Digest>Archives> June 2002

Hope Island Lighthouse

By Larry and Pat Wright


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The Christian Island Light, circa 1896. Photo ...

This island’s original name was Isles au Geant, or Giant’s Head. The Indians named it this because they heard three footsteps of a giant and felt he the ground shake when he walked. Perhaps this is why they chose to settle on Christian Island instead of Hope Island. A surveyor, Henry Bagfield, used the name Hope Island. The name stayed.

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The Hope Island Light, circa 1896. Photo courtesy ...

In 1884 the lighthouse was constructed on the northeast tip of the island. It cost eighteen hundred and sixty-four dollars. The square wooden tower was fifty-seven feet (17.5 meters) from the ground to the vane on the lantern room. There is an attached keeper’s dwelling. Both structures are painted white with red trim. The lighting system was catoptric (the light emitted vertically was reflected along a horizontal plane) and was visible in all directions for twelve miles (19.4 kilometers).

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The Hope Island Light, circa 1939. Photo courtesy ...

Its first lighthouse keeper, Charles Tizard, earned $450 per year. Often light keepers were a “Jack of all trades” and had to solve maintenance problems themselves. Tizards’s first logbook ending December 31, 1884 shows this. It reads, “I had no instructions to work the machine so I used my own judgments and found that the reflectors were on upside down, causing the lamp tubes to ram against the reflectors and when heated, they burst. The light revolves every two minutes and eighteen seconds and flashes every twenty-three seconds. I lighted up the first on the 27th of October and closed the fifteenth of December.”

When Tizard died suddenly in 1886, his wife continued to operate the light. During this time a fierce storm raised water levels to within two feet (.6 meters) of the lighthouse.

Allen Collins was appointed light keeper on May 23, 1887 with an annual salary of $450. On August 8, 1888 he assisted the crew of the American three-master schooner, Imperial, when they arrived in a yawl at Hope Island, after the ship touched bottom and sank.

On May 15, 1891, Collins switched places with John Hoar, the keeper at Christian Island so his children could go to school. Hoar, appointed lightkeeper in March of 1868, had built a wooden stable and shed with his own money at the Christian Island Lighthouse and he requested taking it with him to Hope Island but the superintendent denied his request. Hoar had also claimed a small boat as being his but it was a government issued boat to the Christian Island light. Bickering resulted between the two keepers. Hoar complained that Collins left him a partially paid for sailboat. Collins claimed that he paid for a stove but Hoar took it. Hoar had agreed to switch stations because of Christian Island’s poor accommodations and but after the switch, Collins immediately received $70 for extensive repairs. Hoar complained to the government about this. The Superintendent of Lighthouses, Mr. Harty, was ordered to investigate the problem in April 1892. After hearing both sides, Harty sided with Collins. Harty believed that, “time will effect a cure between these men and all concerned will be satisfied to remain as they are.” Hoar must have been livid. He next complained to the Department of Marine about his treatment by Harty and questioned his possible pension benefits available to him. The result of his actions led to the appointment of Thomas Marchildon as light keeper at Hope Island for 1894. In his furious state and feeling cheated out of his job as a light keeper, Hoar refused to leave. The Midland Argus reported on Thursday, December 21, 1893, “It is certainly since the announcement that Marchildon had gone to Hope Island, provisioned and equipped for duties of his government job, and the report now comes from up the shore that Marchildon has since been compelled to camp a little over gun-shot distance from the lighthouse, because from the moment he set foot on the island, Hoar has maintained a shotgun welcome. What causes the soreness between the old friends is not known here, but people are laughing at the mind picture of Hoar holding Hope Island Lighthouse with a shotgun against Marchildon, and Marchildon being compelled to sit down out of range of the shotgun for a few weeks to await the formation of ice to the mainland so the reinforcements can be secured.” Eventually this dispute was resolved.

Then, in the early 1890’s two fisherman, Francois Marchildon and William Lacourse mysteriously disappeared near Hope Island. According to local legend, they had been murdered and buried in the well under the lighthouse. There was sufficient credulity in the story around 1906 to persuade Severe Marchildon and Alfred Marchildon, relatives of the lost Francois Marchildon, to tear up the wooden floor of the lighthouse. Nothing was found, but rumors persisted that the gravesite was elsewhere on the island. Long time residents of the area tell the tale that Johnny Hoar admitted to these murders during his deathbed confession, but this has never been substantiated. The purported motive for the crime was revenge for having been rescued from an attempted suicide in a barn in Lafontaine.

Thomas Marchildon sent a letter to the Deputy Minister of Marnie in Ottawa telling the story that Hoar had also committed rape when he was at Hope Island and that he should be considered a dangerous character and not altogether sane, and Local Authorities would probably fear to deal with him.

On October 16, 1891 the Lottie Wolf, a two-masted American schooner, was lost in heavy weather one hundred yards (92.3 meters) north of the station dock on a rock that now bears her name. She was en route from Chicago to Midland with a cargo of grain. Arthur Visick, the first cottager at Thunder Bay, retrieved her nameplate in 1916. For years the guests at Thunder Bay Inn were summoned to supper by the shrill clangs of the Lottie Wolf’s ship’s bell.

In the spring of 1898 Charles Vallee, who continued as keeper until June 1911, when Marchildon returned to the post, replaced Marchildon as keeper. This time the switch was due to political patronage. The job changes corresponded with the changes in the federal government from Conservative to Liberal and back to Conservative.

Delia (Vallee) Patenaude, daughter of Charles Vallee, recalls hearing the “thud, thud” of a “ghost” coming up the stairs to the light. Her father had gone to town and she and her mother were frightened. However, the ghostly footsteps turned out to be the weights that turned the light, hitting the sidewall of their housing as gravity brought them down.

Delia also recalls being told stories about a swimming cow. The cow left Hope Island and had almost reached Bechwith Island when it was spotted by Francois Labatte, who thought it was a deer swimming in the water. The cow was returned to Hope Island and called “chevreuil” (meaning roe deer) from then on.

In November 1943, the S.S. Riverton ended up sideways on the Lottie Wolf Shoal off Hardhead Point on the northwest corner of Hope Island during a storm. The steel barge Michigan attempted to lighten the stranded S.S. Riverton by coming alongside and putting pumps into the cargo hold, while the tug, Favourite, mother ship to the lighter Michigan, was on the other side of the Michigan. The storm’s intensity increased and the ships were pounded together. The Favourite maneuvered carefully away from the Michigan to the northeast and dropped anchor. She drifted back and secured a line onto the Michigan but in an attempt to pull her away from the S.S. Riverton, the timberheads pulled out of the Michigan and she was driven sideways onto the shoal. The barge was pounded in two during the night. The crews used lights to signal that they were safe and they spent the night on board. At daybreak, the Favourite dropped “storm oil” to create an oil slick to calm the waters for rescue. The entire crew was saved. The S.S. Riverton was successfully refloated.

The Hope Island Lighthouse has since had its lantern room removed. The island now has a functioning light on top of a steel tower.

This story appeared in the June 2002 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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