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Gore Bay (Janet Head), ON  Lighthouse accessible by car and a short, easy walk.   

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Gore Bay (Janet Head) Lighthouse

Lieutenant Wolsey Bayfield surveyed Lake Huron from the ship Recovery between 1817 and 1822 and named several features along Manitoulin Island after members of his family: Helen Bay, Elizabeth Bay, Julia Bay, Lake Wolsey, and Janet Head.

Janet Head, which was named after Bayfield’s daughter, is a prominent feature on Manitoulin Island’s northern shore and helps form the protected anchorage of Gore Bay. Parliament appropriated $2,000 in 1878 for a lighthouse on Janet Head, and a $1,890 contract for its construction was awarded to Richard Whiteacre, with the condition that it be completed by August 15, 1879.

Gore Bay Lighthouse with some of its occupants
Photograph courtesy Library and Archives Canada
The second oldest standing lighthouse on Manitoulin Island, Janet Head Lighthouse was constructed in 1879 by Mr. Carmichael and Mr. Jones, a local mason, and placed in operation on October 15 of that year. The white square tapered tower stands twelve metres (forty feet) high with a two-story keeper’s dwelling attached. The octagonal red lantern room held a light designed to be visible for 18 km (11 miles). The original light was fixed white catoptric but later became seventh-order dioptric. A hand cranked fog horn was added to the station in 1888.

Robert Boyter, the first keeper, was born in Kilrenny, Fife, Scotland in October 1835, and emigrated to Thornbury, Ontario around 1868. In his quarterly report of June 30, 1885, he relates the following tragic tale:

I am sorry to say any remarks this time are of a very melancholy nature. My wife and eldest son left here on the 11th (of April) to go to his farm on the North shore with a yoke of oxen but owing to the depth of snow and water on the ice the oxen tired and they had to stay on Dart Island all night and did not reach Spanish river Mills until one oclock next day. She was so badly chilled and frozen that she died on 19th, the boy is still living but if he gets over it will be crippled for life.
Learning of the death of his wife and the condition of his son, Boyter hired George Thorne of Gore Bay, with his team of horses, to take him to Spanish. Making the crossing with them was a Mr. Lewis and two young girls, Mary Baxter, age eleven, and Nellie O’Shea, daughter of the hotel keeper at Spanish. They started their journey on a clear day, but before long a severe blizzard blew up, making it difficult for the men to see the line of trees that marked the route across the ice. The group was forced to spend the night on the ice, suffering from the cold. When the horses refused to travel the next day, Boyter and Thorne set out on foot to get help and met a search party, who continued on to the stranded group. Mary Baxter had died by the time party reached them, and Nellie O’shea later lost part of a foot to the frostbite.

Gore Bay Lighthouse with lean-to addition
Photograph courtesy Library and Archives Canada
Boyter was held accountable for the tragedy and the death of Mary Baxter, resulting in a number of court hearings, all of which weighed heavy on him, having just lost his wife.

Keeper Boyter later remarried but came to his own tragic end. After spending the day in town on business in 1895, he got into his boat and hoisted sail, but overbalanced, fell in, and drowned in the bay.

Janet Head Lighthouse is currently owned by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and is leased to the Municipality of Gordon/Barrie Island. The lighthouse served as a summer residence for the Fletcher family from 1967, when Stephen and Muriel took out a lease on the property, until the lease was awarded to Janet Head Campground in 1999. After the campground closed, the Fletcher family returned in 2005 and continued to use the lighthouse as a vacation home in return for maintaining the structure and letting the public tour it on select days .

On September 7, 1979, Stephen Fletcher was preparing to wallpaper one of the rooms when he discovered the following letter that had been written on Department of Transport letterhead by Keeper George Thorburn in 1941 and placed in a stovepipe hole:

I am papering this room today July 16 finished N.W. room yesterday. The Russians & Germans are in a big battle, Germans trying to capture Moscow. The British RAF are bombing Germany and German held countries hard causing heavy damage.

I am just curious to know how long it will be when someone repapers these rooms.

George A. Thorburn

July 20/1953

I am papering this room again North East room downstairs. 12 years since I papered it before, and we are heading for another war with Russia. The United Nations are fighting in Korea now trying for nearly three years to get a settlement.

I won’t be looking after light much longer. Dominion Election on August 10th this year and I may lose my job. I am not feeling too good. Very hot weather and my heart is troubling me.

George A. Thorburn

Keeper Thorburn did not lose his job, but continued as lightkeeper until 1955, when the light was automated. He stayed on after that as caretaker.

In 2016, the DFO announced that they could no longer lease the lighthouse as possible safety concerns had been found in the structure. After the DFO restored the foundation of the lighthouse and lighting, a student was hired in 2019 to work at the lighthouse and open it to the public. While there is no charge to visit the lighthouse, donations are encouraged to help with maintenance.

The Coast Guard continues to maintain the light, which is currently an occulting, solar-powered L.E.D. light that runs twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, flashing three seconds on and two seconds off.

Information on Gore Bay Lighthouse
History Light Characteristics Focal Height Nominal Range Description/Height of tower above ground
Lighthouse built in 1879. White light. 3 seconds on, 2 seconds off. 15.0 m. 6 M White, square tower with attached dwelling. 10.6 m.

Head Keepers: Robert Boyter (1879 – 1895), James Kinney (1895 – 1903), Captain Angus Matheson (1903 – 1913), Robert Lewis (1913 – 1935), William Johnson (1935 – 1936), George Thorburn (1936 – 1955).


  1. Alone in the Night, Lighthouses of Georgian Bay, Manitoulin Island and the North Channel, 2003.
  2. Exploring Manitoulin, Shelley J. Pearen, 2001.
  3. “Historic Janet Head Lighthouse to reopen to public this summer,” Tom Sasvari, Manitoulin Expositor, June 14, 2019.

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