was built in 1860 together with its sister station Race Rocks Light to guide vessels through the entrance of Esquimalt harbour, and It was named after HMS Fisgard, a British Navy ship that spent time in the Pacific.
A stipulation of the agreement to build the lighthouse was that its first keeper should be brought out from England, and had experience in light keeping, maintenance and repair, but that would also be able to train other lighthouse keepers.
According to a local legend, the brick and stone used in construction were sent out from Britain as ballast.
In fact, local brick yards and quarries supplied these materials, while the lens, lamp apparatus and lantern room were accompanied from England by the first keeper in 1859, and the cast-iron spiral staircase in the tower was made in sections in San Francisco.
Fisgard first showed a light from the tower at 4:00pm on 16 November 1860.
The first keeper was George Davies, arrived from England with his wife, two children and an assistant in August 1860. He was hired for $650.00 per year, and the cost of housing, coal for the fireplaces, and water was also covered by the government.
Third lighthouse keeper, such a William Bevis, stayed for 18 years, and wrote several letters to the government because the house became progressively more and more uncomfortable during his tenure.
The building, once built, was not properly maintained, and suffered due to its windswept, very humid and salty location. As a result, it became extremely drafty and during storms it became a chore to keep water and wind out, as it was to maintain the light.
One night in 1879, William Bevis succumbed to an illness and passed away and, as there was no one else capable, his wife Amelia and 16 year-old niece Mary took over all the duties of the lighthouse keeper for nine months, until London assigned a more suitable person. Officially, women were not allowed to hold the job of lighthouse keeper!
Joseph Dare, who was the keeper of the lighthouse from 1884 to 1898, seemed to have been rather accident prone. On February 28, 1890, he was walking along the shore shooting at mink for sport, when his firearm exploded, sending the breech and shot back into his eye. He was so covered in blood and unconscious, that when his wife found him she assumed he was dead.
He survived, but lost the sight in one eye, and he spent four months in the hospital without pay before returning to duty half blind in June.
Eight years later, he drowned while rowing home across the harbour from Esquimalt. He was buried at the Veteran’s Cemetery, God’s Acres in Esquimalt. His wife and child were the beneficiaries of a charity dinner and dance fundraiser at the Blue Ribbon hall in Esquimalt later that year.
Captain Josiah Gosse was the last lighthouse keeper at Fisgard, and also the one who stayed the longest, working and living there for 19 years.
He lit the lamp for the last time in 1928, the year the lighthouse was automated. He stayed on the job for another month, just in case there was a problem.
There were no proper roads built to the adjacent Fort Rodd until the 1920’s, nor was the causeway leading to the lighthouse built until 1951.
The causeway was built out to Fisgard Island from the foreshore at Fort Rodd Hill by the Canadian Army; this was intended as a military obstacle, but also provided direct access to the lighthouse.
In 1957 a fire damaged the lighthouse, particularly affecting the roof and interior contents, and substantial restoration had to be done to the historic building. There are some small reminders of this event inside the building still, with charred pieces of wood where probably window shutters once were attached to the walls.
Today, the Canadian Coast Guard oversees the maintenance and proper functioning of the light. The original lens is still in place, but the lamp has been replaced with at four light bulb apparatus and, should one burn out, the mechanism automatically flips a new one in place.
The automated light shines in a “one second on/one second off” sequence.
Images from web – Google Research