|History Of Gibraltar Point Lighthouse
Gibraltar Point lighthouse was built on what is now known as Toronto Island in 1808. After 99
years of service it was decommissioned in 1907, but remains as the oldest existing lighthouse on the
Great Lakes, since the one built in 1804 on Mississauga Point at the mouth of the Niagara River was
demolished to make room for fortifications during the War of 1812.
The Island Lighthouse is the oldest landmark in Toronto. From its site on Gibraltar Point, it has
watched most of Toronto's history unfold; its light beam has, for more than 150 years, been a
welcome guide for the mariner into the Harbour of Toronto.
At a very early date, it was realized that a lighthouse on the peninsula (now Toronto Island) was
essential to the safety of the vessels sailing Lake Ontario. In March, 1803, the following Act was
passed: Section 7 - "and whereas it will be necessary and essential to the safety of vessels,
boats, rafts and other craft passing from Lake Ontario into the River Niagara and passing by the
island called Isle Forest and likewise into the port of York that there should be a lighthouse
erected near each of the said last mentioned places.... One to be erected and build upon the.... and
the other upon Gibraltar Point."
There appears to be no direct evidence of the actual date when the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse was
started but in 1808 the Upper Canada Gazette printed the following: "It is a pleasure to inform
the public that the dangers to vessels navigating Lake Ontario will in a great measure be avoided by
the erection of a lighthouse on Gibraltar Point which is to be completed in compliance with an
address in the House of Assembly to the Lieutenant Governor." The address referred to above was
dated March 9, 1808, and on April 6th the Lieutenant Governor visited the peninsula and chose a site
for the lighthouse.
The original structure was 16m high including a lantern and built of Queenstown stone. The
building and its base, which is packed with stone to keep it in place, are hexagonal. The diameter
of the base is 6.7m and the circumference is 20.7m. The walls at the base are 1.8m thick, gradually
decreasing in size to 1.2m thick at the top. The structure was heightened by 3.6m in 1832 using
Kingston stone. The total height of the stonework today is 19.5m the height from the stonework to
vane is 5.5m and the overall height from ground to the vane of the lantern is 25m.
The first light was a fixed white lamp that burned sperm oil. When the tower was raised in 1832,
an improved white light was also installed and, after 1863, coal oil was used instead of sperm
(about 900 gallons of oil were burned annually).
In 1878, a new white revolving light was installed. This was one of the best and most powerful in
North American waters. The light revolved once every minute and 48 seconds. The power to revolve the
light itself was provided by simple and very efficient means. A cable with a heavy weight on one end
was wound around a drum every 14 hours by the lighthouse keeper. The weight, travelling down a tower
in the centre of the lighthouse, caused the cable to unwind which, being geared to a shaft, revolved
the light. The light was projected by powerful reflectors.
Also in 1878, the balcony around the lamp room, which was originally built with wood, was
reconstructed using iron. This proved to be a very wise measure because the following year, the
weather vane was reportedly struck by lightning which travelled down the walls, cleaning off all the
whitewash and damaging the steps.
In the winter of 1916-1917, the first electric light appeared. This was a fixed white light which
flashed on and off. It had powerful reflectors and covered an angle of 240 degrees or more. In the
spring of 1945, the present light was installed. A fixed green light is in use to distinguish it
from the mass of white light emanating from the Island and the city beyond.
On May 23rd, 1958, the lighthouse was transferred to The Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto's
Parks Department and was renovated during the Winter Works Incentive Program in 1961-1962. On
January 1, 1998, Metro and the six municipalities within it were amalgamated into the new City of
THE MYSTERY OF GIBRALTAR POINT LIGHTHOUSE:
Like most other historical buildings, the lighthouse has had its days of tragedy giving rise to
tales of the macabre. Such a day was January 2nd, 1815. On this day, the lighthouse keeper, Radan
Muller, died in circumstances which have left forever two unanswered questions: How did he die? and
by whose hands?
Time has drawn its mantle over this period and we are left with but few facts and more
supposition. The facts are these: The York Gazette of January 14th, 1815, printed the following
"Died on the evening of the 2nd of January, J.P. Radan Muller, keeper of the lighthouse on
Gibraltar Point. From circumstances there is moral proof of his having been murdered. If the horrid
crime admits of aggravation when the inoffensive and benevolent character of the unfortunate
sufferer are considered, his murder will be pronounced most barbarous and inhuman. The parties lost
with him are the proposed perpetrators and are in prison."
On April 15th, 1815, the York Gazette printed the following: "No conviction of the supposed
murderers of the late J.P. Radan Muller."
The following is an extract from J.Ross Robertson's "Landmark Of Toronto":
"But Mr. George Durnan, the lighthouse keeper, states that he heard the story from his father
and that he, his son, with his uncle, Joe Durnan, found in 1893, bits of a coffin and parts of the
jaw bone of a man, 1m beneath the sand and about 150m west of the present keeper's house." It
was always claimed that Muller was buried west of the lighthouse near the lagoon at the base of the
south side of Blockhouse Bay and, in order to certify the story, Mr. Durnan undertook a search and
discovered the buried remains.
The usual tale told is that Muller was murdered by either two or three soldiers from the Fort at
York. They evidently called on him late in the evening and asked him to produce his beer keg. This
he did, but when he saw his friends were having more than was good for them, he refused a further
supply. The refusal ended in a fight and the fight ended in the death of Muller.
This tale has been further garnished by others who say that Muller was a smuggler who brought
whiskey from the United States. There is no record to be found of a court martial or trial for this
crime ever having been held, so we are left then with the two extracts from the York Gazette. The
editor seems certain that Muller was murdered, but his description of Muller's character is hardly
that of a whiskey smuggler. The second extract from the York Gazette seems to indicate that there
was a trial held and the prisoners were released but, as was pointed out before, there are no
records in existence of such a trial ever being held.
- J. P. Radan Muller 1809-1815
- William Halloway 1816-1831
- James Durnan 1832-1853
- George Durnan 1853-1908
- Captain P. J. McSherry 1905-1912
- B. Matthews 1912-1917
- G. F. Eaton 1917-1918
- F. C. Allan 1918-1944
- Mrs. Ladder 1944-1955
- Mrs. Dodds 1955-1958
This octagonal brick tower is located on Centre Island in Toronto's Inner Harbor. At one time, the island was home to a baseball field from which Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run ... into the lake. Today the island is home to a beautiful park.