|Bear Cove Point (Fermuse), NF|
Description: Despite a storm warning, the steamer Florizel departed St. John’s on the evening of February 23, 1918 bound for New York with a planned stopover in Halifax. William Martin, a skilled navigator and experienced mariner, was at the helm of the ninety-three-metre-long vessel, which had on board seventy-eight passengers, sixty crew members, and 12,000 barrels of fish products valued at $250,000. After steaming for nine hours, the captain, certain he had passed Cape Race, ordered a westward course change. Shortly thereafter, Martin spotted white on the water ahead, which he assumed was ice. The steel-hulled Florizel was one of the first ships in the world specifically designed to navigate in ice, so the captain was not too concerned until he discovered just before running aground near Cappahayden, roughly twenty-six kilometres north of Cape Race, that the white water he had seen was breakers.
Captain Martin was held responsible for the disaster, and his certificate was suspended for twenty-one months. A marine court of inquiry determined that the lack of forward progress made by the Florizel was due to the wind and a reversal of the Polar Current. Only later was it discovered that the blame for the wreck was because Chief Engineer J.V. Reader had reduced the engine revolutions even though Martin had ordered “full speed.” Reader had hoped that by delaying their arrival in Halifax the ship would overnight there allowing him time to spend more time with his family. Reader perished in the wreck, but he had told Third Officer Philip Jackman about his plan around midnight.
Nearly four years before the Florizel disaster, a light and fog alarm were established on the headland at Bear Cove Point, approximately ten kilometres north of where the Florizel ran aground. Second Officer John R. King had reported seeing a light at 3 a.m. through the snow, which was thought to be Bear Cove Light, but Captain Martin said that couldn’t be the case. Residents near Bear Cove were surprised the Florizel had not hear the Diaphone fog alarm at Bear Cove, but being just a three-inch Diaphone, it was not overly powerful.
Construction of a fog alarm and light at Bear Cove Point began in 1913, and the station was completed and placed in operation the following summer. When first built, the station had a one-storey engine house, keeper’s dwelling, and storehouse, each flat-roofed and painted white with one black horizontal stripe. A fourth-order occulting white light, which alternately displayed 2.5-seconds of light and darkness, was housed in a wooden lantern mounted atop the dwelling. The Diaphone fog alarm gave three, 1.25-second blasts each ninety seconds in this manner: 1.25-second blast, three seconds silence, 1.25-second blast, three seconds silence, 1.25-second blast, 80.25 seconds silence.
For years, there was no road to the station, so all supplies had to be landed, raised roughly thirty metres with a hand winch, and then hauled in a wheelbarrow to the dwelling. The Fennellys raised their own vegetables on the point, and also kept a cow for milk, in addition to sheep and goats.
When visitors came, they had to land on rocks in a dory, scale a wooden ladder some twelve metres to the first landing, and then climb concrete steps to reach the top of the cliff. A lot of the people who came up the ladder, were afraid to go back down it, due to its steep pitch.
When Raymond was a child, he had to walk four kilometres to get to school. To spare his own children from the same fate, he moved his family to Port Kirwan in 1962.
The previous metal tower at Bear Cove Point was erected in 1961, and the fuel for the light was changed from kerosene to acetylene at that time. Electricity reached the station in 1973, and the light and fog alarm were altered to run off the new power source. Assistant Keeper Jim Chidley noted in 1980 that with modernizations the keepers’ list of duties was slowly dwindling. “Now we’ve got a fog detector that automatically turns on the horn when necessary,” said Jim. “Maintenance of this gear depends on technicians from St. John’s – we just change the plugs and fuses.” Bear Cove Point was changed to a one-keeper station upon the retirement of Raymond Fennelly in 1980 and later de-staffed.
Keepers: Thomas Fennelly (1914 - at least 1945), Raymond Fennelly ( - 1980), Jim Chidley (1980 - ).
Located on the southeast coast of the Avalon Peninsula, near Renews. The lighthouse is owned by the Canadian Coast Guard. Grounds open, tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the Canadian Coast Guard. Grounds open, tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.