GORDON-BARRIE ISLAND – The historic Janet Head Lighthouse will be opened up to the public this year after having been closed to visitor traffic the past couple of years.
“The (Janet Head) lighthouse will be open this summer,” Marian Hester, a Gordon/Barrie Island councillor told the Recorder last week. “The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) owns the lighthouse and it is leased to Gordon/Barrie Island.”
Two years ago, DFO initiated a restoration project of the facility, which included restoration of the foundation of the building and lighting.
“We are in a contract with them (DFO),” said Ms. Hester. She explained as part of that contract the Janet Head Lighthouse, “must be used for recreation, tourism and attraction purposes.”
As well as funding being provided for the restoration project, “there was also funding provided for a student to work at the lighthouse this summer,” said Ms. Hester. She pointed out Austin Purvis has been hired and the Lighthouse will be open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays from 12 to 4 pm during the months of July and August. The public is welcome to visit the lighthouse during those hours.
There is no cost to visiting and entering the lighthouse, however, “we are strongly encouraging donations from members of the public to help out with the future operations and work being carried on at the lighthouse.”
When the lighthouse is not open this summer, “the rest of the time, Austin, myself, council and the municipal staff will be working on the property, painting and landscaping. It is still a work in progress,” said Ms. Hester, “so members of the public may run into empty rooms this year, for instance. We want to welcome the public to visit the lighthouse this summer, maybe have a picnic and a swim while they are there as well.”
The Janet Head Lighthouse has official Heritage Building status. Ms. Hester noted as well, “the Lighthouse will turn 140 years old this year. On October 15, 1879, the light was first turned on. I think it would be nice if we had a celebration around this, in the fall. This is something council considering,” said Ms. Hester.
Beginning in the mid-1800s, the government of Canada built several lighthouses along the North Channel to improve the safety of navigation for the growing shipping traffic. The Janet Head Light, built in 1879, could be seen for 18 kilometres (11 miles) out in the lake.
The Janet Head lighthouse is an example of the classic Georgian Bay lighthouse in which the keeper’s home is part of the lighthouse. Others of the same design were built at Mississagi Strait at the west end of Manitoulin, and on Strawberry Island near Little Current.
As well as guiding boats during the shipping season, the Janet Head Light also directed sleighs carrying the mail along an ice highway that ran from Gore Bay to Spanish between 1910 and 1924. Snowmobiles still follow this historic 35 kilometre route to the North Shore.
The Janet Head Lighthouse had been a private summer home for the Fletcher family. Four generations of Fletchers cared for the property and welcomed visitors inside the lighthouse.