A flicker of hope appears for 1858 canal lighthouse
Port authority may help with decade-long jurisdictional ‘logjam’
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.
The Beach Canal Lighthouse was built in 1858.