Description of Historic Place
The Port Burwell Lighthouse is an octagonal, tapered, wooden tower, measuring 13.7 metres in height, painted white and topped with a red lantern. It is located on a hill, on the west side of Robinson Street, in the Village of Port Burwell, overlooking the Port Burwell Harbour and the Big Otter Creek as it enters Lake Erie. Transferred from the Government of Canada to the former Village of Port Burwell (now part of the Municipality of Bayham) in 1965, it is now operated as part of the Port Burwell Marine Museum.
The lighthouse was recognized for its heritage value in 1985 by the former Village of Port Burwell (now part of the Municipality of Bayham) in By-law No. 85-29. A provincial plaque also commemorates the lighthouse.
The Port Burwell Lighthouse is a significant remnant of the national network of light stations equipped with beacon lights to warn or guide ships at sea in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Strongly associated with shipping and navigation on Lake Erie during that time period, the lighthouse is an important local landmark.
Constructed in 1840 as part of a series of lighthouses constructed along the Canadian shore of Lake Erie, the Port Burwell lighthouse is the oldest wooden lighthouse on this shore, and one of the oldest surviving wooden lighthouses in Canada. It is representative of wooden lighthouse design in the middle of the nineteenth century, when whale oil would have fuelled a catoptric (reflective) lighting apparatus. It also represents the evolution through time, of lighthouses, as improvements in lighting technology occurred. Modifications to the Port Burwell lighthouse equipment to allow the use of coal oil (a variation of kerosene) and later electricity, as well as the installation of a Fresnel dioptric lens around the turn of the century, represent this evolution.
The lighthouse was constructed as a navigational aid to guide marine traffic entering the Port Burwell Harbour, following the transfer of the harbour works from the Port Burwell Harbour Company to the Province of Upper Canada in 1840. At that time, the port played an important role in the shipping of local timber, harvested from the surrounding hinterland. It would continue to play a significant role in commercial shipping, fishing and ship-building well into the twentieth century. During much of this period the lighthouse was associated with the Sutherland family, who, with the exception of a three year period, tended the light for over 100 years between 1852 and 1962, when the light was taken out of service.
The Port Burwell lighthouse continues to be an important local landmark, welcoming visitors to the village and providing the community with a valuable historical link to its marine heritage. In 1986 dozens of local citizens and businesses contributed to its restoration, which was carried out by Mennonite craftsmen working with hand tools similar to those that would have been used in its original construction.
Sources: Former Village of Port Burwell (now Municipality of Bayham) By-law No. 85-29; Andraea, Christopher, 'Port Burwell Lighthouse', Ontario Heritage Foundation, 2002
Character-defining elements reflecting the heritage value include:
- the octagonal, tapered design
- framing of braced Douglas fir and pine timber
- clapboard cladding
- the staggered windows on four sides
- the octagonal wood lantern
- low pitched metal roof and ventilator
- the interior staircase with four landings
- the lighting apparatus inside the lantern, including the Fresnel lens
- its central location in the village on a hill overlooking the harbour and the Big Otter Creek
- views to the lighthouse from Lake Erie, the harbour, the west bank of Big Otter Creek and Robinson Street
- the stone and bronze markers that commemorate the restoration of the lighthouse in 1986, including a list of donors to the restoration fund