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Review

Northern Mariner
Guiding Lights poses and answers the questions about lighthouse keepers: "Who are they?" "What do they do?" "Why do they do it?" An introduction sets the scene by describing the origins of lighthouses in British Columbia and comments about the keepers and their duties. The authors devote a separate chapter to each lighthouse and group the chapters by geographic area. Every chapter of Guiding Lights gives the date and circumstances (usually shipwrecks) under which each lighthouse was established, along with the local peculiarities of weather and sea. The concluding chapter presents highlights of the authors' visits to lighthouses. It also discusses the implications of the government policy of de-staffing the lighthouses. Ironically, a few months before publication, in 1998, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced that "the keepers at the rest of B.C.'s lighthouses would stay."

The inside cover has an eye catching and easy-to-read outline map of the British Columbia coast depicting the location of all lighthouses and indicating which are staffed and which are unstaffed.

Each chapter presents the lighthouse location on two vividly coloured outline maps. The first shows the entire coast of British Columbia, the second is a more detailed local map providing ample reference to the site at a glance.

The colour photographs use imaginative camera angles and unusual centres of interest. For example, a photo looks downward into the inside of the lens of the Langara Island light. Another shows a boiler cast ashore from a wrecked schooner being battered by surf at Pachena light. Typically each chapter has a photograph of the keeper and his family, the lighthouse itself, and an activity such as the Coast Guard "delivering" groceries or a keeper playing the bagpipes. Many of the 119 photographs in this book cry out to be framed. They range in size from a few centimetres to double page spreads. The captions provide information which complements the text. Thus, a photograph of the staircase within the Estevan light includes a caption which reveals that "visiting Coast Guard ship crews have a running wager on the fastest ascent of the 155 steps up ... spiral staircase." Sidebars often add a tidbit of information such as Minnie Paterson's gruelling trek on a stormy night in 1906 to get help for the sinking barque Coloma. The scenes are imaginatively composed showing night, dawn, sunshine, rainbows and fog. Most depict relatively calm seas.

The lively prose, liberally sprinkled with quotations from the keepers, captures the feeling of visiting the lighthouse and having a personal conversation with the keeper. Guiding Lights keeps its focus on material provided by present day keepers.

The armchair adventurer will feast on the vivid, visual pictures of remote areas in Guiding Lights. Photo hobbyists will be guided and inspired by Mr. Jaksa's imaginative composition and innovative camera angles. Students of human nature will be intrigued by the personal interviews with those who choose this life of isolation. Guiding Lights thoroughly answers the questions, "Who are the people who choose this career?", "What do they do?", "Why do they do it?"
-Suzanne Spohn