|Goderich Breakwater, ON|
Description: The harbour at Goderich was originally just the mouth of the Menesetung (Maitland) River, but in the 1830s, the Canada Company constructed two stone-filled wooden piers to provide protection for the anchorage.
Goderich is the oldest Canadian light station on Lake Huron and first consisted of a pair of range lights established in the early 1830s. A contract for the erection of the current bluff-top lighthouse was entered into in 1845 and called for the tower to be completed by July 1, 1846. Thomas Mercer Jones, a powerful land magnate with the Canada Company, sold the needed parcel of land overlooking the harbour to Queen Victoria.
Adam MacVicar, a stone mason born in Edinburgh Scotland, worked on the construction of the Welland Canal after immigrating to Canada in the early 1800s. When that work was done, he relocated to Goderich and helped build the lighthouse in 1846. The square tower was constructed of evenly-coursed stone and features string courses between the first and second storey and just below the gallery. Though the tower stands just twenty feet tall to its lantern room, its light has a focal plane of 150 feet above Lake Huron. In November 1846, severe gales did considerable injury to the lantern. Some immediate repairs were made, and additional work was done when the lighting apparatus was placed in the lighthouse in 1847.
Hamilton Killay, a civil engineer, visited Goderich in 1847 to examine the state of its harbour on his return from surveying the Sault Ste. Marie. “With the exception of the Piers and Light-house constructed at Goderich, the entire extent of this coast is without a light, a harbor or shelter of any description,” Killaly reported. “The country backing the coast presents a tract of land, which, for extent, richness of soil, and capability for improvement, is not surpassed by any in the Province.” Killaly recommended that the piers in the harbour be repaired and extended, and that pier lights be erected. As for the new lighthouse, which he found to be well positioned, Killaly noted the following defects. “A heavy gale in November last, from the south west, affected the projecting cornice of the roof of the house so much as to render it necessary to have it at once attended to. The glass of the lanthorn is much too light, heavy crown glass should be substituted for it; five of its sides had been glazed, but in consequence of broken glass, but three were lighted when I was there, the remainder having been boarded up. In its then state the light showed sufficiently to the northward, but as it only shewed to about S. S. W. one more range of panes on the south side should be glazed.”
By 1867, two lights had been established on the north pier. Responsibility for these lights was transferred from the Department of Public Works to the Department of Marine in 1875, and George N. McDonald, keeper of the main light, was paid an extra $100 each year to look after the pier lights. An elevated walkway was added to the north pier in 1878 to help the keeper reach the piers lights in stormy weather.
An arrangement was made with the municipal authorities of Goderich to establish a steam fog whistle in the town’s waterworks building situated on the beach just south of the piers. This eight-inch whistle was placed in operation on November 10, 1888 and gave a ten-second blast each minute.
Work on the harbour’s outer breakwaters began in 1904 and necessitated the erection of a new back light, 254 feet north of the north pier, to form a proper range for avoiding these offshore obstructions. This light was initially just a lantern hoisted atop a mast, but in 1908, a three-section, skeletal, steel tower, which had a height of sixty-four feet, was erected in its place. In 1909, a reinforced concrete, gas-lighted beacon, with a height of fifteen feet, was established on the western end of the north breakwater.
In November 1913, two major storm fronts converged on the Great Lakes and created the deadliest and most destructive natural disaster to strike the region. Hurricane force winds whipped up thirty-five-foot-tall waves on Lake Huron that claimed eight freighters and their crew totaling nearly 200. One of the ships lost was the Wexford, which went down off Goderich with a load of grain. After bodies wearing lifejackets from the Wexford washed ashore at Goderich, an inquest was held to determine if more couldn’t have been done to help the ships in distress.
One of the points made at the inquest was that “no one felt any particular responsibility in the matter of blowing the foghorn…and on foggy or stormy days it was blown whenever anyone happened to think about it.” J.B. Kelly, chief engineer at the municipal power house, testified that the foghorn started to blow about 11 p.m. on February 9, but by that time, it was probably too late for the Wexford which was blinded by snowsqualls. The vessel’s whistle was apparently heard at Goderich, but nobody actually sighted the vessel. To help prevent similar tragedies, an electric compressed-air diaphone fog alarm was established at the western end of the northern breakwater in 1914. The lifesaving station on the south pier was responsible for operating the fog alarm, and the fog whistle atop the waterworks building was discontinued. The wreck of the Wexford was finally located in 2000.
As a result of the perceived inadequacy of the lights at Goderich during the “Big Blow” of 1913, the stone tower atop the hill was heightened five feet in 1914 and received a new lantern room, a “double-flash long-focus reflector” for the light, and a concrete deck, to replace the old stone deck. The keeper’s dwelling that was attached to the square tower was sold off and relocated to a private parcel just northeast of the tower, where it served as part of “Craigie Cottages.” The keeper’s dwelling was torn down in 1985, after having been purchased by a new owner in 1980.
A flashing red light was established atop a small, skeletal tower on the outer end of the south breakwater in 1945, the same year a radiobeacon was established at Goderich with call letters VBD. The present concrete tower on the southern breakwater was built in 1952 and equipped with a light and the diaphone fog alarm from the north breakwater.
To this day, the harbour continues to be vital to the Town of Goderich, providing the area's second largest employment base with representation of the mining, commercial fishing, storage, transportation, and recreational industries. In 2007, nearly 200 freighters called at the port to load their hulls with salt and grains. Sifto Salt operates the world's largest working salt mine, which extends for miles beneath Lake Huron at Goderich, while Goderich Elevators has a storage capacity of 2,000,000 bushels at the harbour. The two breakwater lights that mark the "Hole in the Wall" are essential navigational aids for the giant freighters that call at Goderich, especially when the westerlies are blowing.
Located at the end of the north breakwater in Goderich. The lighthouses are owned by the Canadian Coast Guard. Grounds/tower closed.
The lighthouses are owned by the Canadian Coast Guard. Grounds/tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.