A modest lighthouse and keeper’s cottage sit on the banks of Hamilton Harbour, unnoticed by the thousands of cars that cross on the bridge above it each day. The lighthouse was constructed in 1858 as a means for directing steamers along the Burlington Canal, a throughway connecting Hamilton Harbour (formerly Burlington Bay) with Lake Ontario. Before the Burlington Bay James N. Allan Skyway Bridge was erected in 1958 the lighthouse sat as a visible reminder of the past. Now, the bridge hides the building beneath it, and unless you take the less popular underpass (Eastport Drive) as a route on your journey, it sits largely forgotten.
George Thompson, a retired sailing master, was the first lighthouse keeper, serving until 1875. I had the pleasure of spending approximately thirty hours transcribing George Thompson’s journals (1858-1863) for the Burlington Museum. These diaries were significant because he meticulously described the weather, and his recordings have become important historical documents largely for this reason. Working with Thompson’s journals was a delight because he described a time and a place that feels foreign today. This area is now bustling with large residential neighbourhoods to the east and west, heavy industry to the north and voluminous traffic resulting from the Queen Elizabeth Way. In his writings, Thompson often spoke of walking across the Bay during the winter to reach Hamilton, and how he could hear bells ringing in downtown Hamilton while he lay in bed. The serene, simple environment that Thompson described was a strong contrast to the frenetic and noisy scene that greets one when standing at the lighthouse today.
Currently, the Beach Canal Lighthouse Group (BCLG) is working to get the lighthouse protected under the Lighthouse Protection Act (2008). This Act prevents the unauthorized alteration or disposition of designated lighthouses. Any alterations must be in keeping with the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada. Lastly, it facilitates sale or transfer to promote new uses for the lighthouses while ensuring their protection.[i] Once BCLG reaches an agreement with Fisheries and Oceans Canada to acquire the structure they can move ahead with the designation.[ii]
Beach Canal Lighthouse Group
Lighthouse Friends, Burlington Canal Main, ON.
A very interesting video entitled, Berwick and the Beach Canal, created by Sandy Thompson, great grandson of George Thompson and member of the BCLG.
[i] Parks Canada. “The Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act.” http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/progs/lhn-nhs/pp-hl/index.aspx (accessed January 12, 2016)
[ii] The Beach Canal Lighthouse Group. “News.” http://www.bclg.ca/news.htm (accessed January 12, 2016)