The Isle of Coves has many fascinating stories to tell but nothing compares with the drama of lightkeeper David McBeath his wife Mary Jane, and their five young children running out of food with winter imminent.
It was early December 1860 and the McBeath family had not yet received their provisions. Despite rationing for weeks, McBeath was desperate for food to feed his starving wife and children.
With the lake beginning to freeze, McBeath had a difficult decision to make, stay on the island in the hope that food may arrive soon and risk starvation, or load his family into the boat and take his chances on the cold and turbulent lake in the hope of reaching the mainland.
What David McBeath did not know, the American steamer Ontonagan had arrived at Collingwood with her captain relaying McBeath’s desperate message.
“The Lighthouse Keeper Isle of Coves has no supplies for winter – Himself and family will starve.”
The Captains of two other vessels stated “that unless supplies were immediately sent to McBeath the Light Keeper himself and family would starve during the winter.”
A week had almost passed since the captain of the Ontonagan delivered David McBeath’s plea for help. The schooner that was initially chartered by McBeath’s supplier to deliver the provisions to the Isle of Coves became trapped by the ice. At this time, the Steamer Rescue under the command of Captain James Dick was on her last trip down from Sault St. Marie for the purpose of going into winter quarters at Collingwood.
Hearing of the McBeath’s serious predicament on December 1st Thomas Dick wrote:
“The Collector & surveyor of Customs here informs me that the Light House Keeper at Isle of Coves Lake Huron is out of provisions & must starve unless supplied. The steamer “Rescue” is about laying up but can be kept out long enough to take provisions.”
McWatt immediately sent a letter informing Public Works Secretary T. Trudeau:
“American boats all laid up. Light House Keeper’s supplies at Cove Island ready for shipment – Rescue will return . . . to be laid up tomorrow. Shall I charter her . . . ”
Public Works replied to McWatt’s letter on December 3rd stating they would “Send provisions to the Light keeper Isle of Coves immediately by Rescue or other steamer Reported that he will starve unless provisions sent.”
McWatt was certain that “after consulting with experienced persons in the area” chartering the Rescue was “the only certain mode whereby McBeath could get his Provisions”
Rescue departed Collingwood on December 6 at noon, and delivered McBeath’s provisions. Had the steamer arrived at the Isle of Coves any later, lightkeeper David McBeath and his “whole family would have perished.”
Captain Dick found the Isle of Coves lightkeeper and his family “about to commit themselves to the Lake upon a very insecure Raft, in the midst of the Storm.”