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June 25, 2010

Lighthouse Closings Coming

The federal government has recently put close to 1000 lighthouses on the auction block as surplus real estate. Some are inactive with long standing staff let go in a “de-staffing” exercise over the years. Some are still active and staff will be let go. It should be stated that some of the destaffed ones have been automated and some replaced by steel towers or poles equipped with the latest equipment.

Some of the lighthouses were or are in bad shape and some were demolished and others taken over by interested parties. Some museums have incorporated them into their heritage programs and in some cases communities have developed them as tourist attractions with tours and a giftshop. Some have been taken over by preservation societies and showcased. Some sites were environmentally sensitive and have been umbrellaed by bird watchers and the like. And lastly some have been bought by private individuals and made into family recreational properties. Most are isolated and not feasible as permanent homes.

Port Colborne Lighthouse

I have written about the Welland Canal and the St. Lawrence Seaway in my column here. Port Colborne is on the south end of the Welland Canal. My father worked at a government elevator there and other relatives worked on various aspects of the canal over the years.

Port Colborne breakwater and lighthouse. D. Mackey photo

As a teenager in the late 1940s I got a summer job at the Port Colborne lighthouse a mile out in Lake Erie on a breakwater protecting the Port Colborne Bay. I worked the nightshift while the lightkeeper slept. It was a fascinating and responsible job. My job was to look for fog and alert the lightkeeper so he could put the foghorn on etc.I read many books. I was a track middle distance runner and ran the mile long breakwater several times each day to keep in shape. I also had a girlfriend who I visited on my day off each Sunday. I would motor across and she would meet me on her bicycle. We are still together. My mother was angry because she hardly saw her son all summer. The cupola and a full display on the Port Colborne Lighthouse can be seen at the Port Colborne Marine Museum. (to see a photo checkout www.lighthouse.nerd.com/gallery ). See my photo of the Port Colborne breakwater, lighthouse and ship.

An article “Landmark lighthouse is up for grabs” talks about the anger in several Niagara Peninsula communities with light houses ,including Port Colborne.(www.portcolborne.com). There have been other stories including one June 12 in the Globe & Mail. The story tells about lightkeeper Ms. Dickman who was interviewed in her lighthouses’ cupola overlooking the eastern entrance to the Straight of Juan de Fuca in B.C. Her son was also interviewed. They talked about the iconic and romantic nature of lighthouses in Canadian and maritime history.

The same Globe & Mail edition talked about one of the typical old time lightkeepers George Davies who became a lightkeeper in 1859 and lived a fascinating life and many did.


Looking for lighthouse information locally I called historian Don Clysdale in Callander who is writing a book for Callander’s 125^th next year. Besset J. VandenHazel’s book From Dugout to Diesel shows a photo of Steven Wessel in 1910. His job was lighting a light on shore near his home each night to help the local traffic.

Callander lighthouse at the narrows at the entrance to Callander Bay.Zelda McLellan photo.

There is also a photo of the lighthouse on the south shore of Lake Nipissing at the Narrows at the entrance to Callander Bay. Don Clysdale provided a photo of the lighthouse with some of the operators family.

I inquired about the lighthouse near the Callander dock and was told that it was not an official lighthouse even though it looked like one. It was built by a group of men who owned the little island and built it as a place to retreat for rest and recreation. It washed away in the tornado in July 2006 .


There are numerous preservation societies including for example the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Society founded in 1994 (www.nslps.com ) which shows the type of work being done to preserve these important artifacts. There is also the Lighthouse Digest which looks at all aspects of lighthouse life. (www.lighthousedepot.com) For a sample of some excellent work check out the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keeper Association (www.gllka.com)

Lighthouses are an important part of our heritage that we need to keep in appropriate perspective.

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