The Keeper’s Cottage

The Keeper’s Cottage

In 1840 a lighthouse was erected because many ships floundered in and about Presqu’ile Harbour. It was the head light for a chain of guide lights into the sheltered water. The main lighthouse was referred to as the Big Light, made of solid limestone and octagonal in shape. It rose to a height of 67 feet and had five separate floors. A kerosene light was kept going at all times; its beacon could be seen for thirteen miles. One of the men who helped build this structure was William Breeze.

Presqu'ile Point Lighthouse in Brighton, Ontario

A stone house was built for the lighthouse keeper and a small stone building was put up to house the fog horn. The Presqui’le Lighthouse was kept throughout the years by various keepers. The lighthouse keeper’s cottage was originally a single storey. Later a second storey was added, and then removed when the Lighthouse Interpretive Centre was created. In 1894 there was a great concern about the deterioration of the limestone and a clapboard shell was built around the original building.

William J. Swetman Sr. was Presqu’ile’s first lighthouse keeper from 1840. The keeper’s residence was completed in 1846, leading to some discussion over where the first keeper,  and his family resided in the winters before the cottage was completed; they may have lived in a tent nearby, or inside the base of the lighthouse.

William Swetman was succeeded by his son-in-law who until 1858 officially held this position. He was still performing this duty as late as 1867 at a salary of $325 per year. The Swetman’s ran the lighthouse until the Dominion Government took over in 1874. His grandson followed in his footsteps as keeper of the light. Other keepers followed, often augmenting their meager income with apple growing and livestock rearing on the federal preserve acreage associated with the lighthouse.

Presqu’ile was a haven for squatters. In the late 1800’s the lighthouse keeper was given the additional responsibility of protecting the timber of Presqu’ile. Deforestation of the peninsula was jeopardizing the sheltered harbor provided by Presqu’ile Bay. In 1871, the Federal government granted land leases to nineteen squatters who agreed not to cut any timber. The lighthouse keeper, as the only government presence on Presqu’ile, was responsible for enforcing this agreement. It is in part due to the lighthouse keepers that many of the trees of Presqu’ile Provincial Park are still standing.

Presqu'ile Point Lighthouse in Brighton, Ontario

Other lighthouse keepers were:

Name From To
William H. Sherwood April 29, 1898 May 2, 1911
Hugh E. Smith May 3, 1911 May 3, 1912
Fred T. Cornwall May 4, 1912 October 1926

In the 1930’s the Big Light (the Presqu’ile Lighthouse) was electrified and reduced to ‘Harbour Light’, with a distance of five miles. A keeper was not retained, but the light was under the general supervision of the lightkeeper at Brighton, Mr. James H. Grimes. James’ sons, Harry and John Grimes, remember their father maintaining a string of six lighthouses along the nearby shore. They recall having to climb to the top of the Big Light in the middle of the night when there was no railing to hold.

In the early 1960’s the Park was instrumental in changing the lighthouse keeper’s residence into a museum and adding a new wing as a visitors’ center. They placed in front of the complex a plaque commemorating the loss of the Speedy, plus an ancient anchor. The Friends of Presqu’ile plan to continue these improvements.

The lighthouse keeper’s house next to the Big Light was sold to Mr. MacDonald, a gold prospector. He added a piece to the back and stayed for one year and the family did not enjoy the long winter in isolation. The following year the Park bought that house.

The keeper’s cottage still stands, and is part of the Lighthouse Interpretive Center, which provides information on the natural history of the region.

Presqu'ile Point Lighthouse in Brighton, Ontario

References:
Blog of Carlykb (Presqu’ile Provincial Park)
Friends of Presqu’ile (Presqu’ile Lighthouse and Fog Station)
Rudy and Alice (Presqu’ile Point Light)
Maritime History of the Great Lakes (The Lightkeeper’s House on Presqu’Ile Point)
Presqu’ile Book (Susan Bergeron and Bonnie Browne)