Gibraltar Point Lighthouse

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Gibraltar Point Lighthouse
Gibraltar Point Lighthouse.JPG
Gibraltar Point Lighthouse is located in Ontario
Gibraltar Point Lighthouse
Gibraltar Point Lighthouse
LocationToronto Islands
Coordinates43°36′49.2″N 79°23′07″W / 43.613667°N 79.38528°W / 43.613667; -79.38528Coordinates: 43°36′49.2″N 79°23′07″W / 43.613667°N 79.38528°W / 43.613667; -79.38528
Year first constructed1808
Year first lit1809
Constructionstone tower
Tower shapehexagonal tower with balcony and lantern
Markings / patternunpainted gray stone tower, red lantern
Tower height25 metres (82 ft)
ARLHS numberCAN-199
Managing agentCity of Toronto

The Gibraltar Point Lighthouse is a lighthouse located on the Toronto Islands in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Begun in 1808, it is the oldest existing lighthouse on the Great Lakes, and one of Toronto's oldest buildings. The lighthouse is perhaps best known for the demise of its first keeper, German-born John Paul Radelmüller, whose 1815 murder forms the basis of Toronto's most enduring ghost story. Recent research has verified many aspects of the traditional tale of his death and identified the soldiers charged with but ultimately acquitted of the crime.[1]


Authorized in 1803 with two other lighthouses by an Act of the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada, construction of the Gibraltar Point lighthouse did not begin until 1808.[2] It was built to a height of 52 feet (16 m) and extended to 82 feet (25 m) in 1832. The diameter ranges from about 7 metres (23 ft) at the base to about 2.1 metres (6.9 ft) at the top. The base is made from stone quarried in Queenston and the extension from Kingston stone. The lighthouse construction and maintenance was paid for through a harbour fee levied upon all boats entering the harbour.[3] When completed in August 1809, the lighthouse was located 25 feet (7.6 m) from the shore. Since then, sand has built up over time so that it now stands about 100 metres (110 yd) inland.

When opened, the lighthouse was accompanied by the lighthouse keeper's cottage. It was a squared-log house clad in clapboard. It was two-storeys, having two rooms on the first floor and sleeping space in the attic above.[4] When ships approached, the lighthouse keeper would run up a flag to notify the Toronto harbour master.[3] The cottage no longer exists.

The tower light was initially an oak and glass cage, illuminated by candles.[3] The tower switched to sperm oil from 1832 and switched to coal in 1863. The original lamp structure was wood and replaced with steel in 1878. An electric light was installed in 1916-17 and updated in 1945. In 1958, Metro Parks took over operations and made renovations in 1961-62. Currently unused, the lighthouse is occasionally open for public tours, including on the annual Doors Open Toronto weekend.

Since the decommissioning of the lighthouse, smaller automated lighthouses (two located at Humber Bay Park in the west and Bluffer's Park to the east), Toronto Harbour Light, as well as floating bell or light buoys, navigational masts have been used to replace the lighthouse to provide navigational aid along Toronto's waterfront and Toronto Harbour.

John Paul Radelmüller[edit]

A local legend is that the lighthouse is haunted by its first keeper John Paul Radelmüller (often rendered incorrectly as Rademiller, Radenmuller, Radan Muller etc.), who was murdered in 1815.[1][5]

According to local lore, soldiers from Fort York visited J.P. Radelmüller on the evening of January 2, 1815, in search of his bootlegged beer. But they had too much to drink and a dispute broke out, culminating in the keeper's murder. The inebriated soldiers, so it is claimed, tried to conceal their crime by chopping apart the corpse and hiding the remains.[1] In 1893, then-keeper George Durnan searched for the corpse and found part of a jawbone and coffin fragments near the lighthouse,[6] though it was impossible to definitively prove they were linked to Radelmüller. The veracity of the legend of the murder has long been questioned. As prominent Toronto historian Mike Filey wrote, when it came to the truth of the story of the keeper's demise, "Your guess is as good as mine."[7]

A sketch depicting the lighthouse c. 1816, from Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto.

Recent scholarship has revealed more about Radelmüller's life and death. Born circa 1763 in Anspach, Germany, Radelmüller worked as a servant of royalty for twenty years, in the households of the Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Kent, accompanying the latter to Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1799.[1] Arriving at York in 1804, Radelmüller was appointed as keeper of the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse on July 14, 1809.

Radelmüller indeed suffered a violent death on January 2, 1815, aged approximately fifty-two, according to the most recent and definitive study of his murder, which confirmed the basic truth of many aspects of the popular legend.[1] Eamonn O'Keeffe also identified the two soldiers charged with (but acquitted of) Radelmüller's murder as John Henry and John Blueman, both Irishmen of the Glengarry Light Infantry, a regiment that saw heavy action in the War of 1812.[1]

While research has verified much of the traditional tale, O'Keeffe cast doubt on some of the more dramatic elements of the story. Contrary to claims that the keeper's corpse was hacked to pieces and hidden, contemporary evidence suggests that Radelmüller's body was not mutilated, but was found after his death and laid to rest near the lighthouse.[1]

Lighthouse keepers[edit]

  • John Paul Radelmüller 1809-1815
  • William Halloway 1816-1831
  • James Durnan 1832-1854
  • George Durnan 1854-1908
  • Captain Patrick J. McSherry 1905-1912
  • Blake Matthews 1912-1917
  • G.F. Eaton 1917-1918
  • F.C. Allan 1918-1944
  • Mrs. Ladder 1944-1955
  • Mrs. Dedie Dodds 1955-1958

See also[edit]


  • Butts, Edward (2011). Murder: Twelve True Stories of Homicide in Canada. Canada: Dundurn Group Ltd. ISBN 1554887623.
  • Filey, Mike (2010). Toronto Sketches 10: "The Way We Were". Canada: Dundurn Group Ltd. ISBN 9781554888382.
  • Hounsom, Eric W. (1970). Toronto in 1810. Toronto, ON: Ryerson Press. ISBN 0770003117.
  • O'Keeffe, Eamonn (2015). "New Light on Toronto's Oldest Cold Case: The 1815 Murder of John Paul Radelmüller". Toronto, ON: The Fife and Drum.
  1. ^ a b c d e f g O'Keeffe, Eamonn (December 2015). "New Light on Toronto's Oldest Cold Case: The 1815 Murder of John Paul Radelmüller". Toronto: The Fife and Drum: 3–5.
  2. ^ Otto, Stephen (December 2015). "The Gibraltar Point Lighthouse". Toronto: The Fife and Drum: 5.
  3. ^ a b c Hounsom 1970, p. 9.
  4. ^ Hounsom 1970, pp. 9–10.
  5. ^ Butts 2011, p. 223.
  6. ^ Robertson, John Ross (1908). Landmarks of Toronto, Volume 5. Toronto: John Ross Robertson. pp. 378–385.
  7. ^ Filey 2010, p. 47.

Further reading[edit]

  • Crompton, Samuel Willard & Michael J. Rhein. The Ultimate Book of Lighthouses (2002) ISBN 1-59223-102-0; ISBN 978-1-59223-102-7.
  • Jones, Ray, & Roberts, Bruce (Photographer). Eastern Great Lakes Lighthouses (Lighthouse Series) (Paperback) (Old Saybrook, CN: The Globe Pequot Press) ISBN 1-56440-899-X.
  • Jones, Ray.The Lighthouse Encyclopedia, The Definitive Reference (Globe Pequot, January 1, 2004, 1st ed.) ISBN 0-7627-2735-7; ISBN 978-0-7627-2735-3.
  • Oleszewski, Wes. Great Lakes Lighthouses, American and Canadian: A Comprehensive Directory/Guide to Great Lakes Lighthouses, (Gwinn, Michigan: Avery Color Studios, Inc., 1998) ISBN 0-932212-98-0.
  • O'Keeffe, Eamonn "New Light on Toronto's Oldest Cold Case: The 1815 Murder of John Paul Radelmüller", The Fife and Drum (December 2015), p. 3.
  • Penrose, Laurie & Penrose, Bill T., (1994-05) A Traveler's Guide to 100 Eastern Great Lakes: Lighthouses (Paperback), Friede Publications, 125 pages ISBN 0-923756-09-4.
  • Robertson, John Ross. "Robertson's landmarks of Toronto : a collection of historical sketches of the old town of York, Fifth Series", 589 pages ISBN
  • Wright, Larry and Wright, Patricia. Great Lakes Lighthouses Encyclopedia Hardback (Erin: Boston Mills Press, 2006) ISBN 1-55046-399-3

External links[edit]