Legend has it that on the night of January 2, 1815, soldiers from Fort York went to the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse to buy beer smuggled from the US by the lighthouse keeper. But the keeper refused to sell, and the furious soldiers chopped him to pieces with an axe and buried the grisly bits to hide their crime. For two centuries, the keeper’s poor spirit has roamed the lighthouse.
There’s truth behind the tale. The lighthouse’s first keeper, J.P. Rademuller, mysteriously disappeared in 1815, and part of a human skeleton was later found nearby. But no soldiers were ever convicted, and the family that tended the lighthouse for 150 years declared as late as 1958 that they had never seen a ghost.
Haunted or not, this storied building, which first opened in 1808, has an interesting history. It is the oldest lighthouse on the Great Lakes and Toronto’s oldest building on its original foundations. Its walls, which are six metres thick at the base, have not moved, but the shoreline has—once eight metres from the lighthouse, the water is now 250 metres away. This building has survived everything from invading American ships during the War of 1812 and ship-destroying storms to the conversion of the island from a swampy sand spit into Toronto’s first “cottage country” and then into a grassy, shade-filled park.
The Gibraltar Point Lighthouse remains Toronto’s most evocative symbol of the city’s almost forgotten seafaring past.
By Dennis Smith