Public Works Manager Troy Cameron (in orange jacket) shows detailed maps to (from left) Councillor Jamie Mielhausen, Mayor Milt McIver, Councillor Smokey Golden, Councillor Megan Myles, Isthmus Bay Property Owners rep Patti Hellyer, Deputy Mayor Debbie Myles.
By John Francis

Upgrading a road sounds like a fairly simple concept. Upgrading Isthmus Bay Road (the shoreline road just north of Lion’s Head) is not simple at all — it’s a road superintendent’s nightmare.

Isthmus Bay Road has been there as long as the village of Lion’s Head. Before the channel was dredged, Lion’s Head harbour was not accessible to ships, so most settlers and freight were dropped off at a shoreline ledge near what is now Swan Lake Drain. (Thanks to Patti Warder Hellyer for the history lesson.) The trail from there to the village began as a cart track and evolved with little regard to surveyed road allowances.

In some places, the road veers from the road allowance. In others, houses and other facilities encroach on the road allowance. There are several areas which develop extensive pools of water, which then freeze to form dangerous areas of ice.

The road is also not nearly wide enough to accommodate the increasing vehicle traffic — it’s the scenic route into Lion’s Head — plus pedestrians, cyclists and Bruce Trail hikers.

Public Works Manager Troy Cameron shows surveyed east edge of road allowance (orange paint on pavement, shown by yellow arrow). At this location, most of the road is on private property, one of many problems the Isthmus Bay Road upgrade will fix.

Consulting Engineer Ross Slaughter and Public Works Manager Troy Cameron have worked on a lot-by-lot basis to plot the best way to upgrade the worst section of the road, from Swan Lake Drain to Constance Drive. MNBP held a Special Council Meeting on Jan 27 to give Council a chance to see the proposed solutions, lot by lot, on the ground. The proposed improvements have been planned metre by metre to maximize safety and convenience while minimizing the impact on adjacent landowners. 

Widening the road and shifting it onto the road allowance would steepen many driveways on the western side of the road. Public Works Manager Cameron showed how this impact can be mitigated in most areas by simply raising the roadbed. Instead of a ditch, the west (uphill) side of the road will have a covered drainage channel with regular culverts under the road. The paved area will be 6.5m wide, up from the current 5.5m.

The regular afternoon Council Meeting on Jan 27 began with a delegation by Ron Wheeler and Will Meneray of the Friends of Cabot Head (FOCH), the organization that has managed the historic site at Cabot Head since 1994.

FOCH has traditionally run a museum and gift store at the lightstation to fund their preservation activities. The facility was closed for three summers (1917-19) for remediation of lead and mercury contamination. This left FOCH without an income stream to fund its activities and store its artifacts, which has left the organization in dire straits. FOCH has new board members and a reinforced volunteer base but the future will still be a challenge.

A number of factors add to that challenge. The federal remediation program has left a number of problems in the interior of the buildings. The rising water levels on Georgian Bay have nearly washed out the access road (see photo) and the hydro lines are down. Those hydro lines pass through several kilometres of forest on private property. Ron Wheeler pointed out that an off-grid power system would be prohibitively expensive. Mayor Milt McIver noted that fixing the hydro corridor may also be prohibitively expensive.

The potential for FOCH engaging in partnerships with non-profit or for-profit organizations was discussed at length. Potential partners include Explorer’s Tread guiding, Fathom Paddle Guiding, Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association and Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory. Residents of Dyers Bay have long objected to the added traffic on the narrow winding road through their village. Also being discussed is the possibility of a private contractor operating a shuttle bus to the lightstation from the municipal parking lot on the south side of the village.

Photo Credit: FOCH Photo: The road to Cabot Head was almost washed out in November. Who knows what it will look like in spring?

A CAO Report on Cabot Head is scheduled for presentation at Council’s Feb 10 Meeting.

The January 27 Council Meeting also featured an extended discussion of the future of Lion’s Head lighthouse.

Brian Swanton and Doug Hill, both of whom were involved in building the replica that was destroyed last month, have volunteered to act as advisors for the 2020 rebuild. Both were in attendance at the meeting. They propose (see article, pg 3) a more robust lighthouse, based on the original 1911 plans but with a foundation four feet high and stone siding six inches thick.

Council had many questions for Hill and Swanton, as well as for Community Services Manager Ryan Deska who will be the municipality’s person in charge. 

“Can the public enter?” asked Councillor Smokey Golden. “No,” said Doug Hill. “That door is for the guy who changes the lightbulb.”

Councillor Megan Myles applauded the enthusiastic response from the community but suggested that the rebuild be delayed so as to allow public input. She stressed that some sort of process was needed to give people the opportunity to make sure the rebuilt lighthouse looks appropriate. Mayor McIver asked Community Services Manager Deska about public response and input. Deska explained that this is a great community building exercise. They have asked for people to share stories about the light; they have had some good ones. There have also been some donations, totalling $1,575 (as of Jan 27) so far. Doug Hill stated that he has had two offers of assistance for the construction process and noted that the proposal called for the stone siding to be painted lighthouse white.

Councillor Smokey Golden did not like the idea of delaying the project for extended public input. “They’ll fall in love with it,” just the same as last time. Councillor Myles continued to argue in favour of a delay for public consultation, because Lion’s Head light “has generated a lot of community interest”. “Then where are they?” asked Councillor Jamie Mielhausen, pointing to the nearly-empty public gallery.

No firm decision was reached. It was noted that the plans will need to be approved by the Coast Guard and this could cause a delay.