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Fiddler's Elbow and Lindoe Island Lights


Before we think about the lighthouses, let’s settle the nagging question of which came first: the name or the fiddler? People more knowledgeable than I about the Thousand Islands have been caught on this question, declaring truth to be stranger than fiction. Sadly, the truth is usually fairly mundane . . .

The record has been set straight in the past. On August 30, 1890, the Gananoque Reporter announced:

“Chauncey Patterson Drowned. On Friday evening of last week [i.e., August 22, 1890] Mr. Chauncey Patterson, a blind man who lived on an Island just at the upper side of the Fiddler’s Elbow, was coming out of Alexandria Bay in a skiff. He was rowing, and his son-in-law was sitting in the stern directing him. The steamer Junita was going into the Bay, and ran the skiff down. Patterson not being able to see, was unable to avail himself of the life buoys thrown to him, and was drowned. The young man caught hold of the steamer, and was drawn aboard without injury. Patterson’s body had not been found at last accounts. He was accustomed to play on the fiddle, and by many people this accomplishment was held to account for the name, Fiddler’s Elbow, given to the two short turns in the channel near where he lived. But it had nothing to do with that. The Fiddler’s Elbow received its name before Patterson was born. A few years ago [in 1881], [American tour-boat operator] Capt. Visger, of the Island Wanderer, engaged Patterson to appear under a canopy upon the high rocks of an island next to his, and play the fiddle every day as the boat passed. This led still further to the association of him and the Elbow in the minds of tourists. And some people got in the way of calling the locality the Blind Fiddler’s Elbow.

The fictional version apparently sounds the better of the two versions for beguiling tourists, however, so it has lived on like Zavikon’s “shortest international bridge” (both sides, of course, being in Canadian waters), which is still celebrated on postcards and boat tours.

The name of the Fiddler’s Elbow area, then, most likely arose from the bent-arm shape of the narrow passage between Ash and Wallace Islands. In The First Summer People, author Susan Smith states that it was named in the eighteenth century, by sailors who traversed the region in bateaux. Certainly, when the spate of lighthouse construction began on the Canadian side of the Thousand Islands in the mid-1800s, the name was already accepted. In 1856, lighthouses were constructed at either end of the passage. Listed, east to west, as “Fiddler’s Elbow” (near Wood Island) and “Lindoe Island” lighthouses, each was a white, square, wood structure.

Fiddler’s Elbow Lighthouse

Both of these lighthouses are now gone, but the Fiddler’s Elbow Light is easily the “most forgotten” of the Thousand Island lighthouses. Early mentions in the Journals of the Legislative Assembly for 1852 – 53, include Fiddler’s Elbow and “Lynedock Island” in a list of nine lights that are to be “located in the most intricate parts of the River.” By 1856, the lights were operational and lightkeepers had been engaged. But no sooner is this achieved, than its days were numbered. The 1857 the Journals of the Legislative Assembly announce:

“It is proposed to remove the framed light-house now standing on “Fiddler’s Elbow” to “Hemlock Point” on Wolf [sic] Island, about midway between Gananoque and Kingston, a recommendation to that effect having been made by the captains of the steamers generally.”

As mentioned in my article on the lighthouses of Wolfe Island (November 2009), given the time and distances involved, it does not seem probable that the lighthouse actually was moved to Wolfe Island from Fiddler’s Elbow. More likely, the structure was dismantled and the materials were put to use elsewhere.

James Landon received a salary of £ 22 s. 10 for acting as lightkeeper at Fiddler’s Elbow for the year 1856, and John Landon a salary of £ 35 for 1857. It is not certain that there were two different lightkeepers, however. The early records have many inconsistencies and errors. Regardless, after 1858, there is no further mention of Fiddler’s Elbow Light or any lightkeepers.

The dearth of information might have left us with nothing more than the knowledge that a small wooden lighthouse had once existed at the east end of Fiddler’s Elbow, but in 1952, the List of Lights and Fog-Signals on the Inland Waters mentioned the Wood Island lighthouse, recording its original year of establishment as 1856. Details in the list suggest that Wood Island light was established in the same location as the original Fiddler’s Elbow lighthouse around 1937, after the Wood Island Gas Buoy (established 1928) was deemed inadequate. By this time, the Lists of Lights provided latitude and longitude information for each lighthouse, along with the classic “white, square, wood” description. This allows us to fairly accurately determine where the Fiddler’s Elbow lighthouse was set, on a small island just off Wood Island.

Francis Coleridge, 1865
“Thousand Islands of the St. Lawrence,” painted by Francis Coleridge, 1865. In the collections of the National Archives of Canada. Online MIKAN No. 2836809. Could this be an image of Fiddler’s Elbow Lighthouse?

No identified images of the Fiddler’s Elbow light have been found to date, but I invite the readers of Thousand Islands Life to speculate on the image above. The artist is Francis Coleridge, and the painting is dated 1865.  A British officer, Coleridge’s image is clearly a Canadian lighthouse, and is identified as being in the Thousand Islands.   As far as I can decide, reasonable candidate lighthouses are: Fiddler's Elbow, Jackstraw Shoal, or Spectacle Shoal. These are Canadian lighthouses that had been built by that date in the Thousand Islands and that cannot be dismissed for other reasons. Of course, it should not be Fiddler’s Elbow if this was painted from life, as the light was discontinued several years before 1865, but it has been suggested that this is the Wood Island area, and there are discrepancies with both the Jackstraw Shoal and Spectacle Shoal options as well. Then there is always the question of artistic license . . . Still, it is fun to speculate, and I challenge readers to help settle the question.

Lindoe Island Lighthouse

At the west end of Fiddler’s Elbow, Lindoe Island has been spelled variously as Lindoe, Lindoc, Lindon, Lyndoc, Lyndock, Lynedock, Lynedoch and Lyndoch, the last of these being the name it carries today as part of St. Lawrence Islands National Park.

In the Unwin survey of 1874, Charles Unwin identified it as Island 79. A small island, 1.4 acres according to Unwin, it was described by him as “rock, with a few trees and brush.” The lighthouse was set on the north side of the island, and was known for its early history as the Lindoe Island Light, though this gradually gave way in the 1920s to the Lynedoch Island Light, and eventually to the current Lyndoch Island. The lighthouse has also been referred to locally as the Fiddler’s Elbow lighthouse – logical given its location at the west end of this channel, but most confusing to the researcher trying to find information about a different lighthouse by that name.

 

Built in 1856, the tower 26 feet in height, Lindoe Island lighthouse lasted many years longer than its eastern counterpart. It, too, was a small, white, framed wooden structure, with three base-burner lamps, and stood some 40 feet above the high water level. It was watched over by several different lightkeepers over its lifetime. Joseph Landon received a salary of £ 22 s. 10 for acting as lightkeeper at Lindoe Island for the year 1856, and William Landon a salary of £ 12 s. 10 for 1857 (possibly an error in amount as no other keeper is listed for any part of 1857). As noted above, the early records have many inconsistencies and errors, but as far as the records go, there were four different Landons acting as lightkeepers in the Fiddler’s Elbow area over these two years! We know a little more about some of those who followed.

J.W. Allan (1858 – 1861): paid $70 in 1858 (while $321.12 was spent for supplies and repairs), his salary increased to $140 the following year. By 1860, the government got around to building a lightkeeper’s dwelling Also this year, the decision was made to change the fuel from sperm whale oil to coal oil, and by 1861, it was in place and working well: “more economical, and gives a steadier and more brilliant flame than fish or animal oil.”

Nathaniel Orr (1860 – 1861): assistant, then sole lightkeeper during the change-over to coal oil, Mr. Orr did not remain long at Lindoe Island. He was appointed lightkeeper at Snake Island in 1868. He and his wife (Eliza Deryaw) died in May 1888, both of pneumonia resulting from falling through the ice after a trip back to the island from Kingston. Their son William B. Orr was appointed as the succeeding lightkeeper.

John Wallace (1861 – 1881 June): overlapped briefly with Nathaniel Orr, likely training with him for the position; John Wallace acted as keeper for the next 20 years. His annual salary of $140 rose to $250 by 1867, then remained unchanged until his retirement in 1881. Government inspectors who visited and brought supplies on July 7, 1876, reported that the lighthouse needed painting and a new, larger lantern. They noted that John Wallace had a family of seven, and that he kept the light clean and in good order. Nearby Wallace Island, where he and his family lived, is named after the lightkeeper

John Gerrard Wallace (June 1881 – 1904): One of John Wallace’s sons, John Gerrard Wallace took over as lightkeeper in 1881, at the same salary of $250 per annum, keeping the tradition in the family. The following year, $35 was spent for a boat and $140.33 on materials and labor for building a boathouse. In 1893, buildings at the station were repaired, and a new boat supplied, at a cost of $86.50. General repairs to the dwelling (on Wallace Island) were made in 1894 ($41.50).

Manley R. Cross (1904 – December 1907): 1903 saw experimentation with acetylene as a fuel, with the intent to make the lighthouses “practically automatic.” And in 1904, the services of the keepers of the lights at four of the Thousand Islands lighthouses, including John Gerrard Wallace at Lindoe Island, were dispensed with. Manley Cross, formerly lightkeeper at Gananoque Narrows and Jackstraw Shoal lighthouses, became the sole keeper of six lighthouses, at an annual salary of $480.00. Manley Cross died in December 1907.

(Mrs. Manley) Jeanette Cross (January 1908 – May 1912): Despite the unanimous recommendation of the Reform Executive for Lansdowne Front that Manley Cross’s son Milton be appointed lightkeeper, his widow Mrs. Manley (Jeanette) Cross was appointed. At a time when women were not eligible to vote, and were not considered to even be “persons” in the eyes of the government, Jeanette Cross had sole charge of six lighthouses for four years. She is the only woman to have acted as lightkeeper in the Thousand Islands for more than a few weeks. She was paid $550.00, then $600.00 per annum, as the government was forced to improve salaries when faced with the increasing difficulty of securing staff. In May 1912, however, the government reverted to coal oil as the fuel at the Thousand Islands lighthouses, “for reasons best known to themselves,” necessitating more work, and resulting in the recall of the dismissed lightkeepers. Mrs. Cross continued to act as lightkeeper at Gananoque Narrows and Jackstraw Shoal for another two years.

John Gerrard Wallace (May 1912 – 1918): returned to the position of lightkeeper he had held previously on the return to the use of coal oil fuel, but was now paid $380.00 annually. He remained for a further six years, bringing the Wallace family’s years of service as lightkeepers on Lindoe Island to 49 years, exceeded only by the Gillespie family on Wolfe Island and the Root family on Grenadier Island.

P. Taylor (1919): Information sources by this time become sparing with details on lightkeepers. P. Taylor was paid $261.98 for his services.

T.R. Turkington (1919): See above. T.R. Turkington was paid $44.84. There is no information on which of these lightkeepers preceded the other.

Andrew Truesdell (1920 – August 1937): Paid $450.00 annually, then $480.00 from 1923 on. The number of lightkeepers in the Thousand Islands was dwindling rapidly at this time, with various expenditures for “removal of lightkeeper” in government accounts. Andrew Truesdell was paid $162.58 for April 1st to August 2nd, 1937, after which the light became an unwatched light. A significant alteration to the lighthouse in 1937, the first recorded at Lindoe Island, was most likely related to this changed status.

The unwatched lighthouse continued as a navigational aid for many years. Further alterations were recorded for 1939 and 1946, the latter most likely its conversion to electric lighting. Another alteration is recorded in 1955, likely the last before the old tower became one of several demolished by the Coast Guard in 1967. Ironically, the old structures were pulled down in an effort to “beautify the River” in celebration of Canada’s centennial! The removal of the lighthouse was easily accomplished, as the structure had deteriorated over the years. As described by Coast Guard employee Chuck Lemaire, the Coast Guard ship Simcoe was brought to the site, a rope was put around the tower, and it was simply pulled off its footings.

The Lyndoch Island light (or light number 363) continues to act as a navigation aid today. After another refit in 1984, it is described in the 2009 List of Lights as a “white cylindrical mast, green upper portion.” Useful, without doubt, but somehow the magic is gone. 

 By Mary Alice Snetsinger, ecoserv@kos.net

Mary Alice Snetsinger is a conservation biologist now working in Kingston. She grew up in the United States and Canada, and worked for four years at St. Lawrence Islands National Park. She became interested in the 19th century lighthouses of the Thousand Islands in 1997, and has sporadically researching them ever since. In November 2009, Mary Alice provided TI Life with Wolfe Island’s Lighthouses.  She would welcome hearing from any reader with more images or stories of these or other Thousand Islands lighthouses.

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Comments

Priscilla Atkins
Comment by: Priscilla Atkins ( )
Left at: 11:29 PM Monday, June 14, 2010
Mary Alice, this is a fascinating history--or "histories." The life of a lightkeeper sounded harsh and, at least initially, not spectacularly well rewarded. What a character-building occupation. My favorite new concept: "the unwatched lighthouse." It sends my mind off in all sorts of interesting directions.

It will be interesting to see if you hear from any descendants of keepers.
Mary Alice Snetsinger
Comment by: Mary Alice Snetsinger ( )
Left at: 9:42 AM Tuesday, June 15, 2010
I'm glad you liked the article, Priscilla. No, indeed, the government did not reward its servants particularly well, and lightkeepers seemed to be at the bottom of the heap. There were detailed lists of "rules" the keepers had to follow, yet the remuneration was among the lowest of any government employees. The result was that they had a great deal of trouble keeping their lightkeepers, and eventually increased salaries a little. Knowing more about the duties, conditions and salary certainly takes away the "mystique" of the lightkeeper job. Most of the keepers farmed or had other paid occupations to supplement their low salaries. Lightkeeping in the Thousand Islands was not quite as isolated a job as some keepers had.
Rem Burns
Comment by: Rem Burns ( )
Left at: 8:21 PM Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Mary Alice:
I enjoyed reading this piece. I have enjoyed the family cottage in Ivy Lea for the past 60 years and fish the waters in the immediate area as well as those lights mentioned. It's nice to hear your ongoing pursuits. I understand SLI just isn't the same. Keep up the enjoyable work.
Mary Alice Snetsinger
Comment by: Mary Alice Snetsinger ( )
Left at: 11:12 PM Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Hi Rem!!! How wonderful to hear from you. Glad you enjoyed the article, and hope all is well with you. Can you tell me what area that Coleridge painting is depicting?
Deborah Schaefer
Comment by: Deborah Schaefer ( )
Left at: 3:40 PM Monday, August 15, 2011
I enjoyed reading your article. Chauncey Patterson (the blind fiddler) was my great grandfather. I have seen many articles that have misinformation, but yours seems well researched. My grandfather told of his father rowing from Ash Island (where he lived with his family). The book "Chance" says that he was named Chancy like his grandson, the carver. This is not true. Chancy's mother could not read or write and thought that the old fiddler's name was Chancy instead of Chauncey. My grandfather and father never referred the old fiddler as anything but Chauncey. I grew up listening to tales of my grandfather and great-grandfather.
Len Ewald
Comment by: Len Ewald ( )
Left at: 2:07 PM Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Hello Mary Alice. I have a theory as to where the Coleridge painting is depicting. Presently there is a "red" cylindrical mast type of light just upriver from where the old Lyndoch light was, on a tiny island which is more like a pile of rocks actually, and across from what is listed as Meyers Island on the navigational maps. That would therefore be Meyers Island on the right in the painting, Canadian mainland in the background, looking North towards what is the present day Ivy Lea Inn. Seem plausible?
Mary Alice Snetsinger
Comment by: Mary Alice Snetsinger ( )
Left at: 4:02 PM Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Hi Len. Thanks for taking a shot at this - I would love to have it solved. If this was Myer's Island, the Coleridge lighthouse would have to be Lindoe Island light, and it does look at bit like the other Lindoe images if taken from the opposite direction. (I am basing this on the lighthouses that were built at that time.) My biggest issue with this answer is that the lighthouse is depicted on a *shoal* rather than an island, so I don't think that can be right.

(If it was the Myer's Island down toward Brockville, it would be Cole Shoal lighthouse but, while the Coleridge lighthouse appears to be located on a shoal rather than an island, there are too many islands for it to work as Cole Shoal.)

Do you think it could be Wood Island? Same general area. I am guessing that the boat channel and therefore the Fiddler's Elbow light (which was on a shoal from what little info we have) would have been south of Wood Island, but I could be wrong about that.
Len Ewald
Comment by: Len Ewald ( )
Left at: 12:31 AM Thursday, March 27, 2014
Hello again, Mary Alice. The lighthouse in the painting is definitely not the Lindoe light - I never thought that. But what I was thinking is could there have been a lighthouse at one time located across the channel from the old Lindoe light, just up river where there is a present day cylindrical light? If there is no record of such a lighthouse, then my theory is out the window. I will take a boat ride down to Wood Island this summer to check out the location you speak of. It would be great to get Rem Burns'take on it. That bluff on the island to the right in the painting just looks so similar to the western tip of Myers Island to me. I will take another look at that this summer too. Isn't this fun!?!
Mary Alice Snetsinger
Comment by: Mary Alice Snetsinger ( )
Left at: 4:40 PM Thursday, March 27, 2014
Hi Len:

I love this! No, there was no lighthouse at that location in 1865 - at that time there had been 10 built in Canadian waters, one of which had been removed (Fiddler's Elbow). To me, the potential choices were Fiddler's Elbow (with reservations as above, the possibility largely fueled by wishful thinking), Spectacle Shoal, Jackstraw Shoal or Cole Shoal. The other lighthouses that had been built at that time were, like Lindoe, on islands or had some distinctive features. I dismiss Cole Shoal because the painting shows too many small islands in the area. Spectacle and Jackstraw both seem wrong for similar reasons.

However, I do note one thing. Your interest has made me go and look at the Unwin survey (1874), and I see that the steamboat channel goes to the *north* of Wood Island (not south as I speculated).

Let me know what you think after you take your boat trip.
Len Ewald
Comment by: Len Ewald ( )
Left at: 2:14 PM Friday, March 28, 2014
Wow, the plot thickens! How can I access the Unwin survey, Mary Alice? Google? I've always wondered about where the true steamboat channel really was in yesteryear, since I remember quite vividly there being buoys north of Wood Island, which didn't make sense if the channel was to the south. Is it also possible the Coleridge lighthouse is simply either in a completely different part of the river than the area we've been discussing, OR simply fictitious - the artist just "put" one in his painting? I wish I could jump in the boat right now and visit Wood Island area, but am currently stuck in Denver. Besides, the river likely is still iced over quite a bit. Where exactly is the Spectacle Shoal? I'm unfamiliar with the name.
Mary Alice Snetsinger
Comment by: Mary Alice Snetsinger ( )
Left at: 11:48 PM Friday, March 28, 2014
I actually have a blueprint copy of the survey, but have no idea how you can access it. It is huge, so I do not know if it is online (no luck in a quick check). We might want to take this to a private message - I may be able to photograph sections of the survey and email them to you.

It is possible that the lighthouse was in a different part of the river. We know that it was in the Thousand Islands from the painting itself. We know that it is Canadian waters because this is the style of lighthouse on the Canadian side, and the American lights were different. The date on the painting is 1865, so we know what the possible lighthouses are. That was my reasoning for the suggestions I made. Yes, it is also possible that this was artistic license, and that the painter tossed in a lighthouse in a "good" place. I note, though, that these military artists were trained, and usually fairly careful to accurately depict what they saw. Definitely not proof positive!

One other thing to keep in mind, of course. When the Seaway was constructed, water levels changed, and there were many shoals either blasted out of the way or flooded over. The River no longer looks just as it did then. I'll wait to see what your summer investigations suggest.
Len Ewald
Comment by: Len Ewald ( )
Left at: 2:14 PM Thursday, April 10, 2014
Thanks for the follow-up, Mary Alice. Anything you wish to email me regarding the survey, send it to lewald2@comcast.net That would be great! I've already started my "things to do" list for this coming summer!
Oh, do you know where Spectacle Shoal is located?
Susie Smith
Comment by: Susie Smith
Left at: 3:04 PM Thursday, April 10, 2014
Len, the Spectacle Shoal is in the Admiralty Islands, north of Lindsay Island and Macdonald Island.

Marked on the charts. (and thanks for your great questions)
Susan W. Smith, Editor, TI Life.
Len Ewald
Comment by: Len Ewald ( )
Left at: 2:38 PM Friday, April 11, 2014
Thanks to both of you - Susie and Mary Alice. I received everything you emailed me in fine order! I was up really late last night studying all in great detail. I've never seen Spectacle shoal, so don't know if the painting could be from that location. I highly doubt Jackstraw light as I believe you agree, Mary Alice. There simply are no islands in the immediate proximity to that location that even look like these anyway. Can we safely rule that one out? Like you, I would love to resolve the location of "the mystery lighthouse"! Onward..............
Charles Lumley
Comment by: Charles Lumley
Left at: 4:47 PM Sunday, September 28, 2014
If it helps, I would email you a picture that is titled "Fidler's Elbow 1000 Islands and dated, I believe, 1909. I cannot make out the name of painter. It shows a very small island with a lighthouse with other islands around it. The lighthouse looks like your other pictures of it.
Mary Alice Snetsinger
Comment by: Mary Alice Snetsinger
Left at: 7:29 PM Sunday, September 28, 2014
That would be great, Charles. Sounds like Lindoe Island lighthouse at that date. If you send it to Susie Smith, she may be able to post it here so that other readers can see it, too. Thanks for thinking of us.
Jo Klock
Comment by: Jo Klock
Left at: 12:48 PM Saturday, August 1, 2015
Hello Len, I too am related to Chauncey Patterson he was my grandmothers grandfather. Wondering if you know anything about his first wife Ann Mallory . No have search for their marriage in Canada and have found nothing. Would love to hear stories about Chauncey.
Jo

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