Once again I must reiterate how tantalizingly thrilling it can be to find an ancestor with an atypical occupation. Scanning census after census which lists individuals as farm labourers or just generic labourers can become tedious. But then one stumbles upon boat builder or light house keeper and the research potential begins to open into a new vista of possibilities! Yes, a lighthouse keeper! While researching an making headway climbing out on a branch of my husband’s tree–just newly sprung– I discovered quite by accident, 4th great grand uncle Charles Berger (Burgie). Born in Penetanguishene, Ontario in 1834, the son of French-Canadian Joseph Burgie and possibly a First Nations (Native) mother, Charles was one of 8 children. Voyageur and First Nations blood heavy in his veins. Of fishing and hunting/trapping stock he was well suited to the great outdoors by land or sea so employment pursuits such as ship building, and lighthouse keeping in later life seem a natural fit.
Listed as a Labourer on census records until 1891 when he was a boat builder and then in 1901 a corker (I have yet to understand this but believe it may also be related to boat building), Charles was married to Angeline Dusumme and had nine children. His race on Canadian census records was listed as FB (French Breed) a term referring to “Half breed”, a Metis individual of French and Native parentage. In 1911 he is listed without an occupation on the census. He was retired and living with his grandchild’s family. Local history though indicates that he became the first lighthouse keeper in Victoria Harbour, Simcoe, Ontario when the Canadian government built a lighthouse there in 1910.
Used as a beacon for ships transporting passengers and freight for the Canadian Pacific Railway and to guide ships safely to the Port McNicholl grain terminal and the Victoria Harbour lumber mills, this lighthouse was originally one of a pair. It was the lighthouse keeper’s important responsibility to keep the wicks to the kerosene lamps of the lighthouses lit. The second lighthouse–ironically located on “Bergie Point” quite possibly the name sake of another ancestor–was replaced later by a more modern tower but the other still exists as a heritage site. The lighthouse was actually in use until 1968, Charles however only worked there from 1910 to 1912. His time there ended tragically!
29 April 1912 Charles Burgie, at the age of 79, died. His death certificate reads:
“Accidental death from falling down stairs while intoxicated. Fell down stairs while lighting the main range light on Bergie point.”
Wow! A prime example of the significance of my seemingly morbid fascination with the details of death registers and documentation! I am not sure if this cause of death is an example of great dedication or glaring incompetence but it definitely makes for an interesting anecdote!