The Heart's Content Lighthouse was erected on Northern Point in 1901. Connected by a covered passageway was once a dwelling house, which was home for those who kept the light.
John Warren grew up in Heart's Content and hails from a long line of lighthouse keepers. In fact, his father, Hubert Warren, was born and raised in the dwelling house (demolished in the 1940s). John, a retired teacher who holds a Master of Arts in Folklore from Memorial University, recounted his family’s lightkeeping heritage one afternoon in his home in Heart’s Content.
“Barzillia Budden, he was my grandfather’s brother-in-law. He was the first lightkeeper. And when he relinquished the post, he passed it over to my grandfather’s other brother-in-law, Robert Piercy. My grandfather, John Warren, after 25 years he retired from fishing in Labrador, and he assumed responsibility for the lighthouse in 1911. So then after he passed on, my dad Hubert Warren took it over in the ’40s. Then my dad passed on in 1958, and my mom Selena Warren took it over,” explains John.
John’s father died young, so John doesn’t remember his father’s stories of the lighthouse. He does, however, recall the stories his mother and others repeated that Hubert told to them.
“When Dad was a young boy and Grandfather took over the lighthouse, see, there was a flag down there on the lighthouse, and you put the flag up every morning. And ships came back and forth here all the time…so Grandfather went up the harbour, and he told Dad, who was a young boy, to put up the flag. And Dad, I suppose not used to it, he put the flag up upside-down - which is an international sign of distress,” says John. “So Grandfather’s walking down the harbour and he saw this big ship stopped just below the lighthouse…And when he got closer he saw the flag was upside-down. Well, boy, he was mad. Apparently a good thing he never found Dad that day; Dad would have got a trimming.”
John has vivid memories of the tasks his mother, Selena, did regularly after the lighthouse was hooked up to electricity in 1931.
“What she used to do, there was those old-fashioned light switches, like a square ‘u,’ remember the old-fashioned kind? There’d be one in the kitchen. Every evening she’d pull along a chair, get up in the chair, push up the switch and turn on the light on the lighthouse. Every evening just before dark - duckish, we’d say. And then every morning when she got up, the first thing she’d do is get up, push along the chair, pull the switch down. And she was at that until the late ’60s, I think, when she passed it over to Herb Crocker,” recalls John.
Although John never had the opportunity to man the lighthouse himself, he was responsible for helping his mother with various tasks, as was common in many households in the past.
“When my mom had control of the lighthouse and I was a young man, I suppose young teenager…the government would send out the polish, to polish the brass, because there’s a lot of brass up there, which helps reflect the light. And that used to have to be polished and cleaned. So she used to send me down with the rags and the can of stuff to clean the brass.”
Today, the Heart’s Content Lighthouse is fully automated. It was designated a Recognized Federal Heritage Building in 1990 because of its historical associations, and its architectural and environmental value.
Click here to listen to the full interview with John Warren (via MUN Digital Archives).
The Collective Memories Project is an initiative of the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador to record the stories and memories of our province. If you have a memory of old-time Newfoundland and Labrador to share, contact Dale Jarvis at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 1-888-739-1892 ext 2, or visit www.collectivememories.ca.