Digest>Archives> October 2009

The Rebirth Of Michael's Point Lighthouse

By Wayne Sapulski


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At just over 80 miles in length and 30 miles at its widest point, Manitoulin Island is the largest island on the Great Lakes. In fact, it is the largest island surrounded by freshwater in the world. Part of Ontario, Canada, the island straddles the northern portion of Lake Huron, effectively separating the main body of the lake to its south and west from Georgian Bay to its east. The island creates a significant portion of the North Channel between itself and the Canadian mainland to the north. Manitoulin Island remains largely agricultural in nature. Year-round motor vehicle access to the island is via a one-lane swing bridge dating from 1913 that crosses the North Channel at the town of Little Current. From late spring to early October a daily passenger/vehicle ferry, the Chi Cheemaun (Ojibwa for “Big Canoe”), travels between Tobermory at the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula and South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island. The scenic passage takes just over 90 minutes to complete each way.

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The lighthouse in July 2006, before it was ...

Michael’s Bay is located approximately seven miles west of South Baymouth along Manitoulin’s southern shore. It was there in 1866 that businessman Robert A. Lyon obtained a license to timber 22 square miles of Tehkummah Township. By 1868, the Michael’s Bay Timber Company was up and running, supporting a small but thriving village that became one of the island’s first permanent non-native settlements. Originally known as “Stumptown”, Michael’s Bay became a port of entry for Manitoulin homesteaders. The Timber Company shipped wood products to the United States and southern Ontario by water. Schooners and small steamers called lumber hookers entered the otherwise wide mouth of Michael’s Bay via a narrow gap at its southeastern corner. To sail farther west presented the risk of striking the long, treacherous, and unmarked shoal known as Advance Reef.

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As an aid to vessel traffic, the timber company and the Department of Marine and Fisheries constructed Michael’s Point Lighthouse on the mainland side of the gap in 1870. It was the second light station on Manitoulin after the range lights at Little Current (1866) and the only one on the southern shore. Few details regarding the lighthouse have survived. Old light lists indicate a simple catoptric, fixed-white light was displayed from a wooden tower approximately 25 feet high. The shape of the tower is not mentioned. Original blueprints, once housed at an archive in Ottawa, were destroyed by a fire there decades ago. No photographs of the lighthouse are known to exist.

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Ron Anstice shows off his contruction scrapbook.

Despite the appearance of prosperity, mismanagement caused the Michael’s Bay Timber Company to go bankrupt in 1888. With its main industry in receivership, the village began a long decline and the lighthouse was taken out of service in 1899. It was relit in 1901 and remained in service until 1909, when it was permanently discontinued. Much of the village was destroyed by fire in 1910. In the decades that followed, the site of the old village was reclaimed by nature. Today, Michael’s Bay holds the distinction of being Manitoulin’s only official ghost town. As luck would have it, the fire of 1910 missed the lighthouse completely. Located over a mile from the village at the entrance to the bay, it escaped the flames. Time and neglect, however, took their inevitable toll on the abandoned structure. It finally toppled over in 1947 nearly forgotten, except for the latent memories of a local farmer.

Ron Anstice, 78, and his family of nearby Tehkummah own and operate one of six remaining dairy farms on Manitoulin Island. In a case of high-tech meets the hinterland, appearances on the Anstice farm can be deceiving. Although many of the buildings on the farm are well over 100 years old, those housing the dairy cows and the milking equipment are modern, computerized, and state-of-the-art. Back in 1937, Ron’s father purchased five lots adjacent to the lighthouse property. As a young man, Ron explored the overgrown site of the former village and the lots his father owned. He remembered seeing the ruined lighthouse leaning badly, about to topple. The notion to rebuild the lighthouse came in a meeting over the kitchen table with neighbor Ron Hierons, himself a farmer and a retired building contractor. In talking about the history of the former village at Michael’s Bay, Mr. Anstice recalled his memories of the lighthouse there. The two men decided that an accurate replica of the lighthouse would provide a tangible link to the area’s past.

Although memory helped guide the reconstruction, the lack of photographs or original plans was a hindrance. Forensic evidence was needed and found using metal detectors at the site of the original light, the very spot where the new light was to be placed. Old bolt patterns in the rock suggested the original light was octagonal in shape. Most importantly, a portion of the lantern room’s cast-iron framework was found, which itself appeared to have been octagonal in shape. Mr. Heirons transported the original frames to a trusted foundry in southern Ontario, where they served as a template from which an accurate replica of the lantern room frame was constructed. The old iron-work was incorporated into the replica. The concave tin roof of the lantern room was cut, shaped, and soldered by the two farmers and the glass for the storm panes was donated. In a bit of reverse engineering, the dimensions of the new lantern room were used by the farmers to calculate the height and shape of the rest of the lighthouse.

Slowly, the new lighthouse began to take shape in the yard of the Anstice farm, where it looked quite out of place. Most of the work was accomplished during the winter months as summer is the busiest time of the year on a working farm. The body of the lighthouse was built in eight vertical sections held together with bolts. The sections were dismantled and transported one at a time in an open aluminum boat to the build site in the Fall of 2005. There they were literally manhandled up onto the rocks and into position for reassembly. The reassembled body was then covered in clapboard siding made from Cedar cut and milled on the Anstice farm, but left unpainted over the ensuing winter so as to be able to dry out. The final coat of white paint was applied on July 19, 2006. Ron Anstice and Ron Hierons were assisted greatly by neighbors Reg Leeson, Chris Hess, Cliff Morrison, and Andre Probst. Of course, as the project gained momentum, many more people got involved and contributed to its completion, which took three years altogether. The lighthouse was built entirely with private funds and donated materials. The rebuild is documented in a detailed scrapbook Mr. Anstice compiled as the work progressed.

The new Michael’s Point Light is octagonal in shape, nine and one-half feet in diameter at the base, and stands just over 19 feet tall overall. Putting a light in the lighthouse was almost an afterthought. There was never any intention to operate the new lighthouse as a private aid to navigation, so the Canadian Coast Guard stipulated that any light displayed was not to be visible from the shipping lanes. To that end, the lantern room houses a small solar panel that powers six pairs of small LEDs (light emitting diodes). First lit on July 18, 2006, the light produced is no brighter than an ordinary porch light and is directed back towards the mainland.

Not forgotten in the reconstruction effort are the five keepers who once served at Michael’s Point. A small bronze plaque (donated at a cost of $708 CND) bolted onto the rock at the base of the lighthouse pays tribute to John Willson Chisholm (1878-1883), Enos Lundy (1884-1899), H.R. Bowerman (1901-1902), Edward Martin (1902-1906), and Alexander Murray Chisholm (1906-1909). The new Michael’s Point Light was officially dedicated on August 23, 2006.

Status: New replica. Not open to the public.

Access: Boat.

This story appeared in the October 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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