Keeper’s Dwelling For Fort Erie’s Historic Point Abino Lighthouse Must Remain In Public Hands

 By Janet Truckenbrodt

Keeping a proud watch over Lake Erie, the Point Abino Lighthouse is one of the greatest of its kind in Canada.

Built in 1917-1918, the lighthouse and keeper’s dwelling are a local, provincial, and federal landmark with a unique history.  This light station was one of 40 built during the last period of manned lighthouse construction.

Preservations want this 'keeper's dwelling' for the historic Point Abino Lighthouse kept in public hands. Photo courtesy of Paul Kassay.

At the end of Point Abino, a large rocky shelf projects into the lake making it necessary to build the lighthouse at a considerable distance from the shoreline.  In stormy weather and at high-water periods, the lighthouse was inaccessible on foot.  For that reason, the keeper’s dwelling required a site on the adjoining shore. 

A portion of land, just over half an acre, was purchased from Allan Holloway, a Buffalo developer, for $1 million at today’s value.  Designed to be in harmony with the environment and the upscale homes in Point Abino, the keeper’s dwelling has a Tudor-like appearance.  It is a two-story ornamental stucco home, with basement, well-constructed and very suitable for continued use and enjoyment.  Some restoration is needed but mostly of a cosmetic nature.  The septic system and plumbing need replacing.

In 1998, the Point Abino LIghthouse Preservation Society was successful in obtaining a National Historic Site designation for the Lighthouse.  The dwelling did not have significant architectural features to be included in the designation.  However, it was deemed important as an integral part of the functioning and history of the site.  In 2009, the Town of Fort Erie obtained a heritage designation for the dwelling through the Ontario Heritage Act.

Since 1917, the keeper’s dwelling has been the home of several lighthouse keepers, the last one being Lewis Anderson who lived there from 1960 until the light station was de-commissioned on March 31,1996.  Mr. Anderson now lives in Port Colborne.

Point Abino Lighthouse glistens in the sunlight along shores of Lake Erie.

The dwelling has been land-locked since 1993.  The Point Abino Association, a corporation of homeowners (non-Canadian), erected an electronic gate on Point Abino Road South at a point about 1 km. from the dwelling.  Visitors are permitted through the gate at certain hours/days, on foot, and after signing a waiver.  After the Town of Fort Erie purchased the lighthouse and dwelling on April 1, 2003, they have paid the PAA $4,000 a year in order to conduct eight tours during the summer months.

Since 2003, the Town of Fort Erie has made no attempt to restore and preserve this one-of -a kind National Historic Site.  Federal and provincial grants have been and still are available.  The Town has chosen to sell the keeper’s dwelling on the pretext of needing those funds to restore the lighthouse.  At the time of purchase, the estimate for restoring both the lighthouse and dwelling was approx. $460,000. 

Although time and weather conditions have been kind to the dwelling, the lighthouse has deteriorated significantly and a recent estimate for restoration has risen to approximately $1 million. When the dwelling is sold, tourism potential will be greatly reduced. It is unlikely that the tour-trolley will have a place to park. 

The dwelling could have many uses that would enhance a visit to the lighthouse.   It could have housed marine memorabilia, a mini-library, a tearoom, art display, rest rooms and a place to discuss the shipwrecks, and tragedies that occurred offshore.  

At a recent Council meeting, the Town announced that it expected to realize $800,000 from the sale of the dwelling.  Once this valuable, historic lakefront property has been sold, the long-time residents of Fort Erie will lose another important access to their shoreline.  How sad to think that neglect and lack of foresight have brought the dwelling to this point in its colourful history.

(Janet Truckenbrodt is a resident of south Niagara and a longtime advocate for preserving the region’s historic and heritage site.)

(Click on www.niagaraatlarge.com for Niagara At Large for more news and commentary on matters of interest and concern to our greater binational Niagara region.)

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9 responses to “Keeper’s Dwelling For Fort Erie’s Historic Point Abino Lighthouse Must Remain In Public Hands

  1. It’s another example of “Engineered Blight.” The same policy that the town used to let the Bay Beach Properties fall into neglect so that the selling of the property would seem like a reasonable idea to recoup the loss of the money paid out for the site. In the case of the lighthouse and keeper’s cottage, I believe the town paid the princely sum of $1.00 several years ago for the site. Nothing has been done to preserve or improve the property since then. Last fall, a local person came forward to offer the opportunity to have the Keeper’s Cottage become a tea room and/or B&B. The proposal was quickly turned down and the property put up for sale almost immediately. Those running the Town of Fort Erie seem to have no regard for historical and important waterfront properties. The town just wants to sell them off to fund its out of control udget.

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  2. Re the Point Abino Lighthouse.
    We speak of historical value, tourism and a drawing card to Fort Erie, yet I do not believe there is a plan. Restoration of the Lighthouse is a valliant concept, but for what purpose? The site as it remains will only accomodate visits during a specific season. It is my understanding that there are only 8 tours permitted during the specified season . I have no idea how many people each tour attracts but putting numbers to the event is an interesting and eye opening thought process. A massive capital outlay will cater to a very few not to mention annual upkeep expenditures. The bottom line is that the ones who will benefit most from the restoration of the Lighthouse will be the residents and members of the Point Abino Association.

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  3. Any Canadian with an iota of interest in their historic lighthouses should take a close look at the Port Abino Lighthouse fiasco to see what the future holds for Canada’s historic lighthouses under the Harper Conservative’s Orwellian Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act.

    The tragic tale of this outstanding historic national treasure is nothing short of a national disgrace. Canadians should be storming the barricades in Ottawa to demand that our politicians get off their duffs and restore access to this gorgeous Canadian Lighthouse, one of the “Crown Jewels” of Canada’s maritime heritage to the Canadian public.

    How long does anyone think Americans would tolerate a bunch of wealthy Canadians demanding ransom to in order to access one of America’s historic lighthouses? Why hasn’t the Minister responsible for this fiasco (that would be Jim Premtice, Environment Minister in charge of Parks Canada) stepped in to ensure that ownership of this lighthouse, the keepers’ house, and the access road are returned to Parks Canada where it belongs. If he does not see that as part of his job he should resign.

    If have ever visited a lighthouse, if you care about your Canadian heritage, call/email/fax/write you local MP and Jim Prentice and Stephen Harper and demand that s/he rescind this egregious law whose inevitable outcome will be that many more of Canada’s iconic, historic lighthouses will wind up being scooped up by wealthy Americans with deep pockets who will put up barriers and deny you access to your lighthouse.

    Make no mistake about it. This is exactly what will happen to your historic lighthouse under Mr. Harper’s “Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act”.

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  4. I would appreciate receiving any/all posts related to the Port Abino Lighthouse. Thankyou

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  5. Please keep me informed of all developments regarding the lighthouse. I’m a well-published journalist writing a feature story about several other Canadian lighthouses in Quebec and their potential fate under the new federal legislation. I would be more than pleased to write about the Abino lighthouse for a national publication, if one of you secured space in the appropriate publication for me. (Marketing to editors is the most time-consuming part of my job, and I’m strapped for time this fall.) Thank you. Frann Harris

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  6. My grandfather Milton Shaw was the lighthouse keeper in Pelee Passage from 1945 to 1960, he then took on duties at Abino in 1960 but unfortunately died of a heart attack a few months after and died at the young age of 52. I believe he was the keeper right before Mr. Anderson. Do you know if the tour of this site provided the names off all the lighthouse keepers thru the years?

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    • Do you know who the lighthouse keeper was before 1960?

      A Note to NAL readers – Can anyone out there answer the above question? If you know who the keeper was, please respond below.

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    • Hi Sandie, interested in talking to you. We are celebrating the 100th Anniversary at Point Abino and interested in your grandfather

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  7. I just now discovered this news item. Sad, that a place with so much history is considered to be taken down. Louie was my father in law for a few years, and was very proud of the history of the lighthouse and keepers’ house. He was always willing to show off the place to anyone who came to see the beacon of lighthouse history.
    When the lighthouse became automatic, thus no need for a lighthouse keeper, you could guess what plans would become made for the place. The DOT which runs the place would be quick to sell it . Once the place was sold, that ended any “common” folk to gain access to the weathly area which has a gate keeper.
    I suspect, the demise of the house and lighthouse will be to protect this gated community from the everyday person.
    Money will always speak louder than words, or in this case , keeping our historical past alive.

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