The History of Long and Brier Islands

Poisoning at Boars Head Lighthouse

by | Dec 29, 2021 | Lighthouses, people, Tiverton | 0 comments

This is a story of the first lighthouse keeper at Boars Head, Tiverton, Long Island and his family, and how he lost six members of his family including his wife to lead poisoning.

Besides living in isolation in a remote area this family suffered the most severe and agonizing pain of losing one, then another, then another, over a period of time. They didn’t know why this was happening to them.

They were poisoned by lead paint on their roof where water was collected for drinking. The water ran down leaded pipes of the time to a cistern in their basement (storage tank). This was their only source of water.

Lead exposure can have serious consequences for the health of children. As high levels of exposure lead attacks the brain and central nervous system, causing coma, convulsions and even death. Children who survive severe lead poisoning may be left with intellectual disability and behavioral disorders. Lead is a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems and is particularly harmful to young children.There is no level of exposure to lead that is known to be without harmful effects. As lead exposure increases, the range and severity of symptoms and effects also increase. Lead is toxic to everyone, but children younger than 6 years are at greatest risk for problems from it. Their bodies absorb lead more easily than those of older kids and adults.

This first lighthouse on Boar’s Head was erected in 1863 with Henry M. Ruggles serving as its keeper and officially opened in 1864. When this lighthouse was built, it was before Confederation, so it belonged to Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia only had an agreement with Mr. Simondson and Cecelia Outhouse to have the lighthouse on their property.

After Confederation the Canadian Government decided to buy the land that the lighthouse sat on.

Source: Christian Messenger, March , 1868

A lighthouse at Boar’s Head:

On March 9th ,1868, Simondson and Cecelia Outhouse, of Tiverton, sold land at Boar’s head to the Honorable Peter Mitchell, Minister of Marine and Fisheries, for the sum of $120. The deed states that the lighthouse was already standing, at the time, on this property. The land acquired consisted of 9.97 acres.

Boar’s Head Lighthouse sits atop the headland at the northeast end of Long Island where it marks the entrance to Petit Passage. The original Lighthouse sat very nearer the cliff and I can imagine these early lighthouse keepers and families wondering if the next gust of wind might blow their lighthouse\home off the cliff.

This is the earliest photo that I have found of the Original Lighthouse at Boars head. It is a little before the younger children had died.

The lighthouse had living quarters built on the back to accommodate the family that lived there. There was a cistern (Storage tank) built under the lighthouse to store rain water collected from the roof. It went down through leaded pipes to the storage tank under the lighthouse. This rain water was used for drinking and for domestic use.

The purpose of the light house was to let the ships at sea know where the entrance to the passage was night and day. The light had to be high above the water with a distinguishable light with it’s colours and timing different from other lighthouses. It was painted white with a red top beacon to be noticeable on the shoreline in the daytime.

An 1881 edition of Sailing Directions for the South-east Coast of Nova Scotia and Bay of Fundy notes that Petit Passage “forms the shortest route between St. John harbour and Cape Forchu (Yarmouth), and is almost entirely free from dangers.”

The guide also gave the following description of the beacon on Boar’s Head. “The lighthouse is a square wooden building painted white” whose “light is an alternating light, 70 feet above high water, showing alternate red and white flashes every minute…In clear weather the light should be visible from a distance of 14 miles.”

Light-keeping was a hazardous and demanding career, especially when it involved the keeper, his wife and their children.

Part of the lighthouse keepers job is to keep the painting and maintenance of the lighthouse up. The lighthouse needs to be painted to enable it to be seen some distance away.

Paint Can Label

In the late 1870’s the light keeper received a different kind of paint to paint the lighthouse with. It had a higher compound of lead to paint mixture. It was supposed to have a longer whiter brightness and was not supposed to crack and peal as easily as former paint.

In the early days of its use, cans of lead-based paint could contain up to 70% lead, which is an absolutely insane percentage by today’s standards.

It wasn’t long after the Ruggles lost a child in 1880. His name was James T. Ruggles, he was 12 years old at the time.

In 1883 the Ruggles lost two more children. Their names were, Annie F. Ruggles, 10 years old and Elsie N. Ruggles, 2 years old.

Source: Digby Courier June 16th 1893

Source: Digby Courier June 21st 1893

Source: Yarmouth Light  July 24th 1893

Mrs. RUGGLES wife of H.M. RUGGLES, the light house keeper at Boar’s head, Digby Co., N.S., died a few days ago under peculiar circumstances. Her husband and two children were sick at the time. A careful examination has convinced the doctors that her death has resulted from lead poisoning. The water used was caught from the roof which was painted white. About two years ago a daughter died it is presumed from the same cause.

Source: Digby Courier July 28th 1893

Source: Digby Courier Aug. 11th 1893

A neighbor found a nearby spring next to the Lighthouse that supplied the Ruggles with water so they didn’t have to use the cistern (Storage Tank) again.

Source: Digby Courier July 27th 1894

Boars Head Lighthouse Picnic July 1894

Source: Digby Courier Sept. 14th 1900

Miss Seraph Jean Ruggles died from complication of being lead poisoned earlier. Feb. 23rd 1875-Sept. 12th 1900, 20 years old.

Source: Digby Courier June 28th 1901

Mr. Henry M. Ruggles Dead at 64 (1837- June 1901)

Henry M. Ruggles son, Frank Goodwin Ruggles takes over as Light keeper at Boars Head after Henry dies. Percy A. Ruggles one of Henrys sons that was his assistant at the lighthouse continues on with his brother as assistant.

The foundation that held the original lighthouse was the cistern (storage tank) for their water supply.

Henry M. Ruggles Married Laleah B. (Grant) Ruggles in 1862 and had 11 children. Below is all the Ruggles family Births & Deaths as far as I can establish.

Source: Nova Scotia Archives: Nova Scotia Births, Marriages, and Deaths

Henry M. Ruggles: 1837- June 1901; 64 years old

Laleah B. Ruggles: 1845-July 18th 1893; 48 years old

Frank Goodwin Ruggles: July 9th 1864- July 22nd 1929; 64 years old

Harry Cambell Ruggles: Nov 5th 1867-March 31st 1945; 77 years old

(Assistant Lighthouse Keeper 1919-1933)

James T. Ruggles: 1868-Nov 19th 1880; 12 years old

Helen Louise Ruggles: Feb 1st 1868- ? ;  ?

Maggie Alberta Ruggles: Sept 15th 1870- ?  : ?

Alecia Wallis Ruggles: Feb. 5th 1872- Married Alecia Wallis (Ruggles) Marshall 1896; ?

Annie C. Ruggles: Aug. 10th 1873- Aug. 20th 1883; 6 years old

Seraph Jean Ruggles: Feb. 23rd 1875-Sept. 12th 1900; 25 years old

Percy A. Ruggles: 1877-?   ;  ?                (Assistant Lighthouse Keeper)

Elsie N. Ruggles: 1881- March 24th 1883; 2 years old

Six of the family died as a result of being lead poisoned.

Source: Tiverton Hill Top Cemetery Records

Laleah B. Ruggles: 1845-July 18th 1893; 48 years old

James T. Ruggles: 1868-Nov 19th 1880; 12 years old

Elsie N. Ruggles: 1881- March 24th 1883; 2 years old

Annie C. Ruggles: Aug. 10th 1873- Aug. 20th 1883; 6 years old

Seraph Jean Ruggles: Feb. 23rd 1875-Sept. 12th 1900; 25 years old

Maggie Alberta Ruggles: Sept 15th 1870- ?  : ?

Those who survived after Mr. Henry M. Ruggles death.

Frank Goodwin Ruggles: July 9th 1864- July 22nd 1929; 64 years old

Harry Cambell Ruggles: Nov 5th 1867-March 31st 1945; 77 years old

Percy A. Ruggles: 1877-?   ;  ?                (Assistant Lighthouse Keeper)

Helen Louise Ruggles: Feb 1st 1868- ? ;  ?

Alecia Wallis Ruggles: Feb. 5th 1872- Married Alecia Wallis (Ruggles) Marshall 1896; ?

 Keepers of The Light at Boar’s Head Tiverton:

Head: Henry M. Ruggles (1864 – 1901), Frank G. Ruggles (1901 – 1929), Earl A. Leeman (1930 – 1963), Murray (Barney) Outhouse (1963 – 1981), Jack Tinker (1982), Angus Smiley (1982 – 1987).

Assistant: Percy Ruggles, Elmer Wyman (at least 1910), Harry Ruggles (1919 – 1933), Clayton Leeman (1939 – 1943), Albert Blinn (1947 – 1950), Murray (Barney) Outhouse (1950 – 1963), Frank Thomas (1963 – 1979).

The Government of Canada replaced this old lighthouse in 1957 with the lighthouse we have today. The top light section from the old light was put on the new lighthouse. It is the only thing left of the old light.

Photos 1957 just before they moved the top from the old light to the new.

I will leave you with this poem by Lynatt Hersey, a Tiverton resident. It’s a poem about this old lighthouse.

Source: Digby Courier April 16th 1959

Contaminated soil removed from around the Lighthouse

In September 2009, Clean Earth Technologies of Halifax removed contaminated soil around the lighthouse and transported it to its washing facilities for treatment. The excavated area was replaced with clean fill. The $216,000 cleanup was funded by the federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan. Lead paint was formerly used to paint lighthouses, and as it was chipped off the structures it contaminated the surrounding ground. Tiverton and Central Grove Heritage Association expressed interest in purchasing the lighthouse from the Department of Fisheries and Ocean after the cleanup was complete.

Boar’s Head Lighthouse was designated a heritage lighthouse under the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act in 2015. This designation prevents the unauthorized alteration of the lighthouse and facilitates its transfer or sale to promote a public purpose. In making the designation, Parks Canada noted:

The Boars Head Lighthouse is closely linked to the development of the Bay of Fundy fishery and the local fishery based in Tiverton, a town located less than one kilometer from Boars Head. Founded by Loyalists in 1787, by the mid 19th century Tiverton had developed into a local centre that serviced the Bay of Fundy fishery and the farming population of Long Island. The opening of the lighthouse in 1864 constituted official recognition of the importance of the fishing communities at Tiverton and along St. Mary’s Bay.

The Municipality of Digby took ownership of the lighthouse in August 2016, and the Tiverton and Central Grove Historical Association agreed to manage the property. In 2018, the association unveiled a four-foot-tall memorial near the lighthouse that lists the keepers who served at the lighthouse. “These people provided a vital service to all the fishermen and others who navigated the waters of Petite Passage since the first lighthouse was erected at Boar’s Head,” said Craig Buckman, chair of the historical association.

Boars Head Lighthouse Heritage Property


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