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Guest Column: Keeping the lighthouse fires burning

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Monica Royal

Three years ago my husband and I stayed at the Big Bay Point Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast in Michigan, on Lake Superior. The 1896 structure is the only operational lit B & B lighthouse in North America, and reputed to be haunted.

The romance and lore of it stirred my curiosity, and I began fantasizing about the brave lighthouse keepers and families of long ago.

Being sailors at the Huron Yacht Club in Sarnia we appreciate lighthouses, which have been essential for shipping on the unpredictable Great Lakes.

So I began investigating and became hooked. I discovered the Volunteer Lighthouse Keeper Program, and looked into the Mission Point Lighthouse, built in 1870 on Traverse Bay in Michigan.

After submitting an application and being approved, my husband and I became volunteer Lighthouse Keepers, and I joined the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keeper Association.

The Mission Point experience was exhilarating. The duties were numerous – sweeping, washing windows, giving tours to 325 tourists daily from all over the world, and handling the gift shop. Each day ended with us sitting silent in the tower. With teary eyes I’d gaze over the bay and wonder, what would a Lighthouse Keeper from centuries ago say about the changes today?

Then in July, new Lighthouse Keeper Monica Royal and her Assistant Lighthouse Keeper, Graham Royal, found themselves headed down a potholed gravel road to the Cabot Head Lighthouse. The station was built in 1895 on the northeast peak of the Bruce Peninsula in Georgian Bay and took 13 men a year to complete.

“This is the first time in my life that I am paying to work!” exclaimed my husband, who is newly retired.

Indeed, Lighthouse Keepers pay a fee to stay, which goes toward maintenance and upkeep. Our duties this time encompassed maintaining the grounds and buildings – foghorn building, lighthouse, living quarters – and giving tours to curious visitors.

Supporting the maritime heritage of lighthouses is incredibly rewarding. Volunteers financially support the non-profit organizations that manage them, and do hands-on work in beautiful, historic structures.

Over the past half-century more than 200 staffed lighthouses in Canada have been either shut down or made fully automatic. Many have been demolished; others are dormant and rotting away.

To be a part of history is an honour. We came to understand the hardship Lighthouse Keepers and their families endured by living in isolated locations.

They were brave people with a simple mission – keep the light going to save others. Their fortitude through all seasons and treacherous storms must have been immeasurable.

To learn more about becoming a volunteer Lighthouse Keeper go online and visit any of the numerous lighthouse sites. These non-profit organizations need your assistance.

Monica Royal is the author of The Seed of Passion and owns the Hummingbird Self Publishing Company in Sarnia.







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