|Wood Islands, PE|
Description: Formerly known as Port Woods, the community of Wood Islands is located along Northumberland Strait on the southernmost point of Prince Edward Island. The harbour here has long played an important role in the island’s history. A mail run between Wood Islands and Pictou, Nova Scotia was the island’s only connection to the mainland until 1827, and today, the last ferries to serve the island link the same two ports.
The first floor of the attached dwelling originally featured a kitchen, sitting room, and two bedrooms, while four bedrooms were found upstairs. The wooden, square tower, with pedimented windows and a decorative flared cornice topped by a wooden balustrade, rises to a height of 12.2 metres (40 feet). The original illuminating apparatus was a fourth-order lens that displayed a fixed white light at a focal plane of eighty feet.
James McMillan, the first keeper, was a brother of Donald McMillan who completed the construction of the lighthouse. Keeper McMillan and his wife Lily had four sons, known as the lighthouse boys, one of whom, William, replaced his father as keeper in 1887. In 1898, William McMillan was found guilty of “offensive partisanship, canvassing, attending caucus meetings, denouncing the Liberal party and Sir Wilfrid Laurier (Prime Minister of Canada) in particular,” and was dismissed as keeper of the lighthouse. The dismissal prompted a heated debate in the House of Commons, where Alexander Martin suggested that William McMillan was fired due to his refusal to vote for a certain liberal candidate. Mr. Martin complained that turning Keeper McMillan and his widowed mother (James McMillan passed away in 1896) out of house and home in the fall of the year with the approach of the inclement season was a “shameless transaction.”
Before the current road to the lighthouse was built between 1937-1940 using material dredged from the harbour in preparation for the ferry service that began in 1941, Wood Islands Lighthouse was a remote location. Though the lighthouse could be reached prior to the construction of the road by using the beach west of the lighthouse, many keepers preferred to travel to and from the station by rowboat. Some children who lived at the lighthouse found it lonely, while others reveled in the adventures that could be found nearby. For all of them, traveling to school from the lighthouse was not a trivial undertaking. A fog horn was established at Wood Islands in 1941 to aid the ferry service.
In the early 1980s, the Coast Guard built a detached dwelling near the Wood Islands Lighthouse for the keeper, who had been the last keeper on Prince Edward Island that still resided in a dwelling attached to a light tower. No longer needed, the historic dwelling was going to be removed, but local residents intervened and initiated talks with the Coast Guard and provincial government that kept the lighthouse intact. The detached bungalow was removed from the site in 1991.
In 1998, the Wood Islands and Area Development Cooperation opened the lighthouse to the public. Visitors will find a gift shop in the lighthouse along with a period bedroom, kitchen, and keeper’s quarters. Other rooms are devoted to displays on rum-running, Northumberland ferries, the island’s fishing industry, and the phantom ship.
At first light on March 10, 2009, the Wood Islands Lighthouse was uprooted and moved 70 metres (230 feet) inland. When the lighthouse was built in 1876, it stood almost 150 metres from the shore, but due to erosion, this distance was gradually reduced until just three metres separated the structure from the edge of a steep bank that leads down to the waters of Northumberland Strait. The lighthouse was jacked up then placed on steel beams and wheels to facilitate the move, which was done during the winter when the frozen ground would provide the needed support.
Wood Islands and Area Development Corporation became the owner and operator of the Wood Islands Lighthouse Museum in December of 2009. In 2011, a new septic system, washroom facilities, and a 1400-square-foot addition to the basement were completed to allow the lighthouse to support the ever-increasing number of visitors to the site.
Keepers: James McMillan (1876 – 1887), William D. McMillan (1887 – 1898) , John (R.W.) McKay (1898 – 1912), Levi Morrow (1912 – 1924), Thomas A. Smith (1924 – 1949), George Stewart (1949 – 1972), Manson E. Murchison (1972 – 1974), Bernard Beaton (1975 – 1976), Leon Patton (1977 – 1990).
Located adjacent to the ferry terminal at Wood Islands. The lighthouse is owned by the Wood Islands and Area Development Corporation. Grounds open, tower open in season.
The lighthouse is owned by the Wood Islands and Area Development Corporation. Grounds open, tower open in season.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.