Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fish Island Lighthouse Replica

     This article appeared recently on the Guardian Newspaper website.

Published on August 2, 2012
     Wendell Mill, 82, (of Stratford) was a young boy when he used to row over to the Fish Island lighthouse on Fish Island in Malpeque Bay to spend time with the lighthouse keeper and his family. Last winter he decided to fulfill his longstanding dream of building a small-scale model of the lighthouse, which was eventually replaced by a range light and was moved to Cabot Beach Provincial Park in 1989.

     Wendell Mill of Stratford is seeing the light of a small-scale lawn-mounted lighthouse that he modeled after the former Fish Island lighthouse from his childhood memories in Malpeque Bay area.

Wendell Mill has been seeing the light of the former Fish Island lighthouse in his mind’s eye for more than half his lifetime.
And now after a massive in-house building project, the 82-year-old has built a small-scale version of the same lighthouse in Malpeque Bay that he used to visit often as a young boy not far from his home in Mill’s Point.
“It looks something like it, doesn’t it?” Mill says of the stately structure he has erected on his front lawn in Stratford in the centre of a scenic spread of flowers and more.
Last winter this amateur craftsman decided to try his hand at recreating the lighthouse of his childhood using a 1913 photograph of the structure and his memories of when it was still on Fish Island, which is at the mouth of Malpeque Harbour across from Cabot Beach Provincial Park.
Built in 1876 the Fish Island lighthouse guided mariners safely into the waters of Malpeque Bay until 1961 when what is called the Malpeque Harbour Approach Range Lights took over its duties.
In 1989, locals anxious to save the historic light tower from the effects of erosion, arranged to have it airlifted by the Search and Rescue crew of Squadron 13 at the former Canadian Forces Base in Summerside to nearby Cabot Park where it overlooks the beach to this day.
It appeared in the CBC television series, Emily of New Moon, which was based upon a book written by Lucy Maud Montgomery.
Back in the early 1940s when the lighthouse was still on Fish Island, Mill’s family homestead at Mill’s Point didn’t have a view of the beckoning beacon, but he was just a dory jaunt away.
“I used to go there. They’d drop me off when they went fishing. They’d go hand-lining and call for me on the way back. I was too small. They thought I’d get seasick so I’d pick cranberries,” he remembers.
When he was a little older, about 12 or 13 years of age, he’d often visit the last lighthouse keeper, Johnny Chappell, and his family.
“That’s the living quarters. I had a good many meals there,” he says of the 1-1/2 storey dwelling that was attached to the lighthouse, which also had an affixed storage shed.
“(The lighthouse keeper) used to come up home and we’d take him to Summerside or Kensington to get groceries and he have to get there and back before dark to do the lights.
You couldn’t get there with a car or anything, you had to go by boat.”
Mill actually enjoyed the vistas from the top of the lighthouse on numerous occasions.
“The view was nice. I was there in a storm, a northeast gale; a big surf comes in there. You could hardly get in there with a boat the tide goes so strong. I was stuck there for a day or two. I guess I’d be 12 or 13,” he recalls.
Although he couldn’t see the light from his home, the booming foghorn was a familiar sound.
Mill remembers it was a welcoming sound when he and a friend rowed across the bay to the Port Hill area where they fished smelts for two seasons.
“When we were coming across we could hear that horn and I said to (my friend) I’m going to build that (lighthouse) someday,” he says.
Mill moved to Charlottetown as a young man and worked for 47 years with Canada Packers.
Then last year he decided it was high time he got around to building his model of the Fish Island lighthouse.
“Dad said he had very fond memories of this place and in the fall he said, ‘I’m going to build (a replica) of the Fish Island lighthouse. And we just thought he was joking. We had no idea he was going to do this,” says his daughter Carolyn Villard.
“So he got a picture of the Fish Island lighthouse and lo and behold he was working diligently down in the little dungeon down there (in the basement), and then one day he showed me what he was building.”
The mini-lighthouse, which stands about five feet high, was built with plywood and cedar shingles.
Mill fit his lighthouse with a solar light and painted it its original colours of white with red trim.
He placed it in the centre of a land- and sea-scape that includes a little fishing dory sailing in a sea of blue pansies, a Prince Edward Island sandstone shoreline with beach sand and starfish, and ornamental grasses like dune marram grass as a backdrop.
“I have fond memories every time I go out there,” Mill says.
“That’s why I built it.”
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     A few months after the disastrous Yankee Gale struck the northern coast of Prince Edward Island and wrecked much of the New England fishing fleet working offshore, Henry Palmer, the Consular Agent of the United States for the island colony, wrote to Lieutenant Govenor Alexander Bannerman on March 2, 1852 that many ship owners in the United States would be willing to contribute towards the erection of lighthouses at Malpeque and Tracadie harbours as fishermen had no protected anchorage on the north shore that could be safely accessed at night in the event of a sudden gale.
     In 1853, every fishing vessel from the United States that visited the harbours on Prince Edward Island was required to pay an anchorage duty that was purportedly for the support of lighthouses. The Americans complained about this added tax, noting that their contributions should be sufficient to fully light the northern coast, which still hadn’t received its first lighthouse. That same year, a letter from Captain Bayfield of the Royal Navy was presented in the House of Assembly recommending Bill Hook Island, also known as Fish Island, at the entrance to Richmond (Malpeque) Bay as the best site on which to place two lights to serve as harbour lights.
     The recommendation was soon acted upon, and James H. Beckwith was paid £37 under contract to erect a lighthouse on Bill Hook Island. The light likely went into operation during the early summer of 1853, as Benjamin Thomson was paid an annual salary of £36 for keeping the light starting on June 16, 1853. Just two years later, a petition “setting forth the failure of the Light placed on Fish Island to answer the ends designed in its establishment” was presented to the House of Assembly by several local inhabitants. The petitioners further claimed that the light as constructed and managed at the time actually deceived the mariner.

     A similar petition was again presented to the House of Assembly in 1857, and this one seems to have had the desired effect as £100 was appropriated for a new lighthouse on Fish Island. The second Fish Island Lighthouse was built by hired labour, primarily John Smallwood, under the direction of Silas Barnard, Supervisor of Public Works for the colony. In the middle of August 1857, Silas Barnard traveled to Fish Islo “set the light house a-going, and deliver the same over to the keeper.” Benjamin Thomson was still keeper at the time, but William H. McKay would replace him a few months later.
     John Craig, who served both as keeper of the Fish Island Lighthouse and collector of light duties for Richmond Bay, submitted a report in 1861 that read in part, “I hereby forward … a copy of names of Fishing Vessels, which are in the habit yearly of frequenting the Port of Richmond Bay during the Fishing season, and which derive all the advantages of the Light and Harbor accommodations, whenever they feel inclined to put in for safety or otherwise, and whose Captains have declined and positively refused paying their Light dues.” These light dues were used to support the colony’s lighthouses, and Keeper Craig feared that if something wasn’t done to force compliance all vessels would refuse to pay.
     In 1874, a year after Prince Edward Island joined the Confederation, the General Superintendent of lighthouses visited the island’s lighthouses and gave the following assessment of the Fish Island Lighthouse. “The light-house at this station is a slight wooden structure not worthy of repair, and the dwelling-house has been abandoned as unfit for use. New lamps and reflectors were supplied to this light-house, but it will be necessary to erect a new light-house, dwelling and oil store at this station, and also to establish a beacon range light.”
      A contract for $1,987 to construct the new lighthouse and range light on Fish Island was awarded to Thomas Fahey of Alberton in 1875. Work on the project was carried out during 1876, and the new lights were put in operation at the opening of navigation in 1877. The lighthouse was a white, square, wooden building, with a height of 14 metres (46 feet), and was attached to a small, one-and-a-half-story dwelling. The companion range light, an open-frame tower, stood at a distance of 366 metres (1,200 feet) from the main light and indicated the proper channel for crossing the bar.
     Though newly constructed, the lights required the constant attention of a dedicated keeper in order to be effective. In 1878, William Mitchell, the island’s agent for the Department of Marine and Fisheries, visited the station, which he called “most important” since it was at the entrance of the best harbour of refuge on the north coast, and was displeased with its condition. Mitchell recorded in his annual report, “Mr. Angus J. McLellan is keeper, who is neither energetic nor careful; I must say that the lights were not satisfactory.”
     As the best channel into the harbour shifted over time, the range light had to be occasionally relocated. In 1887, the range light was moved 6 metres (20 feet) south to range clear of a bank on the north side of the channel, and in 1894 it was moved again to range clear of a sand spit making out form Darnley Point. The supply steamer Prince Edward called at the station in 1893, and its crew constructed a new boat house and launching ways.
     An additional range light was established on Fish Island on June 1, 1895 to range with the main light and indicate the entrance to the channel leading to Darnley Basin. This was a red light, displayed from a lantern hoisted on a mast, and was in service until 1897, when the Darnely Basin Range Lights were established on the mainland to serve the same purpose.
      The 1876 Fish Island Lighthouse no longer exists. A pole topped by a lantern was placed on the island to serve as a back range light in 1912, and a skeleton tower replaced this temporary structure the following year. This tower may have been enclosed to become the surviving wooden Fish Island Lighthouse. In 1961, the skeleton tower with an enclosed upper portion that stands on the island today replaced the wooden tower. This metal tower stands 15.2 metres (50 feet) tall and serves as the back or rear range light for what the Canadian Coast Guard now calls the Malpeque Harbour Approach Range Lights.
      The abandoned wooden tower on Fish Island was threatened by shore erosion in the late 1980s. The Department of Transport considered burning the structure, but locals stepped in and proposed a plan to save the historic tower. Bill Auld, president of the Malpeque Historical Society, and fisherman Keith Davidson sawed the tower in half, and members of the Search and Rescue Crew of the Canadian Forces Base at Summerside used a Labrador helicopter in 1989 to transfer the two sections to Cabot Park, where the lighthouse was reassembled and restored.
     The surviving wooden Fish Island Lighthouse in Cabot Park appeared in the Canadian television series, Emily of New Moon, which aired on CBC Television from 1998 to 2000. The series was based on a book of the same title penned by Lucy Maude Montgomery, who grew up on Prince Edward Island and also authored the more well-known Anne of Green Gables.
     Keepers: Benjamin Thomson (1853 – 1857), William H. McKay (1857 – 1859), John Craig (1859 – 1865), Angus J. McLellan (1873 – 1895), Matilda McLellan (1895 – 1897), William Sinclair (1897 – 1906), Patrick Gould (1906 – 1910), J. A. L. McLellan (1910 – 1913), P. Hickey (1913 – 1924), J. Chappell (1924 – ).

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     Below is the Fish Island Lighthouse as it sits today at Cabot Park on Malpeque Bay.  This lighthouse appeared in the TV Series Emily of New Moon.
Image cf.

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Also here's an article on CBC PEI Radio this morning, September 12, 2012

     A Stratford man has plenty to be proud of after spending last winter in his basement building - a 5-foot model of a lighthouse. But it's not just any lighthouse. 82-year-old Wendell Mill has recreated the lighthouse in Malpeque Bay that he visited as a boy. It was located on a tiny island in Malpeque Harbour called Fish Island. The replica now sits amid blue flowers on Wendell's front lawn on Keppoch Road in Stratford. And that's where Island Morning's Pat Martel met Wendell Mill.

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