Active Pass Light, Gulf Islands

Active Pass Light, Gulf Islands

by | Jun 1, 2021

Active Pass is a narrow strait about 3.4 miles (5.5 km) long separating Mayne Island from Galiano Island in the southern Gulf Islands, about 16.4 miles (26.5 km) north-northeast of Sidney and 12.5 miles (20 km) southwest of Tsawwassen, British Columbia. The pass was named in 1857 by Captain George Henry Richards on the HMS Plumper for the U.S. Coast Survey ship Active. The pass connects the Trincomali Channel to the west and the Strait of Georgia to the east and is the preferred route used by BC Ferries between Tsawwassen on the mainland and Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island. 

Active was a coal-fired sidewheel steamer but also rigged as a two-masted sailing ship to take advantage of favorable winds. The ship served on the U.S. West Coast and conducted the first coastal survey from San Francisco to San Diego, California in 1852. In  1855, Active was the first sidewheel steamship to navigate the strait between Galiano Island and Mayne Island. 1857, Active and HMS Plumper were involved in a joint survey of the border between Canada and the United States. Active also supported U.S. military operations, serving as a troop transport and dispatch boat during various wars with Native Americans and during the San Juan IslandsPig War” with the United Kingdom in 1859. In 1861, Active was involved during the early stages of the American Civil War by transporting Union troops to Los Angeles, California. In 1862, Active was sold to a commercial shipping company. On June 4, 1870, the ship departed San Francisco for Victoria and became fog-bound off Humboldt County and struck a submerged rock. The ship’s pumps were not able to keep up with the flooding, so the captain deliberately beached her about 22 miles (35 km) south of Cape Mendocino. The passengers were rescued by Pacific and taken to Crescent City. Pacific then returned to the scene of the wreck to attempt to salvage the cargo but had little success since waves were breaking over the stranded ship.

Increased shipping traffic along with a couple of shipwrecks in Active Pass prompted the construction of a lighthouse in 1885 on Georgina Point, at the northern tip of Mayne Island. The original lighthouse was a wooden tower with a keeper’s dwelling attached. This was replaced in 1940 by a square keeper’s dwelling surmounted by a lantern room. In 1969, a new cylindrical concrete tower was built. The last light keeper left the Active Pass Station in 1997, and ownership of the property was transferred to the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve in 2006. The Canadian Coast Guard maintains the navigational aids. Read more here and here. Explore more of Active Pass here:

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