As most of you already are aware, Collingwood has a storied history much of it based on its geographic waterfront location. In 1986 we lost the shipyards, which was a unique landmark and a major contributor to the economic development of the town. Seemingly, we are getting closer to losing another important aspect of the Town’s water based history, the Nottawasaga Island lighthouse.
The Nottawasaga lighthouse was one of six “Imperial” lighthouses constructed in the latter part of the 1800’s. I travel past one of them regular in the summer on the way to my Manitoulin Island. The Cove Island lighthouse as shown in the photo to the right, is located north of Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula and marks the entrance to Georgian Bay from Lake Huron. You can readily see the similarity to this structure compared to our own Nottawasaga lighthouse. The Nottawasga lighthouse now decommissioned, is in grave disrepair with its stone facade crumbling and falling to the ground leaving the interior stone walls exposed to the weather and further deterioration.
Locally, a group that sees the value in maintaining this important historical landmark is attempting to drum up enough interest and support to save the Nottawasaga lighthouse thus serving to preserve Collingwood’s marine heritage.
As you might have already noted, as an avid boater I love spending time on the water so lighthouses have a special place in my heart. I am also fascinated by the history they represent. The lighthouse pictured to the right is one of two that marks the channel into South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island. It was first manned by my great grandfather so I also have a family connection with these unique structures.
During the last week of August, I took a trip from my cottage one day by boat, a 65 mile round trip out to Lonely Island which is remotely situated in the northern portion of Georgian Bay. Lonely Island is aptly named. Imagine living in total desolation on an island infested with Massssauga rattlesnakes. Apparently no one ever stayed there very long hence the name. There is no protected harbor on the island leaving the docking facility for supply and maintenance vessels totally exposed to winds, waves and ice. The Canadian Coast Guard eventually gave up trying to maintain a dock so the light situated high atop a hill is now accessed via helicopter. All that remains of the various lighthouse keepers’ days on Lonely are crumbling stone foundations belonging to what was once their residence and other outbuildings. My companion and I made our way ashore and with sticks in hand to beat off any rattlesnakes attempted to hike up to the light. With the path petering out, increasingly overgrown and with our attire consisting of shorts with bare feet in boating shoes, we thought the better of proceeding further. Better to return I thought dressed in long pants and hiking boots.
Lastly, the lighthouse to the right is another one I see regularly during my water bound travels on Manitoulin. It’s located in a somewhat remote location on the southern shore of Manitoulin in a place called Michaels Bay. Michaels Bay was a thriving community with a logging based economy until it was wiped out by a forest fire around the turn of the last century. Ships would arrive to load and transport the logs south to parts of southern Ontario and the U.S. and this lighthouse played an integral part in their safe passage. The lighthouse pictured herein is actually a replicate, built by volunteers one being my Uncle, at their own expense to commemorate its historical significance.
Not all of the lighthouses around Georgian Bay such as the Nottawasaga light here in Collingwood are in active duty. They nonetheless are worth saving. I commend those trying to drum up enough support to save the Nottawasaga lighthouse and I invite you to visit the Help Save the Nottawasaga Lighthouse Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/nottawasaga.lighthouse. A Volunteer signup and brief meeting will be held Sunday, Sept. 22nd at 9:30 am sharp at the Collingwood Legion 490 Ontario Street.