Cabot Head (1896) Ontario, Canada
The Cabot Head Lighthouse is the site that inspired the setting for “Perdita.”
Located on Georgian Bay in Canada (near Lake Huron) the lighthouse was once slated to be destroyed.
The light station became fully automated in 1988, making a light-keeper obsolete. As the government made plans close down the site and remove the buildings, a group of local residents (The Friends of Cabot Head) intervened. Through their efforts the Cabot Head lighthouse is preserved and remains open for visitors.
Today, thousands of people visit the lighthouse each summer, travelling down a 9 km, gravel road that hugs Georgian Bay’s breath-taking coastline. Once there, visitors are treated to a remarkable blending of past and present. “Assistant-keepers” can also spend a week living inside the lighthouse and chat with visitors as they explore the exhibits.
The lighthouse dates to 1896. The first time I visited the site was on a blustery spring day: the wind was something fierce and the roar of water around was constant. Although I was able to drive to the site, for most of its history the station was only accessible by water or a rugged, overland hike. (A local cottager with a long history in the area remembers the lightkeeper stopping for a quick shot of brandy before making the arduous walk through the woods and down to the lighthouse.)
A 3-bedroom cottage was built on the grounds in 1958 (the light-keepers at the time, Harry and Ruby Hopkins, had nine children). This divided the property into two households. The light-keeper lived in the cottage while the assistant (and his family) became the sole occupants of the lighthouse. This is the arrangement I used in my novel: Marged Brice lives with her father and mother in the cottage while her Uncle Gil (the assistant-keeper) and Aunt Alis live in the lighthouse. Until the 1960s when indoor plumbing was introduced, water had to be hauled up from the Bay and hydro-electric power only arrived in 1971.
This late 19th century photograph of the Cabot Head Lighthouse on Georgian Bay inspired the character of Marged Brice.
Who is the woman standing in the doorway, at the entrance to what was once the kitchen?
She seems to be pausing for a moment at the door’s threshold—that is, in a space that is betwixt and between the inside of the lighthouse and a wild outside.
Inside are all her endless domestic chores: washing, cooking, laundry, tending to children…and yet it looks as if the wind has taken up the edge of her apron and is mischievously beckoning her to come outside into a wind-swept day and all that it might hold.
As a 21st century woman, I was strangely drawn to this figure. I, too, have felt the pull of the “inside”—all its chores, duties and responsibilities—and yet I also have found myself wishing that I could step out into a “wild” and see what it holds for me. I often feel like a person caught on a threshold—betwixt and between.
I wondered: did the woman turn around and go back inside? Or did she step out into the wind and sunshine?
Then it struck me. If she were alive today to tell me about her choice, the woman would be around 134 years old….
More on lighthouses here.