The following published with permission of The Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society and article author Chris Mills. Full article appeared in the October 2005 issue of "The Lightkeeper".

Voices Of The Lights

by Chris Mills

Adalene McSheffery and her husband Wilfred spent 16 years on three Nova Scotia lighthouses- Liscomb, Saint Paul and Cross Islands.

Addie and Wilfred lived on Liscomb for seven years. But then came an opening on lonely Saint Paul Island, off the north tip of Cape Breton. Another factor sealed the deal for their move, as Addie remembered.

It was rumoured that Liscomb was gonna close down and go automatic. There was an opening at Saint Paul's so Wilfred was silly enough to take it! We were fools enough to go! We didn't have a clue where we were going! You were out in the middle of the ocean. But it was nice. I liked it.

When I asked Addie what her impressions of Saint Paul were after living on the larger liscomb Island, she laughed.

Oh my God, there must be somebody besides me alive in the world! We were just out in the middle of the ocean. You couldn't see anything but water. Well, you could see a bit of Cape breton Island. You got terrible storms. That was interesting. Sometimes you'd go to bed at night and know you were on the island but wonder where you were gonna wake up in the morning with the wind blowin' against the house!

We had a family on there one time. They had their Christmas tree sittin' in the corner of the living room. They heard an awful racket in the night and they got up to see what happened- the sea had hit against the house and knocked the tree over!

The sea would just blow right over the house. The waves would break against the rocks, and it would just go right over the island. In the winter time from the houses up to the beacon room, we used to put a rope up so you could get up. Many's the time I've gone up on my hands and knees, 'cause you didn't dare stand up! It'd be icy and the wind'd blow you over.

Wind and sea, Addie took it all in stride.

It was nice in the summertime. Great place for a vacation, 'cause you had nobody to bother you. You'd be all by yourself. But I never minded it anytime. Even in the wintertime.

You made your own entertainment. On Saint Paul's we had TV. But out there, if you got the picture TV, you didn't get the sound. And if you got the sound, you didn't get the picture! Some days you'd sit there and watch the picture and the next day you'd listen to the sound!

But the most important way of keeping in touch with friends and family ashore was through the mail. I asked Addie just how important the mail day was.

Oh God. Talk about Christmas to kids! Especially in the wintertime. You'd go 8-10 weeks without mail. You'd be talkin' to people on the mainland with a CB radio, but your family or relatives, you wouldn't get anything from them until the mail came.

When the newspapers came, you got all the news and regardless of how old it was, it was news to you! Wilfred was a great reader. he used to wait for mail day to come! Then there'd be a stack of papers here and a stack here and don't touch 'em! He was a great reader.

There were also occasional visitors to break the tedium- usually work crews from the Coast Guard. They'd often stay for a few days at a time, adding to Addie's work load as she prepared meals for the hungry workers. The McSheffery's dog Pepper- a saucy schnauser- did not endear himself to some of the workers.

The dog was a bugger! He was awful for carryin' stuff off. We had one fellow, I can't think of his name. His last name was Chandler. He was sawin' off a piece of wood. He wanted a certain angle for this piece of wood. Pepper would stand back and watch him. As soon as the stick would drop, he'd grab it and off he'd go to the end of the island! He and Pepper didn't like one another. Poor old Pepper, he was a bugger for cartin/ things off!

The years passed with a succession of winter gales, summer sunsets and visits from Coast Guard helicopters and ships with supplies and fuel. Then came the time for another transfer- this time to Cross island, at the entrance to lunenburg Harbour. Addie and Wilfred began the tedious process of crating their belongings.

The last year that we were on there, the Coast Guard said they would move us before the end of November. So I came ashore to do all the banking and get things straightened up on the mainland. It kept getting later and later and they weren't takin' me back to Saint Paul, so I called the department. Dave Walker was our head pilot then and I asked him what the chances were of gettin' back, 'cause I said "I hate to leave Wilfred on there alone for Christmas!"

I think it was the 20th or the 21st day of December Dave took me back. Everything was packed up, and I thought "They're not gypin' me out of a Christmas tree!" So I rooted around and found the box where the Christmas tree was and stick a little piece of it in a box with some lights. We had everything packed but tinfoil plates, and that was our Christmas. I thought that was pathetic! That was the biggest Christmas tree I ever had! Oh, just a piece off of an artificial tree that I stuck in the top of the box and put some lights on. My God!

After their last Christmas on Saint Paul the McShefferies set up house on Cross Island. The 200-acre island was quite a contrast from the barren, wind and sea battered north east light on Saint Paul.

I asked her how, when she looked back now, she had adapted so well to a life of isolation.

it just come natural I guess. You felt isolated, but you got used to it. You get used to anything. God, if a woman can get used to livin' with a man, she can get used to livin' anywhere!

Addie thought for a moment and added:You miss the water. When you're by the water, you never see the same thing two days. You know, nothing is the same twice. Oh God, I can see water on the TV and get homesick!

I still would go back to it if I could. Tomorrow.