Cove Island Lighthouse-Cove Island, Bruce Peninsula-Georgian Bay

    In September 1881, the schooner Regina went down off of Cove Island on the Bruce Peninsula and her Captain Amos Tripp, drowned. Cove Island Light keeper George Currie discovered Tripp’s body and buried him on the west side of the island. Later, relatives removed Tripps body to Collinwood. Local legend says that Captain Tripp’s ghost appears on dark nights, demanding to play a hand of cards with the light keeper of Cove Island.

Detroit Post and Tribune, Thursday, July 19, 1883. The Sheboygan Times of Saturday says: “The schooner Glad Ttidings came in to port from Manitowoc. This is Capt. Bundy, the sailor preacher’s new schooner, and the third and largest built for him within a few years….Will sail for the east shore, and after a short cruise leave for Georgian Bay, where she will cruise for two months…”

This story could have happened, but there is only imaginary evidence that it did.

Captains Contentious

            In his wildest whiskey induced fantasies, Bryce McCloud never saw himself making captain in the Red River expedition, working as a lumberjack on the Bruce- spelling slightly different than his name- Peninsula, or keeping a haunted lighthouse. He lived through and survived all three experiences in varying degrees. The new Canadian Confederation’s Red River Rebellion against Louis Riel the Métis in Manitoba taught him that fighting for freedom makes fanatical fighters and that he personally enjoyed any kind of fighting. After he helped quash the Red River Rebellion he went to work in the lumber camps of Georgian Bay, especially the Pine River camp. At Pine River he learned to perfect his fighting, to  cut logs, to survive in a camboose house and to eat lumberjack food, and to get out of bed the next morning and do the same thing that day.  He learned how to play cards, drink, and use profanity frequently and creatively. He also learned to love the forests of Georgian Bay and the Bruce Peninsula, the birch trees and cedars, pines, junipers, and spruces so much that he didn’t want to leave when the he and his fellow lumberjacks had cut down the stand of pines they were hired to cut down.. He also loved the water and the currents and the weather and the rocks. Bryce became the light keeper at Cove island before the last lumberjack left the lumber camps on the Peninsula. 

            In the beginning Bryce wasn’t so sure how he would fare as a light keeper. “Hmm, most keepers take their families out there with them,” the white haired store keeper at Hardwick’s Grocery told him when he was shopping for supplies. “It gets lonely out there.  You might find yourself talking to yourself. The store keeper smiled at him.  “You could go courting before you go to the island. Do you have a sweetheart?”

            Bryce didn’t even glance at the store keeper as he put a package of cornmeal into his shopping basket. “I had one once.”

            “Jenny.  How could he tell anyone about Jenny, especially a stranger? But on the other hand, sometimes strangers understood the most. “She died,” he said.

            “That happens,” the store keeper said sympathetically as Bryce thumped a sack of dried beans in his basket. “That happened to me, too. But after that I met another girl and she turned out to be the best person for me. She’s been my wife for forty years now.”

“Things don’t turn out that way for everybody,” Bryce said, watching the store keeper totaling his purchases on a pad of yellow paper.

The storekeeper looked up and smiled at him. “You’ve got to give life a chance,” he said. “Don’t you need to get some coffee, too?”

“I almost forget the coffee!” Bryce walked to the back of the store, thankful that conversation about Jenny and sweethearts had ended.

He didn’t realize that the conversation hadn’t really ended until he was putting away his groceries in the wooden kitchen cupboard in the stone light keeper’s cottage on Cove Island. The last keeper had evidently had a wife because the cottage was tidy and ready to move into.  The kitchen cook stove and the heating stove in the parlor had both been blacked and the furniture had been polished with beeswax.. At least it smelled like beeswax.  He lightly touched one of the posters on his four poster bed and put his finger in his mouth. Yes, it was beeswax. Jenny had polished her mama’s furniture with beeswax every week.  One night when he had come courting he helped her polish the furniture and she had looked at him with those sea green eyes and said, “I’ll polish our furniture the same, Bryce.”

That was the night that he realized he loved her and wanted to marry her. For the next year he worked hard to convince Jenny to feel the same way.  Luckily for him, she didn’t need much convincing.  They planned to be married the spring after he returned from the Red River Rebellion. He had already accepted a job in Orillia at a shipping company and they had bought a house and were furnishing it. Then diphtheria came to Orillia and Jenny got sick. She suffered for a week, grew worse, and then died in his arms. For a year after she died his life amounted to one continuous shriek of anguish. He worked as a lumberjack in several camps thinking that the thunk, thunk of his axe against the wood would drive the sound of her soft voice from his ears and from his heart. During his three years of lumber jacking he discovered that the stillness of the pine forests and the music of the Georgian Bay waves didn’t cover the sound of her voice or obliterate her face, but they provided a soothing counterpoint to her presence. When the timber company closed the camp, he eagerly accepted the position as keeper of the Cove Island Light because he knew now that this was his home and he had grown used to co existing with Jenny.

Now he settled into the stone keeper’s cottage at the light house and the ghost of Jenny moved in with him.  Bryce climbed the 95 wooden steps leading from the base of the light house to the lamp room and Jenny climbed alongside him. He marveled at the last nine steps that formed a carved iron staircase that ended at an iron door that led to the lamp room at the very top of the light house. He spent that first week learning to light and extinguish the lamp.  He read in the keeper’s log how George Collins, the first keeper, described the first time the light was lit on the night of October 30, 1858. “The light…seems to gather together, rolling itself up into a dark cloudy night and then bursting out into a brilliant flame and illuminates the whole horizon.”

The second week he had to take his skiff and row to the mainland to get a few more groceries. This time the store keeper who waited on him was a young woman with blond hair and green eyes. He noted her shapely figure as he took his purchase from his basket and put them on the counter. She didn’t add them up on paper like the male clerk had done. She added them in her head.  He double checked her addition on a piece of scrap paper. Her addition checked out.

            “I hear you’re the new light keeper,” she said as she helped him load his groceries into the canvas bag he’d brought to hold them.

            “I’m the new light keeper,” he said. “Who told you that?”

            “My Dad told me. He said you stopped in a few weeks ago to buy groceries.”

            “Oh, the old guy’s your dad.  Where is he today?”

            “He and my mom are at church.”

            “I forgot today’s Sunday. Why aren’t you at church?”

            She smiled at him with those green eyes and for a minute he thought Jenny had been resurrected from a ghost memory to a real woman standing in front of him. “I went to Sunday School, but I told Dad I’d tend the store for him this afternoon so he and Mama could attend the bazaar.”

            “Do they always have bazaars on Sunday afternoon?”

            “Only once a year to raise money.  Why don’t you stop by before you go back to the island?”

            “I need to get back.  By the time I put my groceries away and play a game of cards it will be time to light the light again.”

            “You play cards on Sunday! You’ll get in trouble with Captain Harmon.”

            “Who’s Captain Harmon?”

            “He was master of the Glory Hallelujah. “

            “What’s the Glory Halleluhah?”

            “It was a ship that folks around here called a floating Bethel. He sailed it all around Georgian Bay, visiting almost every cove and inlet in the bay and even inventing some. He’d stop for a few days or even a week or two and go into the lumber camps to preach the gospel. He preached a real fire and brimstone sermon and his wife and daughters would help him with the singing and praying.”

            Bryce stepped back inside the store and closed the door behind him. “He took his wife and daughters with him?”

            “On almost every trip. Then the girls grew up and wanted to get married, but he forbade them to for a long time. Finally, one of them eloped with a lumberjack. The other stayed at home as the spinster daughter. They sailed the preaching circuit for ten more years or so. Then the Glory Hallelujah went down in a storm over in Blue Bay.”

            “Oh.” Bryce couldn’t think of anything else to say. Her eyes looked so like Jenny’s eyes. He opened the door again. “Thank you for the help.”

            “Be careful at the light house. It’s haunted, you know.”

            He stopped with his hand on the door. “What do you mean it’s haunted?”

            “I mean it’s haunted. “

            “Who’s haunting it?”

            “Captain Harmon, of course. Along with his wife and daughter.”

            “Why would they haunt the lighthouse?”

            “The captain never told me why. But he might tell you.”

            “Sure he will,” Bryce said. “Thanks again for the help.”

            He left the grocery store shaking his head. That girl was pretty and her eyes were astonishingly like Jenny’s, but she had to be crazy. Imagine telling him that the Cove Island Lighthouse was haunted.

            That night he saw Captain Harmon for the first time. He had polished and lighted the lamp and was standing in the tower listening to the wind howl and shake the building and watching the waves crash on the rocks below when he saw a small, wooden schooner tossing and turning in the waves dangerously close to the beach. He grabbed a life buoy and a rope and hurried down the stairs as quickly as he could, and ran to the beach. Running against the wind, he gasped for breath as he reached the water’s edge and prepared to throw out his rope to the crew of the schooner. Instead, the crew threw a rope to him or at least one of the crew. The man had  a  gray beard that reached down to his chest and wore a blue coat with yellow buttons. Bryce saw that he had piercing gray eyes the color of his beard. The man tossed him a soaking wet rope. “Catch hold of this rope for me lad.” “

            Bryce caught the rope. “Thank you for rescuing me, lad. Now, tie up my ship to the dock so we can have a talk.”

            “There’s no place to tie her up,” Bryce said.

            “She’ll be alright,” the man said. “Now let’s have that chat.”

            “Sir, are you all right?  Was there anyone else on the ship besides you?”

            “Oh yes,“ the man said. “My wife and daughter. But they’re alright.”

            Bryce stared at the wreck but he couldn’t see anyone else in the rigging.”Where are they sir?  I can’t see them.”

            “They’re right here.“ the man said . “Just turn your head.”

            Bryce turned his head and saw a woman and a girl standing next to a piece of driftwood on the beach.

            Bryce scratched his head and then he scratched his ear. “What are you doing here? What are they doing here?”

            Graybeard fixed Bryce with a piercing gray gaze. “I came to tell you the story of salvation young man.  I came to show you the error of your sinful ways and to lead you home to God.”

            “I thought you wrecked your ship by the lighthouse,” Bryce said.

            “God guides the Glory Hallelujah, I don’t.”

            Bryce pointed to the ship being broken apart by the waves.“ His guidance is a little off!”

            Captain Harmon’s gray eyes flashed zeal. “God has his own purposes and works in his own time.”

            Bryce rubbed his eyes. It had to be spray splashed in his eyes or his night imagination or both.  He couldn’t really be seeing a ghostly lake captain preaching a sermon and his wife and daughter in the amen corner. “Why are you here, anyway? Where did you come from?”

            “”My name is Captain Hezekiah Harmon and I’m here to tell you the story of the gospel, to bring you the glad tidings.”

            “I’ve already heard them, thank you,” Bryce told him.

            “Son, you need to hear them many times. We all do. What is you name, son?”

            Bryce couldn’t believe he was introducing himself to a ghost. “My name is Bryce McCloud.”

            “Pleased to meet you, Mr. McCloud. Now let’s get to the business at hand.”

            “Captain Harmon, don’t you think you ought to take your ladies inside the lighthouse where it’s warm?”

            Captain Harmon scratched his chin.  “I suppose I could.  He turned to the three women. What’s your pleasure mother and girls? Do you want to stay out here or go inside by the fire.”

            The two women turned and walked through the closed light house door. Captain Harmon laughed, a laugh that sounded like booming surf. “That answers my question.”

            “Bryce opened the door, and the two women swished by him.  He didn’t feel a blast of cold, just a shiver of wet spray. He held the door for the captain. “Are you coming in while it’s open or walking through it?”

            The Captain came in.  Bryce took off his coat and hung it on the rack by the door. He went to the cupboard and took out some blankets. “Would you like a blanket to keep warm, Captain?

            The Captain stood with his back to the fire while his wife and daughters sat in the chairs in front of it.

            Bryce studied the captain whose clothes still dripped water even though he stood in front of the fire. “Why are you here, Captain? Or probably the most important question is How you are here.”

            “I spend several months cruising Georgian Bay on one of the Glory Hallelujahs, I don’t remember which one, and it sank in a storm in Blue Bay, right out there by the lighthouse, with me, my wife, and daughter aboard.”

            “If the ship sank with you, your wife and daughter, how can you be here now?”

            “I am here and I’m going to make the most of it,” Captain Hezekiah Harmon said.

            The captain sat down in an empty chair in front of the fire and lit Bryce’s pipe. He puffed a few moments before he answered. “Emily my wife and Abigail my daughter voyaged with me even after Libbie eloped with the lumber jack. I trained them well you know.”

            “You mean I trained them well, don’t you, Hezekiah? You were at sea most of the time.”

The captain’s wife arose from her chair and stood in front of him with her hands on her hips. Bryce sensed that the channel for this argument was well marked. Bryce noticed that the Captain’s wife was still pretty, even in her ghostly state with long red curls, green eyes, and rosy cheeks. As he watched, Captain Harmon pinched her wife’s cheeks. “Chock full of vim and vigor, aren’t you Emily,” the Captain chortled. “That’s why I married you my dear, I liked your spirit. I liked your spirit too, Abigail.”

            The captain’s daughter Abigail walked left the fire and stood beside her mother. “You and Mama taught me well, Papa. I didn’t marry Jeremiah.”

            “I forbade you to marry, Jeremiah Conrad. If you had I would have disowned you.”

            Abigail’s gray eyes flashed just like her father’s did. “I should have married him no matter what you said,” father.  “I wish I had.”

             Captain Harmon huffed and puffed up his chest to twice its normal size. “I am your father and I knew what was best for you. You did right to obey me.”

            Abigail’s eyes filled with tears.  “I obeyed you and I lived a lonely life without Jeremiah. Then, when I finally grew enough courage to marry Jeremiah, the Glory Hallelujah went down and it was too late! I led a sad life, father. A lonely, unfulfilled life.”

            Captain Harmon stared at his daughter in bewilderment. “I thought you were happy, Abigail.  I just wanted your happiness.”

            “I should have voyaged the unchartered waters, father. I should have married Jeremiah!”

Abigail ran from the parlor into Bryce’s small bedroom and her mother followed her. “

            “Now, now , Abby,” Captain Harmon shouted, staring after his wife and daughter, but not making a move to follow. He sat heavily back down in his chair and mopped his brow with a large red handkerchief that he took out of his pocket.

            “I can’t stand to see her cry,” he said.

            Bryce picked up the gin rummy hand he had been playing the night before. “Want to play a game of cards to take your mind off things?”

            “I don’t play cards,” the Captain said. “Playing cards is sinful.”

            “So is making your daughter cry,” Bryce said.

            Captain jumped to his feet.  “I’ll fix things,” he said.  He hurried into the bedroom and Bryce could hear the deep rumble of his voice like a distant thunder storm brewing above the clouds in Georgian Bay. Several minutes later Captain Harmon came back and sank back into the chair by the fire. “I fixed things,” he said. “I told her she could marry Jeremiah. I told her I’d give them my permission.”

            “But where is Jeremiah?” I asked.

            “I’m not sure, but Abby is,” the Captain said. “She’ll find him.”

            “But is he…?”

            The Captain looked at me, his gray eyes enquiring. “Is he what?”

            “Never mind,” Bryce said. If Jeremiah still lived Jeremiah would be in for quite a shock. And wasn’t this entire visit and conversation a figment of Bryce’s imagination anyway

            “Young man, I must insist that you put those cards away,” Captain Harmon told Bryce.

            “Life is like a game of cards, Captain Harmon. You play the hand that fate delivers you, and hope you have the luck to win a few.”

            Captain Harmon snatched one of the cards which happened to be a king, from Bryce’s hand. “Life is faith in Christ the King.” He waved the card at Bryce. “It’s your turn to step out in faith.”

            Bryce took a deep breath and snatched the king from the captain’s hand and stuffed it in his pocket.  He’d show this know it all ghost Captain.  “I’m going into town he said. I’ve got to see someone.” Bryce pulled on his slicker and hurried out into the rainy night. He was glad the wind had died down because he didn’t favor taking the boat out on a wild night. The bay was choppy but it only sent out two to three foot waves to accompany him as he rowed to the mainland and hurried to Hardwick’s grocery. He prayed she would be behind the counter instead of her father and the Captain must have been praying too, because she stood there behind the counter when he opened the door.

            “What are you doing out on a bad night?” she asked him. “Did you forget something?”

            “Captain Harmon sent me,” he said, smiling into her green eyes so much like Jenny’s had been. Yet she was not Jenny. This girl was an entire new life that he was willing to seek on faith. He knew with a certainty that he couldn’t explain that when he returned to the lighthouse with the promise of seeing her again, he would watch the Captain and his wife and daughter and the Glory Hallelujah disappear over the horizon and he would not see them again. But just to be certain he would throw that king overboard before he got home!

About the Author:

Kathy Warnes loves writing Michigan and Great Lakes stories.  She was born and raised in Ecorse, Michigan, which is outside of Detroit on the Detroit River near Lake Erie, where she had an early exposure to Great Lakes history.  She has  a new history website which includes maritime history. Please go to her website at:

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