The Last Lightkeeper
Jack Vaughan was the son of a commercial fisherman and the oldest of six brothers in the fishing trade.
Jack first came to Tobermory in 1959. He like the northern Bruce Peninsula so much he stayed. While working at the newly formed Cyprus Lake Provincial Park, Vaughan saw an ad in a local news¬paper for a lighthouse keeper and applied. He started at Flowerpot Island as an assistant. Jack was told that his job as a lighthouse keeper would last for only about a year. The job ended up lasting 22 years!
“I was there [Flowerpot] for 4 seasons, then I went down to Hope Island and I was down there for a I think it was just 2 and half seasons. . . And then I transferred from there and went up to Lonely Island and I think I was there for 2 and half years. And then I came to Cove Island, and I’ve been there you might as well say 13 years, but I was assistant with Bob Nelder.”
. . . I went to Great Duck Island, in I guess 79 . . . I was acting chief up there. I was there until September, and then I came back to Cove Island and was assistant with Bob Nelder again until 1982 and then I took over as chief.”
The job as a lighthouse keeper has changed dramatically over the twenty-two years Jack was on the job. The biggest change Jack saw was the conversion of the lightstation to electricity with the laying of the cable in 1971.
“When I first started we use to have to carry oil and everything . . . you had to go up every 4 hours to wind up the weights, weights there was just like a grandfather clock that turned the light. And then you would have to go up at sunrise to put the curtains down and put a skirt on the prism. . . . so the sun wouldn’t come in on the magnifying glass. Then when the sunset you’d have to go up and put the curtains up and get the dog gone thing turning again”
“And you had to go up 106 or 107 steps every time.”
The “skirt” was used to cover the lenses at the top of the lighthouse to keep the sun from coming in. The six prisms were like a magnifying glass the sun will come in and create a fire.
“One spring we went out there the motor went out and it did burn the curtains up the top of the light. The string was there, and reflected it on to that string like the cord up the curtains and that burned the curtain right off.”
Now “it runs 24 hours a day, they never shut it off”
When Jack first became a lighthouse keeper, weather reporting was a major part of the job. Every six hours he had to determine the wind speed, wind direction, and visibility and the cloud cover and call the information into Wiarton, “and see that’s when you were practically a meteorologist then.” “The meteorologist is taken out off it now . . . it’s all automatic. There is no manual /visual at all. You had to keep a visual eye on everything.”
Jack Vaughan, the last lightkeeper on the Great Lakes, retired on Nov. 11 1991. He sent the master key back to Coast Guard and they returned it to him.
He was the end of an era.