The admission fee ($4CD adult, $2CD child) to Fort Rodd Hill includes viewing charming Fisgard Lighthouse as well. The oldest lighthouse on Canada’s west coast, it was constructed in 1860 on tiny Fisgard Island at the mouth of Esquimalt Harbour. It’s now connected to the mainland by a causeway, but lightkeepers and their families had to row out to the island. The picturesque two-story red brick house with white shutters adjoins the 78-foot tall white conical lighthouse tower. We spent a good half hour checking out the displays inside the house, now a small museum.
Increased population and ship traffic due in large part to the 1858 Fraser Canyon gold rush necessitated the building of lighthouses to prevent accidents. Fisgard Lighthouse, the first one built, was named after Royal Navy ship HMS Fisgard, and its lantern and first lightkeeper came from England.
The 1860’s were a tumultuous time on Vancouver Island. California forty-niners who hadn’t struck it rich on the Mother Lode sought riches further north. British Columbia quickly became an official colony, with Victoria, only recently incorporated as a city, its capital. A fresh find of gold on the Leech River, near Sooke on southwest Vancouver Island, attracted yet more gold-seekers. Smallpox imported by whites decimated indigenous peoples of the island and coastal mainland: Nuu-chah-nulth (formerly Nootka), Coast Salish, and Kwak’wala.
The lamps shall be kept burning bright and clear every night from sunset to sunrise. First order of duty for lightkeepers, who needed to be natural night owls or keep strong coffee at hand. And this was but one of a long list of their duties, which also included dusting, cleaning and polishing all lamps and reflectors to a proper state of brilliancy, logging all ships that pass by, and taking note of any ships unfortunate enough to wreck. Fisgard’s fourth order Fresnel lens broadcasted its focused beam 10 nautical miles out to sea.
A wrought iron spiral staircase winds gracefully to the second floor, where lenses, lanterns, reflectors, and other lighthouse equipment are displayed, along with written descriptions of the scientific principles that make them work. Downstairs you’ll find photographs of other sentinels of the Canadian coast, the HMS Fisgard in full sail, and a volunteer happy to answer any questions. Additional exhibits tell stories of storms and shipwrecks. Because we were a bit pressed for time, we didn’t watch the video.
Fisgard Lighthouse is still in use as an active aid to navigation, but has been automated since 1929. The causeway connecting Fisgard Island to mainland was built in 1951. Fisgard Lighthouse is open daily year round.