Evelyn Richardson

Evelyn Richardson was a well-known local author whose writings reflect the local history and way of life of a small fishing communities. She is best known for her novel, “We Keep a Light” (1945) detailing aspects of her 35 years spent living on Bon Portage Island while her husband, Morrill was the lightkeeper there. Her other novels include the works of fiction, “Desired Haven” (1953) and its sequel, “No Small Tempest” (1957). She also wrote “My Other Islands” (1960), and “Living Islands” (1965). The novels, “B was for Butter” (1976), about how the Richardson’s contributed to the war time effort; “Ben Peach and the Pirates” (1991); and “Where my Roots Go Deep” (1976), a collection of short stories were published after her death.

Evelyn May Fox was born on May 16th, 1902 on Emerald Island, where her maternal grandfather, retired captain, Ephraim Larkin was a lightkeeper. Therefore, light keeping seems to run in Evelyn’s family considering that her paternal great-great grandfather, James Fox was the first lightkeeper of the Cape Forchu lighthouse in Yarmouth as a reward for serving in the British Navy. His son, John Thomas succeeded him.


Evelyn spent her early tears in Clark’s Harbour, where her father, Arthur was a teacher at Clark’s Harbour School. However, the family spent every holiday on Emerald Island. In 1917, the family moved to Bedford when Arthur accepted the post of principal of Alexandra School in Halifax. Evelyn graduated from Halifax Country Academy, and then taught for a year in order to save money to continue her schooling. She attended Dalhousie for a year, and then continued teaching for several years.


Evelyn met Morrill in Halifax. However, during the early years of their relationship, they only got to see each other a couple of times a year due to Morrill’s work in Quebec, then the States. Evelyn and Morrill got married on August 14th, 1926 on Emerald Island. After her marriage, Evelyn gave up teaching and hopes of finishing a college education.


Early on in their married life, Evelyn and Morrill lived in Worcester, Massachusetts were he worked. However, they did not enjoy city life and longed for the ocean. The Richardson’s first had the idea of living on Bon Portage Island when Evelyn’s oldest brother, Ashford suggested that Morrill buy the island and wait for the position of lightkeeper to open up. Morrill bought Bon Portage Island almost immediately.


Evelyn gave birth to her first child, Anne Gordon in 1928, about a year and a half after their marriage. Soon after, they re-located to Boston for Morrill’s work. Morrill’s office closed down but at about that time, the position for lightkeeper opened up. Morrill applied and learned from Ottawa at the end of May, 1929 that he had gotten the job.


Island life was difficult at first as they were $1000 in debt and Morrill’s monthly salary was only $60. However, over the years, they acquired animals such as cows, roosters and hens, sheep, and pigs. They also made a hay field and eventually became more prosperous.


In addition to Anne, Evelyn has two other children, Laurie in 1929, and Elizabeth (Betty) June, born in 1933. They were raised and home-schooled on the island. Sadly, Laurie became ill with pneumonia in October, 1947, and even thought he was brought to mainland and hospitalized, he died at the young age of 18.


Evelyn and Morrill lived on the island for 35 years. During those years, Evelyn only left the island about 13 times. However, Evelyn loved living on the island and marveled in its beauty. In the summer, the Richardson’s often had many visitors, so they weren’t completely isolated. In 1964, the Richardson’s retired to the mainland and gave the island to Acadia University. During the last two weeks in August, biology students go to Bon Portage to study the wild and marine life. There is also a bird observatory.


Morrill Richardson died in 1947 and two years later, on October 14th, 1976, Evelyn Richardson died, but she still lives on through her writing today.

Shag Harbour & Her Pirate Encounters

In the days of the war of 1812 American privateers were frequent visitors on the southern coast of Nova Scotia, not only for the purpose of destroying British commerce but they would often land to obtain provisions and were not particular as to the means by which they were procure or the amount of damage done to the settlers.    (1813-1814)

A favourite resort of theirs was at Shag Harbour- a harbour west of Barrington Bay and near Cape Sable-the islands of the coast on which sheep were kept, affording the privateers man an easy opportunity of replenishing their larder with fresh mutton.

On many of the hills commanding a good view of the sea, cannons were mounted and lookouts stationed near by to fire them as a warning, to the people on the approach of a suspicious looking vessel.

One summer evening a strange brig was seen at anchor near Bon Portage Island about 1 ¾ miles from the mainland, a council of the people was held, and indignant at former losses which they had sustained they were determined if possible to prevent the Americans from lessening their flocks this time. So the long boat was manned by a sturdy crew commanded by Solomm Adams, and under cover of darkness, with noiseless oars they rowed to Bon Portage or “Outer Island” as it was called where entrenched behind the high sea wall they passed the night. At early dawn a boat from the privateer was seen making for the island, and when within easy gun-shot, Capt. Adams rose up and demanded them to surrender and row ashore.

A volley of gunfire was the reply, which cut off a limb of a tree over Capt. Adams head. He immediately ordered his own crew of men to fire which they did with such effort, that every man in the boat with but one exception was killed; he although wounded managed to pull the boat back before the visitors could reload the old muskets and inflict further execution.

The remaining crew of the brig, witnessing this scene had got a gun to bear and shot after shot plunged into the beach rocks doing no damage to the sturdy defenders of the islands, who smugly sheltered like the farmers in the “Concord” fight, “Gave them ball for ball from each fence and old stone wall”.

Apparently thinking chances for obtaining mutton or revenge were slim, the brig got underway, her guns carrying idle threat to the shore, aided by her sweeps the morning being calm, she got out of range and away to sea, thinking no doubt that plundering was an unprofitable business on this coast.



“An account written by the late E. R Nickerson”

Recalls “Ghost on Bon Portage Island”

Bon Portage Light, made famous by Evelyn Richardson’s Governor General Award winning novel “We Keep a Light”, once had the reputation of being haunted. But due to the efforts of the fact finding lightkeeper, the ghost was exposed as a fraud.

The story of “The Haunted Lighthouse” was recalled by Mrs. Maurice Nickerson of Rockville, Yarmouth Co., making her first visit to the lighthouse since she and her husband tended the light back in the early years of World War I.

In taking over from the returning lightkeeper, the Nickersons were told that the place was haunted. There were knockings in the walls of the building at night, while strange moaning noises as if a person was suffering great agony came from the beach.

Unlike his predecessors, Maurice Nickerson, who also pursed the calling of the fisherman, was not in the least superstitious, neither was he a timid soul. There must be some explanation for the ghosts on Bon Portage Island and he was determined to find out what this was.

First, according to Mrs. Nickerson, the source of all the knockings within the walls of the building were found to be caused by the heavy weights used to operate the light in those days. The weights went right down through the building from the light, 50ft above sea level – to the basement of the structure and often in ascending or descending, the weights would knock against the walls.

But that awful moaning noise which used to sometimes keep them awake at night was the real puzzler. Night after night, Mr. Nickerson visited the beach, trying to find out the source of the noises.

“It did sound like some person suffering great agony,” Mrs. Nickerson recalled during her recent visit to the island.

Then one wild and stormy night, when the moaning sounds were at the highest pitch the Nickerson family had ever heard, Maurice donned his rubber boots and oil skins and ventured out into the night.

Proceeding slowly down the beach, struggling against the heavy winds and blinding rainstorm, he edged closer to the awful sounding noises. They were enough to make a strong man be led to wits end indeed. But the lightkeeper was determined to solve the mystery at all costs.

Finally, after what seemed to be endless hours of searching and not knowing what he was going to come up against at any given moment, Nickerson finally stumbled on the source of the noises, it was the wind blowing through the wreckage of an old steamer the “Express” wrecked on Bon Portage in 1898.

Today the source of the haunted howling noises has disappeared, but still remaining on the beach are two old steamship boilers from the same wreck. And when the winds are in the right direction, the water will still run up through the boilers and sprout out through the top into the air.

Coming back to scenes where she helped tend the light from 1914-1917, Mrs. Nickerson says it was all too much of a lonely island to suit her tastes. Many days when her husband was absent fishing, she was on the island all alone with only a dog for companionship.

“It’s alright for those who can adopt themselves for a life of isolation,” she declared, adding that she never regretted for one moment the day her husband decided to quit his lighthouse job and reside on the mainland. She was very happy about the success of the Richardson’s, congratulate Mrs. Richardson, author of “We Keep a Light”, on her success, but added she would never be envious of the lighters life on the island.