Four or Five To Be De-Staffed Immediately
From both coasts, comes the news that the Canadian Coast Guard is de-staffing their automated lighthouses with a vengeance. Five are on tap to lose their keepers in the very near future, in a so-called cost saving effort. The others will (as of this writing) be de-staffed through attrition, that is, retirements, different assignments, etc. Canada is the only Western country that still has Coast Guard personnel at some (but not all) automated lighthouses, in a lighthouse keeper capacity.
Currently on the “hit list” are four lighthouse stations in British Columbia: Entrance Island off the tip of Gabriola Island, picture (at left) by Entrance Island Lighthouse by Gord McKenna. (Some rights reserved)., Trial Island off Oak Bay, Dryad Point near Bella Bella and Cape Mudge on Quadra Island. Another announced lighthouse is Green Island in Newfoundland, or maybe it’s in BC also, which is expected to be de-staffed in November.
Some good news out of Canada…the planned de-staffing of several lighthouses has been put off indefinitely. The voices of the lighthouse keepers, the public outcry, and the intervention of the Fisheries Minister and Members of Parliament has stopped, for now, the loss of jobs.
The review, which has no specified timeline for completion, will be undertaken by the Coast Guard, who made the decision to destaff them in the first place. But at least for now, the lighthouse keepers will remain and continue to provide assistance to mariners and maintenance to the buildings.
Some good news out of Canada…the planned de-staffing of several lighthouses has been put off indefinitely. The voices of the lighthouse keepers, the public outcry, and the intervention of the Fisheries Minister and Members of Parliament has stopped, for now, the loss of jobs. The review, which has no specified timeline for completion, will be undertaken by the Coast Guard, who made the decision to destaff them in the first place. But at least for now, the lighthouse keepers will remain and continue to provide assistance to mariners and maintenance to the buildings.
Many Not Happy About Plans
From the Victoria Times Colonist, and several other news sites, Jim Abram, a longtime keeper at Mudge Lighthouse talks about the plans to remove them.
He said it was “only a matter of time” before the government turned again to de-staffing lighthouses again as a cost-saving measure.
“It’s absolutely essential that our lighthouses remain staffed for many reasons, including the fact that our lighthouse keepers have saved hundreds of lives over the years that wouldn’t have been saved if they weren’t there,” Abram said. “Providing regular marine weather reports from lighthouse locations, which is very important information for mariners, is one of the keepers’ main jobs, but now there are many times when reports from fully automated lighthouses aren’t readily available and this wouldn’t happen if they were staffed 24/7.”
“When staff retires, we’ll look towards automation as a replacement,” said Vija Poruks, Assistant Commissioner for the Canadian Coast Guard, Pacific Region. “Many of our light stations are already fully automated, and the lights now operate very robustly without the need for human intervention,” she said.
From an unidentified source in a story at AlberniPortal.ca:
“This is just the first round of their meetings with light house staff. The second round will include the staff of the Pacheena and Carmannah light stations, and all lighthouses on the west coast of the island. Hopefully the public will oppose this plan, especially the mariners whose lives depend on timely and accurate weather information and rescue coordination services.”
Coast Guard officials admit that they’re planning to automate all light stations and are currently discussing plans with staff.
Sources within the light house community are critical of the plan, telling AlberniPortal.ca the cost of automation equipment and maintenance will negate any savings from de-staffing. They were also quick to point out that while large commercial freighters may have adopted new technologies, they operate far offshore and it’s the small, lesser-equipped boats that depend greatly on light house services.
Green Island Ferry Skipper Warns About Problems
On the other side of the continent, in Newfoundland, the captain of a ferry that carries more than 10,000 people a year between St-Pierre-Miquelon and Fortune Bay says it will be dangerous if lightkeepers are removed from the lighthouse on Green Island.
Capt. Charlie Dominaux of the MV Arethusa said he counts on the lightkeepers to let him know if the entrance to the bay area is safe. He said the weather is often worse than forecast by Environment Canada. “Based on their information, I’m staying home, or I go. I’m carrying precious cargo. I don’t want to take chances, and I’m sure the passengers don’t want me to take chances. Without those lightkeepers I have nothing,” he said.
He goes on to say that fishermen and other boaters fear their removal will put them at risk. He tells of a family that had been out boating for a day, capsized but managed to cling to their boat overnight. The lightkeepers saw them in the morning and launched a rescue.
Green Island Light Station in Fortune Bay. Photo © Pascal.A
Another Green Island Light Station
Just one caveat. Newspapers sometimes get things wrong, and at this time I’ve been unable to verify that the Green Island Light Station referred to is actually the one in Newfoundland. By chance, there is also a Green Island Light Station in British Columbia. It also is staffed, and thus may be the one referred to in the list of closures.
The one in B.C. is about three miles south of Alaska, and is pictured to the left. None of the Canadian maritime sites (Coast Guard, NotMars, Transport Canada) have any press releases or announcements, so I will attempt to verify the correct station through other means.
In the meantime, it does not bode well for the future of these lighthouses, as we all know what happens when there are no keepers to maintain the buildings. I think it might be appropriate to end this with the hauntingly sad Edgar Guest poem.
The Lighthouse Keeper Wonders
The light I have tended for 40 years
is now to be run by a set of gears.
The Keeper said, And it isn’t nice
to be put ashore by a mere device.
Now, fair or foul the wind that blow
or smooth or rough the sea below,
It is all the same. The ships at night
will run to an automatic light.
The clock and gear which truly turn
are timed and set so the light shall burn.
But did ever an automatic thing
set plants about in early Spring?
And did ever a bit of wire and gear
a cry for help in darkness hear?
Or welcome callers and show them through
the lighthouse rooms as I used to do?
‘Tis not in malice these things I say
All men must bow to the newer way.
But it’s strange for a lighthouse man like me
after forty years on shore to be.
And I wonder now - will the grass stay green?
Will the brass stay bright and the windows clean?
And will ever that automatic thing
plant marigolds in early Spring?
It has been confirmed that the Green island Light Station being de-staffed is in Newfoundland. The other Green Island Lightstation in BC is due to lose their staff in the second round of cuts. I am publishing an Open Letter to all Canadian citizens from the President of BC Lightkeepers Local 20232 PSAC. If you are in Canada, please call, write or email your representatives to prevent the loss of these men and women at these light stations.OPEN LETTER TO CANADIAN CITIZENS FROM LIGHTHOUSE KEEPERSOnce again, government bureaucrats are attempting to remove the services of Lightkeepers from the Canadian people. They are working quickly to implement a plan to de-staff the remaining 27staffed lightstations on the west coast and the remaining 9 on the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The Assistant Commissioner of Coast Guard, by continuing to refer to these stations as ‘automated’, is attempting to lead the public to believe that the stations being de-staffed are automated already and that it is only a matter of removing the Lightkeepers. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Lightkeepers have been key players in public safety for over a century and their efforts continue to be held in high regard by the Marine and Aviation communities on both coasts. This is not romanticism. It reflects reality. The services that the Keepers perform are professional and extensive and there simply is no reliable way, even in this day, to replace them with automated equipment.
Their weather observations have a positive impact in both the prevention of incidents and the success of rescue efforts when incidents occur. They help in the accuracy of forecasting and assist the timely flow of goods and passengers along the waterways of both coasts. There have been numerous attempts to duplicate these observations by a variety of equipment and all have fallen miserably short.
Lightkeepers continue to assist in Search and Rescue, provide sanctuary, act as first aid outposts, relay warnings and distress calls, liaise with RCMP, Fisheries, Pollution Control and other government agencies, and we help to ensure Canada’s sovereignty and security by establishing a strong federal presence on our coastlines. Our work is not limited to this list. We protect and maintain these, your public assets, the gems of your coasts, the Lighthouses.
Our concern is not for our jobs. It is for the continuation of the service that Canadians want, expect, and deserve to have.
Call and write your representatives.
Steve Bergh – President BC Lightkeepers Local 20232 PSAC
Alice Woods – Vice President
Chatham Pt Lt Stn
Box 187 Campbell River, BC
250 203 2421