“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.
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, 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.
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.
Green Island is the most northern lighthouse in the province. “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.
Cori Sole’s mother and father Dave and Bee Soles kept the light at Green Island in 1953. “I was their newborn and we lived there about a year,” she says. “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.”
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.”
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