|Scarlett Point, BC|
Description: In 1864, Captain George Henry Richards, commander of the survey ships HMS Plumper and HMS Hecate, named Balaklava Island, an island situated roughly twenty-one kilometres (thirteen miles) northwest of Port Hardy, after a Crimean War battle, fought a decade earlier. During the Battle of Balaklava, General James Yorke Scarlett led the Charge of the Heavy Brigade in a rout of a more numerous Russian force. The Charge of the Light Bridage, the subject of the famous poem of the same name by Lord Alfred Tennyson, occurred the same day but led to heavy British casualties. Captain Richards named the northwest tip of Balaklava Island after the courageous General Scarlett.
A lighthouse was erected on Scarlett point, Balaklava island northwest point of the entrance to Christie passage, and was put in operation on April 12,1905.
James William Davies, Scarlett’s Point first keeper, didn’t last a year. Next was Theodore Nelson, a bachelor, who was paid an annual salary of $450. On the evening of April 20, 1908, the schooner Clara C., loaded with a cargo of gasoline, exploded off the northern end of Vancouver Island near Cape Scott. The eleven men aboard hastily jumped into two fishing dories and made it to Scarlett Point Lighthouse where they were fed and sheltered by Keeper Nelson until the fishing steamer Celestial Empire picked them up a few days later. Marine Agent James Gaudin thanked Nelson for his “humanity and assistance,” but after Gaudin was unable to secure him a pay increase, Nelson resigned in September 1908.
Agent Gaudin recommended that William Hunt, who had served briefly as an assistant at Pine Island Lighthouse, be appointed the next keeper at Scarlett Point. Hunt moved his Indian wife and two sons to Scarlett Point in 1908, and over the coming years, the family would grow to include a total of ten boys and a girl. Vivian, one of the middle sons, was paid ten dollars a month to haul mail and supplies between Port Hardy, Scarlett Point, and Pine Island. “I used to wait for what looked like a good spell of weather,” Vivian recalled, “but my father smoked plug tobacco in a pipe. That caused me some trouble. When he ran out of tobacco, I went to Port Hardy no matter what the weather was like. In good weather, with a good tide, I could make the trip in four hours. But sometimes, when it was bad, I’d be eight hours getting across.”
Jim Davies, the first keeper, didn’t have a fog signal so he would go out every once in a while, during periods of poor visibility, and fire off his shotgun. In 1907, a hand-pumped foghorn was given to Keeper Nelson so he could answer steamer’s fog whistles. A year after Keeper Hunt arrived at Scarlett Point, a fog bell was suspended in a small wooden tower, erected by day’s labour at a cost of $269.75. According to Vivian Hunt, the big brass bell weighed 1,200 pounds and its striking hammer twenty. “There was a weight on a rope,” Vivian said, “and you’d pull the weight up to the ceiling. As it came down, it turned the gears that swung the hammer against the bell. It was good for about half-an-hour, then it would have to be pulled up again.”
Vivian wasn’t allowed to go anywhere just to play, as his father thought that was just “foolishness,” but if he wanted to go somewhere to work, then that was okay. Starting at the age of fifteen, Vivian spent part of the year fishing, logging, and hauling supplies. In 1920, Vivian married Irene Jennings, who was living on Hurst Island, where her grandparents had a homestead. After being caught trying to elope at the age of sixteen, Irene was sent to British Columbia, where her father was working as an engineer in a lumber camp. Vivian built a small home for his bride near Scarlett Point Lighthouse, and there he delivered six of the couple’s ten children. “I had a little book,” Vivian said, “and it told me all I needed to know to be a midwife.”
On February 22, 1930, Vivian’s brother Tommy set out in rowboat to deliver supplies to nearby settlers. “As far as I can make out, a comber must have struck the boat and turned her right over,” Keeper Hunt reported to the marine agent. “He had his rubber hip boots on when he left here, he had them both off when we found his body next day.” Tommy’s mother grieved his passing, and one day, a few months later, she felt particularly ill and went back to bed. Vivian was sent to retrieve a doctor, but mother passed away while he was still within sight of the station.
On July 21, 1940, the citizens of Port Hardy gathered to see their mayor award the Imperial Service Medal to Keeper Hunt, who had retired at the end of 1939 after having spent over thirty-one years at Scarlett Point. Vivian Hunt took charge of the lighthouse after his father’s retirement, but the Department of Marine sent George Smith to replace him in 1941. “Jobs like that were given to veterans, and I wasn’t one,” Vivian said, “so they moved me out to make way for a man who was.”
Upon leaving the lighthouse, Vivian moved his family into an old logging camp floathouse, which was pulled up on land given to Vivian by his father. In 1957, Irene left Vivian and returned to Washington, where she married her childhood sweetheart, whose wife had passed away. “When my wife left, she told me to get married again,” Vivian recalled. “I told her, ‘Oh no, 36 years is enough punishment!’” Vivian kept rowing to and from Scarlett Point until 1979, when his home there was looted and burned to the ground. Homeless at the age of eighty-four, Vivian was forced to move in with friends at Port Hardy, where the following year he declared: “They tell me I’ll live to be 110. I’ll go when God says, ‘Come on now old man…’”
The original Scarlett Point Lighthouse was demolished in 1965, after having been replaced by a skeletal, steel tower, topped by an electric light, and a new dwelling. The present lighthouse on Scarlett Point is a round, steel tower topped by an octagonal lantern room that emits a white flash every five seconds.
Head Keepers: James William Davies (1905 – 1906), Theodore Nelson (1906 – 1908), William Hunt (1908 – 1939), Robert Vivian Hunt (1940 – 1941), George Leslie Smith (1941 – 1943), David Charteris Milne (1943 – 1946), Frederick Arthur Mountain (1946 – 1953), Elmer Cordoni (1958 – 1964), Harold S. Whalen (1965 – 1969), Ken Nelson (1973 – 1977), Alan J. Tanksy (1977 – 2004), Ivan Dubinkski (2007 – at least 2016).
Located on the northeastern point of Balaklava Island, an island off the north coast of Vancouver Island about 15 km (10 miles) northwest of Port Hardy. The lighthouse is owned by the Canadian Coast Guard. Grounds open, tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the Canadian Coast Guard. Grounds open, tower closed.
Notes from a friend:Kraig writes:
When Jean Bartle's father was serving as a relief keeper on Scarlett Point around 1973, Vivian Hunt escorted them up a trail that he kept clear with a machete to a small lake, where they witnessed over fifty eagles bathing in the fresh water after feeding in salt water.
See our List of Lighthouses in British Columbia Canada
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, Canadian Coast Guard, used by permission.