The Fisgard Lighthouse

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.

The Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Site. Image from www.fogwhistle.ca

The Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Site. Image from http://www.fogwhistle.ca

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.

A beautiful shot of the Fisgard with a full moon. Photo by dondenton.ca

A beautiful shot of the Fisgard lighthouse with a full moon. Photo by dondenton.ca

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.

Seriously; it doesn't even look like a real place. Photo from  flickrhivemind.net

Seriously; it doesn’t even look like a real place. Photo from flickrhivemind.net

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

Helmcken House

Now known as the Helmcken House Historic Site the Helmcken house, which was originally built and owned by John Helmcken, is the oldest house in Victoria.  The house is considered to be significant for two reasons the first being its illustrious first inhabitant John Sebastian Helmcken and the second being its proviing an excellent example of the evolution of wooden houses in the British Columbia of the late 1800’s.

Helmecken House in 1935; photo from www.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca

Helmecken House in 1935; photo from http://www.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca

As discussed in Tuesday’s post, John Helmcken was a British-born physician who travelled to Vancouver Island in the late 1800’s as an employee of the HBC where he eventually setled in Victoria and went on to be a major player in both the establishment of British Columbia as a province of the Canadian Confederacy as well as the establishment of many of B.C.’s longest serving medical institutions.

When Helmcken liven in this house, between the years of 1853 and 1920, it was a one story squared-log house covered in shingles and it remains one of the few surviving samples of piece-sur-piece building in the province.  Piece sur piece construction is the method of building small houses which are made of heavy rectangulas shaped timbers where each timber is laided horizontally with a dovetail notch at both ends in order to form an interlocking grid.

The view of Helmcken house from the street. Photo via www.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca

The view of Helmcken house from the street. Photo via http://www.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca

Somewhere around 1856 the building’s dining room was added on which is clad in cedar shingles and provides an excellent example of vernacular post and beam construction.  This building method is unique in that it uses heavy timbers rather than a type of dimensional lumber (such as 2”x4”) and was typically used in situations where a structure is constructed out of logs or tree trunks without the avaliablity of high tech saws.

A slightly later photo of the Helmcken house dating to 1971. Image from www.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca

A slightly later photo of the Helmcken house dating to 1971. Image from http://www.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca

Another addition added in 1889 saw the building further modified for the youngest daughter of John Helmcken with the construction of a two-story frame complete with the home’s front verandah.  Unlike the pervious aspects of this building, this latest addition was built professionally out of mass produced drop siding.

 

At the time of its original construction, the home was built directly next to Helmcken’s in-laws and while James Douglas’ home has since been demolished these two homes were important as they were some of the first to be built outside of the HBC’s Fort Victoria and marked the beginning of the area of James Bay as Victorias’s earliest residential area.

A more modern view of Helmcken house. Image from www.flickr.com

A more modern view of Helmcken house. Image from http://www.flickr.com

Helmcken House was bought by the provincial government of British Columbia in 1939 marking it as the first provincially owned historical site in B.C.