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Thursday, October 18, 2012

WESTERN ISLANDS

We did a feature article on Lonely Island as being the loneliest island on Georgian Bay. Several people emailed me and said what about the Western Islands ... that they were very lonely to. And so they are ... but perhaps not as lonely as Lonely Island – albeit the Westerns have less vegetation than Lonely Island. But for those that are interested here’s a bit about the Western Islands.

The Western Islands are about 15 km from any land and are out of site of land when viewed from ground level. The island chain is about 43 km south west of Parry Sound and about 20 kms north west of Hope Island. If you know O’Donnell Point, it is directly west of the mainland some 15+ km The 1895 octagonal 45’ lighthouse is still standing on Double Top Island (part of the Western island group). To be honest the lighthouse was rebuilt in the same location three times since 1895. Little vegetation grows on the Western Islands except gold lichen. The weather exposure is too severe to support trees on the island. Even too inhospitable for a rattle snakes to exist. Just an outcropping of light gray rock islands alone in the vast expanse of blue water.

From the lighthouse you can see the mainland. The lighthouse is in rough shape but there are some old artifacts there. As you can imagine not very many people visit there and there is no decent harbour or shelter to dock or anchor a boat. In good weather the occasional visiting boat might visit and heave to go ashore by dingy. Officially it is Coast Guard controlled and off limits to the public. A small cement walkway connects the lighthouse to a helicopter pad. There is a small service building there. At one point in time there was a lighthouse keepers house and other ancillary buildings that no longer exist (except under water). By my count the island archipelago consists of about 20 small islands (in two groups north and south) and lots of others awash in rock. The North group islands that are named are North Island, Cresent Island, Harbour Island, Long Island and West One Tree Island. The south group of named islands are Thumb Rock, Block Island, Gull Island, Jagged Island, Pool Rocks and Double Top Island. In winter the spray turns the islands and buildings into an ice covered landscape and keepers used ice crampons to get around.

Now here is something unusual. The previous two lighthouses built at the same location and the light keepers house complete with personal items can be found in the water just off from the current lighthouse. The buildings were disposed of by just pushing them off into the Bay. You can scuba dive these once land based wrecks! No doubt there are many ship wrecks about the western islands but it drops off so fast that most would have slid to the depths and would be gone forever.

So if you ever get a really calm stretch of weather take a boat ride out to the Western Islands and imagine what it was like to be a lighthouse keeper on Double Top Island. Then think about going up to Lonely Island and you be the judge as to which is in fact the most lonely.

Posted by at 9:48 AM
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