Canada’s history is rife with tales of struggle and hardship, of brave souls enduring the elements, building lives and communities often against great odds. Our stories tend, often, toward the personal, the intimate, rather than grand spectacles and epic events, and our true heroes are as likely to be our neighbours – ordinary people of extraordinary character, innovation and courage – as the kings and queens, generals and pumped-up celebrities of the history books and movie screens.
Just as our history defines and shapes us as a nation, so does our landscape define and shape our history. It is our relationship with nature, as much as our relationship with one another that underpins the Canadian spirit and gives us our sense of belonging.
Nothing exemplifies Canada’s history more than our lighthouses. They stand as bulwarks of civilization against the wildness of the seas, as beacons of safety and security against the dangers of life and work along our treacherous coastlines. Stories abound of lives saved and lives lost, of bravery and idiocy, and of the many colourful characters that have served as lightkeepers over the years.
For more than a century, Canada’s lighthouses have endured not only the ravages of the natural world but also the ever-changing attitudes and practices of their governors. At times revered and well-kept, at other times disregarded and neglected, many of our lighthouses are now in serious danger of being lost forever. As technology has changed, the iconic old towers and the lights included in them are deemed to be no longer required for maritime safety, and as a result almost 1000 lighthouses have now been declared “surplus” by the Government of Canada. This means that the government no longer intends to look after them. Unless a local municipality or a group of citizens steps forward with a viable plan to take on the responsibility for the future use, protection and maintenance of the lighthouses, they will be destroyed. It is beyond shameful that our government, supposedly acting on our behalf, would have so little regard for our heritage, and could put at risk these iconic structures that have played such a significant role in the creation of our nation.
Of course, taking on such a responsibility is a daunting task for anyone. The costs of restoration and maintenance alone, aside from any operating costs, for a century-old structure in a remote, exposed location are challenging to say the least. But, true to the indomitable character of many Canadians, about 150 proposals have been put forward to preserve and protect lighthouses across the country, including a number here in B.C. How many of these proposals will actually come to fruition remains to be seen.
One project that is proceeding is the protection of Sheringham Point Lighthouse, located on the southern coast of Vancouver Island, in the tiny rural community of Shirley. Here, a courageous group of dedicated people has come together to ensure that the lighthouse which has been such an integral part of their community for more than 100 years will not be lost to neglect or a lack of caring. For the past twelve years, this group of determined local volunteers has chipped away at the challenges, inch by inch, dollar by dollar, hurdle by hurdle, until they now have their lighthouse designated as a Heritage Landmark and in the process of being turned over to them to manage. Their vision – to create a park where community residents and visitors can appreciate the lighthouse and its remarkable setting, where they can learn about their own history and better understand how this land was settled, from the First Nations to the present day, and where they can simply enjoy interacting with nature and the elements – is well underway, and will continue to evolve over the coming months and years.
Change Canada Consultants is very proud to working with the Sheringham Point Lighthouse Preservation Society to help them achieve their goals. We developed and continue to maintain their website (www.sheringhamlighthouse.org) and help in any other way we can. We never fail to be amazed at what this group of caring people have been able to accomplish. They refused to simply sit back and do nothing when something of great value to them was threatened. They stepped forward, shouldered the risks, and took action – even in the face of great odds. This is the attitude that built this country. And these are the kinds of people who can change the world.
One more thing…
A new book has recently been published: To the Lighthouse – An Explorer’s Guide to the Island Lighthouses of Southwestern BC. Written by Peter Johnson and John Walls, with photographs by Richard Paddle, it tells the stories of 25 lighthouses in this area. It’s a great read and I’d highly recommend it. The book is available in local bookstores or can be purchased directly from the Sheringham Point Lighthouse Society. A portion of the proceeds from each sale goes to support the activities of the Society. If you can’t buy the book, please consider helping out with a donation.