The Green Island Lighthouse now has Heritage Status

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Green Island is one of 21 lighthouses in B.C. recently granted heritage status. This story is from a chapter on lighthouses that never made it way into Sensational Victoria.

“The winter wind whistles down the Portland Canal from Alaska and seas lash away at the tower and the dwellings, shellacking them with ice so thick that the whole station resembles ice sculptures at a bizarre winter carnival, and the keepers need a hammer to open a door. Windows were nailed shut long ago. For many who serve at Green Island, their primary concern is getting somewhere else, soon. Some have succumbed to despair, cast away years of seniority, crated their belongings, and steamed away, never again wanting any contact with the lights or people from them,” Donald Graham in Lights of the Inside Passage, 1986.

Serge Pare. Photo courtesy Serge Pare.
Serge Pare. Photo courtesy Serge Pare.

Graham obviously didn’t meet Serge Pare. The French Canadian has tended the light at Green Island since 1995 sharing his duties with another keeper.

“I am hoping that I will still be here until I am 70 years old or too old to live in an isolated place like here,” he told me when I corresponded with him a few years back. “In the winter months we do have lots of strong winds and lots of rain and sometimes our winds are 65 km/h to 160 km/h.”

Green Island
Green Island

Green Island, likely named because it’s not, is a rocky wasteland 25 miles north of Prince Rupert, eight miles from the Alaska border and the most northern lighthouse in the province. No trees grow on this lump of ice in winter, where 50 knot winds constitute a light breeze and last for weeks.

Gina Dingwell’s grandparents Eva and Alex Dingwell tended the light on Green Island from 1910 to 1918. Her father Fred was a baby when they moved there and Eva raised three children on the rock, as well as keeping the logs and cleaning the lights.

Green Island original lighthouse. Photo courtesy Library and Archives Canada
Green Island original lighthouse. Photo courtesy Library and Archives Canada

Alex lit the oil lamp each night at sundown and then checked all night to make sure it stayed that way.

On wash days Eva pinned her children to the clothes line to stop them from blowing into the sea.

The Dingwells relied on the Mission boat to bring food and coal. If the ship couldn’t make it, they survived by eating seagull eggs.

“When my father hit his head on a rock my grandfather had to row him to the hospital in his dinghy over 20 miles away,” says Gina.

Green Island is the most northern lighthouse in the province
Green Island is the most northern lighthouse in the province

Serge Pare starts work at 3:00 a.m. every morning. He tends the main light and gives the first of seven weather reports at 3:30 a.m. Sometimes he takes two weeks holidays, sometimes 44 days, and others years, none at all.

When Serge arrived on Green Island the main light was electric, but by the late 1990s had changed to solar power.

Green Island is not an easy place to get to. The Coast Guard helicopter brings in supplies once a month, there are helicopters and water taxis for rent in Prince Rupert, and in summer the odd visitor will hop a whale watching tour and Serge rows out to meet them.

At the time, he had a girlfriend living with him who he met on an Internet website about lighthouse keepers. He wasn’t sure how long the relationship would survive.

“Right now she likes it, but if some day she wants to go back and live in town, I will stay here,” he told me. “I will miss her of course, but I also don’t mind living alone.”

© All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Eve Lazarus.

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    1. I know! Then you read about the horrifically low pay, injuries when they couldn’t get off the rock, near starvation and either going mad through isolation or from the mercury in the lights. Wow.

  1. Loved this story, Guna was my classmate during our nurses training days, 1963-66.
    Proud history, Gina!

  2. The solitary men who manned, ha ha, these lighthouses are variants of the “lonesome prospectors” studied in BC academic history. Unique characters, and when paired up with strong women I guess they were able to make a go of it. Donald Graham led the campaign to keep the lighthouses staffed, back in the ’80s. He died young: “Donald Graham is the former keeper of the Port Atkinson Lighthouse. Ian Mulgrew Vancouver Sun Friday, October 10, 2003 Not long after dawn Wednesday, leaden sheets of rain marching across the chop off Point Atkinson, the last keeper of the light that heralds Vancouver died. A keeper for 17 years at the landmark red and white tower at the treacherous confluence of Howe Sound and Burrard Inlet, and much, much more, Don Graham succumbed within sight of the seascape to which he devoted so much of his life. With family and friends at his side, the 56-year-old considered the foremost authority on B.C. lighthouses had battled pancreatic cancer for several months. The author of two perennial favourite and acclaimed books — Keepers of the Light and Lights of the Inside Passage — Graham was a recognized community and political activist who toiled for peace, more compassionate government, and the environment.” – from Harbour Publishing’s website.

    1. Thanks for this Michael Kluckner. Donald Graham did bring the lighthouse stories to the BC historical foreground. And his work is deep,y appreciated.

    2. The solitary men who manned, ha ha, these lighthouses are variants of the “lonesome prospectors” studied in BC academic history

      ACADEMICS…..SERIOUSLY….they still believe that the Indigenous Cultures GLOBALLY, have been honest and shared EVERYTHING WITH THEM! I am Indigenous…to Canada…I took classes in Canada…in Anthropology….AFTER….I travelled the globe and shared my family history with TRIBES…who in turn shared stories….ANTHROPOLOGY…is a joke! Indigenous cultures…will share…only the most base facts of their history….because…most INDIGENOUS CULTURES…share an ORAL HISTORY!!!!!

      I WORKED…with Lighthouse Keepers…for 17 years. THESE people, these FAMILIES…do not take anything for granted!!! I have met young…rock it on and party when you are off the station…or those that only take vacation when they are told to…IT IS A LIFESTYLE!!!! CHOSEN…by a very few…ENDURED…by very few….I liked…a few of them…but I have to be honest…when I saw them..they talked a mile a minute and segweyed into other avenues of their time off Island.

  3. Does anyone know or know of Lyle and Velma Bigelow who ran Pointers Island Light Station, my Uncle Harold and Aunt Jean Whalen, who manned Entrance Light and Active Pass, and or my cousin Pat (and Ed) Kidder (nee Whalen) who ran Nootka Island Light Station ?

  4. P.S. I knew Velma Bigelow Pratt because she was (she was a widow when she died) married to my beloved father-in-law when she died on July 27, 2014. Her maiden name was Vance.

  5. My mom and dad (Dave and Bee Soles) kept the light at Green Island in 1953. I was their newborn and we lived there about a year. I have heard wonderful stories from them even though their stay was not long. It was my understanding that the impending arrival of another baby in that kind of isolation was not what my mom wanted. The trip off the island was gruelling.

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