|Southeast Shoal, ON|
Description: Bounded by Point Pelee on the north and Pelee Island to the south, Pelee Passage is the main thoroughfare for shipping transiting Lake Erie between the Welland Canal and the Detroit River. Lighthouses were established on Pelee Island in 1834 and off the tip of Point Pelee in 1861 to mark the passage, but two obstacles within the passage still troubled mariners: Southeast Shoal and Middle Ground.
On October 2, 1896, the Department of Marine used two buoys that displayed a light at a height of roughly eight feet to mark these hazards. A red buoy was moored “in 30 feet water, immediately south of the 20 foot patch at the south extremity of South-East shoal, 3 1/3 miles south-east by south 1/8 south from Pelée Point light,” while a black buoy was anchored in “30 feet water off the north-east point of the Middle Ground, west by south ½ south 3 ¼ miles from Pelée Point light.”
Your attention is especially called to the fact that the Canadian government has established two gas buoys at Point au Pelée Passage, which have given great satisfaction to vessel owners. The prompt response which the Canadian authorities made to the request of our American vessel owners for additional aids to navigation at this dangerous point on the Canadian side of the international boundary line where our Government was powerless to protect our vessels, deserves the thanks of the association. With a comparatively small tonnage on the great lakes and with a vast coast to light on the ocean and St. Lawrence river, where the Canadian marine interests are large, the Canadian authorities needed little urging to induce a prompt response to our request for assistance on Lake Erie. This was a gracious act not to be forgotten.
After Pointe Pelee Lighthouse, known as “The Dummy,” was destroyed by fire on April 17, 1900, there was pressure to rebuild offshore on either the Middle Ground or Southeast Shoal. The Middle Ground was chosen as the preferred site as it had a solid rock bottom, while the sandy bottom at Southeast Shoal was a shifting one. Construction of Pelee Passage Lighthouse on the Middle Ground commenced in 1901, and that July, the Lake Carriers’ Association moored a private lightship, the converted schooner Smith and Post, on Southeast Shoal. This vessel was destroyed by fire on August 7, 1901, forcing Keeper Thomas Wilson, his son Norval, and William Roach to flee for their lives. Fortunately, the lumber-laden vessel Codorus was nearby and picked up the men.
The wreckage of the burned lightship was blown up by dynamite late in August, and shortly thereafter the 107-foot-long, schooner-rigged, wooden-hulled steamer Kewaunee was brought in to serve as a lightship to mark the shoal. A fixed white light, produced by a cluster of three, fifth-order lens lanterns raised on a high mast, was exhibited for mariners, and a twenty-second blast from a wildcat steam whistle was sounded every two minutes in thick weather.
On December 8, 1909, the 254-foot-long steamer Clarion caught fire just west of Southeast Shoal Lightship during a gale. James Thompson, the first mate, went below decks to locate the source of the fire and was never seen again. The blaze spread rapidly, trapping Captain E.J. Bell and part of the crew forward in the wheelhouse, and the remainder aft with A. Welch, the chief engineer. Captain Bell and the twelve men with him launched a metal lifeboat in an attempt to reach the lightship, but all thirteen perished. The seven men aft tried to launch a wooden lifeboat, but one man and the boat were lost overboard in the attempt.
“There we were, with a roaring furnace beneath our feet and without a boat, even if one could live in such a sea,” Welch said. The steamer L.C. Hanna happened upon the burning freighter, and after three attempts, its captain was able to maneuver the vessel close enough so that the six men aboard the Clarion could jump aboard. The Hanna had arrived just in time as Welch later related, “The intense heat had driven us to about the limit of endurance when we were rescued.”
On June 5, 1910, a Canadian lightship replaced the Kewaunee on Southeast Shoal, and responsibility for the lightship shifted from the Lake Carriers’ Association to the Canadian government. This steel vessel displayed two fixed white lights from seventh-order lens lanterns that were hoisted on arms projecting from the foremast. To help mariners in limited visibility, the lightship was also equipped with a steam whistle and a submarine bell, which was tolled three times every fourteen seconds in this manner: three strokes at two-second intervals followed by ten-seconds of silence.
The U.S. Lighthouse Service published the following description of Southeast Shoal Lighthouse:
The new Canadian lighthouse on Southeast Shoal, western end of Lake Erie, established July 14, 1927, replacing the lightship which formerly marked the site, is located on the southern extremity of a sand and gravel shoal extending out from Point Pelee, for a distance of about 6 miles, with an average depth of water of 15 to 20 feet. Test boring were taken on the site for a depth of 40 to 42 feet below lake level and showed almost wholly fine sand well settled for that depth, above a stratum of gravel.The station’s radiobeacon was the first Canadian radiobeacon on the Great Lakes.
In 1943, seven-foot-wide black stripes were painted on the foundation of the lighthouse from the deck to the water line.
William A. Moore was hired as the first head keeper of the lighthouse, and he served until an accident occurred at the station on July 7, 1950. The tender Greenville was transferring 500 gallons of gasoline to the station, when the fuel exploded. The resulting fire gutted the lighthouse and severely burned Keeper Moore and Dowsley Kingston of the Greenville.
John Rice, second mate of the tender, was supervising the fuel transfer, which was accomplished by pumping compressed air into drums aboard the Greenville that forced the gasoline through an antistatic hose and into the lighthouse’s storage tank. Rice was called away to oversee the hoisting of a refrigerator from the Greenville to the lighthouse, and Louis Shaw, an assistant keeper, described what happened shortly thereafter. “All I heard was ‘Shut it off’ and then the explosion occurred. Jack Urquhart aboard the Greenville later reported what he witnessed. “I saw a flash come out of the door and Dowsley Kingston flew out of the door and fell between the lighthouse and the ship in the water.” Keeper Moore managed to escape through a second-story window and lowered himself down by rope, even though badly burned.
Moore and Dowsely were rushed to Leamington General Hospital, where they both died the following day. An inquiry into the cause of the fire placed the blame on the “laxity in discipline and supervision of the crew” and stated that presence of an electric motor so close to the gasoline tank was “inexecusable.”
Southeast Shoal Temporary Lighted Radiobeacon Buoy was established just south of Southeast Shoal Lighthouse while the station was rebuilt. The lighthouse was recommissioned in 1951 and then automated in 1974. A helicopter landing pad was built atop the lighthouse in 1976 to permit access to the station in inclement weather.
Head Keepers: William A. Moore (1927 – 1950).
Located near the southern end of Southeast Shoal, roughly 6.5 km (4 miles) from the tip of Point Pelee. The lighthouse is owned by the Canadian Coast Guard. Tower closed.
The lighthouse is owned by the Canadian Coast Guard. Tower closed.
Pictures on this page copyright JACLAY, Wilfried Kalinowski , Kraig Anderson, used by permission.