Historical Heritage Marine Tours: Lighthouses and Shipwrecks

Graveyard of the Pacific - Shipwrecks of BC

100 years ago, Victoria was the second largest city on the west coast of North America, second only to San Francisco.

It was the port through which thousands of miners of the 1858 Cariboo Gold Rush passed through on their way up to BC’s interior.  Miners and adventurers from the gold fields of California, Australia, and all parts of the world flocked to Victoria which was the only ocean port and outfitting centre for the gold fields of the Cariboo. 

Before the trans-canada railroad was built in 1885, the only way to access western Canada was by ship, so that for nearly 50 years after Victoria was founded by the Hudsons Bay Company in 1843, the City was the western jewel in Canada’s shiny new crown.

The coastal waters around Vancouver Island are also known as the Graveyard of the Pacific. Based only upon the larger vessels - working tugs, lumber barges, freighters, tall ships, war ships and passenger ships - which have been documented it is safe to say there is a wrecked ship for every mile of coast along Vancouver Island.

The Vancouver Island landscape was formed by glaciation. The deep waters and vertical rocky cliffs create unique hazards for coastal ships. The now world-reknowned west coast hiking trail itself traces an old telegraph route that once connected Victoria with Cape Beale near Bamfield. The telegraph line was first carved through the coastal wilderness in 1890, to aid in the rescue of vessels in distress off the southwest coast of Vancouver Island. Many an earlier shipwrecked person has used the trail to "walk-out" of the wilderness.

Shipwrecks Marine Tours

Victoria’s Maritime museum is an excellent source of maritime history. Artifacts from old shipwrecks and ancient settlements can be seen on Mayne Island.

Actual viewing of shipwrecks is limited in most cases to the locations as the ships themselves have in most cases sunk or been washed off the reefs and shores. Locally, here in Victoria the Robertson II was shipwrecked off the coast of Saturna Island in July 2007 and can still be viewed by boat. None of the approximately half a dozen crew members and passengers were injured in the accident, but damage to the ship was fairly significant.

The schooner served for 20 years as a training vessel for thousands of young people in the Sail and Life Training Society, or SALTS. The Robertson II was one of the best-known vessels on the South Island, since she was anchored for a prolonged period in Victoria’s Inner Harbour.

The Robertson II Tall ship schooner lays shipwrecked July 2007 on a reef by Saturna Island


The Robertson II Tall ship schooner lays shipwrecked July 2007 on a reef by Saturna Island

Shipwreck off Saturna Island

Lighthouses Marine Tours

Some 45 staffed and automated lighthouses remain in operation along the coastlines of British Columbia, most off the shore of Vancouver Island.

Day trips from Victoria can easily include the lighthouses at Sheringham Point in Sooke, Race Rocks (2nd oldest lighthouse) in Metchosin, Fisgard, Trial Island and Discovery island in Victoria, the Gulf Island of Saturna, and Active Pass. Wildlife viewing is almost always incidental to these trips.

Multi-day trips can also be arranged to view any number of the other 37 lighhouses further up the coast.

Trial Island Lighthouse Victoria, BC
Trial Island Lighthouse is located off the southeast tip of Vancouver Island near Victoria, BC


Fisgard Light HouseFisgard Lighthouse is one of the earliest constructs in the budding city, marking the entrance to Esquimalt Harbour.

Fort Rodd Hill is a National Historic Site and now attached to Fisgard Lighthouse. It is a coast artillery fort built in the late 1890s to defend Victoria and the Esquimalt Naval Base. The Fort includes three gun batteries, underground magazines, command posts, guardhouses, barracks and searchlight emplacements. There are numerous interpretive signs and audio-visual stations, as well as period furnished rooms and friendly, knowledgeable staff.


Humpys, Orcas, Stellars and California Sea Lions all in one afternoon

Every day is a unique adventure out on the Salish Sea but today’s trip stood out. We launched at Pedder Bay Marina in Metchosin to place us close to Race Rocks. As the California and Stellar Sea Lion bulls were entertaining us from their perches on the rock formations we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by a dozen or so of these mamoths swimming, diving and porpoising. Then the incredible happened. One of the stellars suddenly sprang out of the water not 40 feet from us with a huge salmon which it had just caught as it breached the surface. The salmon was squirming it the sea lion’s mouth. Just as quickly as the stellar had surfaced he dove again and repeated this motion 2 more times. All the while a dozen or so of his very excited mates were porpoising almost in unison as a group. In 12 years being out here on the ocean that was a first for me. This was just the begginning of our adventure. We had heard reports of 4 to 6 humpbacks in the general vicinity over the past week. As we networked with our colleagues we heard 6 transient orcas were nearby. We spent a bit of time enjoying the orcas before heading out in the direction of the shipping lanes where soon we spotted 4 humpbacks. They put on quite a show for us including some excellent tail flukes. The humpbacks were also very vocal. All this in the space of 4 hours on one of those special autumn days when the seas were calm and the sun was out.