tofino history - the macnabs of lennard island

The MacNabs of Lennard Island Lighthouse

by by Mary G. Hardy, formerly MacLeod


On a beautiful July morning in 1936, I was on the Tofino lifeboat heading for Lennard Island Lighthouse. Aunty Mac (no relation) had invited me for my first trip away from home at twelve years of age.

It was the day after "boat day", the C.P.R. ship Princess Norah" was steaming for northern ports of call, with the summer tourists and the lifeboat crew had collected the food and supplies to be taken to the lighthouse. My dad Alex MacLeod, was the Coxswain. (from 1925-1952)

The memory is there of a perfect summer morning. The sea looked glassy, with a slight movement of the water. Soon we entered the gap between Lennard Island and the outer rocks. Kelp moved slowly back and forth on the rocks. While the lifeboat held her position, I jumped into the stern of the skiff and was rowed stern first into a smaller gap between two rock walls, we went in on a gentle wave. The beach sparkled with white crushed seashells. Aunty Mac met me on the shore.

We walked up the salal lined pathway leading to the McNab home. A beautiful scent was in the air from sweet peas, in full bloom. They were trellised on the north east side of their home. A cottage for two assistants was in a cleared area. We went up steps to the back door. On the left an elevated boardwalk, with railings on both sides led to the engine room where the foghorn could be seen on an outside wall. A boardwalk across from the back door, led to the lighthouse a short distance away. Another boardwalk led to the right and to the other small buildings, where Uncle Mac was busy hauling up the supplies.

The entrance hall held the gumboots and rain gears, warmer clothing hung am hooks ready for any change in the weather.
The large kitchen was country style. The dining table was along the wall near the two large windows, which looked out to the lighthouse. A sideboard was nearby with a glassed in china cupboard above. An oil stove was in front on another wall. The aroma of percolating coffee filled the room. On another side of the room was a table with a table with radio equipment, to keep in touch with the Tofino lifeboat station. The flooring was covered with battleship linoleum in a deep blue shade and kept well polished. A corridor type pantry led off from the end of the kitchen. At the end of one counter was a large kerosene powered refrigerator. (1936) In the middle of the counter was the sink with a window facing south.

One day, we stood as this window to watch the Princess Norah enter Templar Channel (on the way to Tofino). Each time she passed by she blew her whistle, greeting those on Lennard Island.

A bathroom led off from the kitchen. It always had a clean carbolic disinfectant smell, from the red lifebuoy soap used by most people of the time. Water tanks outside, collected rainwater for the bathroom.

The living room, with a brick fireplace, was large and comfortable. Uncle Mac's chair was beside a window where he could look up, in the evenings and see the light. Aunty Mac's chair was nearby where she spent her evenings knitting. She was an experienced knitter, keeping up with the latest patterns from books received from England. Beside her was a bookcase on which were many small Indian baskets, filled with coins. Native people at that time lived at Echachis, a seasonal village off the S.W. tip of Wickininnish Island and they would have been visitors to Lennard Island. Whenever she made a wish, she dropped coins into a basket. At the far end of the room was another dining room table. On it was a vase with a large bouquet of sweet peas and beside it a bowl of cherries. I remember this combination ever when July comes around.

There were tow bedrooms off the living room. In my room the furniture was cream coloured French provincial, which impressed me.

The main meal was between 12 and 1 o'clock. Supper was a light meal with cold cuts, or fish and a salad. The greens were fresh from their garden and served with an oil and vinegar dressing Uncle Mac made each time. There was always fresh bread. He used the overnight yeast method and formed the loaves in the morning. Peanut butter and jam was a new taste for me, we didn't know about peanut butter in my home. One afternoon, Aunty Mac made a double layer white cake with a white fluffy icing, covered with coconut. Through the years I have made it many times, thinking of her.

In the afternoon, we would go down the path to the shell beach. The helicopter pad is now there on a grassy mound. We would lie on our stomachs searching for odd seashells, especially butterfly shells. It was all so quiet and peaceful. I didn't feel loneliness or miss my family. The days were long and I was perfectly happy with her. I remember her laugh.

I was taken out fishing in their rowboat. There were tow sticks wedged one on each side of the stern seat. Attached to the sticks were cuttyhunk fishing lines, lead sinkers and highly polished (with Brasso) Gibbs Stewart #3 or Tom Mac spoons. On rowing out through the gap and not far from the rocks, one of the sticks bent well backwards signaling a fish. I knew how to pull in the seven-pound Coho, smack it on the snout with the bulb end of the fish club, and remove the hook.

One day the assistants rowed us over to Chesterman's Beach. The water was calm and we landed near Frank Island. Not another soul was on the beach but we did hear a crashing in the woods, probably a bear who didn't show himself.

When the fog was rolling in, I would go with Uncle Mac to the engine room. The tow steam driven engines were meticulously clean and shining. One was started up and soon the foghorn was blowing its warning to all. I soon got used to it and slept soundly those nights.

I loved the routine of going out the back door in the evenings with Uncle Mac and heading to the lighthouse. The smell inside was distinctly paint and oil; nothing else was in the rooms. There were three flights of stairs positioned on the left sidewalls. Reaching the light, we went up a few steps and sat inside the beautiful plate glass circular reflectors. Uncle Mac lit the coal oil lantern. I can still remember the pungent smell. The light was magnified by a clock which was would up every 2 1/2 hours by the assistants. One afternoon I was taken the door onto the walkway around the top of the lighthouse.

The view of the ocean facing south and west seemed to go on forever. To the east lay Chesterman's Beach and the mountains of the Coast Range in the distance, to north, Haystack, Lone Cone and Catface Mountains, (I could see the cat's ears) were familiar to me. The other islands and coastline so beautiful now, in winter would be pounded by raging storms. I didn't want to look upon the rocks below.

Life on Lennard Island was simple, peaceful and orderly, everything revolved around the Keeping of the Light. When I think back to my first holiday, I remember the kindness of the McNabs and the memories they made for me.

Mary G. Hardy, formerly MacLeod, has written a number of pieces based on her memories of early Tofino and the West Coast.

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