Digest>Archives> September 2002

Brebeuf Island Lighthouse


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The Brebeuf Island Lighthouse, Ontario. Photo ...

Brebeuf Island, a small, typical Georgian-Bay-type, rocky island with its windswept pines is located about 7 miles (11.2 km) from Midland, Ontario on Lake Huron. It was named after Father Brebeuf, a French Jesuit priest, who lived and worked with the Huron Indians who resided in the region. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s when there was no road access to the area, water travel was important as the only link to civilization, bringing in new people, vacationers, and supplies for loggers. Lighthouses were added around the turn of the century to assist this lake navigation. The light built on Brebeuf Island in 1900 was one of two range lights to mark the entrance to Sturgeon Bay with the communities of Penetanguishene, Midland, Victoria Harbour, Port McNicoll and Port Severn.

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The Brebeuf Island Lighthouse, Ontario. Photo by ...

The Brefeuf Island Lighthouse, originally built in 1878 on Gin Rock, was moved from there to the north end of Brebeuf Island in 1900. Its wood frame construction was placed on a stone foundation. The square tapering tower is built into one end of the story and a half house which also has tapering walls. The other end of the house has a lean-to-type room added onto it. Both the tower and the house have eight paned windows that jut out from their sides. At the top of the tower, ornamental wood braces underneath the square gallery are both functional and decorative. A polygonal lantern sits in the centre of the gallery which is surrounded by an iron railing. The whole lighthouse tower and keeper’s house are painted white and have red trim, including the lantern. The tower is 35 feet 5 inches (10.9 m.) tall.

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Clifford Paradis at the Brebeuf Lighthouse. Photo ...

The fixed white light once used coal-oil vapour lights and reflectors. Today the light is electric. Its visibility is 10 miles (16 km).

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Joanne Paradis at the Brebeuf Lighthouse. Photo ...

This lighthouse only had two keepers. Its first keeper, William Baxter, came with the light from Gin Rock. He was keeper at Brebeuf Island Lighthouse from 1900 until 1931. Clifford Paradis was then keeper from 1931 until 1962. Because of its lonely, isolated location and infrequent tender ships which brought supplies, these keepers were frugal. Although they could not plant a garden on the rocky island, they could gather driftwood and storm-tossed logs to use as firewood and wood to replace their dock which was frequently washed away in storms. As well as maintaining this light, they also tended the rear range light. Sometimes this entailed life-threatening rowboat battles during pelting storms to light the rear range light.

The rear range light, built on the west shore of Beausoleil Island, was first a square, white, wooden, slatwork tower. Now it is a square white skeletal tower with a red dome. This tower is 86 1/2 feet (26.7 m) tall and it uses a fixed white catoptric electric light. At one time both of the range lights had a vertical orange stripe as a day marker. Today both lights have a vertical red stripe.

With the advent of new technology, including roads, this waterway became less travelled as visitors and cottagers preferred to use their own cars for transportation. Today, however, during the summer months, it continues to see much vacation boat travel because it marks the entrance from Georgian Bay to the Trent Severn Waterway, as well as the entrance to Sturgeon Bay.

In 1962, when hydro was cabled to the island, the light was electrified and automated, thus making it unnecessary to be manned. However, Tiny Weiss, once manager of the local hydro office, became the unofficial lightkeeper and was allowed to use the lighthouse as a cottage for twenty years. Then in 1982, the government tendered out the lighthouse to the public for private use as a cottage. These tenders lasted for a five year period. The first person to tender it was Ken Mackie, a marina operator in Honey Harbour.

Mr. Mackie distinctly remembers three memorable things about the lighthouse. First, the lighthouse rented in 1982 was of 1900 vintage. The second thing happened when he and his family first went to stay at the lighthouse in the spring. His son went out to use the outhouse facilities and came running back very excitedly because there were goslings in the bottom of the outhouse, under the seat. The outhouse which still stands today, was built on the rocks and had access under it because of the uneven terrain. Since it is up on the rocks, in an area that dries up very quickly in the spring, and the outhouse building protects it from the elements, ducks think it is the perfect place to nest. Ken said that there were always ducks nesting in the outhouse each year of his tender. The third memorable thing was a visit from Budd Watson, a renowned landscape photographer from Midland. Each June, Budd brought his photography class to the island to photograph the lighthouse at about 2:00 p.m. Each year he was given permission to take down the clothesline so it would not impair their photos. Each year he asked but was denied permission to take down the television aerial. I’m sure that both parties also had a good laugh about this each year.

In 1987 Peter Shirriff tendered the lighthouse until 1997. Then in 1998, because of heavy water traffic the Canadian Coast Guard activated a rescue centre on the island. The “In Shore Search and Rescue Centre” is staffed by three, trained, university students from the 24th of May until Labour Day weekend. Their rescue calls are dispatched from RCC Trenton.

It is interesting that a hundred years later the lighthouse location is once again involved with saving mariners.

This story appeared in the September 2002 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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