Chrome Island is a small outcrop of rock that houses the Chrome Island Lighthouse. Originally named Yellow Rock it was renamed Chrome Island in 1940 to lessen confusion with Yellow Island in Discovery Passage. Chrome Island Lighthouse marks the southern entrance to Baynes Sound. Pre-historic carvings on the yellow sandstone may record battles of the Pentlatch people or perhaps depict offerings to the spirit world. It is now considered a protected archeological site.
Completed in 1890 the lighthouse was built to protect ships coming for coal supplies in Union Bay. Its signature of three white flashes could be seen for seventeen miles. Tom Piercy was the first lighthouse keeper. In 1989, the tower was brought down and replaced with the current tower that flashes a white light every five seconds. The Canadian Coast Guard has repeatedly threatened to de-staff the lighthouse but support from mariners, floatplane operators, and historians help keep it in operating.
The best view of it is from a rocky point in Boyle Point Provincial Park on the southern part of the Denman Island. If you come during the spring you might be able to look down at a nesting pair of eagles. You will also see see sea lions basking on the rocks or swimming through the shallow waters among the rocks.
The Lighthouse Keeper
It was a cold stormy dark night.
Keeper McDonagh watched the seas
from his lighthouse tower on Yellow Rock,
ready to direct those at sea away from the rocks
ready to rescue and assist those in distress.
The Alpha steamed toward Union Bay
with 630 tons of salted dog salmon
making the last stop for a load of coal
before setting off on the long journey
across the wide Pacific to Japan.
Owner, Sam Barber, was aboard
planning to sell the Alpha for salvage at journey’s end.
Captain Yorke a stubborn and self-willed man
commanded his crew of thirty-one.
He refused to heed his shipmate’s advice
who twice cried out an urgent alarm,
“We are heading straight for a fixed light.”
Shortly after midnight on December 16, 1900,
the Alpha struck the shallows near Yellow Rock
Quartermaster Anderson seized a heavy rope
swam to Yellow Island and secured it to a rock.
Twenty-five crew members following the line in the dark
struggled to the safety of the yellow rocks of Chrome Island.
Yorke and Barber and five other crewmembers
shunned the icy waters waiting for rescue,
hanging on to the mainmast as the ship sank.
The landed crew pled with them to follow the rope
and come to the safe shores of Yellow Rock.
The waves continued to roll in from the Salish Sea
driven by winter’s south eastern gales
the mast snapped hurling the seven into the sea
to perish beneath the waves in the frigid water.
Mr. Barber went down with his investment.
Captain Yorke went down with his ship.
Keeper McDonagh sheltered the twenty-five survivors
until help arrived and transported them to Vancouver.
The lighthouse on the island deserves to be recognized,
a light to those in danger in the rough seas in the dark.