Peckford Island

Wadham Islands, Newfoundland (Map)

Spring 2015


Of the 21 lighthouses I have left to see in Newfoundland and Labrador, there's no longer any of them that I can reach on foot. All of them must now involve locals and the hope of catching a ride in their boats to these island beacons.

Trying to chip away at these remaining lighthouses, my focus is typically on the ones closer to where I live and those closer to shore. The exception to that is when I get news of a connection to someone who regularly visits one of these lighthouse islands. Suddenly there's a path to reach to a new lighthouse & all of my efforts focus on reaching that one next.

That's where Peckford Island came in. My friend Mike found himself visiting many of the islands I covet as part of his 2013 project to visit places and create art with the ceramic remains he found of old communities. Talking to him one night in Corner Brook, reaching Peckford Island was apparently as easy as phoning this fellow Darren and driving up to Musgrave Harbour.

(Funny aside: Mike's more hardcore than me and cycled from Newfoundland place to place during his project. Darren told us a funny story of getting a call from Mike and hearing that he was in Lewisporte and "1.5 days away". Darren, shocked, jokingly asked Mike if he was walking – to which Mike responded that he was riding a pedal bike. As Darren told us this, he shook his head and excitedly repeated, "a pedal bike!")

^2014 photo showing Copper Island, which has greater elevation than
Peckford Island (both islands are of the Wadham Islands group)

Corner Brook to Musgrave Harbour is a 5 hour drive & while I researched some other things in the area, the main focus was to get to Musgrave Harbour and over to Peckford Island.

Of course weather and life have a means of getting in the way sometimes. Throughout 2014 I was in touch with Darren, but weather days that seemed good enough to head over, weren't good in terms of a coming storm bringing a low sea, or a certain wind direction making it not good to land on Peckford Island. Another time I called and Darren was busy with his father's funeral. Yeah, this could wait a few weeks or maybe get pushed into next year.

At the summer's end of 2014, a weekend came where Darren was around and could bring us over to Peckford Island, but high winds were in the forecast. I was told there was no hurt in coming up to Musgrave Harbour and with the winds forecasted to dissipate at some point, I decided that we had planned enough and it was time to take our chances.

You can guess how this went. As soon as we reached the ocean, everywhere we stopped from nearby Carmanville to Ladle Cove was whitecaps and swaying trees. You can see some whitecaps in the above photo from 2014, and while it might not seem like much, it was windier than it looks & quite obvious Peckford Island was going to be one of these lighthouses where it's attempt after futile attempt.

By June of 2015, with there being another thing I wanted to do in the vicinity of Musgrave Harbour, I was again in touch with Darren in hopes of getting out to the island. Apparently the winds were right around the borderline of where you want them & if we drove out to Musgrave Harbour, we could make a decision while there.

It's here that I should also mention that we were planning on camping out on Peckford Island overnight. So every time there were thoughts of Peckford Island, there was extra effort and organization involved with always getting all of the extra gear together and sorted in a good enough fashion for boat transport. I'm sure it would have been easier to pop over for a short visit and check off the lighthouse, but when there's the possibility of getting dropped off on a remote island off the coast of Newfoundland, you have to take it.

Arriving in Musgrave Harbour and getting in touch with Darren, not much had changed. It was still a borderline day, but Darren was open to giving it a shot. I could hear the uncertainty in his voice, but I really wanted to set out & hope that we'd simply push through. As we approached the dock & loaded our stuff into the boat, there was an old man nearby who asked Darren where he was heading, to which the old man opined, "wouldn't want to be heading out to the Wadhams today."


Unsurprisingly, the old man knew what he was talking about. There's a reason I don't have any pictures between Musgrave Harbour and the island, as there were enough waves and spray that my camera was kept close to my body inside my rain jacket. There were a couple of times where I thought about pushing it out, but then we'd bounce yet again & I held no desire to release my frozen white knuckles from clenching the seat bottom. The spray, the constant bouncing up and down over the waves in our smallish boat, there was no way I was fumbling my camera out with one hand, while the frigid sea was just right there, maybe 3 feet away.

On such a rough day we couldn't beach like normal, so we instead hooked up a couple of ropes from the back, middle and front of the boat into a pulley system. This kept us close enough to a 10-ft rock wall, with only about 2-ft of that rock wall above water. With one of us climbing up and onto the island, Darren kept a hold of the ropes and worked the motor, while also occasionally helping with the mad dash of trying to get all of our gear onto the island.

Taking a 3-second glance around the boat and on shore to make sure we didn't forget anything, I unhooked the ropes and Darren was instantly motoring away to sea. After all of the commotion of trying to rush onto the island, I finally had a second to take in my surroundings and the fact that I was standing on Peckford Island.

Now that I've been on a handful of these overnight trips involving getting dropped off by a fisherman, one of my favourite parts has to be once all the stuff is moved to the sleeping place & you're finally alone out here with a minute to absorb things. There's all the time in the world and a collection of adventure ideas and responsibilities to attack, but you simply stand there and maybe crack a cold one, savouring finally getting out here.

In addition, contrary to some of the other trips where there weren't any failures beforehand, Peckford Island was extra sweet now that we'd made it after several failed attempts.

I own enough gear that I could camp on any island, but with Peckford Island, Darren had a cabin that we were free to use while we were out here. Mike states in his blog that Darren built the place about 10 years ago and today Darren told us that he hadn't been out here in a while.

Thankfully the cabin was just fine. I came to quite like it.

I was slightly worried that the we'd get picked up with conditions worsening or something would come up or whatever, so I set out to make sure I at least got one new Newfoundland lighthouse this year. Little time was wasted in heading up the coast to walk the kilometer-or-so (about a half mile) from the cabin to the Peckford Island Lighthouse.

After landing at the somewhat sheltered Japhets Cove, I thought the sea was calmer solely because we were about the biggest island of the Wadhams (Peckford is about 2.5km long and 1km wide (1.5mi x 0.6mi)). Walking along the shore and away from the cove though, here were heavy seas along a straight shore with a point of land at the lighthouse. The large rocks and rock slots were getting battered with water throughout the walk, something that was quite evident as it was easier to walk on the rock shelves than up in the grasses.

Speaking of up in the grasses, I found some unguarded eggs near the cabins, then later some more near the lighthouse and some more the next day too. I'm not sure if this is out of the ordinary, but the number of eggs seemed like a lot for not even really looking for them.

I work so hard to get out to these lighthouses nowadays, that after 2014 and (spoiler alert) 2015 were both years where I only reached one new NL lighthouse, that it's starting to become surreal to walk up and stand before any one I have left here. I've studied the list of remaining lights and envisioned how I'd go about reaching each individual lighthouse, so it's odd to finally live out what I've pictured for years.

The Wadhams were near important sealing and fishing grounds in Newfoundland history; important enough that people built a seasonal settlement on the outermost Offer Wadham Island in order to be closer to the resources that sustained their livelihood and to have a safe harbour in which to retreat.

The first lighthouse north of Bonavista would be built on Offer Wadham Island in 1858.

Peckford Island also had seasonal shacks, a post office, shops and stages. It would get its own lighthouse in 1910, while this current lighthouse was built in 1961.

With changes in fishing tactics and advancements in boat technology, people don't have seasonal settlements in many places anymore & that is true for Peckford Island (and Offer Wadham Island as well).

Peckford Island would lose its last residents when the lightkeepers finally left sometime in the 1990s or early 2000s.

While Japhets Cove might seem like a strange name for the cove here on Peckford Island, it's one of 5 coves named for the families that lived there and/or the fishermen that had their premises there.

In addition to Japhets on the eastern side, the western side of the island is lined with Cuffs, Abbotts, Mouland and Hicks Cove. There is also a Collins Cove on Google Maps, but Roland W. Abbott's Wadhams book 'The Million Dollar Rock' , doesn't list Collins Cove for some reason.

As for other Wadham Islands, the above slab of land is Green Island, with James Island being 4 kilometers beyond.

It was in the 1800s that the sealing ship S.S. Leopard thought it was stuck in sea ice out near James Island. Some of the sealers were ordered out onto the ice to pull the ship forward while the engines were fired, but upon firing the engines, the ship shot forward and sent the sealers scrambling for the safety of solid ice, away from the open water and newly-formed cracks.

Sadly a sealer by the name of George Gray fell into the open water and drowned. His body was buried in a shallow grave on James Island with future plans of transporting him back to his hometown of Cat Harbour (Lumsden), but this never happened and a simple headstone and fence still stand on James Island.

Part of the reason why this headstone and fence still stand (or at least stood in the recent past) was because of the Offer Wadham Lightkeeper making their way over to James Island and painting/scraping the headstone, as well as mending the fence.

Looking back towards the island of Newfoundland, there's another lighthouse that I don't have, somewhere out to the left in the above photo (this light being south of Musgrave Harbour). Mentioning this lighthouse to Darren earlier, he said the ground is so shallow in spots over there that he heard of a fellow who hit ground & when he abandoned ship, he jumped off the ship and stood in knee-deep water.

I never asked Darren about going to that other lighthouse, but with ground that shallow, it made me wonder what he'd think of it.


Where last year's Little Burin Island Lightstation had horizontal black and white stripes for its painted signature, Peckford Island had vertical black and white stripes.

Another reason that Darren had been out here, was that a lady had made a go of acquiring the old keeper's house, with dreams of one day making it into an artists retreat and place for field scientists to stay. (Darren brought this woman out in boat.)

In addition to the keeper's house, there's also a small oil house where they had a pretty nice hammock set up. Shelloo partook in lounging there, while I weighed the idea of lugging our stuff out here to stay right by the lighthouse (even though Darren's cabin was perfectly fine).

Unfortunately it seems like somewhere along the way the project of a Peckford Island retreat stalled. There were garbage bags full of debris and a few clean rooms, but no further progress into the next step of replacing wet and damaged walls and ceilings. Plus, some of the windows were now broken and even though there were buckets to collect water, it looked like other parts of the floor were now catching water as well.

Here's to hoping the project simply stalled instead of becoming abandoned.

Speaking of abandoned, the Peckford Island Lighthouse itself wasn't in the best shape & I was encumbered with sadness as I rounded behind the keeper's house. Here I found the Coast Guard had delivered one of the modern aluminum skeleton towers that so often come with the disappearance of old lighthouses (like on Long Island, Little Burin Island, Change Islands, etc., etc.)

So many of the lighthouses I have left are either modern towers or have historical protection, that I had wrote off any other ones disappearing. It was here on Peckford Island that I was startled, when it occurred to me that the Peckford Island Lighthouse doesn't have any type of protection.

The Peckford Island Lighthouse is still out there today as far as I know. Utilizing my illustrious Google skills, I don't see anything about its demolition, but the Coast Guard also doesn't post anything when they demolish lighthouses - they disappear overnight and there's nothing online even after the fact. I even tried to study some wedding photos from the Musgrave Harbour shore, but the Wadham Islands are all bokeh'd out, haha.

Anyway, from here we walked back up the shore as it was time for supper.

Continue to Part 2...


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1 - The Million Dollar Rock, Roland W. Abbott, 1994
2 - Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, volume 5

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