For my July stay-cation, I headed to the region of my childhood, Eastern Ontario, and decided to be a tourist. I visited a number of sights that brought back memories but also taught me something new (love when that happens!). And I had my camera in tow so that I might capture some of these places for possible future paintings.
After my visit to Windmill Point near Prescott, I knew immediately what my first painting would be – the old stone lighthouse that sits in a lovely little park above the St. Lawrence River.
I love old lighthouses. I have childhood memories of lighthouse-seeking adventures along the Bay of Quinte, and being able to go inside these sturdy structures. Of course, being a romantic, I’d conjure up all kinds of heroic tales of wayward ships in storms and the lighthouse keeper coming to the rescue (yes, I read too much as a child).
But I discovered this lighthouse at Windmill Point had quite a different history. It was first built as a windmill in 1832, powering a grist mill down on the river bank. A scant 6 years later, a group of 250 expat Canadians and independent US militia landed here with designs on overthrowing the UK-supported government. They landed below the windmill in two ships, chased downriver from the town pier at Prescott by local sharpshooters. Many of the attacking force sought shelter in neighbouring cabin homes while others ran into the windmill. Only the windmill could survive the fires and bullets, so the men inside lasted 4 days without nourishment or reinforcements until surrender was their only alternative.
What drama! I did not know this story at all. I had assumed that this was another War of 1812 historic site as there are many along the St. Lawrence. I didn’t even bother to read the plaque! Only when I got home did I discover what had happened there. When I was painting this piece, the story kept unfolding in my imagination – weary and frightened men looking out those windows, hoping for reinforcements or realizing the battle was lost. A bit melancholy for such a beautiful structure.
I also learned that 40 years later, the windmill became a lighthouse – a beacon to lead ships through this treacherously-narrow part of the river. And it served in this role for 100 years! Today, it’s a National Historic Site and, in non-Covid times, you can even go inside the lighthouse and climb to the top. On my visit, it was unfortunately locked up.
Now that I know this story, I will definitely make a return visit to go inside, soak up the historic atmosphere and let my imagination run wild again!
(To acquire this original art work, click this link for more info)