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.
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.
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.)
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