St. Paul Island
"The Graveyard of the Gulf"

Wilson Gwinn 1925-1937

The Gwinn family spent a total of 13 years on St Paul's Island. One and a half years at the Lifesaving Station, a year and a half at the Wireless station and ten years at the Southwest light. (1925-1937).

Gwinn was paid an average of 13cents and hour over the 13 year tenure on the island. {Above picture and information © Canadian Heritage Information Network}


Effie,Mary,Iris,Vida,Fred,Bertha

Gwinn Interview Page 1

Gwinn Interview Page 2

Gwinn Interview Page 3


Rae Deyoung, Effie Ryan, and Bertha Gwinn. Daughters of Wilson Gwinn. {Courtesy Corinne Fraser}


Granddaughters of Wilson Gwinn. Cynthia and Wilda {Iris}, Corinne {Bertha}, Laura {Mary}, Connie and Lynn {Vida}, Sadie {Rae} {Courtesy Corinne Fraser, 2013}

Interview with Iris {Gwinn} Wilkie

My name is Jacob Wilkie, and I am going to interview my grandmother Iris Wilkie. Her parents were Sadie and Wilson Gwinn.

Jacob- “Where were you born?”

Iris- “I was born on St. Paul’s Island, November 30th, 1928. We lived there for twelve years and then moved to Sugarloaf.”

Jacob- “How did your family come to live there?”

Iris- “My father worked there. He was the lighthouse keeper for the southwest side of the island.”

Jacob- “What did the land look like?”

Iris- “A lot of rocks and water. It would be covered in snow for five months.”

Jacob- “What was your home like?”

Iris- “We had no bathrooms, only an outhouse. There was only one phone for the island. There was no electricity or plumbing. For lights we used kerosene lamps.

Jacob- “Where did you store your food?”

Iris- “We kept our food in a cellar. All summer we picked strawberries, raspberries, and cranberries. Father caught fish and lobsters. Mama would can the food and put it in the cellar. We had to have a lot stored up for the winter because supply boats didn’t come from November to June. My father grew turnips and potatoes away from our house because the earth was too rocky.”

Jacob- “What kind of games did you play?”

Iris- “We used milk cans to skate on the ice, and we went sledding and we built snowmen - the same as you do.”

Jacob- “Did you have a favorite style of music?”

Iris- “Yes, fiddle music.”

Jacob- “What did your family do in the evenings?”

Iris- “We did homework and listened to the radio on Sunday. Don Messer, a fiddler, would be on for half an hour and my sister Vida and I would dance around the room.”

Jacob- “Did you have any chores?”

Iris- “Yes, and the one I didn’t like was doing the dishes.”

Jacob- “Did you have any animals?”

Iris- “We had a horse and a cow, twenty four hens, one pig and a German Sheppard dog.”

Jacob- “Where did you get water?”

Iris- “We had to go a quarter of a mile to the cold spring to get our water.”

Jacob- “Where did you go to school?”

Iris- “I didn’t go to school until I was twelve, when we moved to Sugarloaf. My sister Effie and Mary came to Cape North for summer school. We would use their books at home to learn.”

Jacob- “What effect did World War Two have on your family?”

Iris- “I don’t think that it really had an effect on our family, we had no relatives in the war. I do remember having ration books for anyone sixteen and up. This was to get sugar and tea. During the war we could see the big medic ship with twenty or more ships protecting it. We moved to Sugarloaf after this because people were getting worried. It was far from doctors, hospitals, and schools. There were two families at the wireless station. We were at the southwest end there was a family at the northeast. But when we moved to Sugarloaf we got lonesome for St. Paul’s Island!

I enjoyed doing this with my Nanny. It was hard to get her to talk though. It was fun spend time with my Nanny though.

By Jacob Wilkie


Jai and Corinne Fraser by the old SW lighthouse {now at Coast Guard facitlity in Dartmouth}. Jai and Corinne are granchildren of Wilson Gwinn.