East Point Light, Saturna Island

East Point Light, Saturna Island

by | Aug 6, 2021

East Point is the end of a long peninsula at the easternmost tip of Saturna Island in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, about 35 miles (56 km) south of Vancouver and 18 miles (29 km) northeast of Sidney, British Columbia. Saturna is a mountainous island of 7,680 acres (3108 ha) and is surrounded on three sides by the Canada-United States border. The island was originally inhabited by the indigenous Wsaanec people of the Coast Salish who reputedly called the island “Long Nose” due to the island’s long northeastern shoreline that ends at East Point. The island was named Saturna by Dionisio Alcalá Galiano in 1792 and the name was derived from the Spanish naval schooner Santa Saturnina. The Santa Saturnina was originally named North West America, and was a British merchant ship that sailed on maritime fur trading ventures in the late 1780s. It was the first non-indigenous vessel built in the Pacific Northwest. In 1789, it was captured at Nootka Sound by Esteban José Martínez of Spain during the Nootka Crisis, after which it became part of the Spanish Navy and was renamed Santa Gertrudis la Magna and later Santa Saturnina. In 1791, Santa Saturnina under the command of José María Narváez, and the Spanish naval packet ship San Carlos, were part of the first European excursion into the Salish Sea by Juan Pantoja y Arriaga. The earliest European settlers came to homestead on Saturna in the Victorian era in the late 1800s. They were followed by others, particularly after World War I, and again in the 1940s. Several of these families are still represented in the island population.

In 1859, the Northwestern Boundary Dispute between Canada and the United States was settled to follow a line running east through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, then north through Haro Strait, then east again through Boundary Pass to the Strait of Georgia. Boundary Pass is 14 miles (23 km) long with the southern entrance between Turn Point on Stuart Island in Washington and Fairfax Point on Moresby Island, British Columbia. Today, the transition from Haro Strait to Boundary Pass is marked by a lighthouse at Turn Point and a lighted navigation marker at Fairfax Point. The northern entrance to Boundary Pass, and the transition from Boundary Pass to the Strait of Georgia, is marked by a lighthouse on East Point and another on Alden Point on Patos Island in Washington. In February 1886, the coal barge John Rosenfeld was undertow by the steam tug Tacoma, southeast bound in the Strait of Georgia on the beginning of a voyage from Nanaimo to San Francisco with 3,905 tons of coal. John Rosenfeld was owned by John Rosenfeld’s Sons Company of San Francisco, a coal shipping business that converted old tall ships into barges to move coal from the New Vancouver Coal Mining and Land Company near Nanaimo to southern markets. At the southerly turn from the Strait of Georgia into Boundary Pass, about 1 mile (1.6 km) north-northeast of East Point, the captain of the tug became disoriented by a fine mist and made the turn early. The tug safely passed over an unmarked reef just moments before the heavily ladened John Rosenfeld struck. The barge was a total loss but the cargo was salvaged by residents of Saturna Island and used to heat their homes for many years. The reef is now called Rosenfeld Rock.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the British colony of Vancouver Island was becoming more populous and developed, particularly around the coal mines at Nanaimo and elsewhere in the Salish Sea. The reefs and foggy narrows at East Point were a particular hazard and many ships were wrecked there. Parliament made an appropriation for a lighthouse on East Point in 1885, a year before the John Rosenfeld wrecked, based on intensive lobbying by the maritime community that long recognized the dangers of the pass. The East Point Light Station consisted of a wooden square pyramidal tower, 60 feet (18 m) high, with an attached dwelling. It was built on land obtained from the well-known Gulf Island pioneer, Warburton Pike. A revolving white light at an elevation of 140 feet (43 m) above sea level was first displayed on January 1, 1888. Mariners were cautioned to not approach the light within 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from the northerly and westerly directions to avoid the dangerous reef. The East Point Light was a vital addition to the network of navigation aids in British Columbia and its early lighthouse keepers formed part of the original community of European settlers on Saturna and are considered to be among the island’s pioneering families. In 1948, the old wooden lighthouse was replaced by a steel skeleton tower, topped by a standard revolving beacon, and the keeper’s dwelling was repaired. In 1960, another keeper’s dwelling was built and was in use until Saturna Island Light Station was de-staffed in 1996. Around 2006, the station was transferred to Parks Canada, to be added to the new Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Today, the light tower, a keeper’s dwelling, and foghorn building remain standing at East Point. The keeper’s dwelling serves as housing for park staff, and the foghorn building has been turned into a heritage center featuring displays and information related to the heritage of East Point. East Point is now a place popular for onshore whale watching. The resident J, K and L orca pods pass by almost daily in the summer months. Read more here and here. Explore more of East Point and Saturna Island here:

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This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2019 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

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