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
Location Toronto Islands
Coordinates 43°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 constructed 1808
Year first lit 1809
Deactivated 1956
Construction stone tower
Tower shape hexagonal frustum tower with balcony and lantern
Markings / pattern unpainted gray stone tower, red lantern
Height 25 metres (82 ft)
ARLHS number CAN-199
Managing agent City of Toronto

The Gibraltar Point Lighthouse is a lighthouse located on the Toronto Islands in Toronto, Ontario. 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.[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 and extended to 82 feet in 1832. The diameter ranges from ~7 m at the base to ~2.1 m at the top. The base is made from stone quarried in Queenston and the extension from Kingston stone. Though it once stood on the shore, sand has built up over time so that it now stands about 100 m inland.

The tower initially used 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.

John Paul Radelmüller[edit]

Legend has it that the lighthouse is haunted by its first keeper John Paul Radelmüller, who was murdered in 1815.[1][3]

According to local lore, soldiers from Fort York visited Radelmüller on the evening of 2 January 1815 in search of his bootlegged beer. But they had too much to drink, and dispute broke out, culminating in the keeper's murder. The inebriated soldiers 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,[4] though it was impossible to prove definitively prove they were linked to Radelmüller.

The myth of Radelmüller's ghost has remained prominent in the city's popular memory, but 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."[5]

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

But 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 24 June 1809.[2]

Radelmüller indeed suffered a violent death on 2 January 1815, 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, doubt has been cast on some of the more dramatic elements of the story. Contrary to claims that the keeper's corpse was hacked to pieces and hidden, all evidence suggests that Radelmüller's body was not mutilated, but was found after his death and laid to rest near the lighthouse.[1]


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.

Lighthouse keepers[edit]

  • John Paul Radelmüller 1809-1815
  • William Halloway 1816-1831
  • James Durnan 1832-1854
  • George Durnan 1854-1908
  • Captain P.J. McSherry 1905-1912
  • B. 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]


  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" (PDF). Toronto: The Fife and Drum: 3–5. 
  2. ^ a b Otto, Stephen (December 2015). "The Gibraltar Point Lighthouse". Toronto: The Fife and Drum: 5. 
  3. ^ Butts, Edward (2011). Murder: Twelve True Stories of Homicide in Canada. Canada: Dundurn Group Ltd. p. 223. ISBN 1554887623. 
  4. ^ Robertson, John Ross (1908). Landmarks of Toronto, Volume 5. Toronto: John Ross Robertson. pp. 378–385. 
  5. ^ Filey, Mike (2010). Toronto Sketches 10: "The Way We Were". Canada: Dundurn Group Ltd. p. 47. ISBN 9781554888382. 

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.
  • 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]