Note: My cousin works in the Canadian Coastguard here on Vancouver Island. He told me this story. I have embellished it a little. Fair warning, it’s a gruesome tale.
Vancouver Island is situated on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada. Between the Island and the mainland, known locally as ‘the interior’, lies the Strait of Georgia. The weather and storms of the North West Pacific ocean lash against the west coast of the Island. The Strait can also be fairly rough sea to navigate. The Canadian Coastguard perform Search and Rescue operations in Canadian waters, and also maintain lighthouses along the coast.
At the northern end of B.C., exposed to the turbulence of the ocean, lies Triple Island Lightstation. The lighthouse barely fits on the rock it’s built on. It is the only manned lightstation with a 28 day roster, because the conditions prevent a longer stay. Waves actually strike the sides of the buildings during storms, causing the lighthouse to shudder violently. You’d have to be pretty tough, and dedicated to work there.
Back in the day, the lightstations were manned by a lighthouse keeper, and his assistant. Typically the keeper’s wife would be his assistant. As conditions were often too perilous for ships to sail, resupply only ever came when they could. Sometimes it would be over two months before supply ships could dock safely. Families were known to be starving to death when the resupply finally arrived. Especially in the case of a station like Triple Island.
In the early days, mercury was used to hold the lights at the top of the lighthouse. The huge and heavy lights could float and be spun easily on the mercury. Mercury, we’ve learned, is especially toxic when the fumes are inhaled. Mercury poisoning is also known as The Mad Hatter’s Disease.
There’s a story of a lighthouse keeper, his wife, and two children who were manning Triple Island lightstation. Storms and rain plagued the station for sixty days straight. The family were also starving. One day, driven mad by exposure to mercury vapour, and the relentlessly horrible conditions, the keeper’s wife finally snapped. She murdered the children, and seriously wounded her husband. The supply ship finally arrived, and found the keeper bleeding out on the dock.
The supply ship’s captain and first mate searched the station for the keeper’s wife. They found the bodies of the children. One had been visibly gnawed on. There was no sign of the lady. The crew figured she’d cast herself into the ocean, and cleaned and resupplied the station. The replacement keeper was understandably worried, and borrowed the first mate’s pistol, mostly for his peace of mind. He used it on himself forty days later. His final letter read: ‘She’s lonely. I must join her.’