The Lighthouses of Georgian Bay

Published by


This article offers the photographer a bit of history, along with basic tips on photographing a worthy subject:




Lighthouses, standing tall and proud, keep silent watch as they guide boats travelling the temperamental waters of Georgian Bay. Even with modern communications, advanced technology and improvements in boating, these majestic sentinels are still needed and are treasured more than ever. Tourists prioritize visits to them during vacations. Lighthouse décor and collectables are popular in homes. The intriguing histories of the Georgian Bay lighthouses only enhance their appeal. They have survived more than just time.

The lighthouses combined with blue Caribbean-type water, rocky shorelines, a mix of northern boreal and southern hardwood forests and the backdrop of the rugged Niagara Escarpment offer much inspiration to the photographer. Yet, a photograph can take on more meaning when there is awareness and appreciation for the subject’s past. From humble beginnings in the form of candles to today’s automated electrical beacons, the lighthouses have felt the rage of the bay and the suffering of the Canadian Coast Guard’s biddings.

Lion’s Head

By looking at the Lion’s Head Lighthouse you would never know it has had a long history of destruction and restoration. This small, simple building can be found at the marina in the town of Lion’s Head, which is located on Isthmus Bay (a part of Georgian Bay). Seen beyond the water is the east escarpment formation for which the town is named.

In the early 1900’s, a light was placed at the harbour many years after the sandbar blocking it was cleared away. A square tower was added years later. Within the following year, weather knocked the light down. It was replaced; however, a storm, a few years later, pushed the lighthouse into the harbour’s south beach. It was recovered and restored.

Twenty years later, the structure was damaged by fire. It was once again repaired. It stood peacefully for 30 years, until in the 1960’s, when the Coast Guard dismantled it and replaced it with an automated light on a metal post.

During the 1980’s, five high school students and their Project Design teacher built a replica of the dismantled structure. The white clapboard building sat honourably on shore. It did not function and did not replace the metal pole and flashing red light.

In 2000, the electrical wiring broke on the metal pole when it bent in a storm. The Canadian Coast Guard replaced the light with the student replica. It now stands peacefully surrounded by boulders, where people often sit to enjoy the scenery.

Cabot Head

It took a long time for the Cabot Head Lighthouse to come to its current peaceful existence. In the mid 1890’s, a light was established on the cliff overlooking the point of Cabot Head, at the end of a picturesque route along Georgian Bay. The beacon was originally in a square wooden tower that rose from the corner of a framed dwelling.

In the early 1970’s, the tower was taken down and a free-standing steel skeleton replaced the signal. By the late 1980’s, the beacon was left unmanned and abandoned by the Canadian Coast Guard. Cabot Head Lighthouse was left to deteriorate.

A group of concerned citizens formed The Friends of Cabot Head in the mid-1990’s. The non-profit group, with limited funds, used volunteer labour and expertise to reconstruct the building and add historical articles to the interior. Since the automated light runs from the steel skeleton, the light dome has been converted to an observation tower. Cabot Head is open to the public from May to Thanksgiving. Donations from visitors help with maintenance on the building and grounds.

A pathway leads to the nearby Wingfield Basin, which holds the remnants of the shipwreck Gargantua. The wreck is a refuge for wildlife. It’s on the other side of the basin; therefore, you may want to bring a long telephoto lens for pictures. Otherwise, it’s a lengthy strenuous hike to get closer to it.

Big Tub

For magical pictures, the morning sun lights up Big Tub Lighthouse and the surrounding boulders beautifully. The tower stands at the entrance of Big Tub Harbour and overlooks the span of dazzling blue water, where Lake Huron and Georgian Bay meet.

Originally a lantern hanging in a tree guided boats into the harbour to wait out storms. The lighthouse was built in 1885 in the same spot.

In 1913, a storm tore off over half the shingles. They were replaced and the light shone on. The Friends of the Fathom Five and the former St. Edmunds Township worked on clearing a walkway and viewing area for the walking public and the wheelchair bound.

Another storm in 1987 again washed away many shingles on the lighthouse, along with part of the walkway and parking area. The wooden 6-sided tower seen today eventually replaced the structure. Despite the beauty of the region, over 50 shipwrecks offshore have proven the danger. The wrecks have made it a well-known scuba divers’ destination.

The automated light in existence today continues to guide boats into the harbour through strong currents and reoccurring fogs.

Cape Croker

The automated beacon at Cape Croker was left unmanned in 1986. This lighthouse is located on a remote shore at the northern entrance to Colpoy’s Bay (a part of Georgian Bay) in the region of the Chippewas of Nawash. A pleasurable drive takes you through forests that soon disappear to reveal open flat land with the scenic escarpment in the background. There is a short jaunt through the community of Cape Croker, and then a dirt road runs through another forested area. Eventually, it opens up to reveal a panoramic view of Colpoy’s Bay, its rocky shore and the ever watchful lighthouse.

Now a freestanding octagonal-shaped tower, the beacon was once in a tower attached to a house. The beacon features a beautiful and rare Fresnel lens, which was imported from France and is one of only three in Canada. The structure isn’t open to the public, yet the brochures state it can be photographed. The chain-link fence surrounding it, however, makes it challenging to take interesting pictures. From the shoreline, though, bushes can hide the fence and add dimension to pictures.

The remote area of the Cape Croker Lighthouse generally offers a quiet and tranquil exploration. Fall is a visually rewarding time to visit; the colours of the foliage are stunning.


A normal to wide angle lens is appropriate for any general photography, such as the lighthouses and scenery. You may want a telephoto along for wildlife or distant subjects, such as the Gargantua. With all the photo opportunities, you’ll want to bring lots of film or loads of memory card space.

Lighthouse Tour

There are more lighthouses for exploration and picture possibilities beyond the few mentioned here. You can take the self-guided lighthouse tour. Most guidebooks and brochures of the area include the layout of the tour.

Don’t be surprised if you find that you can’t experience everything in one visit to the shorelines of Georgian Bay. The ever watchful lighthouses and surrounding countryside are just too spectacular and warrant more.

(c) Cheryl Smyth, 2008

Some of my pictures are scattered throughout both pages of my Travel and Outdoors - Ontario section.


Comments Off on The Lighthouses of Georgian Bay