“George F. Collins – The First Lightkeeper”
Life as a lightkeeper was not easy on this isolated island in the Canadian wilderness during the 1850’s. Captain George F. Collins was the first lightkeeper at the Isle of Coves
He describes the hardships he was forced to endure:
“Last night it rained for the most part and came through the lantern glass in all directions. I had to watch from midnight till daylight during that time I sponged four pails full of water, it ran down to the third floor, below the service chambers . . .
You may rest assured I shall do my best to prevent its getting at the machinery.
Also in winding up the rotary mechanism when it came up with little or no strain the bolt broke. In ten minutes I had it serviced & in full play. It is quite safe for the fall, the bolt line, not fit to take such a weight . . .”
In a series of letters to Public Works dated November 9th and November 10th Collins reported:
“I beg to report that in consequence of the rain which has been coming in the tower since Mr. Scott left and for the want of a stove to keep it dry. All the inside parts of the lantern glass is a glitter of ice. I have been constant tending the machinery and the above. Myself and acting assistant is nearly frozen before our watch is over we have both of us very bad cold. Every thing wet & freezing around us and the cold damp air sticks against the chimney, causes many to break which would not otherwise.
I shall do all in my power to keep a good a light as possible, but I am doubtful of it being good if this weather continues. I told Mr. St Aubin . . . I thought it would not answer in this climate without a fire in the tower. He replied no fire bad for machine. I think Sir a cold damp air to machine is more dangerous than a dry warm air.
This morning every part of the machinery was as wet as if it had been in the Lake. caused by the damp air & wet walls I attend every day to the above & very careful to see that everything is cleaned and oiled which I do myself with dry clean cloths. But I see to no purpose as for the lantern is a solid glitter of ice. As I clean them the damp comes on immediately & freezes again.
I am sure Sir; you would not believe the state it is in. I am using every means in my power to prevent the machine from rusting, but how can it be possible when in a hour or two after cleaning, the inside of the casting & the same running with water caused by the dampness of the walls. . . If I am to be discharged it will be for attending to my duty in every respect. I have kept the temporary lamp in working order which will give a better light under present circumstances. Do you think Sir I am better to light it. Waiting for your orders.”
To make matters even worse Collins was “from and after the 22nd day of November A.D. 1858 and until the 12th day of April 1859 . . . deprived of the help of any assistant other than his wife Sophia Collins.”
Despite all the controversy, and all the difficulties he endured, George Collins faithfully executed his duties through those first difficult weeks of operation “until the 8th day of December 1858 when the navigation was totally closed with ice.” After a long lonely winter for Collins his wife and young son, he reported that the light “was lighted again on the 1st April 1859.”
George Collins still longed to return to his home in Collingwood. Throughout the season of 1859 Collins corresponded with Nottawasaga Island lightkeeper David McBeath about the possibility of the two men switching positions. On September 20th, 1859, he was finally granted his wish. He a long and distinguished career as lightkeeper at Nottawasaga Island