Meet Minnie Paterson, the heroine of Cape Beale

How a lighthouse keeper’s wife saved the victims of a turn-of-the-century shipwreck

Minnie Paterson, known as the ‘Heroine of Cape Beale’ for her lifesaving efforts following a tragic shipwreck on the west coast of Vancouver Island, poses for a portrait with her dog Yarrow in 1900. Paterson’s husband Thomas was the Cape Beale lighthouse keeper at the time of the wrecks of the SS Valencia on Jan. 22, 1906 and the Coloma on Dec. 7, 1906. Minnie earned her nickname after trekking through rough terrain and weather to Bamfield to alert Coast Guard Service Quadra that the Coloma was sinking. All aboard were saved thanks to her heroic efforts. This photo is one of 24,000 included in the Alberni Valley Museum’s online archives, available for public viewing at https://portalberni.pastperfectonline.com. (PHOTO PN11869 COURTESY ALBERNI VALLEY MUSEUM)

Minnie Paterson, known as the ‘Heroine of Cape Beale’ for her lifesaving efforts following a tragic shipwreck on the west coast of Vancouver Island, poses for a portrait with her dog Yarrow in 1900. Paterson’s husband Thomas was the Cape Beale lighthouse keeper at the time of the wrecks of the SS Valencia on Jan. 22, 1906 and the Coloma on Dec. 7, 1906. Minnie earned her nickname after trekking through rough terrain and weather to Bamfield to alert Coast Guard Service Quadra that the Coloma was sinking. All aboard were saved thanks to her heroic efforts. This photo is one of 24,000 included in the Alberni Valley Museum’s online archives, available for public viewing at https://portalberni.pastperfectonline.com. (PHOTO PN11869 COURTESY ALBERNI VALLEY MUSEUM)

Minnie Paterson’s husband Thomas was a lighthouse keeper at Cape Beale, but Minnie herself is known as the “Heroine of Cape Beale” for the extraordinary measures she took to save the crew of the barkentine Coloma on Dec. 7, 1906.

Minnie Paterson was the daughter of Captain George Huff, owner and operator of the steamboat Willie, which travelled the Alberni Inlet. She and Thomas were living at the Cape Beale lighthouse on the southern edge Barkley Sound, where Thomas was the lightkeeper, when the SS Valencia struck a reef during a wicked storm on Jan. 22, 1906. The ship was stranded less than 100 metres from the shores of the Cape, however 100 people died before rescue.

Less than a year later another storm battered the Coloma near shore. Thomas Paterson spotted the ship, but the telegraph line was down. The nearest rescue vessel was the Coast Guard Steamer Quadra, which had sheltered near Bamfield during the storm.

Minnie Paterson braved the weather to walk to Bamfield six kilometres away. It took her four hours of slogging through water and mud and over trees that had fallen in the wind. She and the telegraph line-keeper’s wife rowed out to the Quadra to alert the crew. Minnie then walked home so she could tend to her children.

As a result of her efforts, no one died in the shipwreck.

Minnie was presented with a gold watch, silver plate and tea set from both the Canadian government and the Seattle Maritime Union. The plate and tea set are on display at the Maritime Discovery Centre, having been donated to the Alberni Valley Museum in 2010.

The Maritime Discovery Centre on Harbour Road in Port Alberni has a permanent exhibit in its replica lighthouse about the Patersons, called “One Family’s Life on the Light.” The exhibit includes some artifacts from Minnie Paterson’s time at the lighthouse. See more online here. Take a virtual tour of the lighthouse and other facets of the Maritime Discovery Centre at portalbernimaritimeheritage.ca/virtual-tour.

The Alberni Valley Museum’s digital archives contains 24,000 images of the region’s history. Members of the public may access the archives online here.

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.



susie.quinn@albernivalleynews.com

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