Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Frosty lighthouse

A chilly December 30 left the glass in the Swallowtail lighthouse frosted, giving the light a diffuse glow. No heat in the light tower prevents the frost from melting off the glass when it is cold.

Just one more day left in this first decade of the twenty-first century. It has turned cold today , -14C, after being 8C just a couple of days ago and 1C yesterday. It also feels colder because of the strong NW wind which has been rattling our house all night. Looking toward Swallowtail this morning, the sea smoke or ice fog or as it is called locally, vapour, is being pushed up and over the lighthouse. The windows in the lantern are frosted over giving a soft glow to the light.
Here is a short video of Pettes Cove and Swallowtail with the sea smoke being blown over the surface. The top poles of Cora Belle weir can seen in the sea smoke.

What a chilly day it would be to be a lightkeeper at Swallowtail, having to walk from the keepers house to the light tower and back. It is quite evident on days like this why there was a board walk with a railing connecting these two buildings. It would be easy to get blown off the path and add blinding snow, get lost on this short walk.
The automated light today keeps working for the most part with little maintenance, although no one is keeping heat on in the tower to keep the windows free of frost there are few on the water these days looking for the guiding light.
Sea smoke, ice fog or vapour surrounding the top poles of the Cora Belle weir in Pettes Cove.
Sea smoke, ice fog or vapour forming on the surface in Pettes Cove.
Icicles from water runoff on the cliffs near Swallowtail.
Icicles on rocks near foot bridge leading to Swallowtail.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas on Grand Manan

A light covering of snow is still holding on to the Swallowtail peninsula, with the lighthouse in competition for whiteness on the point. The temperature has been a steady -2C all day and overcast with relatively light winds.

A walk down to Pettes Cove was a delight without having to buck strong winds. There was one other person on the beach, looking for beach glass and a harbour seal just offshore. Lots of white-tail deer tracks through the snow and the ravens and herring gulls have been busy with their daily foraging. Not sure who found the giblets from the turkey that I left in the back yard on the snow but they have disappeared.

A very nice peaceful day, the last Christmas in the first decade of the twenty-first century - where has all the time gone? Was it not just 1999 and we were all wondering what this new century would bring?

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Rock formation at the end of Swallowtail

Not only were light houses important to navigation before Loran C and now GPS but also having precise knowledge of the coastline and various landmarks or rock formations helped mariners find their way. Around Grand Manan there are many unique rock formations, many of which are named, such as Seven Days Work, the Bishop, King Point, Southern Cross. These are so distinctive that they are often printed on the nautical charts but some are small and are not documented but are local knowledge.

There is a unique rock formation at the eastern tip of the Swallowtail peninsula beneath where the fog bell and small building (now attached to the lighthouse) were located. From a certain angle these rocks look like a woman with a baby on her back or children climbing the rocks with a dog waiting beneath them. Even if the light house wasn't visible in thick fog, if these rocks were glimpsed, the mariner would know where they were. Of course, at Swallowtail, the fog bell and later fog horn would be another clue, but most of these formations are not located at a lighthouse.
I first learned of this when I was sailing around Swallowtail with one of the older fishermen. He pointed out the rock formation and had described it as a woman with a baby, but it was later described as a girl and a boy, a boy with a backpack, etc. The dog, however, is always the lower rock.

Next time you are travelling on the ferry, look for these rocks. They can only be seen from certain angles.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Remembrance - 1918

With Remembrance Day just past, a story involving the light keepers at Gannet Rock during WW1 was brought to my attention. Light keepers were often involved in life saving and the light keepers of Grand Manan lights were no exception.

In 1918, the German navy sent U-boats to the eastern seaboard which was largely unprotected. The vessel U-156 had orders to mine New York Harbour, patrol the Gulf of Maine and in particular Boston, Saint John and Halifax harbours, cut the transatlantic cable at Canso and capture a vessel to use as a raider. Her presence in the Bay of Fundy was unknown until a load of sailors from the schooner Dornfontein landed at Gannet Rock lighthouse in dories at 6:30 AM on August 3, 1918.

"On July 31, 1918, the new four-masted schooner Dornfontein cleared Saint John harbour bound for South Africa with a load of lumber. Three days later, 10 kilometres south of Grand Manan Island, N.B., U-156 suddenly rose from the sea and brought the Dornfontein to a halt with two shots across her bow.

While the schooner’s crew was hustled aboard the submarine, the Germans looted the vessel and then set it ablaze. As the ship burned to the waterline, her crew were fed a dinner of bully beef and rice. Then, five hours after the ordeal began, the schooner’s crew was put into dories and sent off amid waves and wishes of “Good luck!”, a sentiment not shared by the crew who had been “robbed of all we had on board worth taking.” But at least the sailors had escaped with their lives, and brought their story ashore at Gannet Rock, Grand Manan, the next day." Read the complete article:

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Watching herring purse seiners

Herring purse seiners usually work at night when the herring schools are closer to the surface and easier to encircle but this time of year the herring are sometimes closer to the surface earlier. Such was the case today in Pettes Cove, where three herring purse seiners set their nets. My husband and I went up to the new deck at Swallowtail for a better view than from our deck which also has a view of Pettes Cove. Much to our pleasure six other people were also on the deck enjoying the view, two people were in their vehicle and two people had hiked out to the lighthouse. Even in November, Swallowtail is a major attraction to islanders and tourists alike.

We were also thrilled to have two humpback whales and a minke whale feeding in the cove. At one point the two humpbacks whales were next to one of the purse seiners before both moving more inshore.

It is great to see our work being appreciated, although there was a wish for a bench, which is on the list for next year's projects.
Here is a photo of two of the purse seiners and an arrow where the humpback surfaced. The two small boats or tow boats, help set the purse seine and also tow the larger vessel away from the net and therefore keeps it from collapsing on itself. The herring is used for many things including canning (sardines), farmed salmon food and lobster bait.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Link to some photos of painting buildings

Here is a link to photos posted on the Grand Manan Rotary Club website when the Seminole, Florida Rotary Club came to Grand Manan in September to help paint the keepers buildings.

Swallowtail Quilt

A local quilting guild, Tidal Threads Quilt and Needlework Guild, on the island have been producing wonderful quilts that they have been donating to charities to be raffled.

Last year the quilt was donated to the Rotary Club and each square was a smoke house, which used to be a prominent feature of every community on the island and used to smoke herring. The quilt raffle was very successful.

This year the quilt was donated to the Action Ministries as a fund-raiser and is entitled "Let it Shine" and highlights Swallowtail Lighthouse. See for yourself:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

20 Year Lease

November 2: The Village council voted to accept a 20 year lease for Swallowtail Keepers Society for the light keepers property with a few changes to the lease drawn up by our lawyer. A long time coming, this is a great positive move and allows us to start applying for certain types of grant money and potentially achieve property tax exemption if we qualify. A long-term lease is often the prerequisite for these.

Now we can start the planning for the 150th anniversary next year with confidence.
I didn't take this picture last night but the council meeting was the same day as the full moon and the clouds did clear last night to reveal the bright full-moon, maybe an omen for good things to come. Next month there is a blue moon on December 31, another cause for celebration.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Boat house resurrection, continuing project

The boat house next to the keepers house is in need of resurrection. I'm not sure how old the building is but it is definitely over 100 years of age.

We have begun the the slow task with the rebuilding of the southern wall which had become completely derelict with the cladding floating away from the studs. The nails had rusted away from corrosion from the salt spray driven at the building and the doors and windows leaked relentlessly. You know there is major work to do when shingles and boards all come off in a unit. The building will be relatively water tight for the winter and more work will begin again in the spring. We have a long way to go, replacing windows, doors, roof, southern wall, part of sill, skirting, paint, before we can consider possibly returning the winch, skiff, tracks, etc. that made it a working boathouse.

This is what the loading system looked like in 1958 when the new keepers house was being built. It is interesting that the doors were of different width. There appeared to be two platforms that could be winched up the steep hill filled with supplies or loaded with the dory which could also be lifted up the hill. A swinging boom and winch were used to lift the supplies or dory up to the rails since they did not extend to the high water mark.

Looking back through pictures taken in April 2008, there is a section of the wall that had blown off the previous winter in some of the monumental pile of "stuff" removed from the keepers house and boathouse. The boathouse was literally stuffed with none of the construction debris removed from the renovations for the short-lived bed and breakfast.

Here are photos taken since April 2009 of the southern wall. In the first photo, already, one of the doors, the header, part of the wall are gone or ready to collapse.
The next series of photos are the tearing apart and then rebuilding of the door frame and wall in September and October 2009:
The southern end is now relatively weather tight for the winter. Work will begin next spring to finish this side and then address the other issues with the building. The biggest surprise was that the door that had been carefully stored in the boat house was neither the same width nor the same height as the other door. We are not sure where this door was originally. We will have to build at least one new door to replace the short door next year.

There seems to be a never ending amount of material that needs to be removed from the site, as witnessed by these two photos, one from April 2008 and the next from September 2009. The material from 2008 was, of course, hand lifted off the peninsula by a human-chain of volunteers, while the material in 2009 was lifted off by helicopter which took 6 minutes per load. This could not have happened with out the support of all of our volunteers, the Canadian Coast Guard and CleanEarth Technologies who did the lead paint cleanup around the light house and the foundations of the old keeper's house.
We have the paint for this building which was donated and a few bundles of cedar shingles for the southern wall but we will need to replace the roof soon and replace the glass in the windows. The windows and doors in this building have changed greatly over time, either being moved or replaced with different sizes and styles.

Excerpt from 1876 publication extolling Swallow Tail

J.G. Lorimer wrote "History of Island and Islets in the Bay of Fundy, Charlotte County, New Brunswick: From their earliest settlement to the present time; including Sketches of Shipwrecks and other event of exciting interest" in 1876. There are several references to "Swallow Tail" as it was then called, including:

On this peninsula we have at its extremity east, the Swallow Tail, and on the Swallow Tail a lighthouse, from base to deck 45 feet: and the point on which it stands, being 103 feet above high water, makes the elevation of the light 148 feet total elevation. There is a keeper's house, in addition to the lighthouse, and other smaller buildings for stores, tools, oil, &c., all painted white. The keeper, Mr. John W. Kent, being quite neat and tasty of himself, spares no pains to keep his buildings in trim also. The light reflectors cast a brilliant gleam over the waters of the bay and help to chase away the gloom of darkness, and it may be of fear from many a storm-tossed mariner. The view from the Swallow Tail, or west of the bridge, neat the Saw-pit, on a clear day, can hardly be excelled. Part of the coast of Maine, of the north shore in Charlotte County, Campobello, the Wolves Islands, Pennfield, Chamcook Mountain and the numerous hill tops extending from St. George to St Andrews are all visible to the naked eye. It is a standpoint from which the observer can see too, the blue line of the Nova Scotia shore lying along the horizon as if pencilled there by a marine artist. Now a large square-rigger looms up, and another, and another; then smaller craft in scores. The smoke, too, of a steamer lazily floating along over the still waters gives rise to thought. Has she crossed the Atlantic, or is she from Halifax or Yarmouth or the State? Or is she bound out to traverse the treacherous ocean, bearing a precious freight of human souls? If so, may the voyage be propitious and free from harm over the wide waste of waters. No visitor to Grand Manan should leave it, if convenient at all, without a walk to the top of the highest land at Pettes' Cove, especially if the day be fine and free from fog. The scenery of land and sea from it will well repay the time.

Even in 1876, Swallowtail was appreciated for both the neatness of the lighthouse and keeper buildings, and also the amazing vista it affords. The only exception to that written above is that part of the coast of Maine is not visible unless a high hill is visible above Campobello Island.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Stormy October Swallowtail

Fall brings with it lots of wind when you live on an island in the mouth of the Bay of Fundy. In one storm this October, one third of the Canadian flag disappeared. The wind at Swallowtail is always a bit worse because the peninsula sticks out into the bay and there are no trees or buildings to block or slow the wind.

Flags at the ferry ticket office, a short ditance away were not affected by this wind storm and always last much longer than any flying at Swallowtail. A flag that I have that is brought in each night lasts for years but has to be replaced, not from wear but because of fading.

The extreme wind was another reason for the board walks that used to connect the keepers house to the lighthouse, something to hold onto when moving between the two buildings but even those were at risk and were sometimes blown out of place and damaged in severe gales.

Here are a couple of shots of a windy October day. Northeast wind whips up seas quickly. With some wind storms, the spray can actually go over the lighthouse, hence the cables that hold the tower from toppling over.

Before and After: Buildings at the top of the hill

I was looking through my photos of the two buildings at the top of the hill, including the former Ross Island Boat House moved to Swallowtail in the 1960s. I thought I would share some before and after photos of this amazing transformation with new roofs on both buildings (including the little pump house), new deck and paint. Before pictures were taken in April 2008, after photos in September 2009.

Eastern side of the old boathouse from Ross Island:

Southern side of the old boathouse from Ross Island:

Northern side of the old boathouse from Ross Island:

Thanks everyone who helped with labour or donation of materials to turn these little buildings into gems!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Helicopter lifts in September

The lead paint remediation around Swallowtail lighthouse and the old light keepers house foundation is now complete. The last of the contaminated soil was removed September 14 and 15. We had asked our contact at Fisheries and Oceans in charge of the cleanup if it would be possible to remove some of the larger items from the property while the Canadian Coast Guard helicopter was on site. We were pleasantly surprised when the answer was yes. We were able to coordinate the removal through CleanEarth Technologies, the company contracted to do the soil cleanup and had sent two of their staff to the site during this latest soil removal. These were the large white bags that were sitting beside the light house. Most of the bags had been removed earlier in the summer but these hadn't been removed until September because the CCG helicopter was unavailable for the work.

Helicopter sitting on helicopter pad next to the lighthouse:

Helicopter over the lighthouse during a lift:

A number of us went out to organize what was to be lifted off, including the old oil tanks, furnaces, a water heater and other items from the basement of the keepers house, the demolition debris from the southern end of the boat house and the scaffolding used during painting the keepers house. The old furnaces hadn't been used since the lightstation was destaffed in 1985 and had originally been coal burning and were convert to oil. Electric heat had been installed when the keepers house was used as a bed and breakfast.

Staging and bags with building debris ready to go. Cargo net has yet to be filled:

CleanEarth Technologies brought 2 large bags, similar in size to the ones used for the soil and the helicopter crew had 2 cargo nets. We filled the bags the first day and moved all the scaffolding to one location. During this time, one of our volunteers organized getting the large items out of the basement which was fully accomplished the second day and everything loaded into cargo nets or hooked together with straps.

Moving the oil tank out of the basement:

The helicopter arrived in the afternoon of Sept. 14 and moved a number of soil bags to the staging area at the old airport at Hole-in-the-Wall park. The following day, the rest of the bags were removed and then it was time to lift our stuff. The soil will be removed from the island and decontaminated.

Hooking up a bag filled with contaminated soil to be lifted by helicopter to the old airport at Hole-in-the-Wall Park:

Contaminated soil bag in the air. Some of these bags weighed over a ton:

The two bags were lifted first at the end of a 100' cable, then the scaffolding and one of the cargo nets, then the tanks and furnaces and then the last cargo net. It took only 6 minutes from the time the bags or nets were attached to the cable until the helicopter was back for the next load so we had to work quickly and it was why we had to have everything prepared. We also had two people at the old airport to help the CleanEarth technologist unhook and remove the items from the cargo nets. It was amazing how smoothly everything went.
Scaffolding and cargo net attached to helicopter hook ready to be lifted, the helicopter engineer is overseeing the lifting:

Hooking up second cargo net to be lifted by helicopter:
Here is a video of getting one of the cargo bags ready to be lifted by the helicopter:
Material at the old airport after being lifted off the peninsula by helicopter:

We would like to thank all our volunteers, the Canadian Coast Guard helicopter crew and CleanEarth Technologies and their crew. Trying to get this material up the stairs manually would have taken a lot more effort, people and time than with the helicopter.

Summary for Trails and Island Times articles

Parts of the following were included in the Grand Manan Trails Newsletter 2009 and also in the November issue of Island Times. Slight editing was done for each publication. Thanks Martha for getting this started!

This year has been a busy one for the Swallowtail Keepers Society (SKS) in its efforts to preserve and maintain the keepers house and other outbuildings at Swallowtail. While some of their work revolved around further clarification of the property status, much of their time was spent in visible projects that began in April and are ongoing.

For the second year in a row, a flag-raising ceremony took place on a foggy July 1, 2009, with several community members and the RCMP in attendance. The ceremony recognized the Foster family for its contribution to Swallowtail’s history and memorialized the tragic death of Elodie Foster in 1936, wife of Thomas Foster, while she was lighting the alcohol lamp in the lighthouse.

A new event on the third weekend in August was the International Lighthouse/Lightship Weekend. Two ham-radio operators from the Fredericton area set up their equipment in the former Ross Island boat house to talk to other operators around the world also broadcasting from lighthouses or lightships. While the atmospheric conditions were not always the best, it was a fun weekend with over 170 people stopping by to learn about ham radios and celebrate lighthouses. We hope to make this an annual event.

Perhaps the most visible improvement has been the erection of a sturdy deck and replacement of the roof shingles at the former Ross Island boathouse at the head of the stairs by the parking lot. Many, many hours of volunteer labour went into this project and is part of our goals to make at least part of the property accessible to everyone. This area will become the greeting centre for anyone visiting the light station in years to come.

Thanks to donated paint and the local Rotary Club and members of the Rotary Club from Seminole Lake, Florida, the buildings at the top of the hill and the keepers house have been painted in a joint project. A bit more work is needed on the keepers house but the buildings now glow as they did when there were fulltime keepers who did the maintenance. SKS is grateful for all such help, and recognizes the great cooperation and assistance from such community groups as Rotary as well as local businesses and individuals.

You may have also noticed that the southern wall of the boathouse beside the keepers house is being rebuilt. Many years of neglect and extreme elements (wind, rain and snow) had taken its toll and through volunteer effort and donated lumber, the building is in much better shape for the upcoming winter. This work will continue next spring.

Some work was also done on the railings. The chain link fencing on one side of the hand rail of the concrete steps was replaced with much softer netting so the railing was more “hand-friendly”. The railing on the foot bridge was also reinforced with long bolts to strengthen it against the stiff winds through the Sawpit. The netting and stainless steel bolts, nuts and washers were donated and this, often tedious, work was done by volunteers.

Together this work has helped to have the property shining for the 150th anniversary on July 7, 2010. Various plans for that celebration include the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the event, installing a time capsule, and possibly returning the fog bell to the property. A gala public reception and slide show of people's favourite Swallowtail photos are in the planning stages. A boat parade/sail past and a Fishermen's Ball are planned for the weekend following. Please let us know if there are special events you would like included or would like to help with any of the planning or events to make this a fun time for all.

While not directly related to SKS’ mandate, many of you have likely noted the presence of a large-scale clean-up of lead paint by CleanEarth Technologies at the Swallowtail property which started in the fall of 2008. This was part of a Federal Government programme to remediate properties that are contaminated. The clean-up was necessary if the lighthouse is ever to be transferred from federal hands. They graciously arranged to have removed large items (oil tanks, old furnaces, construction debris) from the property recently by Coast Guard helicopter. This was possible during the removal of the last bags of contaminated soil from beside the lighthouse.

The federal historic lighthouse bill is to come into effect next year and the community will need to petition to have the lighthouse deemed “historic”. It is already recognized as “significant”. Lack of funding to the Coast Guard remains an issue regarding maintenance of the lighthouse and can be seen in the crumbling rock foundation, missing roof shingles and peeling paint. Additionally, the Village is in the process of setting up an historic places registry of non-federal properties, and has selected the keepers property as one of the possible sites.

None of this could be accomplished without the dedication of volunteers and interested individuals, countless volunteer hours, donation of materials and gracious monetary donations. A successful lobster dinner and musical evening, hamburger and hotdog sales, and sale of buttons and maple taffy have also helped raise necessary funds to let us continue our work. If you are interested, donations can be sent to Swallowtail Keepers Society, 50 Lighthouse Road, Grand Manan, NB E5G 2A2. We also have a blog,, a Facebook group, Save our Swallowtail, and always welcome anyone interested in helping out with work or organizational meetings. Contact: Laurie Murison (506 662 8316 or

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


The Rotarian work party was absolutely incredible. The amount of work done in a short time, given the challenging weather conditions (strong winds) was fantastic.

I drove up to the property yesterday with a group visiting the island to show them the light house and was blown away by how fabulous the old buildings look. My grin was ear-to-ear. The buildings absolutely gleam and the red doors are great.

Although there is still some painting to be done, the majority has been finished including the small pumphouse, the former boat house from Ross Island - the shed Grimmer Ingersoll used as a workshop, and the keepers house. The boat house beside the keepers house is not painted because a crew started working rebuilding the southern end which had greatly deteriorated. A new sill is in place and corner posts have been cut to replace the rotten ones and it now needs to be resheathed, cedar shingles applied and the doors reinstalled. We hope to get this done in the next two weeks so the building can be enclosed for the winter.

We will be posting photos and other information about the work in the next few days.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Florida Rotarians

The time draws near (next Friday and Saturday) when a group of Rotarians from Seminole, Florida, will be arriving to help us with the buildings on the light keepers property. The paint has been donated and we have arranged for scaffolding. The group will help paint the two buildings at the top of the hill and also the light keepers house, beginning with that building on the weather sides (north and east) and seeing how much they get done.

We are overwhelmed that people from as far away as Florida would take time from their busy lives to help us. The Grand Manan Rotarians will be having their meeting on Friday morning next week instead of Thursday so these Rotarians can attend. There will also be a dinner at Castalia Marsh Retreat for a more casual interaction with each other that night. The following evening, dinner will be at the Inn at Whale Cove and hopeful an evening sail with Whales-n-Sails to see the light house property from the water and the sunset.

Anyone interested in joining in the work and play can meet Friday or Saturday morning at the Swallowtail property.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Successful Ham Radio Weekend

Art Gunn and Sterling Carpenter were very happy with the International Lighthouse and Lightship Weekend when they set up their ham radio equipment at Swallowtail August 14-16.

Approximately 162 people visited with Art and Sterling, asking great questions both about the event and also what we are trying to do at Swallowtail. The atmospheric conditions were not as conducive to the radio frequencies as might be expected but Art and Sterling were able to talk to a few others set up at lighthouses around the world.

Given the great respond, we expect this to be an annual event so keep the third weekend in August next year open if you wish to participate.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Ham radio operators

On August 14, 15 and 16, two fellows from Fredericton, Art Gunn and Sterling Carpenter, will be coming to Grand Manan to set up their mobile ham radio equipment and participate in the International Lighthouse and Lightship Weekend ( They will be talking to other ham radio operators, also set up in lighthouses from around the world. This is an exciting opportunity to learn about this type of communication works and actually see it in operation.

Art and Sterling have also generously donated a new electrical panel for the former Ross Island boat house and the pump house, a much needed replacement.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Music and lobster rolls

Another successful evening of great food and entertainment was had by all, July 18 at the Covert Hall in North Head. The event was sold out and some lobster rolls went out as take-out. The salad greens were donated by Sysco and the rolls were donated by the Save Easy. The lobsters were donated by a local fisherman and turned into divine lobster rolls by Laura Buckley, Inn at Whale Cove Cottages. Desserts were donated by thirteen people and included everything from cheesecake to rhubarb squares to Black Forest cake.

Entertainment included guitar, violin/fiddle, cello, keyboard and vocals. Dinah Romig played and emceed the musical portion to great rounds of applause.

We greatly appreciate the fantastic support and with the money raised, look forward to working on the boat house beside the keepers house this fall. The southern end is in desperate need of repair.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Wildflowers at Swallowtail

The wild flowers at Swallowtail, although windblown at times have been remarkable this year with the wet, foggy conditions in June. This also promoted abundant mushroom growth. Cobwebs have also been outlined by the fog.

We are taking photographs of the various flowers and hope in the future to have a list and photographs in a binder to help people identify the flora on the peninsula.