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Porphyry Island – Canadian Lighthouses of Lake Superior

3 min read

Just east of Thunder Bay on Lake Superior’s northern shore, Canada, lies the volcanic Black Bay Peninsula that separates Black Bay and Nipigon Bay, and consists of over 300 distinct lava flows.
Porphyry Island is the last in a chain of islands that stretch southwest from the peninsula and is named for the island’s igneous rock, known as porphyry, that contains quartz and feldspar crystals.
Another unique peculiarity of the island is the presence of the so-called devil’s club, a shrub with a spiny stem and large leaves.

Porphyry Island Lighthouse was the second commissioned on the Canadian shores of Lake Superior and became operational on July 1st, 1873.
Mr. Donald Ross was appointed keeper of this light, with a salary of $400 per annum. The original tower was a square wooden building, painted white, and the light a fixed white catoptric that can be seen at a distance of 16 miles.
Keeper Ross passed away in 1880 and was replaced by the Scottish Andrew Dick, who was forty-eight at the time. He and Caroline, his thirty-four-year-old Indian wife, had eight children living with them. A ninth child arrived later that year, and a tenth was born in 1884, just four months before Caroline passed away. Two logbooks kept by Keeper Dick during his thirty years on Porphyry Island are now at the Thunder Bay Museum and provide some insight into the Dick family’s time on the island.
Following her mother’s death, Emily, the ninth child, assumed most of the domestic responsibilities, including hauling wood with the dogs, mending fish nets, cleaning out the hen-house and baking bread.
The light station was manned vigilantly from just before the ice melted in the spring until the lake’s winter freeze.

In 1907, Peter Tonge supervised the construction of a rectangular, wooden fog alarm building on the Island, placed in operation on July 15, 1908 by Joseph Bosquet, who would take charge of the light as well two years later when Keeper Dick retired.
In 1911, the light at Porphyry Point was improved by substituting a fourth-order lens for the catoptric apparatus formerly used. The characteristic of the light was changed from fixed white to flashing green in 1944 and then to flashing white in 1947.

The current lighthouse, a square tower topped by a lantern room and supported by a square, pyramidal structure, was erected in 1960.
The Porphyry Point Light was made fully automated soon after keeper Clifford McKay retired in 1979.
The light tower was locked, and the island, now deserted, became a nature preserve owned by The Canadian Coast Guard only visited by some sea kayaker.
Years later Porphyry Point Lighthouse fell victim to vandalism.
Luckily Canadian Lighthouses of Lake Superior was formed to look after its namesake lights. Paul Capon, chair of the non-profit organization, visited Porphyry Point Lighthouse in 2013 and, during the summer of 2014, trails were rehabilitated, walls were repaired and painted, and more than forty windows were replaced.
And today, nature lovers can spend a night at the point by paying a fee or donating their time to upkeep the station.

Interestingly, the “Light Keeper’s Daughters”, a novel by Jean Pendziwol was published in over 10 countries, including China, Italy, Germany, Spain and Brazil.
The book, released in 2017, tells a story of an unlikely relationship between two women that develops over the found journals of the main character’s father, a former Porphyry Island lighthouse-keeper.
The story’s setting is familiar to the author, who grew up spending time sailing on Lake Superior.
And I suggest you read it!

Images from web – Google Research

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