Monday, October 1, 2007

High and dry

A different take on historical lighthouse preservation sits just down the road from the Point Abino lighthouse (see post below), near the gates to Long Point Provincial Park on the north shore of Lake Erie.

The Old Cut lighthouse today doesn't seem to mark much of anything. The wooden three-storey tower sits near no discernible shipping channel close to the base of Long Point, a natural sandspit that sticks forty kilometres out into Lake Erie from the Ontario mainland.

To see why there is a lighthouse here at all, one must look far back in time, over 170 years ago, to a dark night in 1833, when a fierce storm ripped a passage through here, allowing sailing vessels a quick route through, which saved them from having to sail a more onerous route all the way around the end of the point. The new channel was also safer, as the area around the tip is known to be difficult to navigate, strewn as it is with numerous hull-eating sandbars. (The Old Cut lighthouse is also not far from the place where Abigail Becker, the heroine of Long Point, singlehandedly saved eight men from the beached schooner Conductor in November 1854. To read more about her, click here.)

Still, the colonial government was caught a bit off guard by the sudden appearance of the new channel, and it took until 1879 to finally get the Old Cut light built and operational. And there it stood, easily visible on both sides of the point, guiding ships through the new-found shortcut until 1906, when, in another stormy night, the channel suddenly closed, disappearing for good and putting an end to Long Point's brief history as an island. The light, perhaps in hopes that the Cut might someday return, stayed lit for another ten years, until 1916, when it was finally extinguished. In 1918 the land was sold to private interests and the building was used mainly as a hunting camp, overlooking, as it does, a thick marsh that has since taken root where schooners laden with wood and stone once passed through on their way into the safety and shelter of Long Point Bay.

With the closing of the channel, it looked very much like the end for the mostly landlocked Old Cut light. It fell into considerable disrepair over the years, and by the mid-1990s was so dilapidated that it looked as though the Old Cut light might end up going the way of the shipping channel it once marked.

But the story of the Old Cut lighthouse, it turns out, is one with many endings. In 1998, a Toronto couple bought the old light and went about turning it into a summer home. To their great credit, during their renovations they brought in a professional architect who worked with them to preserve as much of the old wooden tower as possible (at no small expense to themselves, to be sure), and attach a small dwelling to the side. Inside it is said to be no less stunning, with the internal stairwell up to the lantern (which is now a non-functioning replica) reconstructed, and the furnishings done, where possible, with the fixtures that were left in the old building from its years of operation.

The result is what you see here: a well-preserved lighthouse that marks not a navigable channel, but a unique and long-forgotten period in Long Point's history.

And with no small amount of curb appeal, to boot.

(If you decide to go see the Old Cut light for yourself, please respect the owners' privacy by staying outside the fence along the road.)

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