How Our Lighthouses Came to Bee

By Bruce Davidson

There are three principal lighthouses in Carling Township, namely Red Rock, Snug and Jones. (The latter two have forward companions). Each has an interesting story to tell, but in the limited space available we can only touch on a few highlights.

A good start to the tale would be with famed explorer Sir William Parry who managed the incredible feat of penetrating northern ice fields in 1819, and in 1821 set the record for the farthest north penetrated by man at 82” 45’ in the Canadian Arctic, a record that would stand for 50 years.  He was knighted for this achievement.  Small wonder that admiralty surveyor Henry Bayfield in 1820 named the well -protected harbor at the mouth of the Seguin River Parry Sound.

Georgian Bay was pretty much isolated from the south by land, until a railway was constructed from Toronto to Collingwood in 1855.  William Gibson arrived at Parry Sound in 1856 as a land surveyor, secured a timber limit and constructed a sawmill.  Brothers William and John Beatty purchased Gibson’s fifty square mile timber limit in 1863 and in our confederation year of 1867 acquired the lands upon which the Town now sits.

William Beatty Jr. unquestionably an astute businessman recognized that Bayfield’s old charts were not going to do the trick in allowing ships to get safely from the open Georgian Bay to his mill in Parry Sound.  So he asked Ottawa to build a lighthouse on the Mink Islands and agreed to pay half the cost.  Well guess who got the building contract?  Surprise: J. and W. Beatty, of course.  The light was placed in operation on what is now called Tower Island in 1870. This lighthouse was swept away in storms and a new lighthouse was constructed 900 meters south on Red Rock in 1881.  Again the engineers underestimated the power of the Georgian Bay storms and the structure had to be replaced.  Finally they got it right, with perhaps a tad of overkill, by constructing in 1894 a steel cylinder 12 feet high and 45 feet in diameter and filled with stone masonry and Portland cement to serve as a foundation.  This was modified in 1912 to the 57- foot cylindrical tower that we see today.

Remembering that Red Rock came into operation in 1894, it is no coincidence that the Snug light and the Jones light, each with their forward companions, also came into operation that same year.  The logic was simple.  A ship passing south of the Red Rock light on a compass bearing had to be in a fairly narrow corridor or it would come to grief.  Accordingly, they built two lights, Snug and Walton that would line up to show the correct path.  Once south of the Snake Islands the Gordon Rock and the Jones light would come into alignment off the starboard side and they would turn to keep these two in alignment.  Finally, when they were a quarter mile from Gordon Rock, yet another light called Hugh Rock would come into view and they would steer towards that. Pretty clever as long as you could see, but not so much in a fog.

The story of Jones Island before the lighthouse was built is fascinating.  It is named after David Jones who used the island for breeding bees that he gathered from Cyprus, Syria and Palestine! Imagine that.  This was in the era before airplanes and automobiles.  So our intrepid beekeeper would be travelling, not in luxury like on an early version of the Queen Mary, but probably in a Greek tramp steamer.  He and his entourage would have swarmed aboard in some decrepit eastern Mediterranean port and spent more than two weeks fighting the combers in North Atlantic storms while making a tortuous beeline for the former British colonies in North America.  Even then he would have had to sail or travel by horse drawn coach from Montreal to southern Ontario.  How did he keep the bees alive during this extended passage?  Clearly David Jones was a worker not a drone; he chose a small island in the middle of nowhere in a body of water accessible only by steamer from Collingwood to breed his bees.  Remarkably, he was so successful that his hometown of Clarksville Ontario was renamed Beetown (now Beeton) in 1874.

Your Association has been instrumental in providing input to Carling Township with regard to the preservation of the Snug Lighthouse, now that Carling has assumed ownership.  We are also following the process of the transfer of ownership of the Jones Light, which is a virtual twin of Snug.  Interestingly enough, these two lighthouses are not the only surviving examples of this style of lighthouse…but darn close.  There is one other, constructed in Nova Scotia also in 1894 that is still standing.  The fact that Carling has two of the only three left makes them very special indeed!

All in all the Carling lighthouses make for a honey of a story.  While William Beatty may have been stung by the storms that destroyed the original light on the Minks, the sweet success of the Snug Light seems assured now that West Carling Association is closely working with Carling Township.   If you have personal time to support this worthy effort we can make Snug Light the buzz of the Bay.


To read more and to download a PDF, please visit the WCA Spring Newsletter April 2020