At the entrance of Esquimalt harbour near Victoria on Vancouver Island, stands a red and white brick structure which once acted as a beacon for the British Royal Navy’s Pacific Squadron known as the Fisgard Lighthouse National Historical Site.
Built by the British in 1860 this was the first lighthouse on Canada’s west coast and, although it hasn’t had a keeper since it became automatic in 1929, it is still in operation today. At the time of its construction, the Fisgard Lighthouse worked in conjunction with the Race Rocks Light which was constructed within the same year in order to assist naval ships into Esquimalt harbour and merchant vessels to Victoria harbour. Furthermore, the construction of these lighthouse stations were viewed by the European inhabitants as a significant indication of the British government’s commitment to the Colony of Vancouver Island. They also sent a similar message to the roughly 25,000 American gold miners who had travelled into the region of British Columbia throughout 1858 heading to the Fraser Valley gold rush.
The light itself is a white isophase light that shines out at 21.6 meters above the mean sea level from the 14.6 meter tower of the lighthouse. While a legend has persisted that the bricks used for the construction of the structure came from Britain the materials were in fact obtained from local quarries and brick yards. Although, it is true that the lens, lamp, and lantern room were brought from England by the first keeper of the lighthouse, Mr. George Davies, and the iron staircase which runs up the building was actually made down south in San Francisco.
While the lighthouse is still used for its original purpose today, both in its capacity of lighthouse and in its position as acting home base for the Royal Canadian Navy, it is also now utilized as a historical site. Inside the building are two exhibition floors containing information and artifacts relating to shipwrecks, storms, and the everyday equipment which would have been used to run the lighthouse a century age. Possibly the most captivating part of this exhibit is a video which captures the isolation that would have been experienced by the lighthouse keeper back when it was still manually run.
The building was designated a National Historical Site in 1958 and it has also been classified as a Federal Heritage building which, when combined with the fact that it is a stunning site that lends itself to some spectacular photographs, means that this is a site that should definitely be visited if you ever get the chance.
Keepers of the Lighthouse:
George Davies, 1860-1861
John Watson, 1861
W.H. Bevis, 1861-1879 *he actually died at the lighthouse
Amelia Bevis, 1879-1880
Henry Cogan. 1880-1884
Joseph Dare, 1884-1898 *his death was due to drowning in Esquimalt harbour
W. Cormack, 1898
John Davies, 1898
Douglas MacKenzie, 1898-1900
Andrew Deacon, 1900-1901
George Johnson, 1901-1909
Josiah Gosse, 1909–1928