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.


Whales, tall ship wreck and oceanside vineyards

the Crowther Family Boating Journal: Our Alaska cruise pulled in to Vancouver just after 7:30 am and by 11:30 we met up with Dieter. Our flight back home to Australia left the next day. With Dieter’s planning advice it all went like clockwork. We flew in to Ganges from the Vancouver harbour on a float plane with Salt Spring Island Air where Dieter met us. After enjoying an excellent lunch on Salt Spring we headed south through the Gulf Islands and stopped at the Saturna Island Vineyards to sample their wines and bought a few bottles. This oceanside vineyard reminded us of those back home in southern Australia near Melbourne. We also saw a tall ship wrecked on a reef near there. We passed through the San Juans where we spent an hour or so watching a super pod of Orcas. A large male breached completely out of the water just a few hundred yards from the boat. This is an experience we will never forget and recommend to anyone who loves the ocean and wildlife. Dieter dropped us off in Victoria right next to the West Coast Air float plane docks at 5:30 pm. By 7:00 pm we were back in our hotel in Vancouver! What a perfect day. This was the icing on our perfect week to the west coast. Thank you "Birds of a Feather". Next time we’ll be back to stay at your B&B in Victoria.