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Speakers Corner: The future of Toronto’s landlocked lighthouse

Speakers Corner is back! CityNews wants to hear from you. We’ve been asking you to send us interesting stories, videos or questions you want answered. The Queen Street booth maybe a thing of the past, but we’re still listening and want to hear what’s on your mind.

This week, we were asked about a Toronto lighthouse, built to guide ships safely into shore. The only problem? It’s not near the water! It’s also been the victim of vandals and squatters. So CityNews was asked how it got there and what’s being done to preserve it.

Parked between streetcar tracks, off Fleet Street not far from Prince’s Gate, sits an octagonal structure standing 8.5 metres tall.

“People are embarrassed to say that they’ve taken the streetcar or ridden their bikes by it and they never noticed,” said Jo Ann Pynn, Manager of Cultural Assets for the City of Toronto.

“Once upon a time this lighthouse did sit on the water and functioned to help guide in ships.”

But that was years ago, long before the C.N. Tower and a few years before the very first Canadian National Exhibition.

“Around the 1830’s they began to build a wharf here, called Queens Wharf, named after Queen Victoria who came to the throne.” Pynn said.

Queen’s Wharf is now buried by lakefill but was once bustling with ships importing and exporting goods into Toronto Harbour.

“So that’s where the lighthouse comes in,” Pynn said.

Built in 1861, for less than $2,000, it was one of two lighthouses that worked together as range lights to guide in ships safely.

After decades of success, in November of 1906, five people died after a pair of vessels carrying coal from Erie, Pennsylvania got stuck in Queen’s Wharf during a storm.

“That created quite an uproar and it was decided the passage into the harbour was no longer wide and deep enough, so the Harbour Commission at the time dredged a new path which is what we think of the western gap,” Pynn said.

Shortly after, Queen’s Wharf was filled in to create more land for development. The lighthouse became obsolete and was nearly demolished but saved by preservationists in the 1920’s. It was moved about 450 metres to its present location.

“Believe it or not, they actually put it on skids, hooked up some draft horses and hauled it down to this location here.” Pynn said.

Work was done in the 1980’s but since then, there have been no major renovations.

Over the years, it’s been vandalized with spray paint. The front door was recently kicked in and windows have been broken.

There is also no signage to explain its history. But CityNews just found out Pynn and her team got more money approved in the city budget this month to fix it up.

“First thing we have to do is get in there and investigate how much damage there is and what restoration work needs to be done.”

At this point Pynn is unsure how much those repairs will cost but she along with other historians are hoping to restore this forgotten piece of Toronto’s history back to its former glory.

“No, it won’t guide ships again but this is a mystery to a lot of people and we want to make sure it’s remembered,” Pynn said.

If you have a story, issue or question you’d like us to look into, hit us up, citynews.ca/speakerscorner.