Digest>Archives> March 2005

The Island of Little Hope

By Jane B. Whiting


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Island of Little Hope Lighthouse where Esther and ...

The Island of Little Hope is a rock-bound island that lies off the Southwest corner of Nova Scotia. It is situated 14 miles in a southeasterly direction from Port Moulton. My grandparents kept the light for ten years, moving on the island around 1912.

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Little Hope Island Lighthouse, Nova Scotia as it ...

I never knew my grandparents. My grandmother, Esther Hoffman, was 16 years old when she married my grandfather James Reuben Colp. From family photos, my grandfather was a tall, blonde, handsome man and my grandmother was tiny with slight features, and long dark hair.

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Aunt Odessa as a child.

My grandmother was a farmer, fisherman, and a lighthouse keeper. My grandmother was busy raising a family, caring for their home and of course, grandfather. They had 13 children.

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Teresa, Ruby and Lennie Colp on the Island of ...

When the children were old enough to go to school, they lived on the mainland with their grandmother Sarah, and their oldest sibling Odessa. The younger children remained on the island. Transporting children and supplies, the family was constantly, weather permitting, traveling to and from the mainland from the island.

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Esther and Reuben James Colp at Little Hope ...

My grandparents were not outwardly affectionate people but they were kind and loving. One of them must have a sense of humor and a quick wit because it has come down through succeeding gene-rations. My family pos-sesses an unending pursuit for organization, which happily reminds me of Aunt Odessa.

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Esther, Reuben James, and James Nathaniel Colp.

I remember Aunt Odessa well. She was a spunky petite woman with a crop of naturally curly hair and she stood four feet nine inches tall. She had been born with a curvature of the spine and had a large hump on her back. My mother had told us that someone had dropped her as a baby and we accepted this without question.

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Back left, Odessa; right, Sarah Trott Colp; front ...

Aunt Odessa was self-educated and witty. She had a delightful twinkle in her eyes that masked the pain. She was a stickler for order and cleanliness. I remember my Aunt’s visits to the States and looked forward to them with great excitement. She used to organize the house and us as well.

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Pier at Port Mouton, Nova Scotia on a typical ...

My mother’s kitchen cupboards were Odessa’s greatest triumph. I can remember her saying that she could not figure out how her sister Lizzie ever found anything. It was a wonder she could. My mother had five children and many grandchildren passing in and out of the house, plus she worked full – time, and cared for my sick father for several years.

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Reuben James (lighthouse keeper at Little Hope ...

This little bitsy woman would stand on a stool, about as high as she was, and rearrange the contents in the cupboards from left to right according to size. She was a marvel to watch. When she completed this, she moved into the silverware drawer, the china cupboard, and any dusting that needed to be done.

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The Island of Little Hope from an old photograph ...

Whenever my Aunt Odessa visited, she always told us stories about family life on the island. We would sit on the living room floor mesmerized as she related the tales of island life. It was the quietest we had been all day.

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Janet Cotter Sullivan at the time of the return ...

The government owned a small motorboat on the Island of Little Hope. Aunt Odessa said they called her the “Tub” but her proper name was “Water Lily.” It was difficult to get off and back on the island in the same day. It was an extremely rough place to dock. One day my grandfather left the island to go to the mainland to pick up Odessa and get some supplies.

After shopping the general store, he loaded up the old “Tub” with vegetables, groceries, Odessa clothes, a dozen hens, a rooster and a pigeon and they set off for Little Hope. This trip seemed to take a little longer than usual before the island came into view. Odessa was anxious to see the rest of the family.

When they were about to land, the sea started to roll. They waited. There were always three large swells, and the sea would be calm. Grandfather jumped on the skids, got the large hook in the boat, and started to pull her up onto the island. The first wave broke over the boat as did the second and third. The hens cackled and flapped their wings, joined in by the chorus by the rooster and pigeon. Odessa was soaked clear through as well as everything in the dory, but they landed safely.

Caring for the lighthouse was a seven-day-a-week job. They had a long porch with the door and two windows on each side that connected the main house from the back to the large, heavy door going into the lighthouse. Small children used to count the stairs in the spiral staircase that led to the top of the tower. There were 100. As they walked up the staircase there a was door that opened into a small room known as the “bunkroom” and 12 more steps that led to a trap door that opened into the “tank” room. There were two small tanks, each with a generator. Twelve more steps led to another trap door that led into the tower room.

The tower room had heavy glass windows all around. The light was located inside the dome and sent out four rays of light every few seconds. A heavy cable went down through the bunkroom and into the circular stairway. The cable had six to eight weights on it that kept the light turning as they went down the cable. Every few hours my grandfather or uncle would re-wind the cable.

Not long after my family left the island, the government tore down the buildings and installed a solar powered light.

Odessa married and remained on the mainland in Port Mouton, Nova Scotia and most of her siblings moved to Massachusetts

in the States.

My grandparents taught their children to be self-reliant, courageous, and above all to have faith. The children have passed this onto their families and succeeding generations.

It has been a wonderful gift, and many of us from Little Hope

have prospered.


Years ago, while the tower was still standing, author Jane Whiting wrote us to tell of the visit by her and her cousin Janet and Janet’s mother Lennie. They flew to Nova Scotia with plans to visit Little Hope.

My Aunt Lennie grew up on the island of Little Hope that I had heard so much about and I wanted to visit it first hand to see for myself.

Aunt Lennie had made arrangements with a local gentleman, Mr. Atkinson, to take us out to the island. It rained and blew for three days. Thankfully, on the fourth day the sun came out and the wind died down. Mr. Atkinson suggested we go out at once because the weather was not going to last.

As soon as we left the pier in Mr. Atkinson’s boat, I started to feel woozy. Mr. Atkinson supplied me with Coca Cola and sugar cookies.

As the waves crashed over the bow of the lobster boat and onto the pilothouse and us, I spent my time hanging over the side clutching my bottle of Coca Cola. My cousin Janet was fine. I thought what an embarrassment I was to my family. I was not seaworthy.

At one point, Mr. Atkinson asked if we wanted to turn back. I asked through the haze if we were in any danger and he assured me we were not. Janet and I chorused that we wanted to continue.

As seasick as I was, I had no idea how good I would feel as well as shocked after I saw the island for the first time. As we continued through the six-foot swells and cross current on the approach to the island, I looked up at the new automated light and then down at the island.

The island was barren. There was not a blade of grass, a tree or any soil. There were rocks, rocks and more rocks. I said to my cousin half out loud and half to myself that I did not realize it would look like this. There was nothing there. There were just seals. My cousin replied that it was really something and it made you wonder when our children complained about being bored.

Mr. Atkinson said the island was now about an eighth of an acre. The ocean was reclaiming it. We could not land as we had hoped; the sea was too rough. We turned around and headed back.

I felt very proud of what my family has been able to accomplish and thankful that my parents had an easier life. When my Aunt Lennie saw me back at the motel, I must have been a shade of green because she took one look at me and said, referring to growing up and living on the island, “You never would have made it dear.” She was so right.

This story appeared in the March 2005 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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