The abundance of 19th century shipwrecks along the Bruce Coast (especially around the shoals and islands off Tobermory) testifies to the need for navigation aids. An ambitious program was undertaken in the 1850’s to build six Imperial Lighthouses, four of which are in our area. Cove Island (1858) was the first of these to become operational, followed the next year by Point Clark, Chantry Island and Griffith Island. When built, they were by far the tallest structures on the upper Great Lakes, yet they were built by hand, in remote, uninhabited locations, with men and materials brought in by sailing vessels.
Many more lighthouses and other navigational aids were added in succeeding decades, but none have the majestic feel of the Imperial Lighthouses.
Begin your tour at the Imperial Tower at Point Clark Lighthouse located on Lake Huron near Point Clark, Ontario. Point Clark’s light began flashing on April 1st, 1859 and celebrated 150 years in 2009. Constructed of limestone from nearby Inverhuron, the lighthouse stands 87 ft. (26.50 m) high. In 1967 the light was proclaimed a Canadian National Historic Site. Point Clark is the only imperial tower located on the mainland and accessible by road.
Continue north on Highway 21 to Kincardine, Ontario where you will find the Kincardine Light. Built into the harbour hillside in 1874, this octagonal wooden tower stands 74 ft. (24.4 m) tall atop a two-storey keeper’s house. The light is an active aid to navigation, a museum, and a clubhouse.
Continue north on Highway 21 to Southampton, Ontario, home to the Chantry Island Light and the Saugeen Range Lights – two unmanned range lights built in 1903 to guide mariners into the mouth of the Saugeen River.
The Chantry Island Lighthouse is an Imperial Tower first lit on April 1st, 1859; it celebrated 150 years in 2009. The Marine Heritage Society of Southampton has restored the keeper’s house. Tours of the lighthouse and keeper’s quarters are available from Victoria Day weekend until the end of September. Details on the tours are available at www.chantryisland.com.
The Saugeen Front Range Light is located on a pier at the mouth of the Saugeen River in Southampton Ontario. It is a 31ft. tall, square pyramidal tower, white with red trim. The first light was established in 1883, by hanging a lantern on a mast on this pier. The Saugeen rear range light was built on a nearby hill, and then moved approximately 1650 ft. back to its present location, in 1906. It sits 61 ft above the level of the lake. Both show a green light. A wide RED vertical band runs up the front of the lights to aid in daytime navigation. The Southampton Marine Heritage Society has set up guided Tours. These tours will be booked out of the present tour base located at the river mouth.
Continue north to Tobermory, home to three of the Bruce Coast lighthouses.
The first light at the west side entrance to Big Tub Harbour in Tobermory was a lamp on a tree placed there by an early settler. This light was replaced by the current lighthouse in 1885. The Big Tub Lighthouse, a six-sided 43’ tall white, hexagonal wooden tower, narrows slightly as it rises. At the top of the tower, a red steel railing protects the walkway around the six-sided lantern room. The grounds are open to the public and nearby is a popular swimming and diving site.
Flowerpot Island Light was established in 1897. A square wooden keeper’s cottage with a wooden tower for the navigational light was erected atop Castle Bluff on the north-easterly point of the island. The original lighthouse building was destroyed and pushed from the cliff in 1969 after being replaced by the steel tower still at the site.
Over 150 years of service, the 80 ft impressive imperial tower of Cove Island Light (picture at left) was lit in 1858, making it the first of the imperial towers to be operational and the first to celebrate 150 years. The beautiful white, limestone tower is made of rough stone blocks and features narrow, red trimmed windows just large enough to afford a view of Lake Huron/Georgian Bay. At the top of the tower the lantern room is glazed with dozens of square panes and still displays a flashing white light. Nearby the original keeper’s cottage is built from the same rough stone. The entire northern tip of Cove Island, known as Gig Point, is dominated by the lighthouse complex. Another residence lies east of the tower and several other buildings complete the complex. This lighthouse is best viewed from tour boats out of Tobermory and from the MS Chi Cheemaun, a car passenger ferry.
South out of Tobermory on Highway 6, turn left onto the Dyer’s Bay Road and follow signs for the Cabot Head Light. Built in 1896, the two-storey keeper’s house at Cabot Head is a large, white clapboard structure with red trim. The original light tower was removed from the roof in 1971 and a 40 ft steel tower was built right next door. The keeper’s dwelling has been lovingly restored by The Friends of Cabot Head and a replica lantern room was built to replace the original. The dwelling is now home to a museum of local history and maritime artifacts. Open to the public seven days a week from May to October, visitors may climb into the new lantern room and take in the beautiful view.
Following Highway 6 south to Ferndale, turn left to the village of Lion’s Head. The Lion’s Head Lighthouse is located at the marina.
Set beneath the majestic Niagara Escarpment, this pyramidal wooden tower lighthouse was first established here in 1903. The original lighthouse was destroyed by a storm in 1913. The light had to be rebuilt several times due to the harsh conditions of Georgian Bay. The light was replaced by a metal post with a flashing red light in 1969. The present lighthouse was built by students from the local high school and a local service club in 1983. The 15 ft tall structure was typical of the Canadian Range system. The square wooden base stretches upward and narrows to a square metal railing and walkway surrounding the lantern room. After the metal pole holding the light was destroyed in a storm, the Coast Guard put it into the replica lighthouse. The grounds are open to the public.
The Cape Croker Lighthouse (above right), located at Cape Croker, home to the Chippewas of Nawash, was originally built in 1898. The original light was replaced in 1902 with the present octagonal lighthouse constructed of reinforced concrete – the first of its kind on Georgian Bay. It was also the first lightstation in Canada to have its fog plant and light powered by electricity. Please respect local culture when visiting this site. The lighthouse is not available for tours but can be photographed.
Also part of the Bruce Coast Lighthouse Tour but not accessible by road or tour boat:
Griffith Island Light. This imperial tower lighthouse on Griffith Island near Wiarton, Ontario, was established in 1858. The round, white tower tapers to a red metal walkway surrounding a beautiful lantern room entirely encircled with square panes that allow bright sunlight to filter through from any angle. A red metal dome and ventilator ball protect the room from the elements. A few narrow windows mark the sides of the tower and a bright red door allows access. This light is only visible by private boat from the water and access is not permitted.
Knife Island Lighthouse and Lyal Island Range Light. These two lights are located just off Stokes Bay in Lake Huron. The front range is a 33 ft white, square, pyramidal wooden tower with a fixed white light. The light features a board red stripe that lines up with the rear range. The rear range light is a white, square skeleton 64 ft tower located on the small island, 1.2 km from the front range. The enclosed upper portion of the rear range holds a fixed red light. The rear range also features a board red stripe to assist mariners in lining up the two ranges.
Access to these sites is best suited to the experienced canoeist or kayaker. The relatively shallow water of Stokes Bay can provide for a great day trip.
Tour Notes: The tour is self-guided. Some sites do provide interpretation and guide service seasonally. Watch the weather. Visits to some sites are weather dependent.
Admission fees vary for each location. National Park fees apply for Flowerpot Island. For all island locations, tour boat fees apply. Most of the manned sites are maintained by volunteers. Please support their efforts by leaving a donation or ask about signing up.
Visit a lighthouse and relive life as it was over 100 years ago along the Bruce Coast.