UrbanToronto has partnered with Heritage Toronto to capture a moment in Toronto's past. On a weekly basis, we highlight historic photos of the city's people, places and events, and tell the stories behind them.
Among Toronto’s most significant heritage sites is the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse. Located on the Toronto Island, it holds the title as one of the oldest surviving lighthouse on the Great Lakes and the second oldest remaining lighthouse in Canada.
It was built between 1808-09 shortly after Toronto (the Town of York) was established in 1793. At that time, the Island was a peninsula and the lighthouse was only metres away from the shoreline of Lake Ontario. The lighthouse was built of Queenston stone and designed in a hexagonal shape. Standing initially 52 feet, the lighthouse was raised to 82 feet in 1832. Inside was a wick lamp that first burned whale oil and later coal oil until an electric light was used in 1917. In Toronto’s earliest days, the lighthouse helped to usher watercraft into the harbor. It was, for a time, the only major light that could be seen shining over the small town.
This 1909 image shows the lighthouse looking westward in a scene that looks vastly different today. At that time, to the left of the lighthouse was the keeper’s cottage and to its right were summer cottages. In 1957, the light inside the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse was turned off for the final time, ending its long run as a lighthouse for the city. Since then, the structure has been given a face lift, but the doors remain locked.
As one of a handful of structures of its generation in Toronto, the lighthouse is marked by two plaques; one from Heritage Toronto and the other from the Ontario Archaeological and Historic Sites Board.
Many thanks to both Gary Switzer of MOD Developments and Maya Bilbao for putting together the photos and research.