LOOKING at the Government Chart of Lake Erie, one sees the outlines of a long, narrow island, stretching along the shore of Canada West, opposite the point where Loudon District pushes its low, wooded wedge into the lake. This is Long Point Island, known and dreaded by the navigators of the inland sea which batters its yielding shores, and tosses into fantastic shapes its sandheaps. The eastern end is some twenty miles from the Canada shore, while on the west it is only separated from the mainland by a narrow strait known as “The Cut.” It is a sandy, desolate region, broken by small ponds, with dreary tracts of fenland, its ridges covered with a low growth of pine, oak, beech, and birch, in the midst of which, in its season, the dogwood puts out its white blossoms. Wild grapes trail over the sand-dunes and festoon the dwarf trees. Here and there are almost impenetrable swamps, thick-set with white cedars, intertwisted and contorted by the lake winds, and broken by the weight of snow and ice in winter. Swans and wild geese paddle in the shallow, reedy bayous; raccoons and even deer traverse the sparsely wooded ridges. The shores of its creeks and fens are tenanted by minks and muskrats. The tall tower of a light-house rises at the eastern extremity of the island, the keeper of which is now its solitary inhabitant.
Fourteen years ago, another individual shared the proprietorship of Long Point. This was John Becker, who dwelt on the south side of the island, near its westerly termination, in a miserable board shanty nestled between naked sand-hills. He managed to make a poor living by trapping and spearing muskrats, the skins of which he sold to such boatmen and small-craft skippers as chanced to land on his forlorn territory. His wife, a large, mild-eyed, patient young woman of some twenty-six years, kept her hut and children as tidy as circumstances admitted, assisted her husband in preparing the skins, and sometimes accompanied him on his trapping excursions.
On that lonely coast, seldom visited in summer, and wholly cut off from human communication in winter, they might have lived and died with as little recognition from the world as the minks and wildfowl with whom they were tenants in common, but for a circumstance which called into exercise unsuspected qualities of generous courage and heroic self- sacrifice.
The dark, stormy close of November, 1854, found many vessels on Lake Erie, but the fortunes of one alone have special interest for us. About that time the schooner Conductor, owned by John McLeod, of the Provincial Parliament, a resident of Amherstburg, at the mouth of the Detroit River, entered the lake from that river, bound for Port Dalhousie, at the mouth of the Welland Canal.
She was heavily loaded with grain. Her crew consisted of Captain Hackett, a Highlander by birth, and a skilful and experienced navigator, and six sailors. At nightfall, shortly after leaving the head of the lake, one of those terrific storms, with which the late autumnal navigators of that “Sea of the Woods” are all too familiar, overtook them. The weather was intensely cold for the season; the air was filled with snow and sleet; the chilled water made ice rapidly, encumbering the schooner, and loading down her decks and rigging. As the gale increased, the tops of the waves were shorn off by the fierce blasts, clouding the whole atmosphere with frozen spray, or what the sailors call “spoondrift,” rendering it impossible to see any object a few rods distant. Driving helplessly before the wind, yet in the direction of her place of destination, the schooner sped through the darkness. At last, near midnight, running closer than her crew supposed to the Canadian shore, she struck on the outer bar off Long Point Island, beat heavily across it, and sunk in the deeper water between it and the inner bar. The hull was entirely submerged, the waves rolling in heavily, and dashing over the rigging, to which the crew betook themselves. Lashed there, numb with cold, drenched by the pitiless waves, and scourged by the showers of sleet driven before the wind, they waited for morning. The slow, dreadful hours wore away, and at length the dubious and doubtful gray of a morning of tempest succeeded to the utter darkness of night.