As one approaches the Sheringham Point Lighthouse, the bright white structure looks for all the world as though it was constructed yesterday.
In truth, the lighthouse was built in 1912 in reaction to what is still considered one of the worst maritime disasters in the region – a region dubbed the “Graveyard of the Pacific”.
It was in 1906 when the passenger ship, Valencia, ran onto the rocks in the early morning hours after missing the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The ship was lost along with about 130 souls.
For John Walls, that story is an integral part of history and just one of the factors that have inspired the Sheringham Point Lighthouse Preservation Society to work to save the iconic structure.
“We’ve been working on this for a long time, and it’s finally nearing completion,” Walls said.
“When we took ownership of the lighthouse, all the glass had been shot out, there was mould inside, and the entire structure was in danger of just being torn down.”
The lighthouse hasn’t been in operation since 1989 when the last lighthouse keeper left.
“We formed our committee in 2003 to try to save the lighthouse and it only took us 12 years to get the government to give it to us to restore,” said Ian Fawcett, another of the society’s members and the leader of the restoration efforts.
The Sheringham Point Lighthouse was declared surplus in 2010 and received heritage status in 2015, a designation that opened the path to being turned over to the community group.
Since that time, the preservation society has repaired the concrete, painted the entire structure, replaced the glass in the lantern room at the top of the tower, and generally cleaned the entire interior.
“We would never have been able to accomplish all of this without the support of the community, the volunteers and the help of people like Mike Hicks with the CRD, Premier John Horgan, Dr. Keith Martin and others,” Wall said.
“But the real game-changer for us happened when Peter and Brigette Westaway offered the support of their foundation to our efforts. They donated $550,000 and it’s allowed us to do now what would otherwise have taken many years of effort in fundraising.”
A final piece of the restoration is still underway and involves the return of the Fresnel lens to the candle room of the lighthouse. The lens is what makes a lighthouse light work and allows for the piercing light to be seen many kilometres away.
“The lens was removed in 1986 and put into the Sooke Region Museum, but we have it back now,” Fawcett said.
“But putting it back into place will be a job. It weighs about six tons and breaks down into several hundred pieces. All of that has to be taken up the four ladders inside the lighthouse and reassembled at the top.”
The lighthouse attracts about 15,000 visitors a year, a number that Wall hopes will increase even more now that the restoration is nearing completion.
“We get people from all over the world coming to see the light and, now, we’ll be looking at guided tours of the interior, and will be promoting the lighthouses to attract even more visitors,” he said.
The group will also be working on additional fundraising efforts so that the ongoing costs of the lighthouse’s operation can be covered well into the future.