“The fog comes on little cat feet.” -Carl Sandburg
The Trial Islands Lighthouse is located on the largest island of the Trial Islands. The Trial Islands are a group of islands that are part of the municipality of Oak Bay in Greater Victoria. They are located off the southeastern tip of Vancouver Island and form the Trial Islands Ecological Reserve. According to local legend, the islands were named after the practise of sailing refitted British naval ships from the Esquimalt Royal Navy Dockyard to the islands and back to Esquimalt as a trial run before heading into open seas. It has also been suggested that they were named the Trial Islands because of the trial of one’s skill in navigation and seamanship because of the rip tides and prevailing westerlies surrounding the islands.
George H Frost was contracted to construct the lighthouse station in 1906. The lighthouse cost approximately $12,000 to build and is located at Staines Point, near the highest place on the island. The lighthouse consists of a diaphone fog alarm and a square, two-story keepers’ house with a square lantern room centered on its roof. The foghorn, which emits a three second blast each minute, was put in operation on September 1, 1906.
A temporary fixed light was installed in the lighthouse in 1906 until a fourth-order Fresnel lens arrived from England in 1908. The Fresnel lens was in operation from 1908 until 1970 when it was replaced with a cylindrical concrete tower with a lantern and galley a few feet away from the keeper’s dwelling. It is thirteen metres (forty-two feet) tall, with a focal plane of twenty-eight metres (ninety-three feet), and flashes a green light every five seconds.
In September 2009, the Canadian government announced that Trial Island Lighthouse would be de-staffed as part of the first phase of a cost-savings plan to eliminate all lighthouse keeper positions. Although, the Trial Island Lighthouse was automated for some time, the benefits of a keeper lookout for the surrounding busy and treacherous waters won a reprieve for the lighthouse in 2010, when a Congressional committee, after visiting staffed stations in British Columbia, recommended the de-staffing effort be stopped.
The keepers play a vital role at the lighthouse. In 1997, Iain Colquhoun saved a kayaker from drowning. In June 2009, five inexperienced kayakers capsized when they were swamped by the wake of a powerboat. Meredith Dickman saw the kayakers in the water and notified the Coast Guard.
Trial Islands Lighthouse Keepers
- Meredith Dickman (2007 – Present)
- Ian G McNeil (1999 – 2007)
- Iain Colquhoun (1993 – 1996)
- Calyton Restall (1986 – 1988)
- Robert W Noble (1980 – 1982)
- Robert Nagel (1976 – 1979)
- Jack Horne (1962 – 1976)
- Douglas Howard Franklin (1957 – 1962)
- William Charles Copeland (1947 – 1950)
- Samuel Avard Dondale (1941 – 1943)
- Philip Gresley Cox (1931 – circa 1936)
- Harold Shorrock O’Kell (1906 – 1931)
Read more about the lighthouse.
Read about the Canadian Lightkeepers Association.
Canada’s Historic Places
Trial Islands Lighthouse