2003 to 2009
In May 2003, two residents of the Beach Strip approached the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), the owners of the Burlington Canal Light Station, to discuss how the lighthouse and keeper’s cottage could be preserved. Encouraged by the positive response of the DFO representatives, they began to organize what became known as the Beach Canal Lighthouse Group.
On November 16, 2003, thirty-two people attended the founding meeting. Initial public enthusiasm for the project attracted many new members which peaked at over 200 and included city councillors from both Hamilton and Burlington, engineers, artists, architects, members of local heritage organizations, and the last lighthouse keeper, Peter Coletti, by then retired and living in New Brunswick. In June of 2004 the BCLG was incorporated as a not-for-profit organization through affiliation with the Ontario Historical Society.
Also in 2004, the federal department of Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) declared the land on which the lighthouse and the keeper’s dwelling are located to be surplus to its needs and circulated a request for expressions of interest. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) was the sole respondent and it was expected that the land would be transferred to this federal department. As a result, the BCLG worked closely with DFO for the next two years to prepare for the eventual hand-over of a parcel of land with the two structures from DFO to the non-profit group.
In August of 2004, the BCLG approached the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO) to obtain a professional evaluation of the lighthouse and keeper’s cottage through its Preservation Works! program. An inspection was conducted by Christopher Borgal of Goldsmith Borgal and Company Architects, Toronto, and Eric Jokinen, a Burlington-based structural engineer. The resulting Borgal-Jokinen Report concluded that the structures were fundamentally sound but needed some remediation. The team recommended immediate steps to clear the lantern of an accumulation of pigeon guano and seal it to prevent further intrusion.
This work was carried out in 2006, with DFO funding the entire cost of removing guano from the tower, and subsequently securing both buildings to prevent entry and vandalism. At the same time the third-order Fresnel lens was removed from the lantern and placed in safe storage pending restoration of the lighthouse.
The anticipated land transfer from PWGSC to DFO was, however, never concluded and in July 2006, PWGSC confirmed that they were not prepared to transfer ownership to a non-public-sector group such as BCLG (or to DFO for subsequent transfer to BCLG) but would consider a licensing agreement, during which BCLG could carry out the restoration of the buildings.
At this point the BCLG Board of Directors determined to seek professional guidance in developing a business plan for the site in order to seek partners acceptable to PWGSC.
The BCLG was able to obtain financial support for this project from the City of Hamilton’s Beach Park Reserve. This study was prepared jointly by Goldsmith Borgal & Co. Ltd. Architects and Canadian Cultural Resources Consultants. The final report, Burlington Canal Business Plan, was submitted in June 2009. Its recommendations included:
- identification of options for sustainable public access to the site with recommendations for preferred options;
- alternative management structures based on each option;
- five-year business plans for each recommended option; and
- costing of recommended approaches for preservation.
In November 2009, the BCLG presented these recommendations to the City’s Emergency and Community Services Committee, which in turn, were presented them to Hamilton City Council at its meeting on November 25th. At this meeting an important milestone was reached when the City agreed to begin the process of taking ownership of the light station site and staff were directed to investigate the terms to transfer ownership of the lighthouse and keeper’s cottage from the federal government to the City of Hamilton.
2010 to 2015
At the Heritage Day ceremony, which took place on February 12, 2014, the BCLG received a Built Heritage Award from the City of Hamilton. That evening, at the former Ancaster Town Hall, members of the Executive were also presented with Certificates of Achievement from the Ontario Heritage Trust in recognition of its efforts to conserve the keeper’s cottage, which had been re-roofed in 2013 to prevent water damage to the interior.
The City of Hamilton ultimately decided not to pursue the acquisition of the light station. This was a huge setback for the BCLG, which once again found itself in limbo. A major stumbling block was the dual ownership of the land and buildings: the former was owned by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC)* and the latter by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).
In 2015, DFO indicated that with the support of both the City of Hamilton and the City of Burlington and the continued involvement of the BCLG, transfer of ownership of the buildings to a not-for-profit group would be possible. However, PSPC remained resolute in its refusal to allow the property to be transferred to an entity other than a municipality.
*NOTE: This was the new name for DPWGS although its legal name remained the Department of Public Works and Government Services.
In June 2015 we received a letter from the Director of Heritage Designations and Programs at Parks Canada, responding to our petition for the designation of the Burlington Canal Light Station. We were advised that the Burlington Canal Main and South Pier lights could not be designated at that time as the BCLG had not yet reached an agreement with DFO to acquire these structures.
This was a disheartening period for the BCLG. The number of members declined drastically due to the lack of any tangible progress but stabilized in the 30 to 35 range, mostly longstanding members who were too obstinate to give up! We tried to keep the few remaining members engaged with interesting feature presentations at our General Meetings about other lighthouses and volunteer groups formed to save them or subjects with a nautical theme.
2016 to Present
In 2017, the promising prospect of a partnership with the Hamilton Port Authority (HPA)* emerged, as reported in The Hamilton Spectator in July: Authority may help with decade-long jurisdictional ‘logjam’. This offered a possible solution to the stalemate over land ownership as PSPC would be much more likely to agree to the transfer of property to a corporation. Ian Hamilton (HPA President and CEO) met with the BCLG Executive in July and indicated that the port authority was interested in constructing a marine museum highlighting the history of Hamilton as a major port. A potential partnership with the BCLG was discussed, whereby a shared long-term goal would be to combine the proposed museum with a visitor/ interpretive centre for the restored lighthouse complex in a single facility. Towards the end of 2017, the HPA sent their completed Business Plan Submission for Acquiring a Surplus Lighthouse to Fisheries and Oceans Canada and was assured that the process of transfer would proceed in 2018. This turned out to be wishful thinking! In the meantime, a staff person from HPA was assigned the task of representing the corporation at BCLG meetings, first Sharon Clark (Community Relations Officer) and then Larissa Fenn (Director, Public Affairs & Corporate Secretary), our current representative.
*NOTE: In 2019, the Hamilton Port Authority merged with Oshawa Port Authority to create the Hamilton-Oshawa Port Authority (HOPA). As a Canadian Port Authority, HOPA is a non-share capital corporation incorporated under the 1998 Canada Marine Act.
On October 20, 2018, the BCLG and the HPA held their first joint public event to celebrate the first lighting of the lamps in the new lighthouse, which took place on October 18, 1858, the year in which the lighthouse was completed. At this 160th anniversary celebration, visitors were offered guided tours of the site, lighthouse-related items for sale, an historical exhibit, a display of nautical artefacts and a raffle. There were also pony rides and other fun activities to amuse the children – plus two large birthday cakes for all to enjoy. Photos by Robin McKee:
2019 was marked by two successful fund-raising initiatives. Firstly, a request was made to Ward Councillor Chad Collins for funding to cover the cost of an updated architectural/ engineering assessment of the lighthouse and keeper’s cottage and $25,000 was subsequently received from a reserve fund for Hamilton Beach Strip projects, after being approved by City Council in February and the same firm that completed the 2009 condition assessment was hired for the job (Goldsmith Borgal & Company Ltd. Architects). An application was also submitted to the Hamilton Future Fund for $400,000, which would contribute to the cost of undertaking the necessary repair and restoration work on the lighthouse and keeper’s cottage. It was reported at our General Meeting in May that Ian Hamilton would finally meet with staff from the two federal departments that respectively own the two buildings (DFO) and the land on which they stand (PSPC) in order to negotiate the transfer of the lighthouse and keeper’s cottage and suitable parcel of land to HOPA. At the November AGM our HOPA representative reported that the paperwork for first transferring the keeper’s cottage was in motion and emphasized that the port authority was very much interested in seeing the light
station restored and made publicly accessible as part of the proposed redevelopment of the adjacent Fisherman’s Pier area to enhance the landscaping and provide more public amenities.
At this point we had high hopes for 2020, in anticipation that the transfer of both buildings to HOPA would take place and restoration work could finally begin. What no-one anticipated was the global spread of a new virus called COVID-19 in March 2020 and the ensuing panic and lockdowns. Our last live General Meeting was held in February. The May and September meetings were both cancelled but we were able to organize a virtual meeting for our November AGM, without the usual guest speaker.
Apart from the unexpected pandemic there was a drastic change of course for the lighthouse that year. PSPC threw us a curve ball by stipulating that its ownership would only be transferred to HOPA if the structure was moved from its current site, where it was considered to be a liability due to its close proximity to the lift bridge. The initial BCLG/ HOPA reaction was one of disbelief. The BCLG Executive argued that a) moving the stone masonry tower would be both exorbitantly expensive and risky; and that b) its relocation is completely unwarranted as the lighthouse faces no physical threat (such as tidal erosion). The cost of relocation was roughly estimated to be about $1million. As the year progressed, however, it became increasingly apparent that there would be no purchase agreement between HOPA and PSPC/DFO, unless it was agreed that the stone tower could be moved a few hundred feet onto the HOPA parcel of property known as Fisherman’s Pier. This scenario came to be viewed (reluctantly) as the only way to break the stalemate. The federal government offered to pay for a significant proportion of the funds needed to undertake the relocation project, to be overseen by HOPA. The keeper’s cottage, however, could remain in situ (preferred option), which would allow work to begin using the Hamilton Future Fund grant once a purchase agreement was in place.
In March 2021, Chris Borgal submitted his updated condition assessment for the keeper’s cottage, which identified the top priority work. He will complete his assessment of the lighthouse after it has been relocated. By April 2021, papers had finally been signed for the transfer of ownership of the two buildings. The relocation of the lighthouse was targeted for September and the project would be directed by Bill Fitzgerald, Vice-President of Operations for HOPA. In the meantime, a communication plan for a public announcement still needed to be developed by HOPA and approved by PSPC and DFO. Our first General Meeting in 2021 was a virtual meeting held on September 8, at which Bill Fitzgerald made a presentation on the engineering logistics of moving the lighthouse about 300’ to the north onto HOPA-owned land. For details see the meeting notes. By this time the relocation of the stone tower had been postponed until early 2022. The relocation of the lighthouse had to be reviewed by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada and was still under review by late October. Here is the link to the Burlington Lighthouse Relocation scope of work.
While there continued to be numerous setbacks and delays through 2021, the year ended on a positive note with our AGM on November 14. At this meeting our Chair, George Thomson, was pleased to announce that Ian-Kerr Wilson was now ready to take on the important role of Chair, due to his recent retirement as Manager of Heritage Resources for the City of Hamilton. A new Director, Chris Walker, was elected and welcomed. Ann Gillespie stepped down as Recording Secretary (leaving this position vacant) in order to take on the more challenging task of website administrator for our new WordPress website, which was set up by a team of co-op students working for HOPA 2020. Our HOPA representative, Larissa Fenn, was cautiously optimistic that the transfer of the lighthouse and keeper’s cottage to the port authority would finally be completed in December and also reported that work on the cottage to mitigate soil contamination was now underway. Finally, our Membership Secretary, Gloria Pfefferle, reported the good news that we had gained three new members for a total of 36.
The announcement aimed for December finally took place on January 28, 2022. Visit our News page for details. The new website went live at the beginning of February and was unofficially launched at the first General Meeting of 2022 on February 13 as a work-in-progress. Looking ahead optimistically through 2022: It is anticipated that the BCLG will continue to attract new members once on-site work begins. The moving of the lighthouse will certainly attract public attention and generate media coverage. Once the world gets through what is hoped to be the last wave of this tenacious coronavirus pandemic we look forward to once again holding live meetings. Long-term efforts to attain charitable status for the BCLG are expected to be achieved in 2022 – a milestone for fund-raising as it will enable our group to issue tax receipts for charitable donations, especially important to corporate donors. We hope that the moral of this story will turn out to be perseverance pays off. Stay tuned for more updates.