Chances are, if you read my blog, or you drink beer in BC, you’ve heard of Lighthouse Brewing Company. If you have, you likely know about their Race Rocks beer. But did you know about the Race Rocks Lighthouse? I certainly didn’t, until just over a month ago, when a friend of a friend was in need of someone to take over from him as the Race Rocks eco-guardian for the month of February.
Now it makes sense that Race Rocks is a real place. After all, Lighthouse Brewing Company also makes the Beacon Hill ESB (a very real place in Victoria) and the Tasman Ale, another real (though much farther away) place. And so it was only a minor surprise to learn that not only is Race Rocks a real place, but it has a lighthouse, and it’s pretty spectacular.
The fact that it has a lighthouse makes it that much cooler when you’re already a fan of the Lighthouse Race Rocks beer, because none of their other beers are named after real, working lighthouses.
Then there is the place itself, a beautiful collection of small islands off the south coast of Vancouver Island, south-west of Victoria. Race Rocks is an ecological reserve, which means that all of the islands and the the seafloor around them are protected from fishing and certain boating activities. This is to ensure the survival of this unique ecosystem. Race Rocks is home to the most northerly elephant seal birthing colony on the West Coast, as well as harbour seals, Steller/northern sea lions, California sea lions, the occasional sea and river otter, three different species of cormorants and seagulls, bald eagles, black turnstones, dunlins, Canada geese, harlequin ducks, black oystercatchers, and many other species of birds.
The only exception to the reserve area is the main island, Great Race, which is home to the lighthouse and various other outbuildings. These days the light and foghorn are automated, but they’re still the property of the Coast Guard, who check in from time to time. The other buildings include the Eco-guardian’s house, and the Students’ house, where student’s from nearby Pearson College come to take part in marine biology projects. Pearson College is a member of the UWC (United World Colleges) and provides International Baccalaureate degrees for students aged grade 12 and first year university.
Pearson College provides the eco-guardian to ensure that boats don’t disturb the animals, people don’t go ashore on the islands, the buildings are kept in working condition, and to observe and report on all aspects of the reserve, including weather, ecological happenings, boat traffic, DND activities, and helicopters. With respect to the animals, whenever it is practical to do so, the eco-guardian treats the main island as though it is also part of the reserve.
The lighthouse itself has a fascinating history. Built in 1859-60 from granite quarried and shaped in Scotland, the pieces were sent over to the Colony of Vancouver Island as ballast and assembled here. The light was first lit on December 26th, 1860, six weeks after the Fisgard Lighthouse was first lit. They were the first two lighthouses to be built along British Columbia’s coast. Known as the “Imperial Lights,” they have helped to steer ships to safety ever since along the often dangerous Juan de Fuca Straight.
Working the job of eco-guardian has given me the opportunity to combine my love of nature, wildlife, the ocean, boats, scientific observation, writing, history, and self sufficiency into my daily routine. One passion that is missing from that list is beer, but sometimes, after a long hard day of work, there’s nothing that tastes better than a beer. Especially a beer made to celebrate such an incredible location!
Lighthouse Race Rocks (Scottish style amber, 5.2%)
Appearance: rootbeer colour, beige head.
Nose: sweet caramel (Rolo) and malt.
Palate: fizzy, gentle malt, earthy granulated sugar.
Finish: hint of hops, toasty dark chocolate.
Rating: 3/5 Good
P.S. If your’e interested in learning more about the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve and/or reading the Eco-guardians’ log posts go to racerocks.ca