Digest>Archives> May 2009

One Man’s Quest To Build A Lighthouse

By Sue Clark


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Vintage image of the Government Dock, at Richards ...

Some people see things that are, and ask why. My brother Bobbie saw things that were not there, and asked, “Why not?” - Eulogy by Ted Kennedy for his brother.

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In a time when the Coast Guard in the United States and Canada are trying to shed their unmanned lighthouses to save money, there is at least one man who saw something that was not there, but should be. The Honorable Ray Stortini, a retired Justice of the Superior Court of Justice in Algoma, Canada, has sought for several years to build a lighthouse to replace a small navigational light sitting atop a warehouse.

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Volunteers at work in December 2008 pouring the ...

In the St. Mary’s River, near Sault Ste. Marie, lies St. Joseph Island. Richards Landing, a small burg on the island, has historically been a port. There was never a picturesque lighthouse here; instead there was a utilitarian navigational light atop the warehouse, which was a separate building from the wharf building itself. The old warehouse was where wool, produce and other items were stored while waiting for a ship to take them to their destinations.

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The Richards Landing Lighthouse getting close to ...
Photo by: Ray Stortini

This warehouse was still in existence into the mid 1940s. A stairway that ran up inside the left-hand side of the warehouse interior was used to service kerosene fired light. On 1950s charts it was referred to as the Richards Landing Marine Services Navigational Light.

The Coast Guard sent a vessel to remove the navigational light, which is now on a steel mast about twenty feet tall, topped with a green light. However, local protest led to enlisting the aid of two Members of Parliament, Mr. George Dixon from the Sault and Dr. Maurice Foster from Desbarats, to successfully prevent its dismantling. This was considered a major victory since the Canadian Coast Guard, in spite of similar protests, had previously dismantled the lighthouse in Lions Head on the Georgian Bay side of the Bruce Peninsula. However, since then, a group of students rebuilt the lighthouse with Coast Guard plans and specifications. Enter the Honorable Ray Stortini, who visited this impressive the students handiwork.

Because Stortini felt the current municipal marina is underused, thanks to a barrier to sailboats created by a bridge, he decided to build a lighthouse at his own expense at the site of the navigation light on the Richards Landing dock. He contacted the Coast Guard and got the necessary go-ahead for his project, funding it entirely out of his own money. Should be simple, right? Well, it’s taken him five years of negotiations with the township’s Mayor and Council, and ultimately involved a relocating of the planned site.

Because the former government wharf was being transferred to the Township of St. Joseph, the wise course was to obtain permission for the project from the Council. Before approaching them, Stortini sought the opinions of the local merchants, with the consensus being that a lighthouse would enhance the waterfront and create a boon to local tourism. The Council scheduled a public meeting after Stortini proposed the project. Even though no one showed up to object to the lighthouse project, the mayor and three council members objected, saying it would block the view.

“I assumed they meant the view of the bridge from the restaurant, so I visited the restaurant to verify this complaint.” “Not so,” said the restaurant owner, and a local resident, who both confirmed that a lighthouse would not obstruct views of the bridge. The Council then suggested that the lighthouse be constructed on the breakwater to the marina. However, Stortini felt the cost of this alternative was prohibitive, and it would not be in accordance with the navigational charts. The light could be confused with the marina entrance light. Stortini was told the Marina Committee had taken no position in this matter, however he later found out that the dock manager opposed the lighthouse on the grounds that it would block truck access to the dock and impair service to the freighters.

Even after visiting the site with the dock manager and chalk marking the perimeter of the base, showing there would be at least 29 feet between the lighthouse and the closest structure, the dock manager still said he was opposed, because a “Lighthouse isn’t necessary.”

While all this was going on, the Coast Guard transferred ownership of the wharf to the township. And then the Canadian Coast Guard felt it was preferable for Stortini to go back to the Council and have them reconsider their original stand. At this time Stortini told by the Council that they would not reconsider and would entertain no further discussion or correspondence in the matter. After researching the municipal laws, Stortini determined that the council was obliged by law to hear a delegation upon proper notice. By this time, he now had the backing of a majority of the citizens.

On the day of the hearing, Stortini a letter from the clerk stating that his notice was not filed in time and a delegation would not be heard. However, it was too late to let everyone know and at the time of the Council meeting, the council chamber was filled with so many supporters of the project, who carried with them petitions containing hundreds of names that Mayor Jody Wildman and the Council agreed to compromise, which led to the approval of the lighthouse to be constructed...

Finally, in December of 2008, construction was started on the new lighthouse. The lantern room is patterned after the famous lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, and the bottom is fashioned after a former lighthouse on Neebish Island in Michigan. At this writing, the lighthouse is almost completed and the old navigational mast will be removed and its optic placed in the tower. The public is invited to the official dedication, which will be held on May 30, 2009.

It has been a long road from the start, but thanks to one man’s quest, a new lighthouse will be beaming its bright light in time for the summer sailing season from its new post at Richards Landing on St. Joseph Island, Canada.

This story appeared in the May 2009 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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