Lighthouse Story

“History of Lion’s Head Lighthouse”

With a potentially excellent harbour at their doorstep, why were the inhabitants of Lion’s Head having to rely on the flat rock at Whip-poor-will Bay as their supply depot? It was an impossible situation for a developing community and so pressure was put upon the government to dredge a channel. In 1883, the sandbar which had effectively blocked the harbour for years was cleared away and a thirteen-foot deep channel allowed ships to make their way into the dock.

 In 1903 a light was established on the outer end of the breakwater at the north entrance to the harbour. It consisted of a square lantern with a red catoptric light hoisted on a pole fifteen feet high. The light, which could be seen from six miles out, cost $197.16 to complete. Charles Knapp, a former shoemaker, was appointed the first keeper. By 1909, Lion’s Head had grown into a feisty lumber village, with sawmills lining the north and west shores of the harbour. The dock was extended, and in 1911 a square tapered lighttower was added at the end of the pier. In less than a year it was knocked down by high winds and pounding waves.

No sooner was the lighthouse restored than the infamous Great Storm of November 9, 1913 struck. That Sunday would be remembered as the blackest day in Great Lakes marine history. For days the gales had raged but a lull on the 9th lured many ships back into open waters. The ships could not afford to sit in port for long as the end of the navigating season was fast approaching. Then, without warning, it hit.  Hurricane-force winds grew up to ninety miles an hour and thunderous waves exceeded 35 feet. To make matters worse, the winds changed direction with frightening rapidity, often blowing a different direction from the waves. This combination of forces twisted and strained the hulls of even the most massive steel vessels.

Within a few days, the devastation became clear. Eight ships had gone down on Lake Huron and two on Lake Superior. Bodies washed up on Lake Huron’s east shore, three and four at a time. The final count was an appalling 248 lives lost. No one remains to tell of the ships’ fates, yet the storm left many questions unanswered. Why, for example, did the chief engineer of the Charles S. Price wash ashore wearing a life jacket marked the Regina, when the two ships were eventually found in different parts of Lake Huron? And why was the Price, .a newly built steel freighter, found turned turtle in southern Lake Huron? The ship was supposed to be unsinkable.

In Lion’s Head, the vicious storm had destroyed part of the dock and driven the light­ house onto the harbour’s south beach.  It was recovered and restored to its mountings. In 1919, the structure was prudently moved back from the end of the wharf.  Sometime in the 30s, a concrete deck was poured over the timber crib and the lighthouse securely anchored, but that could not protect the tower from a fire that ravaged it in 1933. Repaired yet again, the tenacious lighthouse stood proudly on the pier for years – a community landmark second in popularity only to the great cliff face with its profile of a recumbent lion.

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