A Brief History of Sheringham Point Lighthouse
Human interaction with this site began long before the Lighthouse was constructed, even before European settlement of the area, as it was of significance to the local Ditidaht First Nation, who called the area p’aachiida (translating to “seafoam on rocks”). The T’Souke First Nation continues to have a relationship with the site. The Sheringham Point Lighthouse Preservation Society respects and honours that history, and is working with the First Nation to ensure that traditions and stories can be maintained.
Sheringham Point Lighthouse was first illuminated by light-keeper Eustace Arden on Sept 30, 1912.
Born in Tragedy
During the latter part of the 19th Century and early years of the 20th Century, the South Coast of Vancouver Island saw far too many shipwrecks – over 240 wrecks have been documented. The area gained a reputation for its poor weather, strong currents, and treacherous coastline, and became known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific”.
On January 20, 1906, the steamship SS Valencia left San Francisco bound for Seattle and Victoria. On board were 173 passengers and crew. Late at night, January 22, in foul weather and with very limited visibility, the Valencia missed the turn into Juan de Fuca Strait and steamed directly on to the rocks near Pachena Point. 137 men, women and children were lost. This tragedy prompted formal inquiries in both Canada and the U.S., and in response the Canadian Government ordered that 12 more lighthouses be built in the area. This included a new lighthouse at Sheringham Point, intended to provide navigational aid along the dark stretch of coastline between the light stations at Carmanah Point and Race Rocks.
Four acres of land was purchased in 1911 from Edwin Clark, an early settler and first postmaster in the community, and construction of the tower began the following spring. The lighthouse was designed by William P. Anderson, chief lighthouse designer for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and one of Canada’s most prolific. Altogether, Anderson designed 355 technically and structurally sound, as well as beautiful, light-stations on both the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts and around the Great Lakes.
Sheringham Point Lighthouse was built as a hexagonal structure, 12.5 metres high, with six pilaster-like buttresses. It was made of reinforced concrete, and placed on a concrete foundation rising approximately 1 metre above grade. The lantern room atop the structure is almost 7 metres high, made of cast iron, and sits on a platform that is 5.5 metres in diameter. The glazing consists of 36 panes, arranged in 3 rows of 12.
Other structures erected on the site at that time included a small boathouse and a residence for the lightkeeper and his family.
Sheringham Point Lighthouse was originally equipped with a 3rd Order Fresnel lens, illuminated by oil lamp (later changed to an electric lamp). The lens was rotated by a clockwork mechanism of pulleys and weights, each about 180 kg, that had to be re-wound every 3 hours. To enable proper rotation, the lens was “floated” on a bed of mercury. Surrounding the lantern room is a narrow walkway, allowing access to the lens. Given the height above the water line, Sheringham Point’s light was visible almost 25 km out to sea.
In 1925 a powerful, two-tone, “diaphone” foghorn was added to the site. It was powered by a diesel engine. A wooden, peaked-roof, fog-alarm building was constructed, immediately in front of the tower, to house the foghorn and engine.
Site Changes Over the Years
- A road to the lighthouse (now Sheringham Point Road) was started in 1925, and completed in 1931.
- During WWII, in 1942, another 1.7 acres was added to the site, and a surveillance building constructed. This housed a small contingent of armed forces, monitoring for “enemy” incursions. Following the war, this building was used a residence for the assistant lightkeeper.
- In 1954, a further 2.5 acres was added to the site.
- In 1964, a new modern residence was built for the Lightkeeper and his family, and the assistant lightkeeper moved to the original house.
- The original fog-alarm building was replaced in 1976 with the current flat-roofed, concrete block structure.
- Over time, additional structures were added – a small fall-out shelter, a radio tower and a building to house the radio equipment, as well as additions to the residences (garages etc).
- After the assistant lightkeeper’s position was abolished in the mid eighties, the original house was intentionally burned down, as well as other structures.
- In the mid 1990’s the modern bungalow was also intentionally burned, to prevent ongoing vandalism problems.
Disposition of the Site, and Protection by the Society
Sheringham Point Lighthouse was automated during the 1980s, and was finally de-staffed in 1989.
Left largely unattended, and at the mercy of the elements, the Lighthouse began to deteriorate and was subject to increased vandalism. In January 2003, the government declared that the Lighthouse site was “excess to its program requirements” – the first step in disposition. Shortly afterward, fearing the loss of this iconic community asset, the local community rallied to create the “Sheringham Point Lighthouse Preservation Society”, with the intent of protecting and conserving the site for future generations.
For the next several years, the Society lobbied and negotiated with the Government of Canada and with local Governments to protect the Lighthouse from being torn down, lost through neglect, or sold off. During this time, a private developer acquired the lands surrounding the Lighthouse, with plans to subdivide and build housing. Fearing that access may be lost, the Society negotiated a right-of-way with the developer, and also was successful in having land set aside for the creation of a 3.4 km loop trail, through forested areas on the land adjacent to the Lighthouse. A parking lot was created at the end of Sheringham Point Road, to provide public access to the site.
Then, in 2010, the Government of Canada declared the Lighthouse – and most other lighthouses in Canada – to be surplus to their needs. They also passed the “Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act” which provided a mechanism for local communities and organizations to petition the government to designate specific lighthouses as “heritage”, and submit proposals to take over the sites for other purposes. The Sheringham Lighthouse Preservation Society, changed its tactics and began working through this new legislative framework.
In June 2015, the Society received notice that the Lighthouse was being designated a “heritage lighthouse” under the Act. Then in October, 2015, it was notified that legal Title to the Lighthouse would be transferred to the Society for ongoing conservation.
During 2016, the Society assessed the condition of the Lighthouse and developed plans for its restoration. And in the fall, the restoration work began. It will continue through 2017 and into 2018.
The area was first named p’aachiida by local first nations. Early Spanish explorers called the area Punta de San Eusebio and then, in 1864 it was renamed Sheringham Point by Captain Kellett of the Royal Navy Ship HMS Herald, in honour of William Sheringham, his Vice-Admiral back in England.
1912 – 1946 Eustace Travonian Arden
1946 – 1946 Tom Charles Cross
1946 – 1948 Alfred Dickenson
1948 – 1959 Thomas Westhead
1959 – 1968 Frederick Arthur Mountain
1968 – 1987 James D. Bruton
1987 – 1989 Kurt Cehak Sr.
The Sheringham Point Lighthouse Preservation Society continues to research and acquire information about the history of Sheringham Point Lighthouse, and its relevance to the local community, to the region and to Canada as a whole. We have published our current information in a small book: A History of Sheringham Point Lighthouse, written by Rebecca Quinn. To get a copy of this book, you can order it on-line by clicking here (or see our Store page).
Should you have additional information, or find anything in the history book, on this page or throughout this website that you believe requires further research, correction or more elaboration, please do not hesitate to contact us and let us know – this is an ongoing project, and we appreciate your input. In particular, if you have documents or photographs that would help support and clarify the history of the Lighthouse we would love to see them. Thank you for your help!