Christine Welldon spends half of her year in Lunenburg and half in Toronto. While she’s living on the South Shore, she spends her time writing. Her most recent book is a children’s book about one of the most iconic buildings on our coastlines: lighthouses. My House is a Lighthouse, which will be published by Nimbus Publishing and released in June, and will focus on the extensive research Welldon did on lighthouses in Canada, in particular, those lighthouses that are still manned by a lightkeeper.
Welldon started working on this latest book in 2017. According to her research, there are still 51 lighthouses in Canada that are manned by staff. That’s out of 800 lighthouses across Canada, most of which are on the East and West coasts. There are no actively manned lighthouses in Nova Scotia, although there is one in New Brunswick and more than 20 in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“When they were threatened with automation, the communities protested strongly and because of that support, these stations managed to stay staffed,” Welldon says.
To learn the stories of the lightkeepers, Welldon tracked them down with help from officials with the Coast Guard and either called or emailed a series of questions to each lightkeeper. Her questions inquired about daily life at the lights, rescues and even hauntings.
“I did get a lot of stories,” Welldon says, addings one about a lightkeeper who found a photo in the attic of a woman in a coffin. “I’m really motivated to talk to people and get first-hand accounts as much as I can.”
“That scared him for the rest of his days there,” she says. Still another story recalled the story of a hiker who perished near one lighthouse and whose ghost still haunts the area.
Yet, many of the stories talked about the daily life of a lightkeeper. Welldon interviewed men, women, and married couples, all of who staff lighthouses in Canada.
“One couple said it can make or break a marriage,” Welldon says.
She says some of them enjoyed the isolation of the job. Still others, who work on a rotation of 28-day shifts with other staff, told Welldon they missed their families and were happy the day when the helicopter arrived to take them back home.
“All of them have a total dedication and purpose in what they do,” she says.
And the lightkeepers shared their wisdom to the next generation of lightkeepers, including perhaps the children who will read Welldon’s book. She says many advised to join the Coast Guard, see the world, and enjoy their lives before signing on to be a keeper.
Welldon has published a number of books, including Children of the Titanic, The Children of Africville, Molly Kool, First Female Captain of the Atlantic, and Pier 21: Listen to My Story. My House is a Lighthouse will be her fifth book published with Nimbus Publishing in Halifax.
Emily MacKinnon is an editor at Nimbus and says Welldon brings history to life with her storytelling skills, which focus on the stories of individuals.
“This personalized approach makes it so much easier for children to empathize with characters from the past, and helps them better visualize what actually happened,” MacKinnon says. “That can sometimes be hard when you're only reading facts and figures. Christine’s ability to find personal nuggets in the data makes her books a treat to read.”
Most of Welldon’s books are part of Nimbus’s Compass series, which is aimed at readers ages eight to 12. MacKinnon says books in this series are highly visual with lots of facts and sidebars. MacKinnon says My House is a Lighthouse will give young readers a unique look inside lighthouses.
“I think there are so many things we don’t necessarily know about lighthouses,” MacKinnon says. “Sure, we know they have strong lights and are often on cliffs to signal to boats on the ocean, but what do we know of who lives there, and what their lives are like? What do they eat? How do they get their groceries? Do they have pets? Is it scary/lonely/thrilling? This book offers a rare chance to go inside those lighthouses and find out what it's like to be a lightkeeper; the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
Welldon will return to Lunenburg in June and will stay until about late October. During that time, she’ll release her book and meet with her fellow writers in their group, the Gallows Hill Writing Group. Welldon says she writes all of her books in Lunenburg and is inspired by the sea.
“It’s small town life, peaceful and quiet, and my writers’ group is great for a sounding board,” she says. “I get so much work done; it’s incredible.”
But when she returns, looking at the province’s lighthouse won’t be the same.
“Now, I’m more excited when I see a lighthouse,” Welldon says. “I know the history and I think about the people who used to live there. I hope the children who read it will look differently at the lighthouses as well.”