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, where Thomas was the lightkeeper, when the SS Valencia struck a reef during a wicked storm off Cape Beale on Jan. 22, 1906. The ship was stranded less than 100 metres from shore, 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 at www.portalbernimaritimeheritage.ca.
Do you live away from Port Alberni and can’t get here right now for a visit due to COVID-19 travel restrictions? 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 at https://portalberni.pastperfectonline.com.