Visit Ontario’s historic lighthouses
Prior to railways and roads, Ontario’s lakes and rivers served as the first highways, transporting people, goods and lumber. Coastal lighthouses were constructed and maintained, often in remote places and lonely conditions, to guide ships as they navigated rocky shorelines and rough weather.
From the Great Lakes to heritage waterways, visit, photograph and learn about Ontario’s famous lighthouses.
Lake Huron and Georgian Bay
The rugged, rocky shores of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay are home to the largest collection of lighthouses in Ontario.
In the mid-19th century, fishing and forestry prospects led to a strong shipping industry as the main means of transport. These shipping routes soon gained the reputation as some of Ontario’s most storied waters due to early marine disasters around the shoals and islands—prompting the urgent need for navigation aids.
Beginning in 1855, six “Imperial Tower Lighthouses” were constructed at Nottawasaga Island, Christian Island, Cove Island, Griffith Island, Chantry Island and Point Clark, with more to follow.
Notable lighthouses on Lake Huron and Georgian Bay include:
Keeping watch over the Goderich Harbour, this historic landmark stands as the oldest Canadian lighthouse station on the Lake Huron shoreline.
The square, stone tower was built in 1847 on the elevated bluff of what is today called Lighthouse Park, allowing its light to shine over 45 metres above the water’s surface below.
Nearby: The town of Goderich is home to a wealth of historic sites, including Huron County Museum and Historic Gaol and the Courthouse Square.
Location: 1 Harbour Lane, Goderich
Constructed between 1855 and 1859, this 12-sided, stone tower stands at 24 metres tall. Daily tours are available in the summer so you can climb the 114 steps to the top.
The lightkeeper’s house museum provides insight into what life was like for a 19th century lighthouse keeper.
Nearby: Several inviting beaches are located nearby, including Lurgan, Point Clark, Bruce and Kincardine Beach.
Location: 529 Lighthouse Road, Goderich
The eight-sided Kincardine Lighthouse was constructed in 1881, with the unique design of stacking the 24-metre-tall light tower above the light keeper’s dwelling.
The lighthouse overlooks the mouth of the Penetangore River in downtown Kincardine and operated on oil until 1925 when the light was converted to electricity.
Today, the facility is maintained by the Kincardine Yacht Club, with a small, seasonal museum run in the lighthouse keeper’s level.
Nearby: Spend some time in the town of Kincardine, home to the annual summer Kincardine Scottish Festival and Highland Games and Grey Matter Beer Company whose Aid to Navigational malt beer is brewed with a nod to the lighthouse.
Location: 236 Harbour Street, Kincardine
Just a kilometre out from the Southampton shore, Chantry Island served as the location for a northern sister lighthouse to Point Clark. The 18-metre tall light station tower and keeper’s cottage were constructed in 1859.
Boat trips to the island and guided tours of the lighthouse are available from Southampton. Chantry Island is also a significant nesting spot for migratory birds and a bucket list destination for birders.
Nearby: Visit the marine exhibit at the Bruce County Museum and Cultural Centre.
Location: Chantry Island
First lit in 1885, Big Tub is an iconic lighthouse that remains an active beacon guiding vessels in and out of the Tobermory harbour.
The six-sided, 14-metre wooden structure stands at the mouth of the harbour overlooking the famous shipwrecks, rocky shoreline and crystal clear waters of Fathom Five National Marine Park.
Nearby: Take a boat tour to Flowerpot Island to view the operational Flowerpot Lightstation. One of the oldest buildings in town, the Tobermory Princess Hotel overlooks the Little Tub Harbour and Georgian Bay. Enjoy fish tacos at The Fish & Chip Place and locally inspired brews at Tobermory Brewing Company.
Location: 264 Big Tub Road, Tobermory
It comes as no surprise that the largest freshwater island in the world would also have a rich marine history. There are almost a dozen lighthouse stations on and around Manitoulin Island.
Completed in 1879, Janet Head Lighthouse in Gore Bay is the second oldest lighthouse on the island and is a recognized heritage site for its historical and architectural significance. Standing guard over the North Channel, the picturesque structure is a combined lighthouse and dwelling.
The heritage site has recently reopened to the public on Wednesdays to Fridays, between 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.
Nearby: Manitoulin is rich in Indigenous culture and tradition, book an authentic experience with Wikwemikong Tourism.
Location: 621 Lighthouse Road, Gore Bay
Since 1867, two lighthouses guided vessels through the narrow, rocky channel into Killarney, prior to road access in northern Georgian Bay.
Today the picturesque landmarks stand as a testament to the area’s water-based history and the importance of life-saving light stations.
Nearby: Hike the Killarney's Lighthouse Trail for great lighthouse views, enjoy Killarney’s famous fish and chips at Herbert Fisheries and treat yourself to a comfortable stay at Killarney Mountain Lodge.
As the timber industry developed in Northern Ontario in the early 1900s, so too did the increase in marine traffic along the north shore of Lake Huron. The need for a better source of navigational light in the town of Bruce Mines’ harbour was evident.
In 1907, a new lighthouse was built on the easterly tip of McKay Island just under two kilometres from the wharf. The wooden-framed structure included a residential dwelling and a 10-metre light tower with a hand-cranked foghorn. Accessibly by boat only, the lighthouse was kept until the mid-1950s when the wharf at Bruce Mines transitioned from commercial to recreational use.
The lighthouse was purchased by a town resident and eventually converted into a unique, all-season, self-catering resort. Today, you can stay at the McKay Lighthouse and live like a lighthouse keeper.
Nearby: Dive into local history at the Bruce Mines Museum.
Location: McKay Island, Bruce Mines
Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River
Following the War of 1812 and the construction of canals, steamship traffic increased on Lake Ontario to support the developing commerce and trade.
Home to the oldest standing lighthouse on the Great Lakes, Lake Ontario’s harbours served as some of the first ports of call in Ontario for vessels sailing in from the North Atlantic via the St. Lawrence Seaway. Naturally, there was a concentration of lighthouses along the shores and headwater of the St. Lawrence River and in the Niagara region after the Welland Canal was built.
Notable lighthouses on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence include:
Overlooking the St. Lawrence River, this national historic landmark holds a storied past.
Originally erected as a windmill in the early 1830s, it was site of conflict during the Battle of the Windmill, part of the 1837-38 rebellion. Loyalist forces of Upper Canada fended off an invasion of a splinter American organization called the Hunter Patriots.
In 1872, construction was underway to convert the windmill into a much needed navigation aid along the St. Lawrence. The 18.9-metre, stone tower began lighthouse service two years later in 1874.
Today, the building is open to the public on select days during each season with guided tours, informational material and a gift shop.
Nearby: Learn more local history at the Fort Wellington National Historic Site, get out on the water with 1000 Islands and Seaway Cruises followed by a fresh ale or lager from 1000 Islands Brewing Company in Brockville.
Location: Windmill Point Road, Prescott
Perched at the end of a rocky peninsula in what is now a provincial park, Presqu’ile Point Lighthouse served as a beacon of safety for boats and ships navigating the eastern shore of Lake Ontario since it’s construction in the 1840s.
The 21-metre-high, octagonal tower underwent several restorations, including the conversion of its light from oil to electricity in 1935.
Visit the Lighthouse Interpretive Centre to learn more about the history of the lighthouse and the challenges faced by its keepers over the years.
Nearby: Explore the beaches, sand dunes and boardwalks at Presqu’ile Point Provincial Park, enjoy fine dining at The Gables Restaurant and more exceptional wineries and restaurants in neighbouring Prince Edward County.
Location: Presqu'ile Point, Brighton
Believed to be the oldest standing lighthouse on the Great Lakes, Gibraltar Point was constructed in 1808 on one of a cluster of scenic islands a short ferry ride away from downtown Toronto’s harbourfront.
The hexagonal, limestone tower stands 25 metres tall, after a modification to its original structure in 1832 and remained in service until 1958.
Shrouded in mystery, the lighthouse is also rumored to be haunted after the murder of its first lightkeeper in 1813 and the discovery of human bone a few years later.
Location: Centre Island, Toronto Islands
The pair of decommissioned white and green lighthouses in the Port Dalhousie harbour are two of the most familiar landmarks along St. Catharines waterfront.
Between 1829 and 1932, the harbour in Port Dalhousie served as the northern terminus for the first three iterations of the Welland Canal. This waterway provided ship passage from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie via the Port Colbourne harbour. In 1932, the fourth canal redirected marine traffic via Port Weller.
Today the lighthouses are maintained as heritage sites.
Nearby: Just steps from the harbour, Lock Street Brewing serves up several special beers that celebrate the shipping traditions of Port Dalhousie, like the Industrial Pale Ale and the Portside Pilsner. Learn more about Niagara’s impressive Welland Canal, including some of the best spots to watch the ships sail by.
Location: 80 Lighthouse Road, St. Catharines
Due to its size and shape, Lake Erie required fewer lighthouses than the larger Great Lakes. However, surprisingly, Lake Erie is believed to have the highest concentration of shipwrecks of all the five Great Lakes, most due to weather.
Notable lighthouses on Lake Erie include:
Perched on the rocky tip of the Point Abino peninsula on Lake Erie’s north shore, the Point Abino Lighthouse is an elegant Greek Revival style building with a light tower, foghorn and keeper’s residence. Built in 1917-18, it operated until 1995, when it was decommissioned and established as a national historic site.
Its construction followed the devastating Great Lakes Storm of 1913 that sank and stranded numerous vessels, including a lightship operating along the coast to aid the increased traffic from the Welland Canal Port Colbourne harbour.
The lighthouse is located on private property. Guests are permitted to visit outside the site seasonally and lighthouse tours can be arranged on select days in the summer and fall.
Nearby: Old Fort Erie retells the War of 1812 with re-enactments, costumed guides and interactive exhibits. To the west, the Welland Canal meets Lake Erie in Port Colborne, a great spot for ship watching. Visit the Marine Museum for more on the area.
Location: Point Abino Road South, Fort Erie
At the very end of a long concrete pier lined with benches, this iconic lighthouse, lantern and foghorn marks the entrance of the Port Dover Harbour from Lake Erie.
The 10-metre-tall, square, tapered structure originally built in 1846, was rebuilt a few years later after fire damage. It underwent maintenance again in 1904 and continued to serve as a vital navigational aid and beloved local landmark.
Location: 2 Harbour Street, Port Dover
The largest island in Lake Erie, Pelee Island is also the southernmost inhabited place in Canada. In addition to its temperate weather, viticulture history and significant birding sites, an increasingly busy shipping route called Pelee Passage ran past the island, hence the need for a lighthouse.
Construction of the round, limestone tower on a northeast spit was underway in 1833. Despite several significant modifications, neglect, vandalism, a lack of oil supply and foundational issues plagued the tower for the next 75 years. After the establishment of the Pelee Passage Lighthouse between the island and Point Pelee in 1902, the lighthouse on Pelee Island was discontinued and abandoned until its restoration as a historic site in 2000.
The second oldest Canadian lighthouse on Lake Erie is now maintained as part of the Lighthouse Point Nature Reserve.
Nearby: Tour the ruins at Vin Villa, Canada’s first commercial estate winery founded in 1866, enjoy the local fare at Stone House 1891 and relax in the outdoor wine garden at the Pelee Island Winery Pavilion, overlooking Lake Erie.
Location: 80 East Shore Road, Pelee Island
The largest and most legendary of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area and has been described as a “freshwater sea”.
Fierce weather was the cause of several shipping disasters. The most famous was the sinking of the cargo carrier SS Edmund Fitzgerald during a November gale in 1975, commemorated in song by singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot.
The lighthouses along the shores of Superior were critical in the prevention of more tragedies.
Notable lighthouses on Lake Superior include:
Built in 2011, the lighthouse on the main street in Terrace Bay is not a historic site. It is modelled after the original Slate Islands lighthouse in Sunday Harbour that sits almost 70 metres above sea level, the highest elevated lighthouse on the Great Lakes.
From May to October, visitors are welcome to tour the 15 metre tall replica structure and enjoy a fantastic view of Lake Superior and the Slate Islands from the top observation deck.
Location: Simcoe Plaza, Terrace Bay
Approximately 40 kilometres east of Thunder Bay and Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, on Lake Superior’s Black Bay Peninsula, Porphyry Point Lighthouse sits on the southern tip of Porphyry Island.
In 1872, three new lighthouses were constructed to support the expanding shipping industry, two on Michipicoten Island and one on the volcanic rock at Porphyry Point. The wooden structure featured a square base with octagonal tower stood approximately 11 metres tall with a height of 17 metres above the water. In 1907 a fog alarm building was added, and further modifications were made to the tower in 1960.
In 2014, the lighthouse was repaired and repurposed as an attraction and accommodation for visitors.
Location: Porphyry Island
An iconic landmark in Thunder Bay’s waterfront landscape, this lighthouse sits on the breakwater barrier just offshore from Prince Arthur’s Landing harbour.
The white and red accented clapboard square building was first lit in 1940 and continues to remain active today.
Location: Thunder Bay Harbour
Last updated: September 8, 2023