JOHN, Walls (1953- )

Author Tags: Photography

Celebrating Victoria (Heritage House) is a keepsake book showcasing Walls' colour photos of Victoria. He was also the primary photographer for Danda Humphreys' Government Street.

To the Lighthouse (Heritage House, 2015) is a co-authored guide to the more than two dozen operating lighthouses that dot the coast of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. These beacons have guided vessels through the rocky shores of B.C. for more than a century. Some are ideal places to hike and explore; others are dangerous to access. The book rates the danger factor for each lighthouse. Highlighted with beautiful photography from Richard Paddle, who has travelled to every lighthouse in B.C., To the Lighthouse offers details about the history and lore of these landmarks, with practical information about accessibility.

Born in London, Ontario, John Walls studied photography under Bart Parker at the University of Rhode Island. A resident of Shirley, B.C. on southern Vancouver Island, John Walls is an avid kayaker.


To the Lighthouse: An explorer’s Guide to the Island Lighthouses of Southwestern BC (Heritage House, 2015) $19.95 978-1-77203-046-4 (Co-authored with Peter Johnson, photography by Richard Paddle)

Canada's West Coast. (Heritage House). 978-1-894974-58-5 : $29.95.

Portrait of Greater Victoria and Southern Vancouver Island. (Heritage House). 978-1-894974-95-0 : $16.95.

Celebrating Victoria. (Heritage House). 978-1-926613-76-5 : $7.95.

[BCBW 2015]

To The Lighthouse by Peter Johnson & John Walls (Heritage House $19.95)
Review (2015)

from BCBW (Winter 2015)
Egyptians built one at the mouth of the Nile. Romans had one at Dover. In Genoa, Christopher Columbus’ uncle tended one; Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandfather and father managed them in Scotland.

As lighthouses evolved with technological innovations from Swedish mathematician Jonas Norberg, Swiss-French chemist Francois Argand, French aristocrat Antoine Lavoisier, French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel and the Chance brothers of Birmingham, England, they became more than just practical structures to prevent maritime tragedy.

Lighthouses are recognized everywhere as poetic symbols of civilization and hope.

Cape Breton Island had Canada’s first, pre-Confederation lighthouse in 1734. By the 1860s, the B.C. coastline had two of them—at Fisgard and Race Rocks. When government cutbacks threatened to eliminate most lighthouses in B.C., historian and lighthouse activist Donald Graham wrote two classic bestsellers in the mid-1980s, Keepers of the Light and Lights of the Inside Passage.

Now Peter Johnson and John Walls have crafted To The Lighthouse, an ‘explorer’s guidebook’ to twenty-five lighthouses in southwestern B.C.

Boaters and armchair adventurers will likely benefit most from this well-designed anthology as many sites are remote and dangerous to approach. Visitors to lighthouses are not necessarily welcomed by their keepers.

With original photos by Richard Paddle, combined with anecdotes and condensed histories culled from previous books, this smartly-written compendium might have more accurately been entitled Lights of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.
The attractive directory is history as entertainment in the format of a guidebook.
We learn:

•After lightkeeper Alexander Dingwall rowed his wife Eve to their lonely perch on Green Island, circa 1916, she frequently tied her young children to the clothesline to keep the fierce winds from blowing them into the sea.

•At the “really, really hard” to approach Quatsino lighthouse on Kains Island, Catherine Sadler give birth to her third child at the site because her light keeper husband was not permitted to leave his post. When she learned her younger brother died in World War I, she “snapped.” Desperate for help, her husband James flew the station’s ensign upside down for eight days before the family was rescued. Catherine was committed to an insane asylum and never recovered.

•At the “hard” to approach Trial Islands at the southeastern tip of Vancouver Island, the first keeper worked with a pegleg for twenty-five years because he’d lost it when a cable he was towing snapped and recoiled, shattering his shin.

The keeper in 1944 saved the lives of five people whose yacht was smashed to bits.
The keeper in 1997 saved two more lives when two kayakers went into the drink, caught in riptides.

In June of 2009, the keeper saved four more kayakers from drowning by alerting the coast guard of their plight.

That same year, Ottawa decreed Trial Islands Lighthouse would be de-staffed.
•Described as “dead easy” to reach from nearby Victoria, Fisgard was Canada’s first lighthouse on the West Coast, from 1860.

Its third keeper, William Bevis, died on duty. For the next four months, his wife and niece kept the lamp burning every night, all night long, but Ottawa mandarins found out and declared, “It is against the rules of the Dept. to place women in charge of lighthouses.”

In 1898, light keeper Joseph Dare drowned while rowing his skiff to work. William Cormack, his replacement, set the record for the shortest stint on the job. He resigned after twelve days.

•The sea and isolation were not the only hazards. Keepers were obliged to paint their light stations every two years with lead-based paint until the danger of lead poisoning was finally acknowledged.

Liquid mercury was used to float the Fresnel-lamp apparatus that was commonly used from 1900 to 1980. “During those years,” write Johnson and Walls, “an untold number of keepers may have developed Minamata disease… Ottawa did not encourage light keepers who were ill to take time off to seek medical attention. Without records or a physician tracking an illness, the government escaped responsibility and ultimately the payment of any compensation for keepers’ untimely deaths.”

•Recently, when Ottawa planned to de-staff the “hard” to access Entrance Island station, a four-hectare outcropping one kilometre off Gabriola Island, hundreds of kayakers formed a chain around the island, claiming the cost-cutting would only cost lives. Ottawa reneged. It’s still manned. In August of 2014, keeper Tony Greenall saved the lives of nine people from drowning, rushing to their sinking vessel in his own boat. 978-1-77203-046-4

The Estevan Controversy

It “really, really hard” to reach Estevan Point, midway up the west coast of Vancouver Island, light keeper Robert Lally and his radio operator reported being attacked by twenty shells from a visible warship about five kilometres offshore on June 20, 1942. Two nine-year-olds at Estevan Point corroborated this story but their views were soon discounted by officials.

Lally’s logbook in which he recorded the incident was seized and has never resurfaced. Ottawa discredited Lally as someone “under stress.”

His assistant and the two children denied Lally was off his rocker, but nobody listened.

The official government version of this story sent shockwaves worldwide: A Canadian lighthouse had been attacked by a Japanese submarine. The Canadian government could more easily justify the incarceration and relocation of 22,000 Japanese Canadians en masse, by November of 1942, as well as the seizure of their fishing boats and properties.

Historian Donald Graham publicly declared on national television that the alleged enemy attack at Estevan Point was bogus. Many now agree.