By John Francis
High water and autumn storms have done substantial damage at Lion’s Head Harbour. The lighthouse lost all the siding off one wall (see photos page 18) and beach stone was tossed up on shore and washed across the adjacent parking lot. The shoreline at the south end of Lion’s Head beach washed out, depositing a lot of grapefruit-sized rocks along the sand beach.
Lion’s Head Harbour — and many other shoreline areas on the Bruce Peninsula — are at the mercy of further storm events this fall and winter. Current water levels are within a few centimetres of the all-time highs set in 1985 and 1986. (Remember the great ice storm of January 1987?) The US Army Corps of Engineers water level models for Lake Huron suggest that high water may persist all winter and through 2020. Record water levels in 2020 are a distinct possibility (Google USACE water level forecasts to see their predictions).
The Municipality’s potential response to further rises in lake levels has been discussed at recent Council Meetings without a clear conclusion being reached. The response to the recent storm damage at Lion’s Head is more straightforward: MNBP will fix things.
The washout at the beach will be repaired; the storm sewer lines will be shortened and storm-proofed. The Lighthouse building is a municipal asset, although the light mechanism itself is maintained by the Coast Guard. The light mechanism was not damaged by the recent storm. Temporary repairs have been made to the damage on the building — it is boarded up and secure for the winter. Solutions to prevent further storm related damage to the lighthouse might involve moving the structure back approx. 30 feet from the edge of the breakwall.
Lion’s Head lighthouse has a long history. The original wooden structure was erected in 1911, not far from the current location. A storm promptly blew it off its footings. Moved back into place, it blinked undisturbed for more than half a century. The village tale says that one warm night in the summer of 1966, a group of men from the Coast Guard arrived and tore the lighthouse down at first light. When the village woke up, it was gone. The Coast Guard installed a metal tower in its place.
Fast-forward to 1977-78. BPDS shop teacher Brian Swanton taught a course for senior students called Project Design. In the fall term, every student had to propose a project that would benefit the community. The class would select favourite projects and break into teams to work on them. Each team would break their project down into steps and describe how each step could be accomplished, including the funding. By the end of the term, each team would build a model of their project. The winner that year was Brian Swanton jr; his project was to reconstruct Lion’s Head’s beloved wooden lighthouse. The fall class built a small model of the lighthouse. It fell to subsequent groups of students to actually build the full-size version over a period of two years. Brian Swanton’s notes from 1978 indicate that the winter-term class included Darren Shearer, Jim Govier, Ian Cameron, Phyllis Lozon (now Hayes) and Mary Dale Ashcroft.
They were remarkably successful, but there were challenges at every stage of the project. They had to get permission from the Village of Lion’s Head, the Niagara Escarpment Commission, the Dept of Fisheries and Oceans and the Coast Guard to install the lighthouse on the shoreline. It did not initially replace the mechanical light on the metal tower. The Coast Guard insisted it had to be a certain distance from their light so the new building was first installed well to the north, near where the picture frame sits today. At this stage, the building was a historical replica, the Coast Guard would not allow a light to be installed.
Harold Sutherland provided the concrete for the footing and Doug Hill volunteered to show the students how to build the forms and do the concrete work (“in a snowstorm, as I recollect,” says Brian Swanton). Taylor Telephone Company provided the crane to mount the (empty) light housing on top of the finished building.
The first $500 in funding was provided by Harold Forbes, Swanton explains, and the Rotary Club picked up the tab from there.
The lighthouse replica sat on its pad for 20 years until the mechanical light on its metal tower broke. The Coast Guard sent in a crane, moved the wooden lighthouse to its current position and designated it as the harbour’s “official” lighthouse.
The water level in Lake Huron was much lower in 2000 — well over a metre — and the current location seemed protected enough at the time.
Brian Swanton comments that you can still see the footings where the original 1911 lighthouse sat. In the recent storm, no shore stone reached it, which suggests it might be a good place to move the new building.