Lighthouse Group in the Spectator

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The Beach Strip
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Posted with full permission from the Hamilton Spectator
Oct. 14, 01:01 EDT
Lighthouse gets new keepers Beach canal group plans to restore and preserve 'this truly altruistic structure'
Mary K. Nolan


By rights, Dave Auger should be living in the lighthouse keeper's cottage.

Not that anybody would want to, given its dilapidated condition, but the house has always accompanied the job of lighthouse keeper. And while Auger doesn't have to fill the lamps, or sound the foghorn, he is nonetheless a 21st-century keeper of the historic Burlington Ship Canal lighthouse.

Somehow, the man who was once only vaguely aware of a lighthouse on the beach strip ended up at the helm of the Beach Canal Lighthouse Group, which plans to restore and preserve the 146-year-old beacon.

Auger blames Bert Oldershaw.

Oldershaw is one of those legendary beach characters, a persuasive, passionate octogenarian whose dreams included preserving the lighthouse and keeper's cottage. Three years ago, when the former Olympic canoeist broke his neck in a car accident, visitors to his bedside included Dave Auger, a complete stranger.

Auger and his wife, Dawn, were newcomers to the beach, house-sitting for a beach lifer who was out of the country. When word of Oldershaw's injuries reached the homeowner, he asked Auger to visit him.

"Within five minutes, we were fast friends," said Auger. "Something just clicked."

Next thing Auger knew, he and Oldershaw were making a pitch to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which owned the 1858 lighthouse and 1857 residence. Get yourself incorporated, they were told, and demonstrate the project is viable. A price of one loonie was negotiated, although Auger jokes he's still not sure if that's for one structure or both.

Just 11 months ago, 32 lighthouse and history enthusiasts met at the Hamilton Beach Rescue Unit station to figure out how to save the two sites. Today, to Auger's amazement, the group numbers 146 -- one for every year of the lighthouse's existence -- and is holding its first annual general meeting this weekend as an incorporated entity, a designation it acquired with help from the Ontario Historical Society.

After 40 years of decay and neglect, and talk of the need to act if the structures are to be saved, something is finally happening. "Everybody loves lighthouses," Auger said. "There's something captivating about them. They are truly altruistic structures that only exist to help."

Last month, the plywood that secures the lighthouse door was pried off to allow a team of experts access to the interior of the 55-foot tower. The spiral staircase to the top has long since collapsed, but that didn't deter the restoration architect, structural engineer and millwright -- two of whom are also working on restoration of Parliament Hill's West Block. They had brought ladders and were able to climb as high as the 12-sided lantern room, where they encountered a jammed door.

With that access blocked, Auger is currently casting about for free use of a cherry-picker or ladder truck to get the trio into the cap of the lighthouse so they can complete their assessment. Without the report, it's impossible to put a dollar estimate on the project, but Auger tosses out $250,000 as a ballpark projection.

His wish list includes a completion date of December 2007, to coincide with the 150th anniversary of lighthouse keeper George Thompson taking up residence in the brick cottage.

Thompson lost just about everything he owned in the summer of 1856 when sparks from a government supply ship -- loaded, ironically, with barrels of whale oil for his lighthouse -- burned down the lighthouse, the pier light, the pier, the ferry house, and the keeper's house. His new house was set further back and the new lighthouse was made of limestone, five feet thick at ground level and an estimated seven feet thick below ground.

Auger says the restoration team is impressed with the substance of the house, which he hopes will someday be part of the City of Hamilton's museum collection.

There's plenty of work to be done, Auger acknowledges, and a lot of money to be raised. But the future of the lighthouse and the keeper's cottage looks as bright as the beacon whose lamps were first lit 146 years ago Monday.

mnolan@thespec.com

905-526-4689

Need to Know:

The annual general meeting of the Beach Canal Lighthouse Group begins at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Hamilton Beach Rescue Unit, 316 Beach Blvd. It is open to the public, but only members may participate in pre-meeting tours of the lighthouse and keeper's cottage. Call 905-681-6233 or e-mail lighthouse1858@hotmail.com.

(Image#1)
Special Collections, Hamilton Public Library
The lighthouse, as it looked in this photo by C.S. Cochran circa 1899.

(Image#2)
Cathie Coward, the Hamilton Spectator
Lighthouse keeper George Thompson lived in the two-storey, brick, 1857 keeper's cottage at the ship canal.

(Image#3)
Cathie Coward, the Hamilton Spectator
Dave Auger looks over the fireplace in the lighthouse keeper's cottage.
 
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