Recognized Federal Heritage Building
Race Rocks, British Columbia
General view of the place
(© Canadian Coast Guard / Garde côtière canadienne, 1990.)
Vancouver Island, Race Rocks, British Columbia
Treasury Board Policy on Management of Real Property
1860 to 1860
Event, Person, Organization:
Race Rocks Lighttower
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
FHBRO Report Reference:
Description of Historic Place
The Lighttower at Race Rocks dominates a small barren island in the Juan de Fuca Strait in an area of strong tides and reefs. A lantern surmounts the tall tapered stone structure. It has limited decorative detailing and is distinguished by a black and white colour scheme. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.
The Lighttower is a Recognized Federal Heritage Building because of its historical associations, and its architectural and environmental values.
The Lighttower is associated with the provision of navigational aids on the Pacific Coast in response to increased maritime traffic arising from the Fraser River Gold Rush. Its location on an island in the Strait of Juan de Fuca aided merchant and passenger ships heading to Victoria and also naval vessels destined for Esquimalt naval base. The influx of settlers due to the gold strike quickly changed Victoria from a fur-trading fort to an incorporated city, and ensured the continued need for a lighttower.
The Lighttower is a Canadian example of a British design employed in ‘Imperial’ lighthouses which were associated with colonial trade routes. Built by local craftsmen of local stone, the lantern and original light were supplied from England.
The Lighttower stands alone on the eight-acre island in the Juan de Fuca Strait apart from smaller secondary structures. Surging tides make the island relatively inaccessible except by helicopter. The Lighttower is still operational and well known to the shipping community and is a regional landmark.
Race Rocks Lighttower, Race Rocks, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office Report 90-085; Race Rocks Lighttower, Race Rocks, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Heritage Character Statement 90-085.
The character-defining elements of Lighttower should be respected.
Its aesthetic design and good quality materials and craftsmanship, for example: the building’s form and massing which give it stately proportions and which consists of a tall tapered profile, with a platform surmounted by an iron lantern. the building’s limited decorative detailing and stately proportions. the robust rusticated blocks of granite that comprise the stonework of the base and lantern, and also the similarly finished sandstone in the body of the tower. the raised door and lower level windows set in arched openings in the thick masonry wall. the black and white identifying colour scheme. the exterior stairs to the second floor entrance.
The manner in which the lighttower reinforces the picturesque, maritime setting of Race Rocks, and acts as a regional landmark as evidenced by: its isolated location atop an eight acre island in the Juan de Fuca Strait.
Heritage Character Statement
The heritage character statement was developed by FHBRO to explain the reasons for the designation of a federal heritage building and what it is about the building that makes it significant (the heritage character). It is a key reference document for anyone involved in planning interventions to federal heritage buildings and is used by FHBRO in their review of interventions.
The Race Rocks Lighttower was built in 1860 by the Crown Colony of Vancouver Island, with the assistance of the British Colonial Office. Its light was replaced in 1988. The manned station continues to serve its original function. The Canadian Coast Guard is the custodian. See FHBRO Building Report 90-85.
Reasons for Designation
The Race Rocks Lighttower was designated Recognized as a result of its environmental significance, its early association with the provision of navigational aids on the Pacific Coast, and its functional design and use of materials.
The Race Rocks Lighttower dominates its site, a small barren island located about twelve miles from Victoria in an area of strong tides and reefs. Given its important function in these treacherous waters, the Lighttower is a regional landmark among mariners.
The Lighttower, one of the first built on the west coast, was constructed in response to the increased maritime traffic arising from the Fraser River gold rush. By locating the light on an island in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, local authorities aided merchant and passenger ships headed to Victoria and naval vessels destined for the base at Esquimalt. The influx of settlers hoping to benefit from the gold strike quickly changed Victoria from a fur-trading fort to an incorporated city, and ensured the continued need for a lighttower.
The Race Rocks Lighttower is one of a very few Canadian examples of its type. The design is derived from one commonly employed by the British for "Imperial" lighthouses associated with colonial trade routes. Built of local stone and by local craftsmen, the lantern and original light were supplied by the British.
Character Defining Elements
The heritage character of the Race Rocks Lighttower is defined by its profile, functional design and materials, and by its importance in its environment.
The tall tapered profile of the Race Rocks Lighttower is typical of the "Imperial" design, with limited decorative detailing and stately proportions. The character of the Race Rocks Lighttower is found in its robust stonework: large, rusticated blocks of granite composing the base and lantern, and similarly finished sandstone in the body of the tower. The raised door and lower-level windows are set in arched openings in the thick masonry wall, while the upper window-openings form small squares.
In 1962 the original lightkeeper's residence, which was physically connected to the lighttower, was demolished. This required the provision of an exterior staircase to the second-floor tower entrance and some patching of the tower stonework. Care should be taken to avoid further changes to the tower's profile.
Given the highly exposed site, remedial masonry work has been required on several occasions and will continue to be required periodically. Since the stonework determines to a large extent the character of this structure, inspection and maintenance by qualified masonry conservation professionals should be undertaken regularly. The black and white identifying colour scheme is original, and should be retained. The interior stone stairway should be preserved, as should all original interior fittings.
The light station is the sole occupant of the eight-acre Race Rocks in the Juan de Fuca Strait. Secondary structures associated with its operation surround the lighttower, and merit preservation. The surging tides make the island relatively inaccessible except by helicopter; the rugged isolated character of the site should be preserved.