In May 2011, after four years of life on McNutt's Island, we moved to Montreal. This blog remains, though, as a (sort of) daily record of our time on the island, and a winding path for anyone who would like to meander about among its magical places. For additional perspectives and insights I recommend Greg's book, Island Year: Finding Nova Scotia (2010), and my Bowl of Light (2012). I'll continue to post once in a while. If you do want to read this blog, one option would be to begin at the beginning of it (which is, as we all know, in blog-world, at the end), and read forward, concluding with the most recent entry. It's a journal, really, so it does makes more sense if you read it that way. But, you know, read it any way you like.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The foghorn building at Cape Roseway

McNutt's foghorn ... seems the voice of fog itself. Surely if a fog could speak it would speak in these accents.*

The foghorn house at Cape Roseway is the oldest building that remains there. The original lighthouse was built in 1788, but was replaced after it was severely damaged in 1959. This undated photograph by Clara Dennis of the foghorn building and the original lighthouse was probably taken in the early 1930s, when she is known to have visited Cape Roseway.
Today the fog alarm building -- which was built in 1916-1917 to replace an earlier structure -- is an empty ruin looking out to sea.
A undated Canada Department of Transportation photograph shows the fog alarm. It would have required constant tending by the lighthouse keepers when frequent fogs made the coastline and the lighthouses invisible to ships at sea.
This photograph from the Canada Department of Transportation shows the original light and the fog alarm. Three unidentified men and a boy are standing in the foreground. These may be the lightkeepers and assistant lightkeepers, and possibly includes John McKenna, the lighthouse artist.
A foghorn operated at Cape Roseway from 1884 until it was taken out of service in 1989. Until then its sound was a familiar and perhaps comforting part of local life, heard both at sea and on land for a century.

Howard Walden wrote a book about his experiences in the 1960s as a summer resident at the village of Jordan Bay, three miles away from McNutt's Island.* He described a visit with the lightkeeper at Cape Roseway. He didn't identify the lightkeeper, but it was most likely Harry Van Buskirk. The keeper explained to Howard Walden how the foghorn worked.
"The decision to start the horn customarily needed two of three votes. When a fog is gathering the vote is cast: if two of the three keepers say they can no longer see the lighthouse at Western Head, five miles to the east, or that at Cape Negro equidistant to the west, the button is pushed to start the horn. Once started, the horn continues at its 50-second intervals until, perhaps hours or days later, another button is pushed to stop it.

'To make it a bit more inexact,' [the lightkeeper] said, 'if an off-duty keeper is asleep at voting time we don't wake him up. We settle it between the two of us.'"

The voice of the fog is silent now -- a whole dimension of human ingenuity and effort superceded by more precise and reliable technology.

Canada Department of Transportation photos and photo by Clara Dennis are courtesy of NSARM. The Virtual Archives at NSARM has a wonderful collection of photographs and documents on Nova Scotia's lighthouses.

*Howard T. Walden, 2nd, Anchorage Northeast (New York, William Morrow & Co., 1971), pages 81 and 159. Used by permission.

The Cape Roseway entry at The Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society gives additional detail and history about the light and the foghorn.

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