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Stories reminded me of the magic of Main Duck Island

I recently read with great interest the articles on (here: and in the Picton Gazette about the visit to Main Duck Island to inspect the lighthouses with the intention of saving them.
Janet Elson and Jason Parks chronicled their visit there with photographs and some history of Main Duck provided by Marc Seguin and Terry Sprague. In the latest copy of the County Magazine Terry has also written an excellent article on the history of Main Duck Island. In particular, on the former U.S. Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles and his years spent on the Island.

My late father, Frank Pitts was an assistant lighthouse keeper on Main Duck from 1963 to 1965. At that time Cole Main was the principal lighthouse keeper and had held that position since 1959. Cole is still residing in Prince Edward County and I’m sure has many interesting stories about Main Duck. As a family (residing in Cobourg) at the time, we would periodically visit my father.
I remember my first visit in 1963 and the long drive to Point Traverse to catch the boat to the Island. As this was my first trip to the County, the drive seamed to go on forever. The crossing to Main Duck (approx. 12 miles) was very rough and I became extremely seasick. Even though my first trip to the County was less than ideal, I must have appreciated the beauty here as I returned five years later to work at the local hospital. Forty two years later I am very fortunate to still be residing here.

My mother Nellie Pitts, who is 89 now, lives in Picton and has some very fond memories of Main Duck. She remembers the deer following her very closely as she walked her blonde cocker spaniel. They seemed to be very intrigued by the dog. The deer were also very inquisitive as they would stop at the house and look into the screen door as they made their way to the lake very early in the morning. This was the same house built in 1913. I believe that there are no longer deer residing on Main Duck. You can imagine what a wonderful sight it was to see the deer as you drove around the Island in a jeep. There were some very fat snakes there; however, I think that we were fortunate in that the lighthouse keepers had killed many of them. I understand that today many of the snakes are back.

John Foster Dulles passed away in 1959; however, sometimes family or friends would visit his cabin. My mother was sometimes asked to air out the cabin before their arrival. She remembers seeing fish bones left on the hearth of the fireplace. In both articles there are pictures of Richard Bird sitting on the hearth of the fireplace. Sadly the hearth and the chimney is all that remains of the cabin. This was certainly a magical time for our family. My father along with others eventually automated all the lighthouses including Main Duck. Almost half a century later my mother, sister (Maggie Creighton) and I realize how fortunate we were to spend time on Main Duck during a very tranquil period. We are also very fortunate that historical writers such as C.W. Hunt and naturalist Terry Sprague have chronicled the intriguing history of Main Duck Island.


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About the Author: Fran Renoy has lived in the County for forty years so considers herself almost a native. Both she and her husband Bill consider themselves very fortunate to live in beautiful Prince Edward County. She worked at PECM hospital for thirty years as a x-ray technologist,retiring in 1998.She has a very strong passion for her local hospital and encourages others to speak up and not be afraid to do so if they feel that services are being eroded.

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  1. Doris Lane says:

    Terry is still taking tours to Main Duck. I went a few years ago but did not get around to going this summer.
    John Foster Dulles used to come into Prinyer’s Cove back in the late 50’s. We had a pet racoon at the time and the racoon used to help us paddle the canoe and Foster Dulles used to call us over to his boat to look at the Racoon.
    He had a large sail boat and apparently he had an organ on it.
    Many good memories of times past–too bad the County has changed so much
    I hope that the committee is able to save the remaining lighthouses. I remember the angst when they blew up the old Point Petre lighthouse.
    The Feds own the Traverse Lighthouse and it is in bad shape –hope something can be done to preserve it.

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