Lighthouses Vital
to Georgian Bay Sailing

Lighthouses were vital to Georgian Bay and Great Lakes sailing traffic. They assisted mariners in making their sailing a safe venture. 

tobermory ontario lighthouseTobermory Lighthouse Is On Lighthouse Point
On Big Tub Harbour
from Paul White Collection


In the early days of settlement, the arrival of spring was eagerly awaited by the pioneers that lived in this region. The lack of effective overland routes to the more settled regions of the colony left the Owen Sound area of Georgian Bay virtually isolated from the rest of the world during the winter months.

By the month of March, the pioneer's larders were close to being empty and the store rooms of the commercial traders were in a similar state.

Consequently, everyone was awaiting the arrival of the first vessels laden with produce.

The first ships of the season faced difficult conditions. Fierce storms and heavy waters made sailing treacherous. The rugged shoreline made finding a safe haven as treacherous as the swelling waters, winds and torrential rains and snow from which they which they were trying to escape and took a heavy toll on the early maritime traffic on Georgian Bay and Lake Huron.

As the population of the area increased, so did the traffic on the lakes. To help alleviate the dangers to the sailors and their ships, lights were erected along both the Huron and Georgian shorelines.

The first lighthouses on Lake Huron were erected on the American shoreline. The first, the Fort Gratiot Light, at the entrance to the St. Clair River went into service in 1825. By 1840, there were four American lighthouses on Lake Huron. The first Canadian light on that lake went into service in 1847 at Goderich.


The First Georgian Bay Lights

The arrival of rail connections to the shores of Georgian Bay in the 1850s, and the opening of the canal at Sault Ste. Marie in 1855, increased maritime traffic and signaled the need for lights, especially in the Tobermory area.

In 1859 the Cove Island lighthouse went into service. In 1870 a light was erected on Lonely Island and in 1897 another was installed on Flowerpot Island. It was hoped that these beacons would provide a safer path for mariners through the treacherous waters around the tip of the Bruce Peninsula.

cove island lighthouseCove Island Lighthouse and Keepers House

Courtesy of Wikipedia


The Cove Island lighthouse was one of six completed during the rush to improve navigation on Lake Huron and Georgian Bay in the 1850s. The other five were at Point Clarke near Kincardine, Chantry Island at Southampton, Griffith Island at the entrance to Colpoys Bay, Christian Island, and Nottawasaga Island.


point clark lighthousePoint Clark Lighthouse at Kincardine

Courtesy of Wikipedia



chantry island lighthouseChantry Island Lighthouse & Keepers House

Courtesy of Wikipedia



griffith island lighthouseGriffith Island Lighthouse At The Mouth Of Colpoys Bay

Courtesy of Wikimedia


Lighthouses Built by John Brown

These lighthouses were constructed simultaneously by John Brown, a contractor from Thorold. They were simple structures. But, due to their remote locations, not easily built. The decision to build them was not only beneficial to navigation, but also proved to be a boon to entrepreneurs and workers in the area. Quarries were opened at Owen Sound, Main Station Island and Inverhuron. The stone for the base courses and the exterior facing of the structures came from the Owen Sound quarry and the cement was shipped in from Brown's mill at Thorold.

In the Owen Sound area, the Presqu'lle lighthouse was an important maritime structure. It was the last light to be extinguished each autumn and the first lit each spring. Area newspapers announced that it was in operation and this information received front page coverage in both the Wiarton and Owen Sound newspapers each spring!

Although these lighthouses were built to help mariners sail safely through treacherous water, there were still many shipping disasters in the area. But they were more than a device for improving maritime safety.

The news that the lights were operational was also a much awaited harbinger of spring for most of the settlers in the Georgian Bay area.



This Article originally appeared in my weekly column in the Owen Sound Sun Times.

Discover More About the Bruce Peninsula

Getting to the Bruce Peninsula is a relatively easy driving trip. Here are driving directions from three regions to the peninsula.

Barrow Bay Ontario a Picturesque Georgian Bay Community owes its origin to the once-thriving Bruce Peninsula lumbering industry. Today it is a quiet summer get-away!

Bruce Peninsula Lumber History details the impact of the forest products industry on the development of the region.

Bruce Peninsula Lumbering provided the stimulus to develop and grow the pioneer economy on the newly settled Bruce Peninsula. 

Bruce Peninsula Municipal Politics: No matter what the venue, or the issue, seldom is a popular decision made that suits everyone. 

Bruce Peninsula Travel Routes were often a matter of debate because in the early years, land travel was virtually unattainable for settlers and lumbermen alike.

Aboriginal History: Bruce Peninsula has a long indigenous heritage not just for the native nation living there today, but for other native groups as well.

Aboriginal History: the 1836 Treaty made promises to the native peoples of the Bruce Peninsula which did not last long before everything changed again.

Aboriginal land history continues the story of aboriginal land issues on the Bruce Peninsula. How it happened is a point for discussion by everyone.

Settler Impact on Bruce Peninsula Natives was not only from the imposition of treaties, but also from British military plans.

"Half Mile-Strip" Treaty made it possible for a relatively smooth overland connection to be built between Owen Sound and the Lake Huron shoreline.

Catherine Sutton: aka Nahneebahweequay was a hero, fighting for her Indigenous rights and those of her family.

Allenford United Church history details not only some important information about that community's church, but also about one of the founders of this Ontario community.

Colpoys Bay Vista - Awesome! A short drive from either Wiarton or Owen Sound is one of the most magnificent views to be found in the province of Ontario!

Dyer's Bay Ontario: Began as a Lumbering Settlement and today it is a wonderful vacation retreat.

Elsinore Ontario is the southern-most point on the Bruce Peninsula, located about half-way between Owen Sound and the Lake Huron shoreline.

Forest Products on the Bruce Peninsula contributed greatly to the growth and development of that region of the province of Ontario.

Gillies Lake: aka Ghost Lake has a mysterious past as its original name, Ghost Lake, implies.

Great Grey Owls on the Bruce Peninsula was a surprise discovery for ornithologists and others. Sadly, the story of their visit had an unfortunate conclusion.

Pioneer Campers: Hope Bay mostly considered the peninsula untamed wilderness and some of the locals were not about to disappoint them!

A Pioneer Community: Driftwood Crossing, at the southern-most part of the Saugeen/Bruce Peninsula was at the midpoint between the Georgian Bay and Lake Huron coasts.

Pioneer Missionary James Atkey arrived on Colpoys Bay to minister to the native community near Oxenden until a treaty uprooted his parishioners.

Pioneer tourists first visited the Bruce Peninsula in the 1800s and the region continues as a great recreational and tourism destination today!

Pioneer Vacations on the Bruce Peninsula got an eerie start in the Hope Bay region of the peninsula.

Lighthouses  Lighthouses were vital to Georgian Bay Sailing.

Sauble Beach Ontario has seen it all. A fishing outport; a sawmilling centre; and an internationally acclaimed tourist resort area!

Sauble Beach  This popular beach is known as Canada's Daytona Beach.

Lion's Head  Sailors often sought refuge from the stormy Georgian Bay waters in its well-protected harbour.

Park Head  Grand Trunk Railway in Park Head Ontario was an important railway depot on the Bruce Peninsula when in 1894 the first train chugged through Park Head.

Stokes Bay  Welcomed fishermen as their first non-native visitors. Today, if you are a fisherman, you will also probably want to try your luck landing a walleye, lake trout or any of the other game fish that live in the coastal waters of Lake Huron.

Tobermory Ontario has a rich history and, is the northern- most destination point for travellers visiting the world famous Bruce Peninsula.

Tobermory Ontario Tourism is focused on shipwreck diving which has become so popular that tourism has become an important part of that community's economy. 

Tobermory pioneers experienced a life in a community that was anything but the tourism hive of activity that it is today.

A Flowerpot Island cruise is not only entertaining, but it is also very educational as you will see things that you have never viewed before!

Wiarton Ontario  This historic community was a great place to live in the early settlement days and still is a busy tourist stop on your way up the Bruce Peninsula.

Wiarton  had ambitions to Succeed but while success brought them a railroad and other ventures did not have a sweet ending for many in the town.

Wiarton Ontario’s First Newspaper  A catalyst in supporting road construction and bringing the railway to Wiarton in hopes of making the town the economic leader of the area. But disappointment looms...

Wiarton news: 1890s, as seen in the pages of the local newspaper revealed problems typical of today's communities 

Wiarton Beet Industry was to be a great boost to the town's economy. Instead, it left most people with a bad taste in their mouths.

Travel the Bruce: Owen Sound to Wiarton  A wonderful journey from Owen Sound to Wiarton.

Travel the Bruce: Wiarton to Tobermory  Relaxing and historic journey.

Bruce Peninsula  The Bruce Peninsula is a compelling place, with a rich history, to visit. Once you have traveled there, we guarantee that you will return, again and again!

  1. History Articles
  2. Georgian Bay Sailing
  3. Lighthouses Vital to Georgian Bay Sailing