Muskoka To-DAILY

Narrows lighthouse in Gravenhurst torn down – will be replaced by aluminum replica soon

Mark Clairmont | MuskokaTODAILY.com

GRAVENHURST — An iconic Muskoka landmark is no more — for now.

The federal government's Oceans and Fisheries removed "The Narrows" Lighthouse this week and according to John Miller of the Muskoka Navigation Company, they are replacing it possibly this fall.

The federal government’s Oceans and Fisheries removed “The Narrows” Lighthouse this week and according to John Miller of the Muskoka Navigation Company, it may be replaced possibly this fall.

The 112-year-old lighthouse guarding “The Narrows” from Lake Muskoka into Muskoka Bay was taken down by Oceans and Fisheries early this week.

Boaters and tourists passing through the narrow channel were shocked to see it missing.

But not all is lost.

It will be replaced — albeit made out of aluminum. And sooner than later.

And there is a temporary pole light for the safety of boaters and travelling public unfamiliar with narrow channel.

While the demolition was a surprise for most everybody, it’s been a longtime coming.

After a federal review a decade ago, a number of lighthouses were either closed or turned over to municipalities.

The Gravenhurst lighthouse remains a federal property.

And the Town of Gravenhurst’s Heritage Committee has been involved the latest move.

John Miller, president of the Muskoka Navigation Company that runs the Segwun and Wenonah II multiple times daily through The Narrows, says their Muskoka Discovery Centre museum expects to retrieve parts of the original lighthouse for future display purposes.

He called it bittersweet that it had to come down — but at least “they’re replacing it.”

“My main concern,” he told MuskokaTODAILY.com “was that it’s very important (to have light there), especially at night when there’s no moon or when it’s raining.”

It just makes it easier for the captains — who know the lake intimately and have technology to guide them — to keep a visual contact for ease of comfort and for the overall safety of all passengers and crew onboard.

According to a lighthouse history, the federal Department of Marine installed first beacon of light to appear on the south-east point of Denison’s Island was in 1884.

“A fixed white dioptric light, shown from a lantern hoisted on a mast 25 feet high, and is elevated 23 feet above water mark, and should be visible 10 miles from all points of approach.”

In 1905 the current design structure was erected and operated by local lighthouse keepers for decades until it became automated.

Generations of Schells and Barnes were the among the first keepers.

 

SHORT HISTORY OF NARROWS LIGHTHOUSE:

The first light at The Narrows was put up in 1885; and the tower we know today was built in 1905.

The first light at The Narrows was put up in 1885; and the tower we know today was built in 1905, with Schells and Barnes as early lighthouse keepers.

“Gravenhurst Narrows (Lighthouse Island) Lighthouse”

The area surrounding Lake Muskoka was inhabited by the Ojibwa before the arrival of European settlers, and the lake is believed to be named for Mesqua Ukee, a tribal chief whose name means “not easily turned back in the day of battle.” The first white man known to have crossed Lake Muskoka was Lieutenant Henry Briscoe of the Royal Engineers, who transited the area in 1826, looking for a route across Upper Canada that was less prone to attack than sailing along the St. Lawrence River and through the Great Lakes.

As its rocky terrain was not well suited for agriculture, the area didn’t see significant development until it was opened to logging in the 1860s. Alexander Cockburn launched Lake Muskoka’s first steamship in 1866. Known as the Wenonah, Ojibwa for first daughter, the vessel was limited to travel on Lake Muskoka until 1871 when the government built locks at Port Carling in 1871, allowing ships to travel between Lake Muskoka and Lake Rousseau, and dredged a channel between Lake Rosseau and Lake Joseph.

Access to the area took another leap forward when the Toronto, Simcoe, and Muskoka Junction Railway Company was incorporated in 1869 to extend a line to Gravenhurst, situated on the southern shore of Lake Muskoka. The endeavor was hampered by rugged terrain and financial difficulties, but the line was finally completed in 1875, when it was absorbed into the Northern Railway.

With tourists now having access to the lakes through train and steamboat service, several resort hotels, including Royal Muskoka, Windmere, Rosseau, and Beaumaris, sprang up on the rocky shores. To guide vessels through the narrows that separate the waters near Gravenhurst from the rest of Lake Muskoka, the Department of Marine invited bids in 1883 for the construction of a mast, shelter shed, and beacon light.

Henry Castle, of Gravenhurst, was awarded a $427 contract for the work, and in 1884, the department provided the following description of the light:

“This, a small beacon, is situated on the south-east point of Denison’s Island, at the northern entrance of Gravenhurst Narrows. It is a fixed white dioptric light, shown from a lantern hoisted on a mast 25 feet high, and is elevated 23 feet above water mark, and should be visible 10 miles from all points of approach.”

David Schell was appointed the first keeper of the light at an annual salary of $100.

A more formal light was finally built to mark Gravenhurst Narrows in 1905, and the next year, the following description of the new lighthouse was published:

“A lighthouse tower was erected on the southeast point of Denison Island, at the site of the old pole light, and the pole and shed were removed.

“The tower is an inclosed, square wooden building, with sloping sides, surmounted by a square, wooden lantern, the whole painted white. It is 27 feet high from its base to the top of the ventilator on the lantern, and rests on a masonry foundation 4 feet high. The light is a fixed white dioptric light of the sixth order, elevated 28 feet above the level of the lake, and visible seven miles from all points of approach by water.”

The work was done under contract by Mr. George Brown, of Bracebridge, Ontario, at a total cost of $701, the contract price being $650.

Gravenhurst Narrows Lighthouse remains active today, showing a fixed red light to guide vessels through “The Narrows,” but it is now formally known on the Coast Guard’s List of Lights as Lighthouse Island Lighthouse.

Information on Gravenhurst Narrows Lighthouse
History Light Characteristics Focal Height Nominal Range Description/Height of tower above ground
Activated in 1905. Red light. 9.1 m. ? M White square tower. 8 m.

Head Keepers: David Schell (1884 – 1890), Frederick Schell (1890 – 1893), Mrs. Frederick Schell (1894), William H. Redmond (1894 – 1906), Isaac Barnes (1906 – at least 1923), Wilfred Barnes.

 

Short URL: http://www.muskokatodaily.com/?p=28622

Posted by on Sep 23 2017. Filed under Headlines. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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