The First Lighthouses on Lake Ontario near Kingston – Fall 1957
The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.
By R.A. Preston
On March 5, 1803, the Legislature of Upper Canada amended an act of 1801 for the collection of customs duties on shipping on Lake Ontario and included a clause authorizing duties for the erection and maintenance of lighthouses. One light was to be on Mississauga Point at the entrance to the Niagara River, a second on Gibraltar Point at York, and the third on Isle Forest (now Simcoe Island) at the entrance to the outer harbour at Kingston.1 Lighthouse duties at the rate of 3 d per ton were collected from every vessel passing any of the above places as from April 1, 1803.2
In 1804, Captain James Green, the Lieutenant-Governor’s secretary, sent a plan for the Mississauga Point Lighthouse to Mr. John Symington, the Collector of Customs at Niagara.3 The existence of the lighthouse at Mississauga Point is known from the testimony of a Mrs. Quade, the daughter of Dominick Henry, keeper of the lighthouse on Mississauga Point from 1803-1814. Mrs. Quade was born in the lighthouse-keeper’s house in 1804.4 Her evidence is confirmed by Heriot, who said in 1806 that it had been lately erected, by Christian Schultz (1807), and by Charles Prentice (October 1807).5 In 1808, the “Commons of Upper Canada,” having examined the state of the fund erected by the Act for erecting lighthouses, and having found that the revenue from the Tonnage Duties was not sufficient to complete all three, petitioned the Lieutenant-Governor to cause the lighthouse on Gibraltar Point to be erected. This lighthouse was then built.6 It is clear that the third lighthouse on Isle Forest was not yet erected and there is no reason to believe it had been put up by the time of the War of 1812.
In March 1818, Captain John Mosier of Kingston petitioned the Legislative Assembly to complain that only the harbour at York was provided with a lighthouse and that he, ‘tin making Port in the night time, particularly the Niagara River, has frequently hazarded life as well as property in the risk incurred.”7 Evidently, the lighthouse in which Mrs. Quade was born was no longer there after the War of 1812. She herself said that it survived the sack of Niagara in 1813 because it benefited the Americans as well as the British;8 but it did not survive the War. It was taken down to make way for the erection of a new fort.
On October 31, 1818, Mr. Joseph Clench gave notice of a bill in the Assembly to appropriate money for the erection of the lighthouses on Isle Forest and at Mississauga Point. His bill was referred to a Committee of the Whole House but seems to have gone no further.9 About the same time steps were taken to grant relief from the lighthouse duties for steamships, a move which was urged in the interests of the builders of the new Frontenac, built at Ernestown in order to forestall American rivalry in the steamboat field.10 An Act passed by the Legislature on November 27, 1818, exempted steam vessels from paying on the space taken up by their boilers and machinery; and at the same time it stated that, whatever had been the practice in the past, lighthouse duties were not to be collected at a port where there is no lighthouse.11 It would appear that the collection of the duty from vessels entering the Niagara River had continued after the demolition of the light. By 1818, then, there was only one lighthouse in Upper Canada, that at Gibraltar Point at the entrance to York Harbour.
The date of a third lighthouse (which would be the second oldest on Lake Ontario, since that at Mississauga Point was never rebuilt) is made a matter of some speculation because two maps seem to indicate that a light was built on Isle Forest as early as 1818. An undated map in the Public Archives of Canada, entitled “River St. Lawrence from Lake Ontario to Kingston,” shows on “Cage [Gage] Island formerly Isle aux Forets” (i.e. Simcoe Island) a “proposed site for Light House” on “Pt. Sir James, formerly 4 mile pt.,” and a “Licht [Light] F.,” meaning a fixed light, on “Pt. Yeo, formerly 9 mile pt.” The first named of these two points, which has retained its older designation and unfortunately no longer commemorates the British naval commander of the War of 1812, is situated at the widest part of Simcoe Island facing north-west. Nine Mile Point has also retained its older name. It is at the extreme south-west end of the Island facing the open water of Lake Ontario. Either of these lights could be the one planned by the Legislature on Isle Forest in 1803 and 1818.
The map on which these references to lights appear is a tracing and is dated on the back in pencil “1801- 1819.” But the names of geographical features on it prove that it was not made until at least as late as the end of the War of 1812. Sir James Yeo commanded the naval forces in Kingston from 1813 to 1815. Certain shoals on the map are marked “Netley,” ‘Regent,” “Melville,” and “Royal George,” obviously named after the ships of Yeo’s fleet. H.M.S. Netley bore another name until January 22, 1814.12 She was employed by the surveyors in 1815. A “Plan of Kingston and Vicinity,” which does not extend as far as Simcoe Island, was produced in 1816 by the surveyors Lt. H.L. Rennie, R.E., Lt. A.T.E. Vidal, R.N., and Act. Lt. Wm. Bayfield, R.N.13 It is possible that the undated tracing showing the light and proposed lighthouse on Simcoe Island may be another part of the same survey and that these are proposals for, or evidence of the existence of, a light or lights at the entrance to Kingston Harbour.
A second map in the Public Archives, “A Survey of the River St. Lawrence, from Lake Ontario to the Galop Rapids,” is dated 1818 and is stated to be by Captain W.F.W. Owen, R.N. Owen had come to Lake Ontario in 1813 with Yeo and had succeeded him in November 1815. He was himself replaced by Sir Robert Hall in 1816. But between 1816 and 1817 Owen was engaged in a careful survey of the naval situation on the Lakes.14 It seems most likely that surveys of the Kingston area mentioned above were made under his direction and possibly while he was in command from 1815 to 1816. The map which bears his name is lithographed. It was possibly the sum total of surveys made by junior officers under his direction. Owen’s second map is similar in most of its features to the undated tracing but makes no reference to the proposed lighthouse on “Pt. Sir James, formerly 4-mile point.” However, “Light F,” the fixed light on “Point Yeo, formerly 9-mile Pt.” is now marked “45 feet vis. 15 mile,” which seems to imply that it was actually in operation.
As it is unlikely that there were at that time plans for two lights on the island, the information on the tracing might mean that there had at first been two different proposals for the site of the lighthouse on Isle Forest; and Owen’s printed map seems to show that the Nine Mile Point site was the one eventually selected. Captain Mosier’s petition in March 1818, gives us positive evidence that the lighthouse was not then in existence. Owen’s map suggests that it had been set up before the end of the year.
Maps and plans are, however, not always reliable evidence of the situation existing at a particular time. They may include proposals or projects; and they may be dated at the time of the survey, but copied and printed later with the inclusion of changes that had been made since the survey was carried out. Something of the sort appears to have happened in this case. There is no reference in the journals to the erection of a lighthouse on Isle Forest (or Gage Island) in 1818. On January 28, 1826, an act was passed to improve the lighthouse on Gibraltar Point, to impose duties for defraying the charge of the same, and to erect other lighthouses in the province.15 Between 1828 and 1829 a lighthouse was erected on the Fake Ducks;16 and in January of 1832 an Act was passed to erect a light between Nicholson’s Island and the Ducks in the County of Prince Edward.17 It is noticeable that these new lights were not at the entrance to a harbour. This may explain an attempt which was made in the session of 1831-2 to secure the abolition of lighthouse duties at York. A bill for that purpose failed to secure passage;18 but on February 13, 1833, provision was made for the maintenance of the four lighthouses “now erected in this Province,” namely at Gibraltar Point, the False Ducks, Long Point in Prince Edward County (now Point Petre), and Long Point in Lake Erie (Point Pele).19 As most of the lights were now in the open lake rather than at the entrance to a harbour, the cost of erection and maintenance could no longer be charged against a particular port.
On the same day in 1833, the Legislature passed an act for the building of a lighthouse on Nine Mile Point at the entrance to Kingston Harbour. John Macaulay, John Marks, and Hugh Christopher Thomson, were appointed commissioners to arrange the contract and supervise the work.20 The new lighthouse on “9 mile Point, Simcoe Id.” is shown on Charts of Lake Ontario dated 1836 and 1846. On the latter, Nine Mile Point is again called Yeo Point as on the Hall survey of 1818.21 From 1839, lighthouse tonnage duties at the rate of a shilling a ton were imposed on all British vessels navigating the lakes of Canada.22
The fixed light on Nine Mile Point also appears on two lithographed charts by Edward M. Hodder printed in 1863 and 1866.23 On none of the four last mentioned charts is there a light or lighthouse shown on Four Mile Point; but by 1863 a red light is shown on Snake Island, which lies directly off that point. The first mention of this Snake Island light is in the Public Accounts of the Province of Canada for 1858, when L. Wartman was appointed Lighthouse keeper of Snake Island from April 1st of that year, and the inclusion of his annual rate of pay suggests that this was a new appointment.24 The List of Lights and Fog Signals for 1893 shows the same red light on Snake Island and also the fixed white light on Nine Mile Point which is named alternatively “Gage Point” although the Island itself was now called Simcoe. This same publication shows two range lights on Barriefield Common, which are still used, and also a gas light in the City Hall Clock, which has long been removed.25 In 1900 the lighthouse on Snake Island was rebuilt with a steel and concrete pier near the south end of the shoal surrounding the Island.26 In 1918 the Snake Island light was moved to Four Mile Point on Simcoe Island, thus partly fulfilling the project of exactly a century ago.27 The Four Mile Point light has now been replaced by a gas and bell buoy on the Middle Ground shoal fairly close to Snake Island which shows a white light, and a lighted buoy showing a white light near Snake Island. The lighthouse built on Nine Mile Point in 1833 is still in use; but it now shows a flashing white light in place of the fixed light.
- Journals of the Legislative Council of Upper Canada, Seventh Report of the Bureau of Arches for the Province of Ontario, 1910 (Toronto, 1911), pp. 195, 196, 198; Statutes for Upper Canada, 43 George Ill, Cap. II.
- Journals of the Legislative Council, Ontario Archives Report for 1910, 211, 371, 406; Journals of the Assembly, Ontario Archives Report for 1912, p. 525.
- Public Archives of Canada, Upper Canada Sundries, April 2, 1804. A plan of this lighthouse is in the Public Archives; and the J. Ross Robertson collection has a picture of the lighthouse and the keeper ‘s house.
- “Recollections of Mrs. Elizabeth Quade, nee Henry,” Niagara Historical Society, 11, Reminiscences of Niagara (Niagara, The Times, n. d.).
- George Heriot, Travels through the Canadas . . . (London: R. Phillips, 1807), p. 151; Heriot, Schultz, and Prentice are quoted in “References to Niagara in Early Books of Travel, Diaries, et c.,” Niagara Historical Society, No. 11, Reminiscences of Niagara, 37-8. The first Mississauga Point lighthouse is given the dates 1802-1815, in Niagara Historical Society, No. 32, Notes on Niagara, pp. 21-22. Its history is told in Lillian Rea Benson, “The First Lighthouse on the Great Lakes,” Inland Seas, Vol. I, No. 2, April 1945, pp. 14-17, where it is dated 1804-14.
- Journals of the Assembly of Upper Cana da, Report of the Ontario Archives for 1911, 261. See Rowley Murphy, “Gibraltar Point Light,” Inland Seas, Vol. Ill, No. 3, July 1947, pp. 150-154; No. 4, October 1947, pp. 248-253.
- Journals of the Assembly, Ontario Archives Report for 1912, 525.
- “Recollections of Mrs. Elizabeth Quade, nee Henry,” cit.
- Journals of the Assembly, Ontario Archives Report, 1913, 42, 46, 51.
- , pp. 47-8, 54, 70, 90, 92.
- Statutes of Upper Canada, 59 George III, Cap. XVI.
- P. Stacey, “The Ships of the British Squadron on Lake Ontario, 1812 -14,” Canadian Historical Review, XXXIV, 319. The only one of these shoals which has retained the name of the 1812 Warship is the Melville Shoal.
- A. Preston, ”The Fate of Kingston’s Warships,” Ontario History, XLIV, Foot note 29.
- George A. Cuthbertson, Freshwater (Toronto: Macmillan, 1931), p. 205.
- Journals 1825-6, 106, 112, 113, 118.
- Journals 1826-7, 43; 1829, p. 76.
- Journals, 1831-2, 96,
- Journals, 1831-2, 96.
- 3 IV, Cap. XXXV. According to the current List of Lights and Fog Signals in the Inland Waters, 1957 (Ottawa, 1957), the first three of these lights were originally established in 1808, 1828, and 1833. That on Point Pelee appears to be no longer in existence. The light on what is now called Long Point in Lake Erie dates from 1843, Ibid.
- 3 IV, Cap. XXXVI, 13 Feb., 1833; Journals of the Assembly of Upper Canada, 1832-3, p. 94. Marks was a former Naval purser who about this time took over the Kingston Dockyard.
- Public Archives of Ca na da, “Chart of Lake Ontario from actual survey by Augustus Ford, U. N.” (entered according to Act of Congress … 1836) and “Plan shewing the position of Hare Island and its capabilities for affording shelter for Gun Boats drawn to accompany the 4th Report of the Naval and Military Commission dated 29th January, 1846” (Boxer and Holloway Plan). The writer is indebted to the staff of the Public Archives for furnishing this and other in formation.
- Journals of the Assembly of Upper Canada, 1836-7, 525, 542; 1839, pp. 35, 387.
- Chart of Lake Ontario compiled from Surveys made by Capt. Owen and Herbert, R. N, and Capt. A. Ford, U S.N, with Harbours and Ports of the Lake Surveyed by Edward M. Hodder, Esq., M. D., Commodore of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club. Lithographed, Printed and Published by W. C. Chewett & Co. of Toronto, 1863. The second map bears the same inscription but is dated 1866.
- Public Accounts for the Province of Canada for the year 1858 (Quebec: Rollo Campbell, 1859), p. 154.
- Department of Marine and Fisheries, List of Lights & Fog Signals on the Coasts, Ri vers, and Lakes of th e Dominion of Canada , 1893 (Ottawa, 1893), p. 102.
- Dominion of Canada, Sessional Papers, XXXIV, No. 9, 1900, p.
- List of Lights & Fog Signals, Inland Waterways,
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About the Author: Richard Arthur Preston, M.A., Ph.D., F. R. Hist. 5., Professor in the Department of History, Royal Military College of Canada, was born in Middlesbrough, England, and was educated at the University of Leeds and Yale University. Before & present appointment be was on the faculty at Toronto University and at Cardiff University College. He has been a member of the Executive Committee of the Ontario Historical Society, and a member of the Council of the Canadian Historical Association. He is now a Vice president of the Kingston Historical Society. Dr. Preston is the author of Gorges of Plymouth Fort and a History of the Port of Kingston; and a co-author of Men in Arms: a history of the relation of warfare and Western Society and of A Short History of Kingston as a Naval and Military Centre. He will shortly publish in the Champlain Society’s Ontario series, two volumes of documents on the history of Kingston: Royal Fort Frontenac (with Major L. Lamontagne), and Kingston Before the War of 1812.