Vic Douse Interviewing Goldie Gillis
Vic Douse interviews Goldie Gillis regarding her continued work over the years with the Point Prim Lighthouse
Vic: Welcome back everybody, now we’re going to interview Goldie Gillis. Goldie how are you today.
Goldie: I’m great thank you, Vic
Vic: Wonderful. If you could take me back to the beginning of your involvement with the Point Prim Lighthouse and how you got involved.
Goldie: Well my story and involvement with the lighthouse begins really in 1974 and that’s the year that I married my husband Gilbert Gillis and we had a lighthouse wedding. We were married on the grounds of the lighthouse and because of my husband Gilbert’s connection the family ties, his grandfather Angus Murchison was the longest lighthouse keeper, he kept our light for 35 years so with Angus being Gilbert’s grandfather I naturally got interested in the family and members and so on and that is when my real interest in the lighthouse started, through Gilbert, I have to give him all the credit for that.
Vic: And Gilbert’s uncle was a light keeper as well?
Goldie: Yes, Norman Gillis, yes, so on both sides of the family he has keepers yes.
Vic: That’s wonderful, so then, so then you and Gilbert started a business down at the lighthouse site
Goldie: Yeah, but before maybe before we should backtrack maybe a little bit there, a before that in let me see now, around 1982 and 83 I took, in order to upgrade my teaching license, you see I transferred, I taught in Nova Scotia so when I came to PEI I had to go back to university and take another year of university, so that meant I took a course, an Island history course and I now realize you ended up taking the same course yourself.
Vic: When did I, I wonder when did I, what year I took that maybe in 89 I took it with Father Bulger?
Goldie: Yes, ok, well I was in 82 and so for that class you’re required to do, you know, a paper, a historic paper on some Island topic, so when I came home and I told Gilbert I said what in the world am I going to do my research on? Because while I just moved here to PEI and I wasn’t familiar with much of the Island history. So he said, well of course the Point Prim Lighthouse, so there I was! So anyway, so then I did that paper, and that paper actually became the basis of my our little booklets that we got published, this is the revised edition here, and I think Vic has the first edition.
Vic: I have the first edition, which has always been dear to my heart and we love the new one.
Goldie: So then that kind of led to me, ok, so then Gilbert and me would be down at the shore harvesting the Irish moss. And so I always went, I enjoyed being on the shore and helping out in any way. So when we would be there we would have visitors coming to the shore and they would be wandering around and watching us and enquiring about the Irish moss “what are you going to do with that?” they’d say, so we’d tell them they’re eating it all the time, it’s used in the food industry for ice cream and so on. So they would say, where can we go to get lunch is there any restaurants around here, where can we go to get a cup of coffee?
So we got thinking there’s a real need here for a little place, a little tea room of some kind for people who are visiting to the lighthouse grounds. Even then the lighthouse was drawing people just to see the lighthouse. So anyway, in 1990 a little word beforehand, where we formed a lighthouse operative cooperative artist cooperative and ten members, most of them were family members, some of them were artisans, like Gilbert’s mom was already into doing artwork and painting and selling some of her work from her barn on the Point Prim road. And so we inquired about the old Irish moss wearhouse, which was sitting vacant and it had been vacant for maybe 30 years or so, and so we were able to buy the building and we leased the property from Department of Fisheries and Oceans and we opened a little tea room in 1990, our group did.
Vic: So currently at the time, the Women’s Institute is maintaining the grounds at the lighthouse?
Goldie: Yes, as a picnic area.
Vic: As a picnic area, but they’re not doing, the lighthouse is closed, but they’re maintaining a picnic area because it’s such natural beauty.
Goldie: Yes. So then, alright, we’ve got to go back again to 1986. I don’t think I mentioned that, that I approached.. so again, through being on the shore, talking to visitors coming to see the lighthouse, it came to me, I thought what a shame. Here’s this full lighthouse, very historic, lot of family history, it’s sitting closed. What a wonderful thing it would be if it could be open to the public and people could get inside to see that lighthouse. So I approached the government and so I asked them about it and they granted permission to open our lighthouse in 1986. And so it was open for visitors. So that was a start.
Vic: You or the coop got permission, or was it just you?
Goldie: Just myself, and my husband Gilbert, of course, too we were both working together on it. So our lighthouse was the first one on PEI to be open to the public.
Vic: And you used your historical research from Father B’s course too, as a guide book?
Goldie: I don’t think we even had that available.
This was, the first printing was not available until 1990. We didn’t even have that.
Vic: Ok, ok, so you just had
Goldie: The lighthouse open, and then we had to hire to get some students to do the guided tours. So I was involved, I was instrumental in finding, getting students, interviewing them, little bit of training and getting them set up for the summer to do guided tours.
Vic: At this point are we just July and August?
Goldie: Just July and August, exactly.
Vic: So in the 86-87 timeframe. Ok. And you lived at that point, much closer to the lighthouse, not that you’re very far.
Goldie: Yes that’s right. Only a couple miles from the lighthouse. Yes, so that was convenient so if there was, we were able to check on them and so on, if any issues came up we were able to resolve it and so on. Then we took on, started the Chowder house and we started out as 3 little tables, we could seat 12 people and we just had drinks and sweets available, little tea room. So more and more people started to come and they’re asking for sandwiches, breakfast and so on.
Vic: So Goldie, was this you doing all the cooking?
Goldie: Yes, myself and my sister-in-law Gilbert’s brother’s wife, sister-in-law Sandra Gillis, and they lived even closer, they lived in Peter Southward’s former property. Ok, so her and I, I was more responsible for the chowders. She was more so the baker, she did all the biscuits and the desserts and all that sort of thing, she had a sort of knack for that. So anyway, more demand, so yes, we just had those three little tables at the front and the rest of it was all display area for the artwork of our artisans and it was pull out panels, and that took up a lot of space in our, but that was the main purpose, to be a studio where they could work, they could talk to the visitors and sell some of their work.
Vic: And so there’s the traffic to see the shore and the lighthouse, cause it’s a beautiful site, always has been drawing people for generations but more and more people coming and then you take advantage of that, or help fulfill a need for the artisans and for the people who would like to have tea, or a drink, or a coffee and stuff like that.
Goldie: Yes exactly, so with time, more and more demand for food. So eventually, after a number of years we needed more space for tables so we took out all those pull out art panels and we put in more tables and the business just kept growing and growing and we went into chowders and eventually we had a full menu.
Vic: We know it as the Chowder House today, but was there an original name?
Goldie: Just Chowder House.
It was always the Chowder House.
Chowder House, oh excuse me! We started out as the Tea Room.
Vic: Yes, so it was the Tea Room and then the Tea Room grew into the Chowder House.
Goldie: And then it eventually changed to Chowder House. Yes, that’s right. And so, where do we go from here now.
Vic: We go from, we’re at the early eighties, mid eighties, late eighties, you’re doing tours and running the open houses at the lighthouse for the summer. Then we have in the early nineties the Chowder House business and they’re very synergetic and they’re getting more and more people here, and it gets more and more busy for you.
Goldie: Right, exactly so that’s when with time, the Chowder House was demanding. So it was getting, and with my husband fishing and everything, so it got to be too much for me to look after the students and the guided tours. So I decided I have to do something, so I approached the Women’s Institute.
Vic: Because they’re maintaining the property already
Goldie: Yes and I wondered if they could take it over, the responsibility of the students. Hiring and training and all that. So I went to one of their meetings and I put my dilemma before them,
hoping that they would get interested and just want to take it over, and they did. So that solved my problem. And so they just took it over and carried on and right through until we formed our lighthouse society basically.
Vic: Yes, so we see a sub committee of the Women’s Institute grow into the Point Prim Lighthouse Society, we get divestiture. Can you talk about your modern role in the society, and work at the lighthouse in the last ten years?
Goldie: Well, the last ten years. Yes there was a period when I wasn’t involved at all
Vic: Because you were busy with the Chowder House
Goldie: Yes, right. But in the last ten years, I sorta kind of came back on board. I mean the lighthouse has always been my baby, so to speak and my special interest.
Vic: Well, and your little history guide book has become that written journal, go to for everyone to fact check and then hands on experience.
Goldie: That’s right, so basically in the last ten years I’ve kind of taken a back seat and kind of let the society do all the basic main, what would I say
Goldie: Yes, exactly, but I tend, I attend all of the meetings and I am part of the board, but what about would it be about 3 years ago now I did work one full summer helping out
Vic: You do a lot of shoulder season work as well
Goldie: And I have done, yes.
Vic: And we upgraded the book, we modernized your book
Goldie: We revised, yes, did a second printing of this
Vic: In colour!
Goldie: Yep, this this was done in 2016 the second printing. When we started the tours in 86, so we’d be having visitors come in and they’d be asking the students, do you have any information about your lighthouse? At that time we had absolutely zero.
Vic: By public demand
Goldie: Absolutely, again, another need fulfilled. So we realized, we’ve got nothing, the people can’t take anything away, information, so again I decided, I see the need and I’m going to do something about it so I got that put together and published and that was in 1990.
Vic: And then it became for sale at the lighthouse.
Goldie: And then yes, it was available for them to buy.
Vic: And we use it as a training reference for the students every year.
Goldie: Exactly, yes, yes, that was a wonderful help to have something in printing that they could read and study.
Vic: Ok so now let’s talk about the second printing.
Goldie: So now, alright, so that first printing with time, all those sold out. So we’re getting to the point we’re getting low, and so we realized we’re going to have to do a new edition, new printing. And also, I was so happy to hear that because there was another need, we really did need another, a new printing, because with time I found out new information cropped up about a lack of in our list of lighthouse keepers we were missing a keeper in the first history. And when I was doing my research there was vague talk among some of the family members about a Donald Gillis as being keeper but when I did my research all at the Public Archives from the big books that the Legislative Assembly kept, there was no contact I could not find any concrete information that Donald Gillis was a keeper at our light, so therefore I didn’t put him in as a listing of the keepers. So there was always that gap and I wasn’t until some family members that I didn’t even know, not even my husband knew about that lived in British Columbia, and they were descendants of this Donald Gillis.
Vic: Would they be relatives of Gilbert’s as well?
Goldie: Yes, oh yes, definitely on the Murchison side. His mother’s side. So Judy Lesley was her name, she sent me an email, she told me her and her husband were coming to visit PEI and could she get together with me and meet the family so that all was arranged so then she, she confirmed it all.
She had information, and she even had the dates of his term as lighthouse keeper and there was always this nagging question in my mind when there was always this gap from 1897 to 1910 those years in there could never explain and it just fitted in Donald Gillis, 1897 to 1910. So in the revised edition we were able to update the keepers list and we now have it as it truly is.
Vic: And we were able to make it a little bigger, make it colour,
Goldie: With more photos
Vic: Have it maintained for a second printing
Goldie: And the history goes right up to 2016
Vic: When we, the Point Prim Lighthouse Society, takes ownership of the grounds from the Federal government.
Well that’s, that’s wonderful Goldie to have to share with everyone. I’m so happy that we were able to have this conversation today. Is there anything you’d like to bring forward about the lighthouse or about your experiences down there or what do you think of where we are today from where we were.
Goldie: Well, I’m amazed, I’m truly amazed at the accomplishments of the society, especially like you said in the last ten years. Where we are today is just, I’m totally thrilled with it all and I’m so happy that we have such good members on our board that have the skill sets to all work together to bring us to this point.
Vic: Well it’s the ground work that you’ve done, the early people who have maintained the interest, the community interest in the lighthouse which just kept evolving to a nicer and a better better stuff, I believe the lighthouse and the chowder house they, I don’t know, commercialized is not the word but energized the road. We have eight or ten little businesses on here now which are a tourist designation but it’s not that heavy kind of tourism, it’s a lot of family coming home and visiting and the descendants of Islanders that are coming home to the area. And there’s a lot of normal traffic, we get the bus tours from the cruise ships so that’s a lot of people but that’s a different kind of tourism than the people that are stopping at the shop and spending time and enjoying the weather and the natural beauty of the area. Then again Goldie, I can just
thank you so much for everything you’ve done and continue to do down there for the society at a daily level your knowledge, the book is a great cornerstone of it. Training the kids often, every year, that manual increases every year that we have for the kids. Yeah, it’s just, inside the lighthouse there’s also lots of displays of the area and the history again Goldie’s had a lot to do with those and Gilbert for years, so it’s just wonderful.
Goldie: Well it’s always been a joy, the whole, all my involvement from day one it’s just been a pleasure for me.
Vic: Thank you again Goldie for your time today
Goldie: Thank you