Lighthouse Story

“History of Cape Croker”

The first lighthouse in Cape Croker, a small wooden structure with a tower on the roof, was built in 1898 to protect boats navigating the Bruce Peninsula. At that time, the closest safe harbour was Wiarton, 39 miles away. One of the worst dangers on this perilous stretch of shore is Surprise Shoal. Over a mile long, it lies almost directly in the path of the route taken from Cabot Head to Cape Croker, Wiarton, Owen Sound, and Collingwood.

In 1903, plans were drawn up which would put Cape Croker on the Canadian architectural engineering map. A new tower was to be built; one of the first rein­forced concrete light towers in the country, and one of the country’s earliest experiments with this new technology. Completed in 1909, it proudly displayed a large diamond-like Fresnel lens. Cape Croker also led the way by being the first station in the country to have both the fog plant (1902) and lighthouse (1909) powered by electricity.

The road in to the Cape Croker lighthouse is famous among those who worked at the light. It passes the thriving Chippewas of Nawash First Nation community, one that began in 1857 after the band surrendered Nawash and Sarawak around Owen Sound and moved here. The end of the road is the site of Cape Croker’s old fog plant. The road is a memorial to one lightkeeper’s sweat and toil. After tending the light each day, Norman Whetton would clear a small stretch of bush. The road was finally completed and Norman’s daughter Nancy clearly recalls their first bumpy ride when the car was shaking and rattling so much they feared it would break apart at any moment.

The intense storms at Cape Croker left as strong an impression on the keepers as they did on the battered shoreline. John Adams recalled that previous keepers had made a harbour enclosed by a wall of stones hauled from the water:

“One gale, a nor’easter, the one that took down the Edmund Fitzgerald, tore that whole harbour clean  out  of there, nothing left,  flattened it right out. The wind was so strong that night that instead of walking to the lighthouse it seemed you were out the door and you were at the lighthouse!”

The location of the Cape Croker light, butted up against a steep cliff, made John Adams nervous. If a fire blocked the road, the only choice was to take to the lake, and more often than not the lake was too dangerous. One after­ noon while walking to the tower during an electrical storm, he glanced at the lake just as a bolt of lightning hit the spar of a sailboat. The electricity shot back into the sky and arced over to the Cape Croker fog plant. As he watched, the bolt rolled down the metal roof and shot underneath. He charged into the building and grabbed the fire pump which he had kept hooked up for just such an emergency. By the time he had climbed the ladder, the attic was already smoking. But because of his quick actions, the fire was already extinguished when the Wiarton fire crew arrived.

Today only the tower and bungalow of the Cape Croker complex remain. The other buildings were destroyed by the Coast Guard including the fog plant which years earlier they had com­ mended John Adams for saving. Although Cape Croker is one of only three lighthouses on Georgian Bay that can still boast a Fresnel lens, and is in imminent danger of losing it.

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