Breaking ground: 150 years of federal infrastructure in British Columbia – North Coast: Dryad Point lighthouse

By Caitlin Webster

British Columbia joined Canada 150 years ago, and in the years that followed, federal infrastructure expanded throughout the province. This infrastructure is well documented throughout Library and Archives Canada’s collections. This eight part blog series highlights some of those buildings, services and programs, as well as their impact on B.C.’s many distinct regions.

With Canada’s long coastlines and countless navigable lakes, lighthouses have been fixtures in the country for hundreds of years. After British Columbia joined Confederation in 1871, the need for an expanded system of navigational aids on the often-dangerous West Coast became increasingly important. The newly created federal Department of Marine and Fisheries took responsibility for an ambitious construction program, and by 1914, Canada had tripled its inventory of lighthouses throughout the country.

Most of these new lighthouses were constructed of timber, and the lighthouse at Dryad Point was no exception. Originally built in 1899, it comprised a lightkeeper’s dwelling attached to a square wooden tower. Reconstructed in 1919, the current lighthouse is a reinforced concrete tower 24 feet (7.3 metres) high.

Black-and-white photograph of a lighthouse tower and attached building. There are some small rough outbuildings in the foreground and the ocean in the background.

Lighthouse tower and dwelling, Dryad Point, B.C., 1929 (a148037-v8)

In 1930, a new dwelling and boathouse were constructed; the light station currently includes a number of accompanying buildings: dwellings, greenhouses, fuel storage and equipment sheds.

Black-and-white photograph of a lighthouse tower, a residence, a boathouse and other buildings, with the shoreline in the foreground.

Light station [Dryad Point], 1935 (a149341-v8)

Located on the northeast corner of Campbell Island near Bella Bella, the lighthouse sits on the traditional territory of the Heiltsuk Nation. Its earliest lightkeeper was the Heiltsuk leader, artist and boat builder Captain Richard Carpenter (1841–1931), who was keeper until 1930.

Since its original construction, the light station has been guiding vessels through potentially dangerous tight turns and low-lying lands at Main Passage and Seaforth Channel. Dryad Point was designated a Heritage Lighthouse in 2015, preserving its unique character and setting.

To learn more about lighthouses and lightkeepers in B.C., check out the following resources:

Caitlin Webster is a senior archivist in the Reference Services Division at the Vancouver office of Library and Archives Canada.

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