Cove Island Lightstation (1858)
It finally happened! This past summer we made a visit to the remote, mysterious and very beautiful Cove Island Light (shown in the video above). (Thank you Scott Parker of the Bruce Peninsula National Park!) The lighthouse is set on Gig Point and marks the passage between Georgian Bay and Lake Huron.
Built in the mid-19th century, the Cove Island Lightstation is one of the Bruce Peninsula’s six “imperial” lights. It was the first of the six to be finished and lit. One of its principal jobs was to warn water-craft of the treacherous Bad Neighbors Rock: a dangerous set of shoals located three miles (4.8 km) north of the island. Today the island remains largely inaccessible, although an automated light continues to serve as an aid to navigation.
One of the stories about this island inspired the opening of Marged Brice’s 1897 diaries in my novel, Perdita. In early December 1860, the government supply ship had still not reached the island and lightkeeper David McBeath had run out of food. McBeath and his wife Mary Jane were getting their five small children into a 20-foot sailboat in stormy weather (apparently thinking that the 60 mile boat trip to the town of Lion’s Head was a better risk than starvation), when miraculously the supply ship arrived. The story reminded me of how very remote these lighthouses were, especially in their early years, and how precarious supplies of food and fuel would have been for the light-keepers. (Marged begins her diaries with the arrival of food supplies and the joy of not having to eat bacon soaked in vinegar as a preservative.)
The walls of the 85-foot (26 m) tower are in remarkably good condition: tapering from 6 feet (1.9 m) at the base to 2 feet (o.6 m) at the top. A long set of stairs took me upwards and I paused on each platform, looking out the the tiny windows and watching the Bay spread and expand with each level (see video below). Although we had a calm, sunny day for our visit, it wasn’t hard to imagine what it might have been like during a gale: the wind moaning and shrieking against the walls and the surf raging only a few yards away.
Isolated, eerily left in a state of arrested grandeur…we felt that there must be a ghost story associated with the Cove Island Lightstation.
In September 1881, the body of Captain Amos Tripp washed ashore after a particularly bad storm. The light-keeper at the time, George Currie, wrapped the corpse in sailcloth and buried Tripp on the west side of the island. Later light-keepers claimed that Tripp’s ghost was a helpful one: he polished the glass, trimmed wicks and even relit the light for the keepers. Some stories have him sitting alone on the beach, watching Georgian Bay in one of its awful moods: playing sentinel to its cold, wild waters or patiently waiting out the storm…or perhaps both?
Cove Island Lightstation Heritage Association here.
Back to Lighthouses here.