A flicker of hope ap­pears for 1858 canal light­house

Port author­ity may help with decade-long ju­ris­dic­tional ‘log­jam’

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - MATTHEW VAN DONGEN

Sur­prise talks with the Hamil­ton Port Author­ity are res­ur­rect­ing stalled hopes to re­store the his­toric Beach Canal Light­house.

Vol­un­teers with the Beach Canal Light­house Group have ne­go­ti­ated with var­i­ous lev­els of gov­ern­ment for more than a decade to try to se­cure own­er­ship of the 1858 light­house and its keeper’s cottage, with an eye to restor­ing the her­itage land­marks and al­low­ing public ac­cess.

But un­til re­cently, those ef­forts were stuck in a ju­ris­dic­tional quag­mire, said group chair­per­son Sandy Thom­son.

He said the fed­eral de­part­ment re­spon­si­ble for the land un­der the light­house doesn’t want to turn it over to a pri­vate group of vol­un­teers — but the most likely gov­ern­ment can­di­dates to take over the prop­erty, Hamil­ton and Burling­ton, are not in­ter­ested.

“It’s been 10 years of frus­tra­tion,” said Thom­son, who is the great-great grand­son of one of the light­house keep­ers from the 1850s. “A lot of peo­ple were ready to give up … I could see no solution.”

But re­cently, Thom­son said he has been in talks with port author­ity head Ian Hamil­ton about the prospect of the fed­eral agency tak­ing over own­er­ship of the light­house prop­erty to break the ju­ris­dic­tional “log­jam.”

“It came out of nowhere,” said Thom­son. “I was very sur­prised — but ob­vi­ously, very pleased.”

Hamil­ton con­firmed Mon­day the agency is talk­ing with both the light­house group and fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

He said he would love for the port author­ity to help fill a “gap” cre­ated by the shut­ter­ing of mar­itime mu­se­ums in other Great Lakes cities. He sug­gested such a mu­seum would pair well with a re­stored and pub­licly ac­ces­si­ble her­itage light­house.

“We would very much love to help cel­e­brate Hamil­ton’s rich mar­itime his­tory,” he said.

Thom­son cau­tioned the part­ner­ship is just an idea so far, but added the par­ties have sched­uled a tele­con­fer­ence to dis­cuss the fea­si­bil­ity of the pro­posal later this month. He said his group is ready to fundraise for re­pairs and ex­plore op­er­at­ing sce­nar­ios if the port author­ity can break the ju­ris­dic­tional “log­jam” by agree­ing to own the prop­er­ties.

“We have peo­ple ready and will­ing to do­nate so long as the own­er­ship ques­tion is sorted out,” he said. “We don’t need to own the thing.”

The city paid for a busi­ness plan sev­eral years ago that looked at restor­ing and open­ing the light­house and cottage to the public, said Ward 5 Coun. Chad Collins. It es­ti­mated the needs for hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in re­pairs and ac­ces­si­bil­ity im­prove­ments in or­der to re­open the build­ings.

The city has helped fund some re­pairs, like cleanup of bat guano in the his­toric build­ing. But coun­cil de­cided it didn’t have the bud­get to add an­other her­itage build­ing to “an ex­ist­ing back­log” of crum­bling his­toric prop­er­ties, Collins said, point­ing as an ex­am­ple to on­go­ing chal­lenges pay­ing to up­keep Auch­mar Es­tate.

“I would wel­come any part­ner­ship that would pro­vide new re­sources to help pre­serve what is re­ally an in­te­gral part of our city’s his­tory,” he said.

HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR FILE PHOTO

The Beach Canal Light­house was built in 1858.

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