Fisgard Lighthouse with fogbank and the Olympic Mountains behind

Fisgard Light, with a fog bank and the Olympic Mountains beyond – click to enlarge.

For mariners trying to safely navigate their way along the rugged and often foggy southwest coast of Vancouver Island, Fisgard Light is vital.

The oldest lighthouse on Canada’s west coast, it was built in 1860 on little Fisgard Island, just off the entrance to Esquimalt Harbour in the Strait of Juan de Fuca (the passage separating British Columbia and Washington State). Just beyond Fisgard, to the west, lies Race Rocks Light, and both feel plenty of the wind, waves and fog that roll down the Strait from the Pacific Ocean. Those influences, along with the off-lying reefs along the Vancouver Island shore, mean these are not waters with which you want to trifle.

Up until its destaffing in 1929, Fisgard was maintained by a series of 12 keepers – 13 if you include the widow who took over her husband’s duties for six months after he drowned on his way back to the island. The longest-serving keeper stayed 19 years; the shortest, only 12 days – leaving, he said, out of “boredom and monotony”.

Nowadays Fisgard is a national heritage site, run by Parks Canada, which hosts an interesting historical exhibit inside the old lighthouse. Since 1951 it’s been joined to Vancouver Island by a causeway from Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site, making the island accessible by land. The day we visited, however, we arrived by kayak, having left our boat moored in Esquimalt Harbour. Some renovations were underway, which is why you can see scaffolding on the lighthouse.

It was a clear day with a light breeze, so we had a brisk but easy enough paddle and a great view beyond the lighthouse to the Olympic Mountains in Washington State. But the dense fog bank across the whole length of the southern portion of Juan de Fuca Strait served as a powerful reminder of how dangerous these waters can be – and how essential light stations like Fisgard and Race Rocks remain.

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About Laurie MacBride, Eye on Environment

Focused on nature on the BC coast

9 responses »

  1. […] Fisgard: A Guiding Light – this is a fabulous shot of one of our area’s prized icons, the Fisgard Lighthouse.  Today it stands as a national heritage site and a must-see destination in our city.  Laurie MacBride’s great photograph showcases the inherent romance and intrigue of the facility, with an incredible mountain range looming in the backdrop. […]

  2. Mrs. Toad keeps telling me we simply must visit here and I can certainly see why!! What a great photograph, Laurie, and I love the info you’ve provided on it’s history and the surrounding area! Top drawer!

    • Thanks Toad! I do think it’s worth a visit, whether by land or sea. Ehpem tells me that there are good photo opps in adjacent Fort Rodd Hill, too. And of course Esquimalt Lagoon and Royal Roads (latter with peacocks & gorgeous gardens as well as interesting architecture) are close by as well – lots of interesting photographic subjects.

  3. liammoriarty says:

    Interesting little historical tidbit, Laurie! Lighthouses are endlessly fascinating. And the photo is stunning! Thanks!

  4. Sherry Galey says:

    OMG, for an Easterner, that view of the lighthouse backed by those majestic snow-capped mountains is so stunning! I have always been entranced by lighthouses and their stories. Thanks for sharing this one.

  5. ehpem says:

    Laurie, this is a great shot, rather unusual angle since most people choose to shoot from the causeway. I love the long-lens effect on the Olympic Mtns too. I need to go out there, it has been a long time, and there are a lot of cool photographic opportunities at Fort Rodd Hill.

    • Thanks for the visit and comment, ehpem, glad you like it! Taking photos from a kayak does make for a different perspective. I’ve actually not been to Fort Rodd Hill since I was very young – sounds like it’s worth a trip in the future, thanks for the tip.

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