Tuesday, July 13, 2010

lady peggy and old sam

biggest and best #3 ran in sunday's chronicle herald. if you missed it, i'll post it below. since i'm touring NS's claims to globe-beaters, i thought i'd visit the world's most photographed lighthouse, peggys cove. ok, a few make that claim and i couldn't track down any organization that counts the photos taken of lighthouses, but i figured i'd see what all the fuss was about.

i literally just walked up to it and found a wedding underway. sometimes these unplanned columns can be risky, because if nothing worth writing home about happens, i'm stuck with a blank page in the paper. sometimes, a little magic happens.

i wanted to contrast the celebrity lighthouse to another and so picked sambro. i was heading out of the house when i decided to check on the best route. that's when i discovered it was on an island. a quick phone call to skipper dave and we were sailing the next morning. it's like my own leisurely version of the amazing race.

meanwhile, i was in at information morning today (at a wonderful 11am, which was much more pleasant than my live 6am slot for Christmas at the Airport) for a pre-recorded interview about the hermit that will air sometime in tomorrow's show.

ps - i didn't write the headline. i actually enjoyed both lighthouses equally.

Old Sam just doesn’t compare to Lady Peggy

Princess Diana was famously the world’s most photographed woman and our very own Peggys Cove boasts the world’s most photographed lighthouse.

No less an authority than the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society makes the claim on its website, though it hedges its bet with a "may be."

On Canada Day, the place is hopping. Parking on the outskirts of the village, I fight past hordes of visitors and dodge lumbering buses just to get a peek at the celebrated Lady Peggy. A band blasts the Q104 classics next to a shop pulling tourists in one end and grinding them out the other. It’s not a promising start.

But then she emerges: 15 metres of serenity, untroubled by the half-naked man recumbent at her feet, the screaming baby and the visitors standing precariously on wet rocks. Her long, white body is crowned with red hair. I imagine if I were 15-metres tall, I would see her one eye blinking at me in sublime innocence.

I find a boulder and start to count photographs, but the paparazzi overwhelm me. Dozens of cameras pop at once as an unending stream of suitors stop, snap and move on. At Lady Peggy’s toes, a man and a woman stand hand in hand. She is near tears. His eyes are hidden behind sunglasses. A man in a suit stands before them reciting familiar vows.

"Do you take Robert to be your husband?" justice of the peace Bill Hale asks.

She does.

"And do you take Paula-Marie to be your wife?"

Of course he does.

They exchange rings and kiss, to the enchanted cheering of the gathered crowd. The newly wedded Whitcombs are in Nova Scotia for one day. Robert sought the most beautiful spot he could find, and that spot was Peggys Cove. They travelled by cruise ship from Vermont just to have Lady Peggy at their wedding.

"It’s gorgeous," the new Mrs. Whitcomb says, surveying the sea, "and what a place for him to bring me back every year."

A flurry of photographers record the moment, which is not ruined when a fellow passenger congratulates the couple and hands them his business card. It announces that he is a divorce lawyer.

I decide I need something to compare Lady Peggy to.

After some googling, I settle on the Sambro lighthouse. Built in 1758, its pedigree is as impressive as its more famous sister, and it’s just along the coast.

Google plots a course from my house to the lighthouse, but shrugs when it gets its toes wet. I check out the area and realize we have a problem: it’s on an island several kilometres off the coast. Skipper Dave bails me out.

Dave Grey was a fisherman from birth, until health problems caused him to give up the bait a couple of years ago. He missed the sea and so re-tooled his boat to host fishing, diving and island-visiting expeditions.

We putter out of the harbour on a bright morning, passing the shiny heads of a dozen swimming seals. A big one suns himself, recumbent on a rock, while two pups scamper into the water. We pass a small fishing boat surrounded by gulls.

"Get your camera ready," Skipper Dave tells me.

The boat is captained by an ancient, sea-swept man with a lengthy, white beard. He’s busy gutting cod. Skipper Dave calls him "Old Moss Face."

We dock next to an abandoned building whose concrete floor looks about ready to tumble into the sea. Waist-high grass waves and gulls shout. We stare at the lighthouse. Old Sam looks quite dashing in his red-striped sweater.

"Anyone who tells you it’s not as pretty as Peggys Cove is full of" a word not printable in a family newspaper, says Skipper Dave.

There are a grand total of zero tour buses wrapping around this lighthouse. In fact, when Skipper Dave hops back on the boat, the human population of the island drops to me. Green grass rolls over grey rock, surrounded by blue.

I find a stone and sit down to count photos. Sam had a century head start on Peggy, but I have to admit that photographically, he trails by an ocean. Feeling sad for him, I point my camera skyward. Sam stands a little taller. I take his picture. Quantity isn’t everything.

( jon@jontattrie.ca)

Jon Tattrie is a freelance journalist and the author of Black Snow and The Hermit of Africville.

71 votes

scooter3226 wrote:
This story is closed to comments.

Sambro Lighthouse is a wonderful sight that few people see. My ancestors were lighthouse keepers and lived on both inner and outer Sambro islands. Many children lived there and went to school in Sambro by boat, when they could. This lighthouse has been a beacon for mariners for generations. A good place to see it is from Crystal Crescent Beach ( where there was a village of 27 houses at one time). Peggys Cove isn't the only picturescue lighthouse around our shores. Yarmouth is equally beautiful and accessible.

JMW59 wrote:
I just loved this, put a smile on my face this Sunday morning and made me miss home just a little bit more. Thank you Jon, lighthouses really are special places to visit, even the ones off the beaten track and not constantly in the limelight.

Tank wrote:
I have lived here all my life, I have spent my youth on and around the sea, I have seen every icon Nova Scotia has to offer, but Peggy's Cove Light remains a very special jewel in the crown. A pox on the houses of the government officials who abandon her to an uncertain future. A hearty huzzah to those who stand to protect her.

john from FR wrote:
Great Photo John - Thanks What a beautiful world,country,PROVINCE we live in ! Too bad we all do not just take more time to smell & look & appreciate it all !

Myturn wrote:
Enjoyed reading this article. There are some people that write an article that just states the facts, informative but boring .........but then there talented people that can write a story where you can actually picture the scene, people and events in your mind. This writer is of the talented variety.

gdsns wrote:
Wonderful article! Nova Scotia's lighthouses are treasures,and are worth preserving. My favorite? - Cape Sable. Last trip to NS, friends and I took a boat ride and then walked out to the lighthouse--an experience I will never forget. After seeing it from afar,at the Hawk Beach,being right next to it was awesome!
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