Description: James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin and Kincardine, was Governor-General of Canada from 1847 to 1854, and both Bruce County and the town of Kincardine are named in his honor. Kincardine was first known by the Indian name of Penetangore meaning "the river with the sand on one side," but the use of Kincardine, which better suited the English tongue, gradually supplanted the original name.
The first settlers arrived in Kincardine in 1848 and within a decade parallel piers had been constructed to straighten the last several meters of the serpentine Penetangore River and control its outflow into Lake Huron. During the subsequent decade, a basin near the mouth of the river was dredged, and the two piers were extended. The government established a light near the end of the north pier in 1874, and in 1881 a larger, more substantial lighthouse was built in the harbour.
This new Kincardine Lighthouse, which remains standing, consisted of an octagonal tower, with a row of windows facing each of the cardinal directions, perched atop a two-story keeper’s dwelling. Today, the main light can be aligned with a sector light at the end of the north pier to guide sailors into the harbor.
The need for a harbour and lighthouse at Kincardine was driven by two main industries. By 1866, there was a fleet of six fishing boats that sailed from the harbour each morning to set their nets many miles out in Lake Huron. Large deposits of salt at a depth of one thousand feet were discovered at Kincardine in 1868. Wells were sunk to bring a briny solution to the surface, and various means were then used to either boil or evaporate off the water leaving the valuable salt crystals. In 1875, two salt companies produced 187,000 barrels of salt, a good portion of which was exported to the United States.
William Kay, one of the first keepers of the Kincardine Lighthouse, wrote a letter to his superiors in 1885 offering to terrace and sod the grounds of the station, and “plant a few trees, until it would look like an oasis in this desert of sand; and somewhat more becoming the fine house.” In the same letter, Kay requested a fence to prevent his wood from being stolen and the laundry from getting dirty from boys running under the clothesline. To save expenses, Kay was asked if he couldn’t find time to build the fence himself. Perhaps a bit offended by the question, Kay responded, “…That is impossible, and in the summer, I can’t see where any light keeper could find time to build a fence, I have to sleep half the day – if it can be called a sleep when there is such a racket on the wharf and at the fish shanties every day – and then it takes the most of the afternoon to do my cleaning and get ready for the evening, some days I have an hour or two to spare, but to go and work hard out doors would be a very bad preparation for my long watch at night, it would be different if one had an assistance to take half the night watch, but as it is, I do not see my way clear to build a fence.”
The job of keeper was discontinued in 1977, and in 1980 the lighthouse was leased to the Kincardine Yacht Club, which uses the dwelling for a clubhouse and a small museum that is open to the public.
On clear summer evenings, a bagpiper can often be seen atop the Kincardine Lighthouse at dusk piping while the sun sets. This pageantry is in honor of the town’s Scottish heritage and to keep alive the Legend of Donald Sinclair. The story goes that in 1856 on a cold October day, a small ship left the Port of Goderich bound for Kincardine with Donald Sinclair and his immigrant Scottish family aboard.
As the ship approached Point Clark, the sky turned black and a strong breeze started to blow out of the west, churning up the waters of Lake Huron. Late afternoon turned to dusk, as the vessel slowly made its way north along the shore, and the captain began to fear that he would not make Kincardine before nightfall.
Concerned for his family, Donald Sinclair retired to the ship’s hold, prayed for safe passage, and then retrieved his bagpipes and started to play a lament. The heavy drone of the pipes along with their sharp melody drifted across the waters to Kincardine and prompted a fellow Scottishman to join in the lament. Hearing the second piper, the captain was certain he was nearing Kincardine and was able to safely follow the sound into the harbour. For many years after his family’s safe voyage, Donald Sinclair could be found at dusk at the harbour, where he would be piping down the sun in honor of the Phantom Piper would had saved his family.
In December of 2008, the Kincardine Lighthouse was designated a Heritage Building by the town council. This move was partly prompted by the outcry that occurred earlier in the year when vinyl siding and modern windows were added to the lighthouse.
Located in the harbour at Kincardine. The lighthouse is owned by the Town of Kincardine and managed by Kincardine Yacht Club. Grounds open, tower open in season.
The lighthouse is owned by the Town of Kincardine and managed by Kincardine Yacht Club. Grounds open, tower open in season.
Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.