“Living in the Lighthouse”
Susan and Jack Westell moved to the Kincardine lighthouse when they were nine and six respectively. Their father Oran was the lighthouse keeper from 1929 – 1955. They moved from just down the road and their dog, Buster, was reluctant to go but eventually they got him to walk down to the lighthouse a little at a time.
During the depression the monthly salary for a lighthouse keeper was $15. Susan remembers receiving 25¢ a week to open and close the blinds in the light room. Her older brother John remembers only receiving 10¢ in his day as blind keeper.
The lighthouse was unfurnished when the family moved in so they had to bring furniture with them. In the kitchen they had a coal stove, which was the only source of heat for a long time and for refrigeration they used an ice box. They harvested the ice for the ice box from the harbour using horses, and the icehouse was just across the road.
The weights for the light rotation mechanism and the fog horn machinery were housed in the basement. The workbench was also down there and under this is where their cat, who Susan’s mother said was always pregnant, kept her kittens. The basement is where the grappling hooks were kept which were used on more than one occasion to pull children from the harbour, often in the spring because they would misjudge the solidity of the ice. Jack also found a trap door in the basement; it was full of whiskey bottles.
The second floor of the house is where the bedrooms are. The largest room was for Oran and his wife Jane. From this room Oran could sit up in bed and determine which was the wind was blowing. This room was also the only room in the house with a closet. The family used hooks to store their clothes for the most part. They didn’t have elaborate winter clothes like we do now though. They wore their long underwear for months at a time. Susan remembers being allowed to remove her long underwear and go for a swim around the Mat 24th weekend.
The third floor of the house is where they turned the light on. Susan remembers that when she and her sister got the giggles their mother would put them up here and close the trap door until they calmed and quieted down. These trap doors were kept closed during the off season. Navigation was from March 15th to December 15th as there were no cutters to break up the ice then.
The handle for the mechanical rotation was on the 4th floor. It had to be wound twice a day, once in the evening and again around 2am. Above this floor was the light room. The light was electrical when the Westell family moved in, it was switched in 1922. One switch would turn the light on the engine and another would make it revolve.
The kids enjoyed living at the lighthouse. Jack remarks that they often had visitors come and visit, and they would often go into the city to visit others but they always couldn’t wait to get home to the lighthouse.