McKay Island Light
By Pat Peterson
In 1902, the first light at
the Town of Bruce Mines, Ontario was a lantern which was placed on a wharf’s
shed to guide ships into Bruce Mines new 1000 foot public wharf. It was a
Anchor Lens lantern placed on the south corner of the warehouse. The light
was white dioptic, then red and had a visibility of 5 miles (8km). The
fog horn was a hand pump. Thanks to Merritt Strum for saving this shed and
having it moved to the Agricultural Grounds were it still stands today.
McKay Island had several owners, the Crown, Montreal Mining Company, Bruce
Mines Copper Ltd., and Copper Mining and Smelting Co. of Ontario Ltd.
Indenture # 902 shows the lighthouse survey plans drawn by Mr. James S Dobie,
Ontario Land Surveyor on June 3, 1905.
The lighthouse was built in 1907 by the Canadian federal government in
response to an increase in marine traffic caused by the timber industry
which had replaced the copper mining industry as the main commercial
activity in Bruce Mines. On June 7, 1910 the deed from the Bruce Mines
Copper Ltd. transferred title to the lighthouse covering 1 acre of land in
deed # 903 registered on July 20,1910. to His Majesty George V for $25.00
At the east end of McKay Island, 2 miles (3.2 km.) from Bruce Mines the
Lighthouse was constructed: a square wooden dwelling with a tower rising
from the roof with a height of 32.8 feet (10 meters). The light was a fixed
white dioptic coal vapour model with visibility of 9.3 miles (15 kms). The
fog horn was a hand crank. The battery room was on the main floor. It
contained 2.5 x 2.5 x 2.5 foot glass containers which had a white powdery
residue along the glass wall. Today that room is a bedroom. There was a shed
close to the water to store the boats, fuel and coal oil plus gallons of
paint, white and battleship grey. The old boathouse foundation is still
The Keepers of the Light:
The main job for the Keepers of the Light was to keep the light well
cleaned, fuelled and lighted and extinguished at the proper times.
1907 - 1913 - Joseph Harvey: he was a faithful servant of the light until
May 15,1915 - Apr.7, 1946: Angus James McNeish born on Apr.7,1881, was
descended from a Cornish family
Apr. 7, 1946 - May 15, 1947: Merritt Strum born Jan. 28 1924 - MPP Lynn
Miller approached Merritt a war veteran about the job. The salary was $2.14
per month and he tended light for 1 year, and then went to work for Noranda
Mines in Quebec.
May 15,1947 - May 31,1953 : - Gordon Inch born Mar. 8,1917, OSA World War II
Army veteran resigned May 31,1953
June1,1953 – Oct.1, 1955: Harold Wing born July 21, 1909. The waters were
rough and the trips to the lighthouse by boat were dangerous. He would drop
his wife Eva and 3 children off and they would walk the last half kilometre
across the island and he would take the boat.
In the 1960’s for cost reasons , the Canadian federal government decided to
build a steel standard and tear down the deteriorating lighthouse. The
windows were broken, birds had made their nests inside, but the light was
still operational on a battery system. Harold Peterson persuaded the
Government to sell him the lighthouse in 1967, as he was the owner of the
rest of the Island.
The Canadian Coast Guard owns
the square of land that presently holds the skeleton tower. The steel tower
was erected June 9 -11, 1975. Mr. Rumley, from the Coast Guard, removed the
light from the lighthouse and placed a white 4 second blinking light in the
tower. The Coast Guard is responsible for its maintenance. Today it is a
functioning skeleton tower guiding the freighters into Trap Rock and
recreational boats into the Town marina. .
Harold and Fern Peterson who
owned French Island and most of Mc Kay Island had put in a road from Highway
17 through the west end of Bruce Mines and onto French and Mc Kay Islands.
Along with the road came hydro power lines. The federal government, in 1967,
made arrangements with Harold Peterson to use his power poles so they could
make the skeleton tower light electrically operated
Harold Peterson’s goal now
was to save the lighthouse structure, and renovations began under
directorship of Norman Beilhartz. Norman was a skilled carpenter, plumber
and electrician. Along with his son James Beilhartz , together with James
Gjos and Fred Gjos 2 brothers from Desbarats renovated the lighthouse. They
handmade the cupboards out of pine. A water pressure system and septic
system were also installed in 1971.
McKay Island today
Presently the lighthouse is under the care of the Peterson family operating
as Bruce Bay Cottages and Lighthouse and is an all season self catering
lighthouse offering a tranquil sanctuary. You can still climb the ladder to
the “ widow’s walk” for an amazing panoramic view of the North Channel. Each
season is unique.
The lighthouse is available as a rental cottage. The
building contains 3 bedrooms, 2 double beds, 1 set of bunk beds and 1 pull
out couch, for a maximum occupancy of 6 persons. For more information:
email@example.com or calling 705-785-3473 or 705-942-0416.
Click on images to
McKay Island today
1907, when the light was built
Photos courtesy Pat Peterson
SE tip of McKay Island near Bruce Mines, Ontario.