Above: Nottawasaga Island Lighthouse, Photo Credit: Jason Foley
Lighthouses have always fascinated me. I come from a family where all the men were sailors at one time of their lives, and lighthouses probably saved their lives more than once.
In my business life as well I have been closely associated with sailing ships of the cargo variety. While still living in Europe and travelling through much of it during subsequent visits there we have visited a number of lighthouses. I engaged in my passion to climb not only lighthouses, but all high towers (examples being the bell towers of cathedrals in Paris, Milano and other cities, and the Brock Monument in Niagara Falls).
My interest in lighthouses continued in Canada. It was re-awakened by a two-day stay at the Cabot Head Lighthouse in the Bruce peninsula. All of the lighthouses around the Southern Georgian Bay have fascinating histories.
One of these is the Nottawasaga Island Lighthouse at Collingwood. The 28.65 meter tall dolomite limestone structure was built in 1858 to 1859.
Nottawasaga Island is a small island just off Collingwood on the south shore of the Georgian Bay, Lake Huron. The island is the site of one of the six great Imperial Towers, a chain of lighthouses built in 1858-59. Their purpose was to improve the safety of shipping around the Bruce Peninsula and to the developing ports of the southern Bay. The lighthouse is 94 feet tall and built of limestone. The lighthouse keeper’s residence burned down in 1958, 100 years after it was first occupied.
The lighthouse is one of the so-called “Six Imperial Towers” (Point Clark, Chantry Island, Cove Island, Nottawasaga, Griffith Island and Christian Island). All of them are lighthouses built on Lake Huron and the Georgian Bay in the mid-19th century. All are still in use today and functioning as automated lights. The term “Imperial” was given to them as a political guarantee to assure funding by the British Government.
All of the endangered lighthouses of North America are on the “1933 Doomsday List” of Lighthouse Digest Magazine, which specialises in lighthouse articles, books and memorabilia. The Nottawasaga Island Lighthouse was added to the list in 2003. The island’s colorful human history has been documented in the books “Keepers of the Light” by Marion E. Sandell (1993), and “Alone in the Night” by Andrea Gutsche, Barbara Chisholm and Russell Floren (1996). Andrea Gutsche is also the Director of the film “Alone in the Night, Lighthouses of Manitoulin Island, Georgian Bay and the North Channel” (1996).
In the summer of 2003 the Canadian Coast Guard announced that due to the structural deterioration of the building it would no longer send crews into the tower for maintenance of the light. The deteriorating building was removed from the CCG maintenance list just before part of its outside wall collapsed in 2004. In 2005 the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans announced a grant of CAD 230,000 towards the cost of stabilizing the lighthouse tower. But the estimated cost of CAD 600,000 to several million dollars was too much, and the Nottawasaga Lighthouse Preservation Society was given the task of raising the money.
The Society wants to preserve the history of this navigational landmark. The lighthouse is now solar-powered and automated and continues to guide vessels into the safety of Collingwood Harbour.
In 2014 volunteer engineers vouched for the basic solidity of the building. By the fall of 2016 the Society had raised enough money to finance the “shrinkwrapping” of the building to protect it from further degradation, which went on into November. The wrapping lasted only a few days before it was shredded by a storm.
The Lighthouse is visible from the shore of Princeton Shores Park in Collingwood. Tours around Collingwood Harbour and Nottawasaga Island are offered by Adventure Voyages (https://www.osmadventuretravel.com/contact.html), Tel.705-444-9451. Landing at the Island and climbing the inside of the lighthouse is not permitted.
Note : The choice of photographs within this article are the sole responsibility of the author under the Fair Dealing Provision of the Canadian Copyright Laws