The quest began with a photograph of a lighthouse and a bit of sketchy information. Pat Buckley knew that her late mother had told her the lighthouse in the circa 1974 photo was located in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, a town in Cape Breton noted mostly for its coal mining history, and that her father (Pat’s grandfather), Murdock Wilson, had been the lightkeeper. She hoped to find out more.
A search of genealogy records revealed that Murdock Wilson was born on July 13, 1850 or ‘51 in Gabarus, Cape Breton. His father Donald had come to Canada from the Isle of Rhum in Scotland about 1844. Legend has it that Murdock was a teetotaler — except at Christmas. In the 1871 census he was recorded as a fisherman, 20 years old, living at home with his mother. He was about 49 years old when he married Mary (McIntyre), and they went on to have 11 children. He died about 1925 and is buried in St. Anne’s Cemetery in Glace Bay.
Pat’s husband Dave Buckley contacted Lighthouse Digest looking for more information on the lighthouse. We got in touch with Canadian lighthouse historian E. H. “Rip” Irwin, author of Lighthouses & Lights of Nova Scotia, who provided the following:
“I have never seen this lighthouse but I do know which one it is. It is the rear range light for Glace Bay, built in 1907 by Angus McCaskill for $1,375. It was on south side of Glace Cove, 75 feet from the water’s edge and 1,900 feet from the front tower.
“This tower was 42 feet high and showed a fixed red light from a catoptric apparatus 51 feet above high water, visible for eight miles. As near as I can tell, this range was torn down about 1980 and replaced by skeleton towers. There were separate lightkeepers for each of the range lights. The first keeper for the rear light was Angus McFarlane until about 1918, then by Murdock Wilson. He was earning $155 per annum in 1923.”
Pat and Dave Buckley were pleased to receive this information but they still hoped to find more. “Armed with the picture of her grandfather’s lighthouse and the information from Rip Irwin, my wife Pat and I went to Glace Bay to visit Pat’s cousin,” says Dave. “We stopped at the Miner’s Museum where we met a retired miner, Abbie Michalik, who is now a docent at the museum.” Abbie took Pat and Dave to see something surprising in a nearby yard—an abandoned wooden lighthouse. This turned out to be the old Glace Bay Front Range Light, moved to private property sometime after its deactivation around 1980.
Pat and Dave then spoke with a local fisherman who had fished in the area for 50 years, and he confirmed that the lighthouse in their photo was the Glace Bay Rear Range Light. “He showed me where it sat across the harbor,” says Dave. “It was on the spot where a gray storehouse/garage now sits.”
The Buckleys then contacted the Glace Bay Historical Society, who provided a couple of historic images of the range lights. Pat and Dave have demonstrated that a great deal of seemingly lost lighthouse history is out there if you just look hard enough - maybe even a lost lighthouse or two. If you can fill in more of the history of the Glace Bay Range Lights and/or Murdock Wilson, Pat and Dave would love to hear from you. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story appeared in the
December 2003 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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