Special Heritage Protection for the Race Rocks Lighthouse and Ecological Reserve.

This proposal was submitted to Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in June, 2013
The response came in September, 2013:

by Garry Fletcher
Race Rocks Ecological Reserve Warden
4645 William Head Road
Victoria, BC
In 2012, I submitted a petition by 25 members of the Metchosin  Community to Environment  Canada for including Race Rocks lighthouse on the list of heritage lighthouses in Canada to be protected by the heritage lighthouse protection act.  Environment Canada subsequently confirmed that the application had been approved. In order for DFO to authorize the disposal of the lighthouse, if indeed it is owned by the federal government, someone has to submit a business plan within five  years of the enactment of the Lighthouse Heritage Protection Bill, ie by May 2015.

I am proposing that :

1)   The historical branch of  Environment Canada will assume responsibility for the long term maintenance of the Heritage Light tower at Race Rocks. It could be under a special designation as marine view-scape heritage.

2)   Since Race Rocks and Fisgard Lighthouse were built together concurrently over 150 years ago under the direction of the First Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island, Environment Canada could include both lighthouses in a National Marine Historic Park.

3)   That the Department of Fisheries and Oceans support financially the maintenance of this tower as part of its continued use as an Aids to navigation.

The reality is that there will be no business plan for the change of ownership of the Lighthouse.  Most people in British Columbia and Canada assume that this historic structure should be totally funded and maintained by governments on the basis of it’s historical significance as well as continuing function as an aid to navigation.

This proposal provides background information for this alternate proposal to the business plan required by DFO for heritage protection for Race Rocks lighthouse. Although I am a retired faculty member of Pearson College UWC, and am currently the Ecological Reserve Warden appointed by BC Parks for Race Rocks,  I am submitting this proposal as a private citizen, so the views presented herein are entirely my own.

The Canadian Lighthouse Heritage Protection Bill was designed to protect historic structures such as Race Rocks, in fact it was referred to in the house and senate debates as an example.  The early announcement of disposal of surplus lighthouses by DFO was certainly not intended with the legislation, and it has led to the unfortunate situation of a lack of protection for some of Canada’s most significant lighthouses.   There has to be an alternate designation that would ensure the protection of the light tower. Ideally a special designation is needed that recognizes the light house as a federally protected and preserved structure, perhaps the focal point of a marine viewscape heritage park.

Recent History of the Lightstation :

The Canadian Coastguard automated the Lightstation by 1997, laying off the Lightkeepers and relinquishing the lease from the Province for Great Race Rocks Island that it had held since  the late 1800s

BC Lands then leased a small envelope of land around the Lighttower, foghorn and solar panels to the Canadian Coastguard

At that time,  Pearson College UWC  faculty and staff were concerned for the future of this ecologically sensitive area  which had been made into an ecological reserve in 1980 on recommendation of students and faculty of the college. Pearson College UWC  volunteered to staff the island with an Ecoguardian for several years until governments could come up with an adequate plan for complete sustainability of the  ecological reserve, the islands, and its infrastructure. BC Parks provided a long term lease for management of the buildings and the remainder of the land portion of Great Race Rocks Island  along with the original area of the Ecological reserve to Pearson College UWC . The light keepers who were laid off,  were taken on as staff members by Pearson College UWC  and were kept on the island as eco-guardians until their retirement in 2009.

Without  any government assistance, Pearson College UWC has provided a resident Ecoguardian  on Great Race Rock Island. Added to that, many hours of staff time and countless volunteer hours have been contributed for the operation and maintenance of the reserve and for the distance educational resources provided by the racerocks.com website.

In order to provide funding for this operation the faculty and staff of Pearson College UWC have undertaken fund-raising activities for the past 15 years, raising over one million dollars in that time  to provide the ears and eyes of a guardian for the ecological reserve, as well as install and operate the integrated energy generation system to lessen the ecological footprint, and doing regular repairs and upgrading to the infrastructure.

The Role of Pearson College UWC in the management of the Ecological Reserve at Race Rocks:

Pearson College UWC has been committed to provide the resources and volunteer efforts to ensure the integrity of the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve but has never intended nor is it able to assume any financial responsibility for the maintenance of the heritage tower . The current level of stewardship by Pearson College UWC  for the Ecological Reserve goes far beyond that recognized by either level of government.

In order to provide the public video access to the incredible  biological resources of the island and to help with security and surveillance of the island, a microwave link was installed by Pearson College UWC and Partners  in 2000 so that live streaming video could be carried to the Internet from the island. (1) This communication network has been maintained and currently provides public access to remote-controlled cameras and an underwater camera on the educational,  non-commercial racerocks.com website.  The network also makes possible not only surveillance and security for the island but a useful addition to the goal of providing distance education for viewers. In 2004, Pearson College UWC was awarded the Commonwealth of Learning Excellence in Distance Education Award in recognition of open, distance and technology- enhanced education via the racerocks.com website. (2)

As well as the educational resources provided, on the website,  camera one is positioned at the top of the tower at an elevation of over 36 metres.  It provides a 360° view of the eastern entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  it helps in the monitoring of ship movement as well as  behaviours and occurrences of marine birds and mammals such as elephant seals, harbour seals, sea lions and Killer whales, humpback, and gray whales  in the waters around the islands of the Race Rocks archipelago. Camera 2 provides a view of the underwater seascape and camera 5 provides close-up views of the birds and mammals and activities on the island.  A database of over 400 species has been created with assistance from observations from the remote controlled cameras. (3)  Over 1000 people a week use these cameras, and the feedback we get indicates the immense value to many users.

During the early years of Pearson College UWC tenure, the station was powered entirely by diesel generators. It was the goal from the beginning to adapt alternate technologies in order to limit the risk from transport of diesel fuel and ensure a sustainable energy future for the island with a minimum ecological impact. (4)  In 2006 a six year experiment was conducted by Clean Current energy in order to prove the viability of a tidal current generator. The goal was to have an integrated energy system to power the island.   A storage bank of 96 deep storage batteries as well as solar panels were also installed. Thus the infrastructure provided by this experiment allowed the island to come closer to its goal of sustainability in energy use. Over the past few years further addition’s of solar panels have been made in order to provide more energy for the system. . Since the end of the tidal energy experiment further plans have been developed for a wind energy installation along with further solar panel development so that complete energy self-sufficiency may be achieved on the island.

Role of the Ecoguardian.

As noted above, Pearson College UWC has a lease for managing the Provincial Ecological Reserve, and will not consider being responsible for the heritage structure of the tower. The ecoguardian  provided by Pearson College UWC with no government assistance,  is responsible for the day-to-day running of the island, building maintenance and repair as well as  performing  a valuable role in providing eyes on the ocean for the safety of local Mariners, and assistance to researchers and educators using the island.  Monitoring of tagged and injured Marine mammals is carried out and referenced on the Race Rocks Log. (7)

Seawater temperatures have been monitored daily since 1921 and salinity measurements have been taken since 1935, formerly by light station personnel, and now by Pearson College UWC  eco-guardians.  The continuation of this uninterrupted environmental record which is submitted monthly to the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney has in fact contributed to research articles on the evidence of ocean warming over the last century. Providing this daily monitoring is considered to be an additional essential role of the Ecoguardian resident on the island.

An additional feature of environmental monitoring Pearson College UWC has been the operation of the Davis weather instrument on the island which provides at ground level the wind speed and direction, solar and UV radiation, temperature, barometric pressure, rainfall, and humidity readings. This information is provided freely on the Internet on racerocks.com and contributes to the Marine safety information for the area. (8)  Daily weather reports are also phoned in to the local Pedder Bay marina providing sea conditions, presence of fog, and wind speed from the monitoring instruments on the top of the tower.

Historical significance of the Race Rocks Lighthouse.

The Race Rocks Light tower was the only lighthouse constructed of stone on the Pacific Coast of Canada. In 1859 Sir James Douglas set about making plans for two lighthouses to guide ships to the colonial port in Victoria. Race Rocks was chosen first in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and then Fisgard lighthouse in Victoria Harbour . They were started in the early months of 1860. The cut granite and sandstone tower at Race Rocks was lit six weeks after the much smaller and less significant brick-built Fisgard island tower on December 26 of 1860.  At that time there was a major concern for the sovereignty of the British colony on Vancouver Island since the interest in gold mining in the interior rivers had off a massive influx of American miners. The lighthouses were at that time significant icons designed to enforce the concept of British sovereignty on the west coast of the continent.

The National registry of Historic Sites  summarizes the significance of Race Rocks  under three points: (5)

Historical Value:
The Lighttower is associated with the provision of navigational aids on the Pacific Coast in response to increased maritime traffic arising from the Fraser River Gold Rush. Its location on an island in the Strait of Juan de Fuca aided merchant and passenger ships heading to Victoria and also naval vessels destined for Esquimalt naval base. The influx of settlers due to the gold strike quickly changed Victoria from a fur-trading fort to an incorporated city, and ensured the continued need for a lighttower.

Architectural Value:
The Lighttower is a Canadian example of a British design employed in ‘Imperial’ lighthouses which were associated with colonial trade routes. Built by local craftsmen of local stone, the lantern and original light were supplied from England.

Environmental Value:
The Lighttower stands alone on the eight-acre island in the Juan de Fuca Strait apart from smaller secondary structures. Surging tides make the island relatively inaccessible except by helicopter. The Lighttower is still operational and well known to the shipping community and is a regional landmark. “

This lighthouse on the most southerly tip of western Canada, near the middle of the eastern entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca has through the last 153 years provided orientation and security  to fishermen and recreational boaters and has been the predominant navigational aid  for safe navigation for marine shipping through the Strait of Juan de Fuca  It was as well the first beacon signifying safe entry  to a new land for Asian immigrants and the first appearance of home for Canadian troops who returned from the war in the Pacific.

In 2009 the Canadian Coast Guard, which still depends on the lighthouse for a navigation beacon and foghorn, conducted a major restoration project for the inside and outside of the tower. Work of this nature is the type that we Canadians expect on significant Canadian historic structures. This major repair will keep the tower in good shape for many years, but there has to be commitment by government for long term sustainability.(6) No one is going to privately fund the maintenance of this tower  Access to it is through a  sensitive Ecological Reserve, and the surrounding facilities outside the Coastguard lease for the tower are all owned by the province of BC.  I have been told that DFO/Coast Guard knows that they cannot enter into any arrangement to sell, lease or otherwise tenure out, most of the lighthouses in BC because the land is under provincial ownership.

The Environment Canada  meteorological service currently depends on the Race Rocks tower for wind speed and direction reading from it’s anemometers, (as well as temperature data.) The fog sensor half-way up the tower provides added security for local Mariners. Accurate wind monitoring, and fog sensing in this part of the Strait of Juan de Fuca  is essential to provide Mariners with real-time information that contributes to the safety of their operations.

Race Rocks History on the Internet (9)

Pearson College UWC faculty and volunteers have constructed and maintained the racerocks.com website for the last 14 years. On that website, the history section now carries a wide assortment of documents concerning First Nations history at Race Rocks,  historical images of the light station from 1860 to 1997, and images and reports of the lights, the foghorn communications and construction of the tower. It also carries early archival records, profiles of early light keepers, archival records from the British colonist, historical markers and border monument documents, records of shipwrecks in the area, and an extensive collection of contemporary history and documents. One example is an interesting letter from Francis G Clements of Calgary Alberta that we received in 2000  He wanted to let us know that the Royal Canadian Navy established a port war signal station on Race Rocks in 1939 to report on all ship movements in that area direct to Naval headquarters in Esquimalt.  The staff of Naval personnel was composed of three single men and three radio operators.  They were sent out with tents for accommodation on that rocky wind and sea swept island. At Race Rocks lighthouse the keeper at the time moved the Naval people into the boathouse which apparently had been built at the turn-of-the-century Mr. Clements indicated that the vertical boards had all shrunk over the years and the gales blew through unimpeded but at least they had a roof over their heads.(10)

Dozens of stories like this surround the tower of the Race Rocks lighthouse.  Pearson College UWC has through the years, sought to maintain the historical aspect of the island. Preserved on the southern wall of the energy building are the last set of air chimes remaining in North America, These were last used in lighthouses before automation in the 1990s. Flywheels from original engines and old equipment from the last century now sit in a special place at the base of the tower with flowers growing between the spokes of the wheels.

Race Rocks or “Xwayen” also has historical significance for the First Nations of southern Vancouver Islands, and they have been involved in contributing to the educational resources on the website.(11)

The solution to the future sustainability of the unique light tower at Race Rocks depends therefore on a cooperative arrangement between the Provincial government in BC, Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

To summarize, I am proposing that :

1)   The historical branch of  Environment Canada will assume responsibility for the long term maintenance of the Heritage Light tower at Race Rocks. It could be under a special designation as marine view-scape heritage.

2)   Since Race Rocks and Fisgard Lighthouse were built together concurrently over 150 years ago under the direction of the First Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island, Environment Canada could include both lighthouses in a National Marine Historic Park.

3)   That the Department of Fisheries and Oceans support financially the maintenance of this tower as part of its continued use as an Aids to navigation.


(1) Video cameras at Race Rocks: http://www.racerocks.com/racerock/video1.htm

(2) Distance Education: http://www.racerocks.ca/?p=20047

(3) The Race Rocks Species List and Image Gallery: http://www.racerocks.ca/race-rocks-animals-plants/taxonomy-image-gallery/

(4) Alternate energy of sustainability at Race Rocks:  http://www.racerocks.com/racerock/energy/tidalenergy/tidalenergy.htm

(5)  Federal Registry of National historic places.

(6) Restoration of Race Rocks tower, 2009:  http://www.racerocks.com/racerock/history/restoration/restoration.htm

(7) Race Rocks Log:  http://www.racerocks.ca/

(8) Weather Conditions at Race Rocks: http://racerocks.ca/racerock/data/weatherlink/Current_Vantage_Pro.htm

(9) History of Race Rocks:  http://www.racerocks.com/racerock/history/histam.htm

(10) Port War Signal Station: http://www.racerocks.com/racerock/history/rrkeeper/39clements/clements.htm

(11) First Nations  and Race Rocks. http://www.racerocks.com/racerock/firstnations/first.htm

Garry Fletcher
Race Rocks Ecological Reserve Warden
4645 William Head Road
Victoria, BC