150 years of lighting the way home

Celebration of Fisgard Lighthouse's sesquicentennial includes public tours, music, food and fireworks

The Fisgard Lighthouse is throwing a big party for its 150th birthday.

The national historic site, at Ford Rodd Hill off Ocean Boulevard in Colwood, will celebrate Friday night and all day Saturday, with music, art, food and other attractions.

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Fisgard's actual birthday is Nov. 16, but the party was moved forward to coincide with fleet-review festivities.

"The lighthouse and the navy have worked in conjunction for 100 years in the entrance to Esquimalt," said Parks Canada spokesman Matthew Payne. "Their histories are inextricably linked."

The party kicks off on Friday evening, as Fort Rodd Hill opens its doors to spectators who want to watch the naval fireworks above Esquimalt Harbour. Parks Canada is expecting anywhere from 4,000 to 15,000 visitors for the fireworks, Payne said. "I'm not sure we could get those kind of numbers out in mid-November."

Fire jugglers will be on hand, along with local gypsy band Bucan Bucan, and the site will be lit up with an installation from the Luminara festival.

"We are going to cover the entire [Fisgard] Island with hundreds of glowing balls, as well as the causeway," said Payne.

"This will reflect the international fleets -- they'll have their running lights on out there. From the beach and from the site, as it gets dark, it should turn into almost a constellation.

"There is no moon that night, so if it's a nice night it should be a stunning visual display. It'll look like the island is basically floating on the ocean with all these lights."

On Saturday, an art show, live music, international food fair and historic weapons demonstration are planned. Would-be sailors can ry to guide a ship from Victoria to Esquimalt Harbour via two video games, one set in 1890 with an antique steering wheel and one set today.

"The historical one is really neat, because the buildings are as they were in 1890 and the ships you have to avoid are historically accurate," said Payne. "We say it's for the kids, but mostly they have to get past their dads to play it."

Visitors will also be able to watch a parachute show and Snowbirds air show in the afternoon after the fleet review.

Normal admission fees will be charged during the day on Friday, but admission to the lighthouse will be free Friday night and all day Saturday. Parking at the lighthouse is limited, so visitors are encouraged to park at the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre or Royal Roads University and take a free shuttle bus to the lighthouse. The bus will run about every 15 minutes during the celebrations.

The lighthouse and adjoining red brick house opened Nov. 16, 1860. The lighthouse became automated in 1929 and was gutted by a fire in 1957, but was restored soon after.

The federal government recently completed $1.56 million in restoration work on the lighthouse, which includes a fresh coat of paint, new exhibits, wheelchair accessibility, washrooms and a fire-suppression system.

The coast guard maintains the light bulb so Fisgard can continue to be used for navigation.

"Symbolically, it plays a large role both for the navy and for people in Victoria," said Payne. "If they've been on deployment for three months, when they see Fisgard, they know they are coming home.

"Before B.C. Ferries came 50 years ago, this is what people saw when they came to Victoria. This was their first sighting."

dkarp@tc.canwest.com

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