The first light source for the third order Fresnel lens worked on the pressure vapour principle and burned vaporized oil. A mantel about two inches in diameter was used. In 1960, an electric light bulb replaced the vaporized oil. During the 1980s, the Canadian Coast Guard used Point Atkinson as a test site for automated lighthouse systems. Today, a much smaller solar-powered light has replaced the electrical one.


Pg 7 of the Rules and Instructions for Light Keepers told lightkeepers how to take care of the light


Maintaining the rotation of the light was an ongoing duty, and one that was made extremely difficult in poor weather conditions.

Larry Grafton remembers:
That was a curse having to wind that thing up every 2 ¾ hours or whatever it was, because you know, they have railings in there, but in the old days they just had the one hand rail…You went down 12 steps and they had this little platform and the next railing was way over here and you would get down there in the dark and you were just easing along the cement wall until you hit the rail. Snow used to blow right through the ventilation system, you know, cause they, outside the ventilation was open and then they had a wall in between, I guess its still there, came over the top and out the ventilation…in the beacon room, you got a wild wind in a snow storm, the snow used to go right down the tower and you had to go up there in the dark and wind the clockworks, pretty slippery sometimes.


Norm Dawe remembers:
You would light up at sunset. Then … start the lens rotating…inside the lens, right in the centre there is a tube which is surrounded by the burner and first you would preheat this tube…you put methylene spirits-alcohol-in it, and heat the tube with that, preheat it and then turn the fuel on, it was a mixture of air and kerosene, and then from there you would light the mantle. It was basically similar to today's Coleman camp stove…. It was larger and was run by kerosene or in later days stove oil was used…the lens itself is very heavy…it's very heavy… and for a bearing so this will turn, what they use is a bath that has mercury in it and the base of the turning part, sits in this bath of mercury floats. Like if you had a mechanical bearing, something with a squirt of oil in it once and a while you know it would take a lot to turn it. With it floating in the mercury, you could turn it with your finger pretty well, something that weighs a ton or so. Now this rotated with the clock work. The clock work was driven with a 220lb weight that goes down the length of the tower, the height of the tower. This weight would take 2 ½ hours to turn the height of the tower. So ever 2 ½ hours somebody had to go up and wind this weight back up…


Laurence Grafton remembers flare ups on the light:
Of course, you just had the little mantle and I don't know why it would catch fire, you heated the generator prior to the time you turned on … the vaporized coal oil. Our pressure tank was down one floor. The vaporizer was a tube and it had a little cup on the side which you filled with alcohol when you were going to light the light…. You continued putting alcohol in there until your vaporizer was hot and then you turn on the valve from the from the pressure tank below which if full of coal oil and the vaporized coal oil hits and vaporizes and the mantle's on top (almost like fuel injection). Yeah the mantles some times get black. Of course you had to play around with it…until you got the black stuff off, the soot. There's one prism that's cracked - that's from catching fire.


Close up of prism from lens at Point Atkinson Lighthouse.
Point Atkinson, West Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada


Joyce Godard remembers:
It was my job to clean the prisms and the brass. I hate brass. The lenses are like triangular prisms of heavy glass and at that time it was a Coleman lamp in the centre. So you had to get in and clean all the prisms inside and outside and then the mercury bath was in a big tank about three feet high, I guess. And it was all brass. And it all had to be cleaned…hours. Well, it had to be done every week. It had to be kept up. the lenses were like triangular prisms of heavy glass and at that time it was a Coleman lamp in the centre. So you had to get in and clean all the prisms inside and outside and then the mercury bath was in a big tank about three feet high I guess and it was all brass.


Brass piston from fog horn engine.
Point Atkinson, West Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada


Electric lamp used in the 3rd order Fresnel lens at Point Atkinson.
Point Atkinson, West Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada


By the 1960s, the clockworks were replaced with an electric motor.

Jean Odlum remembers:
It was still kerosene, gas mantle lamps [for the light, but an electric motor had been installed] … then you don't have that 15 minutes, half an hour of winding that silly weight. Oh, it's altogether different now. It's so much easier.

In 1997, the light was removed and a smaller, less powerful light was installed. At the same time, operation of the light became automatic, eliminating the light keeper.


Interior of prism with electric light apparatus.
Point Atkinson, West Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada


Fog Horn

"T.A. Fullerton, superintendent of Canadian Pacific Steamships, contacted the port warden of Vancouver in August 1889, insisting that he inform the minister of Marine straightaway that 'the shipping interests of the port' required protection from fog while entering and leaving the harbour. 'Should any accident occur to any of the Steamers in the Narrows,' he warned, 'it would be a serious matter to a young town like Vancouver.' At the very least the department should install a fog alarm at Point Atkinson and build another manned lighthouse on Brockton Point, at the entrance to the inner harbour.

"The CPR seldom had to wait long for Ottawa to do its bidding. Within a matter of months a new fog alarm went up on the shoreline, three hundred yards west of the tower. The earliest horn, the 'Scotch siren,' was driven by steam pressure of at least fifty pounds, which spun a rotating drum - much like a giant kazoo. In 1902, J.P. Northey, a Toronto manufacturer, replaced the drum with a high velocity pulsating piston, a much more efficient design which he christened the diaphone. Northey's invention placed Canada at the forefront in lighthouse technology; a role abdicated only in the 1970s."
Don Graham, Keepers of the Light, 1985, pp. 66-67.


Fog could render the most powerful lens useless, so mariners also depended on an audible warning to alert them to danger. With the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1886, the port of Vancouver saw increased steamer traffic and Point Atkinson was fitted with a fog alarm in 1889 to assist with marine navigation in an increasingly congested port. Pollution from slash burning in Vancouver and burning sawdust in beehive burners contributed to low visibility on local waterways. Before the arrival of the fist foghorn system, keepers used a hand held fog alarm. Later, the handheld horn was used as backup.


The first fog alarm was called a Scotch Siren and was powered by a coal-generated steam plant. The coal was landed annually by boat and hauled by derrick to the engine room. If the coal supply was exhausted, wood was gathered from the beach and cut from the surrounding area.