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Northern Mariner
Flo Anderson's Lighthouse Chronicles: Twenty Years on the B.C. Lights recounts her family's experiences on five isolated west coast lightstations. Today twenty-seven staffed lighthouses in British Columbia still remain. Interest in the historical, cultural and aesthetic value of these lights is on the rise as many people seek to visit and learn about the varied lighthouses in the province.

Lighthouse Chronicles has made a timely appearance on the market with the recent moratorium on the de-staffing of BC's lighthouses. West coast lightkeepers continue to provide many of the coastwatching and lifesaving services to which the Anderson family was introduced when they arrived on the lights almost four decades ago. The Andersons' first posting on Lennard Island was decidedly primitive, with only a woodstove and fireplace for heat, and electricity only at night when the lighthouse itself was in operation. Anderson details the family's transition to the isolation and inevitable routine of lighthouse life. Her story is told with grace and humour, despite the many drawbacks encountered by the family, including irregular supply deliveries and temperamental, autocratic principal keepers (some of whom had a fondness for the bottle).

Anderson devotes a chapter to each of the lights the family kept, from wind-battered Green Island, the most northerly BC lightstation, to tidewashed Race Rocks in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The text is not always rivetting, but through the experiences of the family a compelling story emerges - rescues at sea, the continuous vigilance of the keepers, their respect for nature and the power of the sea, and the ingenuity required not only to maintain lightstation equipment, but relations between families on tiny islands. The Andersons made the best of lighthouse life, and Flo's love and respect for her family and the life they shared during two decades on lighthouses spread over five hundred miles of rugged coastline, shines through.
-Chris Mills


Keepers of the Coastline
The ocean is everywhere in the blue and gray-hued paintings of tumultuous waves, and in the model sailboat, prominently displayed behind glass. But the expansive ocean is perhaps best reflected in the calm serenity deeply impressed into the faces of Sidney's Flo and Trev Anderson.

Flo and Trev were lightkeepers for over 20 years and spent the following 13 years on the B.C. coast and the South Pacific. Brimming with adventure, their lives have provided a backdrop for many thoughtful reflections and humorous anecdotes.

Three years ago, Flo set out to document their lives in a vivid, honest and compelling book entitled Lighthouse Chronicles: Twenty Years on the BC Lights

The ever-changing landscape, shifting and ebbing with the tides, has profoundly impressed itself on the Anderson's lives. They lived on Lennar Island near Tofino, Barret Rock near Prince Rupert, McInnis Island north of Vancouver Island and spent the longest stint on Race Rocks, eight miles from Victoria in the Juan de Fuca Strait.

The lightkeeper's life isn't for the weak in mind or romantic in ideals, says Flo, differentiating between the image of aspiring lightkeepers gazing dreamy-eyed at the ocean waiting for divine inspiration, and those who could seriously commit to a physically and emotionally demanding life.

"Initially, you had to be a jack of all trades - a mechanic, electrician, plumber, cook, teacher - you had to be self-motivated too. There was nobody there to tell you to do this and do that, you just pitched in and did it," says Trev.

After 20 years with the air force as a radio operator, Trev found his experience wasn't recognized in civilian life and he jumped at the idea of being a lightkeeper. Besides, traffic in Vancouver in the early 60s was getting to be too much explains Flo.

"Knowing that a father would be much more content meant more for the family, and I could take a challenge," Flo laughs, eyeing her broken leg encased in a walking cast - she slipped on some loose gravel and moss on a recent hike.

"Being removed from medical assistance was one of the things always with you," says Trev. Once he had to be airlifted from Green Island, at one time the northernmost manned lightstation in Canada, located just south of Port Simpson in Northwestern B.C. Trev was diagnosed with a kidney infection.

Ironically, the children never got colds or flu while living in isolation. It was only when they were exposed to others on their trips to the city that they contracted colds, says Flo.

Time spent on Green Island was perhaps the most treacherous. Ice formations would change the landscape in the wintertime, making stepping outside a hazardous event. Another time, a tidal wave warning left the Andersons barricaded inside the lighthouse tower to wait out a storm that battered Prince Rupert.

Raising four children also wasn't easy. The eldest, at 16, had the most difficult time adapting during trying teenage years.

The Andersons' kids share the same work ethics as their parents. They thrived in their solitude, taking with them into the future a fierce independence, a unique entrepreneurial knack for innovation and resourcefulness.

Perhaps it's isolation that's the mother of invention. From simple kitchen alchemy to pet seagulls and wood gathering innovations, the Andersons, made do with what they had.

In her book, Flo describes her personal battle with bread-making. At she was at the mercy of a temperamental wood stove, then a volatile propane stove and finally, in her last year at Race Rocks, she had the luxury of an electric one.

"I had two boys that devoured it like cotton fluff," Flo jokes about her bread making adventures. "The problem wasn't making the bread, it was that dammed stove!"

While their main job was to keep the light and horn functioning, the Andersons were also responsible for reporting the marine weather, monitoring water temperatures and keeping journals on marine life.

Today, B.C. lighthouses are automated, and the Andersons worry those extra duties are neglected, not to mention that most unusual phenomena will likely occur when no one is there to observe it.

In their comfortable Sidney condo, Flo and Trev sit back and reflect on their rich lives. They sold their boat three years ago and now spend a lot of time with their grandchildren.

That doesn't mean they're not up for new adventures though.
"We don't make elaborate plans, we just let it happen," says Trev.

"You grab a chance and you won't be sorry for a "might have been'," adds Flo.


Yukon News: A life spent on the lights
Technology has sent the art of lighthouse keeping down a path of extinction.

Soon all fog horns will be muted.

Yet staffed stations are essential to all types of vessels plying B.C. waters, Flo Anderson insists in her recently released memoirs, Lighthouse Chronicles: Twenty Years on the BC Lights.

Flo and Trevor Anderson became more convinced of the absolute necessity for manned light stations while living aboard their homemade yacht WaWa for 13 years.

Before retiring ashore to Sidney, B.C., they navigated among inlets, bays and islands from the southern tip of Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert and the Queen Charlotte Islands.

They discovered how easily electronic gadgets malfunction.

Once, a bug crawled into the components of the automated navigational devices and rendered the system useless.

Until the simple puzzle was solved, they had to rely on manual backup.

In her account, Anderson candidly describes life on the lights from the perspective of a woman who had to be all things to everybody.

Her world was a rock the size of a city block and devoid of supermarkets, libraries, regular mail delivery, ministers, dentists, doctors, and teachers.

To add to the frustrations, the government seemed to view lighthouse keepers as second-class civil servants and the wives of slaves.

Trev worked 17-hour shifts, seven days a week. He received no overtime and could not bank comp time to take extended vacations.

When the Andersons joined the lighthouse service in 1961, the government began to place three keepers at each station so a keeper only had to work eight-hour shifts.

Then the department of Transport toyed with a plan to increase the employees to four so keepers could indulge in free weekends like other civil servants.

Instead, the number per station was gradually reduced to two keepers.

The wife was expected to provide free maid service and cook for work crews and government agents who frequented the islands and needed meals and accommodation.

Flo liked the company. She also would have liked extra money. Food had to be taken from personal stock.

Just baking enough bread on a woodfired stove for a family of six was a chore. Her two growing sons were bottomless pits.

The Andersons' lifestyle was one initially carved from necessity following Trev's 20 years in the air force.

His experience working around the world as a radio operator and radar fighter controller did not count as qualifications for an air-traffic controller in civilian life.

He didn't know what to do in the last half of his career. On advice from a friend who knew his penchant for the outdoors and seclusion, Trev applied for a lightkeeper position.

The Andersons and their four youngsters left the conveniences of Vancouver behind and faced the challenges of heavy seas and home-studies.

Yet the struggles were offset by the rich beauty and special joys of living in the wilds, observing nature.

Since the degree of isolation determined duties and amount of pay, Trev applied for other postings.

After Lennard, a wind-swept island off the west coast of Vancouver Island, they went to Barrett Rock, McInnis Island and B C's northernmost lighthouse on Green Island.

In 1966, Trev became senior lightkeeper at Race Rocks. And the Andersons stayed at B.C.'s southernmost lighthouse until Trev took early retirement in 1982.

Often, political figures from Ottawa graced the Andersons' home, especially after a federal election and change of government. Even Prime minister Pierre Trudeau and his entourage dropped in for tea.

"I suppose Race Rocks typified what people imagined a lighthouse to look like and it was close to Victoria by helicopter, so we were on tour," she writes.

In her book, she admonishes the government's decision-makers for putting sea travellers at undue risk.

In 1977, the big old engine house with the tall fog tower was torn down and replaced with a small flat-roofed structure.

After a number of shipwrecks and near misses in the fog, angry mariners blamed the lightkeepers for shirking their duties.

Soon it was learned the lighthouse tower and surrounding rocks deflected the warning blast to a whisper.

The solution was to put the horn high in the air so it could be heard for great distances.

"That distinctive tower had rectified the 'silent' foghorn problem back in the 1920s. Now it was gone and the new horns, installed at ground level, once again could not be heard at sea.?

"I suppose someone assumed the electronic age, with all the new instruments for navigation, was all that was necessary - horns were obsolete."

But the author suspects it was another case of acute short-sightedness on the part of government.

"Electronic equipment can and does fail," she writes. "Pilots must be able to handle the ship in any event and thus have always relied heavily on foghorn beacons and local weathers from the lightstations."

Lightkeepers also provide an important link for scientific data collection sampling water, observing tidal change and wildlife patterns, recording any unusual natural occurrences, she notes.

By generously sharing her family's personal life on the lights, Anderson has preserved an important piece of B.C. coastal history.

Lighthouse keeping is definitely a thing of the past.

Lighthouse Chronicles: Twenty Years on the B.C. Lights by Flo Anderson, Harbour Publishing, 222 pages, softcover, $18.95.
-Jane Gaffin, Yukon News