The Canadian Parliament provided funds for a lighthouse to mark the entrance to Rainy River from Lake of the Woods in 1884, and the light from a square wooden tower, with a height of thirty-three feet, was placed in operation at the opening of navigation in 1866.
Due to complaints from shipping interests, William P. Anderson, the chief engineer of the Department of Marine, made an inspection of the light at the mouth of Rainy River and of the buoy service in the area in September 1894. The lighthouse was found to be too far inland to help mariners enter the river, and the following summer, it was removed from its position on the mainland and placed atop a pile foundation at the southern extreme of Sable Island. In its new location, the light was 2 1/3 miles northeast of its original position. At the same time, a second light was established to form a pair of lights that created a range line for entering the river.
The lights at the mouth of Rainy River remained the only ones on Lake of the Woods until the Department of Marine erected lights on Ferris Island and Bishops Bay as described in its annual report for 1897:
To accommodate the very large increase in traffic on Lake of the Woods, induced by mining, lumbering and agricultural development, additional lights have been provided on the lake. One of these, erected on Ferris Island, off the extreme west point of Bigsby Island, was put in operation on the 16th September last. The lighthouse stands 75 feet back from the water’s edge, on the west end of the island, on a granite rock 14 feet above the ordinary level of the lake. It is a square wooden inclosed building, surmounted by a square wooden lantern, the whole painted white. Its height, from the sills to the vane on the lantern is 28 feet.
The light is a fixed white light elevated 36 feet above the water. It should be visible 11 miles from all points of approach by water. The illuminating apparatus is dioptric, of the seventh order.
The building was erected under contract by Mr. T. M. Harrington, of Keewatin, for the sum of $467.50. The total expenditure in connection with the erection of this light has been $525.37.
Two range lights were put in operation on the 17th October last, in Bishops Bay, to lead through the Bay, from Bishops Point to the small islands north-east of Royal Island, clear of shoals on each side of the channel. The front building stands on a small island lying about 200 feet north of the northeast extremity of Royal Island.
The lighthouse is a square wooden tower with sloping walls, surmounted by a square wooden lantern, the whole painted white. The height of the tower, from the ground to the vane on the lantern, is 20 feet.
The light is a fixed white light elevated 17 feet above the summer level of the lake, it should be visible live miles from all points of approach by water. The illuminating apparatus is dioptric of the seventh order.
The back range tower stands on the north shore of Royal Island, near its east end. It is a square wooden tower with sloping walls, surmounted by a wooden lantern, the whole painted white. It is S. 30° E. about 400 feet distant from the front range tower. The height of the building from the ground to the vane on the lantern is 28 feet.
The light is a fixed white light elevated 26 feet above water; it should be visible five miles in and over a small arc on each side of the line of range. The illuminating apparatus is catoptric.
These two buildings were erected by Mr. T. M. Harrington at a contract price of $639.50, the total expenditure in connection with their establishment being $747.37.
To these lights were added a lighthouse on Squaw Island, just south of the larger Oak and Birch Islands, in 1900, and a lighthouse on Tomahawk Island, just off McCauley Bay on the southeast end of Bigsby Island, in 1901.
J.N. Godin was hired as the first keeper of Bishop Bay Range Lights, but he only served on season. Most of the keepers of the range lights served only a couple of years. The exceptions were Charles Flett, who served from 1913 to 1923, and E. Boucha, who served from 1924 until at least 1937.
Numerous cylindrical masts mark islands and reefs in Lake of the Woods today, and have replaced all of the original square wooden towers built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. According to the annual Light List, the original wooden towers used for Bishop Bay Range Lights remained in used through 1962. The 1963 Light List indicates that masts set on concrete bases and having red-and-white rectangular daymarks had replaced the wooden towers. At the time of this change, the characteristic of the range lights was altered from fixed red to fixed white. In 2021, a cylindrical mast was showing a flashing white light with a period of four seconds from the small island off Royal Island that was home to the front range light.
Keepers: J.N. Godin (1898), P. O’Conner (1899 – 1904), George McPherson (1904 – 1908), F. Cutler (1908 – 1909), John S. Sutherland (1909 – 1910), Isaac Larkins (1910 – 1913), T. Flett (1913), Charles Flett (1913 – 1923), A. Boucha (1923 – 1924), E. Boucha (1924 – at least 1937).