Ontario Lighthouses: Kingsville & Leamington

Kingsville and Leamington, Ontario (Map)

Spring 2014


Home again in late May for a family function, I would forgo my usual Essex County morning wanderings to finally get two nearby lighthouses on the shores of Lake Erie.

While I may have visited plenty of lighthouses in Michigan, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, the two lighthouses in this update only brings my Ontario number to a meagre eight (the two in this update, Cape Race in Ottawa, Rondeau Breakwater, Boblo Island, the one near Sandpoint, Lighthouse Cove & Kincardine).

About a half hour away from home, Leamington sits in southern Essex County on the shores of Lake Erie. (Map)

Parking my truck at Seacliff Park, light rain dotted the windshield on this dreary morning. Looking down the rolling hill to the noisy shore, the Leamington Lighthouse stood to my left amongst a group of cabins.

The settling of Essex County largely focused itself across from Detroit, where the village of Sandwich grew along le Petite Cote ('the small coast', in comparison to Michigan's longer Detroit River coastline). Back then, Essex County was so heavily forested that it was hard work for the settlers to remove trees to get at the fertile soil, limiting inland growth to a greater extent than you would imagine of the flat, farmed Essex County today.

The townships of Essex County - including Mersea Township where you would find Leamington - were surveyed in 1792. By the 1820s, Colonel Talbot had constructed the Talbot Trail (Highway 3 nowadays) along a ridge that stretched from Windsor to Mersea Township, connecting the two along a path that used to be an old Indian trail. It was here that settlement started on the Mersea-Gosfield Townline, blossoming with an Alex Wilkinson building his farm along Erie Street (the main north-south road in Leamington today). The few farms here of Mr. Wilkinson and his neighbours would then require a post office, a store, a hotel, and obviously a tavern. This settlement came to be known as Wilkinson's Corners.

Wilkinson's Corners would grow slowly while the town's farmers traded their grain at far distances, until it grew substantially with the construction of a local grist mill and saw mill at Hillman Creek. The growth that would come with a reliable, local outlet for lumber and crops would cause Wilkinson's Corners to construct several docks along Lake Erie, to then ship their products to desired markets in a quicker and more efficient fashion. Obviously ships would need guidance to find these docks in inclement weather, therefore the Leamington Lighthouse was constructed in 1879. The land upon which the lighthouse was constructed was that of Forest H.C. Conover, where the nearby street names of Forest & Conover still honour his charity from centuries ago.

(It was around this time they tried to rename Wilkinson's Corners to Gainesborough, but because of an already existing Gainsborough near Niagara Falls, they went with a Mr. Gaines' hometown name of Leamington (England) instead.)

Leamington Lighthouse was replaced 49 years later and the old land and 1879 lighthouse were no longer needed. The land and the light were sold to an Elmer Wallace Luxford of Walkerville, who allowed the land to become a campground for those wanting to enjoy the beach, take a break on their travels to Point Pelee or for those waiting for the ferry to Pelee Island. This would grow into local people eventually building vacation cabins on the property, until the earlier tents became a rare sight.

The Lighthouse Club was formed in 1947 by these cabin owners. It continues to operate and consolidate the cabin community here, who have since converted their 1879 lighthouse into a washroom for the members.

Personally, I've rode bikes down here at Marina Park before, but only peered over at the Lighthouse Club property. I thought I had memories of the lighthouse, but after ending up at Point Pelee National Park and having two friendly gatekeepers send me back towards Leamington, I wasn't so sure I remembered Leamington's lighthouse correctly anymore. Then again, as I drove through Leamington having flashbacks to all of the BMX spots from 10-15 years ago - that somehow still exist there - the whole morning was an exercise in refreshing my brain about long forgotten places and confused connections.

After I was done in Leamington, there was a 20 minute drive along Seacliffe Drive, through Union and Seacliffe towards Kingsville.

I'm not sure why I only looked up the location of these lighthouses and nothing about their accessibility, but in Kingsville I found myself on the old rail line that is now the Chrysler Greenway, looking at a problematic fence separating me from the Kingsville Rear Range Lighthouse. It took me long enough to get here in the first place, I now wondered if I would have to come back to satisfy my rule of having to stand before a lighthouse for it to count.

Kingsville Lighthouse in July 1926.
Courtesy of Walkerville Times Collection, donated by Neil J. MacPhee

Kingsville would have needed a lighthouse much in the same way that Leamington did - except that Kingsville was almost entirely a farming centre and most of the product shipped from their shores would have been tobacco and food crops.

So much of today's bustle and heart of Kingsville is situated away from the shores of Lake Erie, that I tend to forget how much of the town is on the water. A brief look at a map will show that Kingsville abuts a great lake just like Leamington.

Two Kingsville range lighthouses were built in 1886. As this is the rear lighthouse of the set, incoming ships would line up the foreground Kingsville Front Lighthouse light with the light from this rear range lighthouse in the back, to know that they were following a safe path into the harbour of Kingsville while on their trip of recreation to Hiram Walker's grand Mattawas Hotel or retrieving tobacco from one of the numerous factories in Kingsville at the time.

Wayne Sapulski has a great article about the Kingsville Lighthouse which originally appeared in The Beacon, stating that "Given its small size, location, and the farming community it served, the harbor at Kingsville never became an important commercial port." The lighthouses would be extinguished in 1936 and replaced by a simple single flashing light.

^You can also see the old MacDonald Leaf Company water tower here. It was pulled down within the next few months of 2014.

The history of these two Kingsville lighthouses in the late 1930s and 1940s is unknown, but the front range lighthouse didn't make it. The rear range lighthouse helped itself out by becoming a private cottage by the late 1950s - how awesome would that be? - before being donated to the town and put on display in Kingsville's showcase Lakeside Park in 1973. From that point forward, it seems that the town forgot that a wood lighthouse would need maintenance, because after suffering from years of neglect, it was thankfully moved to the Kingsville Historical Park grounds and underwent two separate renovations.

The Kingsville Historical Park grounds was where I found the lighthouse today, sizing up the fence and wondering if it was worth the trouble of hopping. Luckily enough for me, when I moved my truck to park at the nearby Legion Hall, I noticed that the historic park was open and that I could simply walk through the war museum and see the lighthouse through a side door!

A funny thing happened as I was walking back through the museum to leave. There were a few Kingsville residents inside and one man asked why I enjoy lighthouses, stating that his wife loves lighthouses & that it was because she had been to Nova Scotia, discovering all of these great lighthouses situated on scenic remote cliffs along beautiful waterways.

Which is...pretty much how I found myself here in Kingsville, 7 years after beginning with a few of those Nova Scotian lighthouses. Add in that I like the desolation and solitude of lighthouses in Nova Scotia & Newfoundland, and you pretty much hit the nail on the head.


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Bordeaux & Adeytown, NL - Birds & Houses

Newer Update:
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1 - The Municipality of Leamington - History
2 - PoP - LHC Lighthouse View, RayQix, Geocaching.com
3 - Kingsville Rear Range Light - Wayne S. Sapulski, The Beacon

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