Langara lighthouse granted heritage status

  • Jul. 28, 2015 12:00 p.m.

By Evelyn von AlmassyHaida Gwaii ObserverThe light will keep shining at Langara Island’s lighthouse. Last week Parks Canada released a list of 74 lighthouses that have been granted heritage status, 21 of which are in BC, including Langara Island’s. In 2010 the Canadian Federal Government announced it would close 970 lighthouses across Canada, as modern technology made the iconic structures redundant and too expensive to maintain. Public outcry was heard from B.C. to Newfoundland, as communities were galvanized into action. Masset Mayor Andrew Merilees and the present and past councils, represented one of many communities across Canada who put in an application to the Heritage Ministry. There was a petition that needed to be signed, which supported their application for the community to review. Mr. Merilees said It was important that Langara Lighthouse be protected because of its proximity to Masset.”It is great whatever we can do to protect our historic buildings on the coast-the buildings are never going to be torn down.”McInnes lighthouse on McInnes Island, just east of Gwaii Haanas and south of Prince Rupert in Milbanke Sound, was also granted heritage status, a goal that Mayor Merilees also worked on. There is a personal connection for the Mayor, as his brother Fraser Merilees was the assistant lighthouse keeper for a year on that island.On Langara Island, five acres of forest were cleared and in 1912 the 30-foot hexagonal tower began to take shape. It consisted of reinforced concrete began, with six buttresses, topped with a single flashing light with a Fresnel lens costing $14,225. A fog alarm plant was bought for $10,200 from the Canadian Fog Signal Company of Toronto. In all, the station was built for $64,585. To help with deliveries from the supply steamers, a derrick was installed in 1915, and an aerial tramway in 1917. In 1929 a new building was added to house a radio beacon, and during WW II, a radar station was installed. During the war, the white and red buildings were painted a camouflage jungle green.James Forsythe, his wife Ellen and daughter Evelyn arrived on September 9, 1913 to be the island’s first light keepers. Since that time there have been 22 light keepers, with Gordon Schweer, his wife Judith, and son Guthrie, holding the record for being there the longest, from 1992 to 2010. When Guthrie was 13-years old, he was visited by Santa in an alternate red sleigh (a Coast Guard Sikorsky helicopter). He showed the jolly visitor his eight goats, a pet deer, and a flock of chickens, before taking him on a tour of the Fresnel lens.During WWII rats invaded the island, which began a minor side story in the island’s history. So pervasive were the rats that in 1957 light keeper Ed Hartt killed 59 rats with his revolver in just one week. In 1995, 4,000 bait stations, in a ground-based eradication program was begun, and in less than a month all the rats on the island were exterminated. Since then, the five species of burrow-nesting seabirds that had abandoned the island have shown a steady increase.The original Fresnel lens is still working. Presently Stanley Westhaven has been the light keeper since 2010.

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