Lighthouse Story

“Flowerpot Lightkeeper Dan Smith Saves Crew”

In 1897, when shipping on Georgian Bay was at its zenith, lighthouse was perched high on a cliff face at Flowerpot Island to guide traffic through the treacherous Tobermory Islands. Known as Castle Bluff, the cliff is an ancient fossilized coral reef that offers a panoramic view over the waters. In the 1890s several variations of lighthouse styles were designed, all with the tower extended up from the dwelling roof. Flowerpot was one, Cabot Head, Jones and Snug Islands were others.

From his vantage point high on Castle Bluff, lightkeeper Dan Smith sipped his tea and stared through the window at neighbouring Bear’s Rump Island. He was uneasy. At that moment, the brooding, sinister sky broke and the wind picked up. A mixture of driving rain and spray blocked the view from the window. Dan Smith put down his cup and turned toward the wooden staircase. It was time to light the light.

As he carefully trimmed the wick something caught his eye – the Marion L. Breck. The three-masted schooner, loaded with a cargo of bricks intended for Blind River, was bucking the waves and struggling to get into the shelter behind Bear’s Rump Island. Dan Smith could only pray; his small sailboat was no match for these seas. The schooner’s sails were being shredded by the wind, and Smith could only watch helplessly as the Breck was pushed onto the rocks. Throughout the night the crew ran the pumps, trying to stay ahead of the gushing water. Dan Smith hoped the steady beam of the tower was bringing some comfort to the beleaguered men. He sat up all night in the kitchen convinced he could hear their desperate shouts swirling through the howling wind.

As dawn broke the M .L. Breck’s bow was awash. Captain Sutherland could do no more. Just as he ordered the exhausted crew ashore, the ship broke apart. Bricks scattered in the breaking surf like pebbles. It was another two days before the seas calmed enough to allow Smith to make his way to Bear’s Rump to rescue the crew.

The Marion L. Breck foundered on October 16, 1900. Over the years, waves scattered the old schooner along a shoal but parts of her hull, capstan and anchor are still visible. She is now among the 21 shipwrecks found within the boundaries of the Fathom Five National Marine Park, a park open to both sport divers and under­ water archaeologists who are measuring the effects time and currents have on shipwrecks. The Park also encompasses nineteen islands including Bear’s Rump and Flowerpot. Flowerpot Island is a treasure-house of rich forests that shelter ferns, mosses, and twenty species of orchids; caves formed during a glacial melt; and the remarkable free-standing limestone pillars that lend the island its name.

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