Nova Scotia

How a lover of lighthouses made a noteworthy find in his basement

Allen Shepherd discovered 10 notebooks from the Coldspring Head Lighthouse in Cumberland County dating back to 1901.

Allen Shepherd plans to donate some of the diaries from 1901-1935 to local museums

The diaries detail the weather and supplies at the Coldspring Head Lighthouse in Cumberland County. (Submitted by Allen Shepherd)

Allen Shepherd doesn't know how 110-year-old diaries from a Nova Scotia lighthouse keeper ended up in his basement.

But, as a lover of lighthouses, he's sure glad they did.

When Shepherd, who lives in Advocate Harbour, bought his home 20 years ago, he discovered 10 notebooks dating back to 1901.

They offer a how-to guide to running a lighthouse — with everything from daily weather reports to the number of kerosene lamps needed.

Shepherd believes the books were written over several decades by two men who took care of the Coldspring Head Lighthouse in Northport, about two hours away from his home. 

Shepherd found 10 old notebooks among a disintegrating stack of old magazines in his basement. (Submitted by Allen Shepherd)

He recently posted a photo of the diaries on his Lighthouses in Nova Scotia Facebook page. He plans to donate some of them to local museums and to the lighthouse's owners, while keeping a couple for himself.

"They were actually in an old pile of old Playboy magazines and everything else that was down in my basement and everything was just disintegrated in the pile," said Shepherd. "The fact they survived all these years just really surprised me."

Allen Shepherd is a fisherman and adventurer who runs the Lighthouses in Nova Scotia Facebook page. (Submitted by Allen Shepherd)

The lighthouse keepers didn't take many creative liberties, Shepherd said. Rather, they dutifully recorded the day's weather — fine, then rainy, then cloudy — and what they needed to keep in stock — paint, dust pans, scissors. 

"I didn't realize there was as much to it," he said. "When you go through the whole list of items and, you know, each colour of paint that they had to keep on hand and you realize they were pretty meticulous and good at their job."

But exactly how they ended up in his basement is a 20-year mystery Shepherd still hasn't solved. He lives hours from the Coldspring Head Lighthouse, but can see the Cape d'Or Lighthouse from his home's back window.

He grew up visiting the keeper of that lighthouse, and recalls him and his brother biking hours up hill so they could hear the man's stories and taste the jam-jam cookies he brought out of the freezer for them. 

One of the lighthouse keeper's jobs was to keep a fresh coat of paint on the building. (Submitted by Allen Shepherd)

"I do envy them. It would have been an amazing job to live in such a beautiful scenic, isolated location and have such a view of the bay and all the activity that was going on in the bay, especially back at that time," Shepherd said.

There are few lighthouse keepers left now that the job of lighting the structures has been largely automated.

And with many of them falling into disrepair, Shepherd said it's important to remember the people who, for so long, cared for Nova Scotia's iconic landmarks.  

This entry from 1906 details what supplies the lighthouse keeper received. (Submitted by Allen Shepherd)

"It's all of our history," he said. "In Nova Scotia, I don't think we have a lot of history that we can afford to lose … and what we do have we should be protecting, and the lighthouses, they were so integral."

Besides for his love of lighthouses, Shepherd has another thing in common with the people whose job it was to care for them. Years ago, he was a fire tower operator. 

With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning