Protection sought for Oak Bay landmark

Trial Island lighthouse subject of push for federal protection

Heritage advocates from Oak Bay will apply to have the Trial Island lighthouse guarded under the federal Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act.

Heritage advocates from Oak Bay will apply to have the Trial Island lighthouse guarded under the federal Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act.

A group of Oak Bay heritage advocates is looking to preserve one of the municipality’s most iconic landmarks for generations to come.

The Trial Island lighthouse was built in 1906, and is one of 27 lighthouses in the province that are permanently staffed. Though it is not currently in danger of being shut down or defunded, there has been plenty of debate in recent years at the federal level about the future of Canada’s lighthouses, including the one on Trial Island.

That uncertainty has led the Oak Bay Heritage Foundation to launch a campaign to have the signal tower and its associated buildings registered under the federal government’s Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act (HLPA).

“They’re very much part of Oak Bay’s and Victoria’s heritage,” said foundation member Gwen Ewan, who is spearheading the cause. “They’re part of the fabric of our community. They’re part of what makes us a maritime community.”

The Trial Islands themselves are designated as an ecological reserve by BC Parks, but there is currently no such protection for the structures which sit on the rocky surface of the largest island.

Under the HLPA, citizens can nominate a lighthouse for protection by collecting at least 25 signatures on a petition which will then be submitted to Parks Canada for consideration. The foundation set up a booth at the Bowker Creek Brush-Up this past Sunday (Aug. 7) to do just that.

“Light stations are an important part of Canadian heritage,” said Meredith Dickman, who has been the lightkeeper on Trial Island for the last six and a half years. “They’re a source of identity for the mariners on the east and west coasts and a very strong part of the West Coast heritage.”

The specific location of the Trial Island lighthouse is of particular significance, Dickman added.

“It’s the first thing that mariners and recreational boaters see when they are coming through and visiting Victoria and Vancouver,” she said. “Even the whale watching boats come by and tour around Trial Island.”

When completed, the petition and all related documents will be sent to Parks Canada, which will review all the applications for HLPA designation before deciding which lighthouses are worthy of protecting. That review concludes in May 2012. A final announcement won’t be made until May 2015.

Despite the long wait, Ewan is optimistic about Trial Island’s chances.

“As of May 30, 56 lighthouses across Canada have been nominated,” she said. “Parks Canada identified 35 that they thought were protection-worthy, and ours is one of those 35, so I think it’s pretty likely to get the protection.”

editor@oakbaynews.com