Unaffected by isolation, B.C. lighthouse keepers continue work

VANCOUVER — As British Columbia begins to reopen and reduce social distancing guidelines, life hasn't changed much for Spencer Wilson.

Wilson is one of the roughly 54 lighthouse keepers working across B.C.'s 27 manned lighthouses, stretching from the southern tip of Vancouver Island up to near the Alaska border.

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Living conditions vary for each lighthouse, but keepers work in pairs to ensure an entire day is covered.

"It stops us from having any 'Shining' moments," said Barry Tchir, the regional vice-president of the union representing lighthouse keepers.

Wilson, 48, has been working as a lighthouse keeper since October.

"It takes a certain type of personality to do it," Wilson said from his station at Boat Bluff, a remote lighthouse on B.C.'s north coast that has been operating since 1906.

Wilson and his partner receive groceries once a month by helicopter and fuel every few years.

Besides that, he can't recall the last time he interacted face-to-face with another person during his shifts.

"We rarely, rarely see visitors," Wilson said. "There's nobody who comes around and hangs out."

He started working as a lighthouse keeper after spending four years in Hong Kong working for a collectible toy company.

Moving from a bustling city-state of 7.4 million to a spit of land inhabited by him and one other person requires an adjustment period, Wilson said.

But his life abroad was punctuated by bouts of loneliness.

"Even though I was living in such a huge city with so many different people, I was still alone. I didn't have any friends. I did my work, I stayed home," Wilson said.

"I was already isolated in a city of millions."

Instead of traffic and the hum of city life, Wilson said he gets to enjoy listening to whales and sea lions outside his window.

He empathizes with B.C. residents who have struggled with isolation during the pandemic, but notes his isolation is very different than those in more urban locations.

"If you really need to go to the grocery store, you can go to the grocery store. It's not true isolation," Wilson said.

He recommends those struggling with isolation to schedule their days to help them maintain a sense of normalcy.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2020

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