Lighthouses of Northern Ontario

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Northern Ontario, with its vast lakes and intricate waterways, is a haven for those enchanted by lighthouses. These towering structures, often perched on rugged coastlines or isolated islands, have played a pivotal role in the region’s maritime history. From guiding ships safely through treacherous waters to serving as symbols of hope and resilience, lighthouses have become an integral part of Northern Ontario’s cultural and historical landscape.

A Brief History of Lighthouses in Northern Ontario

The establishment of lighthouses in Northern Ontario can be traced back to the 19th century when the region began to see a surge in maritime activities. As ships laden with goods and passengers traversed the vast waters of Lake Superior and other lakes, the need for navigational aids became paramount. Lighthouses were erected to guide these vessels, ensuring their safe passage and preventing maritime disasters.

Over the years, these lighthouses have witnessed countless tales of bravery, tragedy, and hope. From lighthouse keepers who braved storms to keep the lights burning to tales of shipwrecks and rescues, each lighthouse has its own unique story to tell.

Exploring the Lighthouses of Northern Ontario

  1. Janet Head Lighthouse: Situated in Gore Bay on Manitoulin Island, the Janet Head Lighthouse stands as a testament to the region’s maritime history. Constructed in 1879, it is the second-oldest standing lighthouse on the island. Over the years, it has served various purposes, from a store to an art gallery. Today, visitors can explore this historic structure and even witness its solar-powered LED light that illuminates the night.
  2. Little Current Lighthouse: A replica of the original Birdcage Lighthouse from 1866, the Little Current Lighthouse is an architectural marvel. Its unique design, reminiscent of a birdhouse, sets it apart from other lighthouses in the region. Although constructed in 2012, it pays homage to the maritime traditions of the past.
  3. Mississagi Lighthouse: Overlooking the rocky Mississagi Strait on Manitoulin Island, this lighthouse has been a beacon for ships for over a century. Today, it houses a museum showcasing artifacts and documents that provide insights into its rich history.
  4. South Baymouth Range Lighthouses: These twin lighthouses in South Baymouth are iconic structures that greet visitors arriving at Manitoulin Island. Erected in 1989, they may not be as old as some of their counterparts, but their significance in guiding ships to the island’s shores cannot be understated.
  5. Manitowaning Lighthouse: Towering at 34 feet, this lighthouse in Manitowaning is a recognized Federal Heritage Building. Completed in 1885, it continues to guide boats with its automated light. Its 19th-century architecture is a sight to behold, making it a popular spot for history enthusiasts and photographers alike.

The Modern Role of Lighthouses

While technological advancements have significantly reduced the traditional navigational role of lighthouses, they continue to play an important role in various other ways. Many lighthouses have been transformed into museums, offering visitors a fascinating glimpse into their storied pasts. These museums often showcase the history of the lighthouse, the surrounding area, and the maritime industry. Visitors can climb the tower, explore the keeper’s quarters, and learn about the significance of the lighthouse in the local community.

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In addition to their historical significance, lighthouses have also been repurposed into unique lodgings. Many lighthouses have been converted into bed and breakfasts, vacation rentals, or even luxury hotels. Guests can experience the unique charm of staying in a lighthouse, with the opportunity to climb the tower and take in the breathtaking views of the surrounding area. These lodgings often offer a peaceful and serene atmosphere, providing a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Furthermore, lighthouses have become popular tourist attractions in their own right. Their picturesque settings, combined with their historical significance, make them must-visit destinations for travelers exploring Northern Ontario. Visitors can take guided tours of the lighthouses, learn about their history, and enjoy the surrounding natural beauty. Many lighthouses also host special events and festivals throughout the year, such as the annual Lighthouse Festival in Thunder Bay, which attracts visitors from all over the world.

Moreover, lighthouses continue to play a vital role in maritime safety. Although modern technology has reduced the need for traditional lighthouses, they still serve as important aids to navigation. Many lighthouses have been equipped with modern lighting systems, which provide a visible signal to boats and ships. Additionally, lighthouses often serve as important landmarks for mariners, helping them to navigate the waters and avoid hazards.

Transportation to the Lighthouses

Planning a visit to the lighthouses in Northern Ontario? The best mode of transportation largely depends on the location of the lighthouse you’re interested in visiting. Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you decide:

By Car

Most lighthouses located on the mainland or larger islands, such as Manitoulin Island, are accessible by car. The roads leading to these lighthouses are typically well-maintained and well-marked, making it easy for visitors to find their way. If you’re planning to visit lighthouses in this area, you’ll have no problem reaching them with your own vehicle or a rental car.

Some popular lighthouses accessible by car include:

  • Thunder Bay Lighthouse
  • Sault Ste. Marie Lighthouse
  • Manitoulin Island Lighthouse

By Boat

For lighthouses located on smaller islands or those that are offshore, boat tours or private boat rentals are the best options. Many local tour operators offer trips to these lighthouses, providing visitors with not only transportation but also a guided experience. They’ll take you to the lighthouse, give you a brief history, and offer insights into the surrounding area.

Some popular lighthouses accessible by boat include:

  • Bruce Mines Lighthouse
  • St. Joseph Island Lighthouse
  • Michipicoten Island Lighthouse

By Foot:

Some lighthouses, especially those located in or near towns, can be reached by a short walk or hike. This mode is ideal for those looking to combine their lighthouse visit with a bit of nature exploration. You can enjoy the scenic views along the way and take your time to appreciate the surroundings.

Some popular lighthouses accessible by foot include:

  • Point Clark Lighthouse
  • Southampton Lighthouse
  • Tobermory Lighthouse

By Bicycle

In areas with bike-friendly paths, cycling can be a delightful way to reach a lighthouse, especially during the warmer months. You can enjoy the scenic views along the way, stop at local attractions, and take your time to appreciate the surroundings.

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Some popular lighthouses accessible by bicycle include:

  • Thunder Bay Lighthouse
  • Sault Ste. Marie Lighthouse
  • Manitoulin Island Lighthouse


Some lighthouses may require a combination of transportation modes. For example, you might need to take a boat to an island and then hike or bike to the lighthouse. These combinations add to the adventure of the journey and provide a more immersive experience.

Planning Your Visit

When planning a visit to the lighthouses in Northern Ontario, it’s always a good idea to check the specific transportation options available for the lighthouse you’re interested in. Some might require a combination of the above modes, adding to the adventure of the journey! Be sure to check for any updates on road conditions, boat tour schedules, or bike rentals before you head out. With a little planning, you’ll be able to enjoy a memorable and stress-free trip to the lighthouses in Northern Ontario.


The lighthouses of Northern Ontario are more than just navigational aids; they are symbols of the region’s rich maritime heritage. Each lighthouse, with its unique design and history, tells a story of a time gone by. As you explore these luminous beacons, you’ll be transported back in time, reliving the tales of bravery, adventure, and resilience that have shaped the region’s history. Whether you’re a history buff, an architecture enthusiast, or simply someone looking for breathtaking views, the lighthouses of Northern Ontario promise an experience like no other.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. Why were lighthouses built in Northern Ontario? Lighthouses were primarily built to guide ships safely through the vast waters of Northern Ontario, especially Lake Superior and other significant lakes. They served as navigational aids, preventing maritime disasters and ensuring the safe passage of vessels laden with goods and passengers.
  2. Can visitors enter and climb the lighthouses? Many lighthouses in Northern Ontario are open to the public, allowing visitors to explore their interiors and even climb to the top for panoramic views. However, it’s essential to check in advance as some might have restricted access or specific visiting hours.
  3. Are there any operational lighthouses left in Northern Ontario? Yes, while many lighthouses have been decommissioned due to advancements in navigation technology, some lighthouses in Northern Ontario are still operational. They continue to serve as beacons for ships, albeit with modernized equipment.
  4. What is the significance of the unique designs of some lighthouses? The design of a lighthouse often reflects the era in which it was built, the materials available, and the specific needs of the location. For instance, the Birdcage design of the Little Current Lighthouse is a nod to its historical predecessor and stands out due to its unique appearance.
  5. Are there any haunted lighthouses in Northern Ontario? As with many historical structures, there are tales and legends associated with some lighthouses. While there’s no concrete evidence, stories of haunted lighthouses add to the allure and mystery of these maritime beacons.