Lighthouse Story

“Flowerpot Island: A Boy’s Paradise”

Bill Spears’ lined face had seen more than a few years of Georgian Bay sun. A man of strong opin­ions, he chuckled as he rolled a cigarette with nimble nicotine-stained fingers and recounted his memories of the island which for him had been a boy’s paradise.

The son of lightkeeper William Spears (1912-1937), he recalled combing the rocky beach for ship debris after the Great Storm of 1913 and discovering a new cave. To explore it, he made a torch out of a handful of birch bark (“oh it smoked to hell but that didn’t matter,”) and climbed down the thirty-foot tunnel filled with glistening stalactites. The sea-stacks, or flowerpots as they are locally called were one of Bill’s favourite spots. He would lean a ladder against the side, climb on top and sit in his private lookout among the trees. Eighty years later, taking a drag on his cigarette, Bill nodded, “Nice piece of natural work.”

Just behind the old house on the beach, there is another cave which still bears the names of former assistants carved in the stone. It was used by generations of lightkeepers for cold storage.
The Spears family kept milk and butter inside but no meat because of flies. Bill recalled with a shudder, “We had a cow only one year – the flies were so bad she went crazy-stormed into the water.”
The more time Bill spent on the lake, the more he loved it. Watching the boats pass by the light­ house inspired him to build toy replicas and ships in bottles, and later, 36-footers. The most exciting days were ones when the lighthouse tenders brought supplies. When, it was rough, deliveries were made by punt to the beach and then the sacks of coal and barrels of oil were hauled up to Castle Bluff by hand. On calm days when waves could not throw the boat against the cliff, an old winch lifted supplies directly up to the light.

Bill especially remembered the thunderstorms. “Never heard thunderstorms as bad as at Flowerpot,” he insisted. There were four bed­ rooms in the beach house and all eight children were squeezed into one of them. The walls trem­ bled under the force of the terrific thunder that rolled and echoed between the cliffs. “Oh I was scared to death,” he nodded with a smile.

As children, his seven sisters, Viola, Hattie, Stella, Lola, Dorothy, Orma and Joan had some­ what different impressions of living on the island. “My sisters hated it on Flowerpot,” Bill recollected. “They spent their days cooking, cleaning and sewing.” His mother, too, was not particularly fond of the island. She found the isolation oppressive, feared the water, and constantly worried for the safety of her eight children. She especially hated the fall and spring. For over twenty years she would watch her husband trudge down the road, bundled in his Mackinaw, gloves and toque, with a sack of supplies slung over one shoulder. With his assis­ tant, he would push the eighteen-foot rowboat into the lake which was still dotted with drifting slabs of ice. The journey across was bone chilling and dangerous as the bow was often hit by jagged floes. Several times the men had to climb out and heave the weighty boat over ice banks. The winter journey home was equally arduous. Laden down with belongings, the men would row back to Tobermory through the freezing December weather. With each stroke, more and more ice would coat the boat and oars, making each stroke harder than the last.

A terrible student, Bill escaped to the light­house whenever possible and was taught how to tend the light. In 1928 he cheerfully became his father’s official assistant and when his father died in 1937, Bill took over as keeper for six months. He married Dora, a childhood sweetheart from neighbouring Tobermory and they honeymooned at their favorite spot- Flowerpot Island.

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