GORDON C. ODLUM
Dates of service at Pt. Atkinson: 1961-1976
In 1961 Gordon Odlum took over the duties of head light keeper at Point Atkinson. His wife Jean and daughter Coral came with him, from Race Rocks, where they had spent the last ten years. During his reign he saw the arrival of electricity to the lantern. This eliminated the need for the keeper to climb the stairs every two-and-a-half hours to wind up the weight-driven clockwork assembly that rotated the light.
Gordon met Jean while on leave from Triple Island, a rock light in the northern agency of Prince Rupert. There two keepers work together sequestered in the tower for one month at a time, taking one month leave in between. Jean was working at a bakery on Commercial Drive, in Vancouver, and Gordon went there to buy bread for his mother whilst on leave. He struck up a conversation with her, and returned many times. They began corresponding and eventually Jean, at 17, agreed to marry him. She spent nine years with Gordon on Triple Island, and the couple later moved to Race Rocks, before coming to Point Atkinson. Their daughter relates that Jean’s happiest times were spent at Triple Island with Gordon, where they observed weather and wildlife, and played 2,000 games of chess, coming out about even.
To satisfy the public’s insatiable curiosity about lighthouses, one of the things Gordon liked to do was to take people up into the tower. He hung a homemade card on a hook at Point Atkinson’s gates. It entitled the bearer and four companions to a tour. After the 15-minute tour, visitors replaced the card on the hook, and the next group of five would enter. Sunday afternoons would see long queues as people waited their turn. Gordon delighted in explaining how everything worked. Many visitors were surprised to learn that the light, which can be seen for miles, came from a 500-watt bulb, magnified many times by a series of prisms. He kept a small dish by the lens in the beacon room, salted with a few dollars. Donations raised went half to charity and half to Gordon.
Gordon retired after more than 35 years of service in 1976. By the time he retired, the Canadian Coast Guard had begun preparing for the automation of light stations, so that no manpower would be required. As Point Atkinson was more accessible than most stations, it became the testing ground for new equipment. After Gordon retired, the keepers who followed were told that their service would be short-lived, because automation was inevitable.