Last week a young boy in a family visiting from Calgary asked us: “Why do you have a lighthouse at the museum?”
Two answers were quickly returned: “It’s an opportunity for people to see a real lighthouse up close” and the other, perhaps a more significant response, was “Because we have a lot of friends!”
How the lighthouse, originally from Triangle Island at the northern tip of Vancouver Island, came to a new home at the Sooke Region Museum is an unusual story, and came about because we do have a lot of friends.
It was Lanny Seaton, a Coast Guard employee and councillor in Langford, who started the ball rolling by telling us that the surplus lighthouse tower from Triangle Island, which stood at the Coast Guard yard on Huron Street in Victoria, was likely to be looking for a new home. This was in 2003, and my husband Jim and I, Liz Johnson and her husband Albin went to look at it, got all excited and came back to speak with Ray Vowles, president of the Sooke Historical Society.
Ray said: “Why not, let’s do it!” – and the project was on.
Easier said than done, of course, and only possible because of an enormous amount of help.
It was Sooke’s Don Clark that was in charge at the Coast Guard yard, and he and his buddies pulled the necessary strings that persuaded the federal government to sign the unit over to us.
Not only did we become owners of the cast iron and glass housing from Triangle Island, but an actual first order Fresnel lens that once rotated on a bed of mercury, flashing its signal over the vast ocean.
The light was installed on Triangle Island in 1910, and when it was dismantled a decade later, it seems the original lens went missing.
When the Coast Guard later re-assembled the feature in their yard, they used the retired first order lens used at Estevan Point. Some may recall that in June of 1942, a Japanese submarine, I-26, was recorded as shelling the DOT station and Lighthouse at Estevan, causing great panic at the time.
So the historic Canadian lens that received a shelling in 1942 apparently became a point of interest for the Smithsonian Institute, who we are told wished to acquire it for their collection.
We are told that, as luck would have it, when the venerable institute came to town to take charge of the gigantic lens, somehow it could not be found, leaving them empty-handed!
Yes, we have a lot of friends as mentioned, and among the many others who helped make the lighthouse project happen were Maywell Wickheim, Pete Fletcher, Nickel Brothers, Sooke Lions Club, Mike Herrling, LB Cranes, Advantage Crane, Shawn Driver, Stuart Cumming, Sooke Backhoe, Herold Engineering, Brian Rumsby, Mainroad Contracting, All-Ways Towing, Joe Balmer, Johnny Adams, Rick Craven, Eric Day, Larry Rumsby, Linda Gabriel, Bobbi-Jo Peterson, and a federal HRDC grant.
The grand opening was held in June 2005.
Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum.