When we saw the new local book on lighthouses by John Walls and Peter Johnson, we recalled the story of the challenging mission undertaken by two Sooke men, Fred Oakes and John Wilson, in 1959.
In 1904, a lighthouse, equipped with a first-order Fresnel lens, was built on Lennard Island, offshore from Tofino.
Fred Oakes and John Wilson were men of many talents, and carpentry was one of them. (The year before their contract to build two residences on Lennard Island, they built Sooke firehall on Sooke Road).
As neither man is with us today, we contacted their children: Glen Wilson, his wife Marie Oakes Wilson, and his sister Wendy Wilson Milne, and asked for their memories of the long-ago enterprise.
First came loading up a barge at the Sooke government wharf, the men carefully calculating the materials they would need while they worked on the storm-lashed island.
After the tow up the coast to reach the waters past Ucluelet, the tug with its barge hove to alongside a rock on Lennard Island’s ocean side. The men set up a tramline to winch the goods to the island, powered by a gas-fired donkey engine. All manner of goods, lumber, and cement bags were offloaded by the skyline sling and carried by a narrow-gauge railway to the site’s warehouse.
Glen Wilson recalls the excitement of his visit when he was nine-years-old when he got to accompany electrician Larry Rumsby who did the wiring, Tom James, who did the plumbing and carpenters Sam Elrose and Fred Stange.
Glen says they went up on the MV Uchuck to Ucluelet, then to Tofino, where they were picked up by the lightkeeper in his 19-foot boat and taken to the island. Two of Glen’s uncles, Jim and Bill Wilson, were also conscripted to help with construction.
Later in the summer, Marie and Wendy accompanied their mothers, Olga Oakes and Audrey Wilson, to the island where their spouses met the ladies.
The seven and eight-year-old youngsters loved the mini-railway, which had a pump speeder to carry the loaded cars on the island. In their childish excitement, they decided to offload the lighthouse goods and pump each other around on the line for fun.
While this exercise resulted in them having to go to the lightkeeper’s wife and the workers to apologize, they still recall their visit as so much fun. It’s not every day that kids get to experience such an adventure.
Another interesting fact of Lennard Island history is that the Bruton kids, Joe, Elanie, Linda and Sharon, who spent part of their growing-up years at Sheringham Point Lighthouse when their dad was keeper, had cut their teeth, so to speak, as youngsters growing up on the remote Lennard Island.
Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum.