Point Atkinson Light, Burrard Inlet

Point Atkinson Light, Burrard Inlet

by | Oct 4, 2021

Lighthouse Park was historically called Point Atkinson, a headland that together with Point Grey to the south, defines the entrance to Burrard Inlet, a fjord incising the lower mainland of British Columbia, about 33 miles (53 km) northeast of Nanaimo and 8 miles (13 km) northwest of downtown Vancouver, British Columbia. The fjord was formed during the Last Glacier Period, and today separates the Burrard Peninsula to the south from the coastal slopes of the North Shore Mountains to the north. Burrard Inlet opens west into the Strait of Georgia and was named in 1792 by Captain George Vancouver after Sir Harry Burrard Neale. Point Atkinson was also named by Vancouver, probably for his former shipmate Thomas Atkinson who was a warrant officer in the Royal Navy and later served as sailing master under Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar. Point Grey was named by Vancouver for Captain George Grey who served in the Royal Navy during the American Revolutionary War, the French Revolutionary War, and the Napoleonic War. Point Atkinson, together with Point Cowan on Bowen Island to the west, also marks the entrance to Queen Charlotte Channel, a fjord that opens to the Strait of Georgia and forms the southern entrance to Howe Sound.

Burrard Inlet has been home to the First Nations of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-waututh people who have resided in this territory for thousands of years. In 1791, the first European explorers in the region, Juan Carrasco and José María Narváez, sailing under orders of Francisco de Eliza, entered the western part of the inlet in their ship, the Santa Saturnina. They failed to find the Fraser River, mistaking the lowland of the river’s delta as a major inlet of the sea, which they named Canal de Floridablanca. This led to one of the prime objectives of the 1792 expedition of Dionisio Alcalá Galiano, which was to determine the exact nature of the Canal de Floridablanca. Galiano spent many days exploring the general area, realizing that there was a great river there and sighting Burrard Inlet itself on June 19, 1792. Just days later, the inlet was explored by Captain George Vancouver. The inlet is bounded on the south by the Burrard Peninsula. The Squamish name for the peninsula was Ulksen or Ulxen. The Burrard Peninsula has been extensively urbanized and today includes the largest and densest populations in British Columbia. The North Shore Mountains bound Burrard Inlet to the north. The mountain range overlooks the greater Metro Vancouver area and the southernmost peaks form a distinctive backdrop for the city.

In 1875, a light station was built at Point Atkinson, on granite boulders jutting out into Burrard Inlet, to protect the international shipping trade using the Port of Vancouver. The original wooden tower had an attached light keeper’s dwelling, and its beacon shone from a height of 95 feet (29 m) above sea level and was visible for 14 miles (23 km). In 1881, 185 acres (65 ha) of old-growth forest encompassing the point was set aside to serve as a dark backdrop for the lighthouse. The extreme isolation of the light station was a hardship for the lightkeepers and their families. But the third keeper, Walter Erwin came to the station in 1880 and stayed for three decades. He was one of the original homesteaders of West Vancouver and owned a large tract of land near the lighthouse, now an affluent neighborhood known as Cypress Park. When fog enveloped Point Atkinson, captains would sound three rapid blasts of their ship’s horn, prompting the lightkeeper to pump a hand-powered foghorn until the ship signaled it was safe to stop. This changed in 1889 when Canadian Pacific Steamships requested that a steam-powered foghorn be added to the station at Point Atkinson. This greatly increased the keeper’s workload since the foghorn building was located in a structure west of the lighthouse and the horn had to operate any time there was fog or smoke within 4 miles (6 km) of the station. In 1896, the keeper logged 1450 hours manning the signal. In 1912, a new light station was constructed with a reinforced concrete hexagonal light tower 60 feet (18.3 m) tall. The keeper’s cottage and a small complex of army huts built during World War II stand next to the tower. Now automated, the lighthouse continues to provide navigational aid to all marine traffic approaching and exiting Burrard Inlet. Today, Lighthouse Park is approximately 185 acres (75 ha) within the city of West Vancouver and includes the historical Point Atkinson Lighthouse and light station grounds. Read more here and here. Explore more of Point Atkinson and Burrard Inlet here:

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