Porphyry Point Light
By Dave Wobser

Point Porphyry is a stretch of land that extends southeast from the Canadian mainland some 35 miles northeast of Thunder Bay, Ontario. The peninsula encloses Black Bay. Just off the end of the peninsula lies Edward Island. Porphyry Point Light is located on the south end of Edward Island and marks the entrance to Black Bay. The point receives its name from the unique rock which forms the point. Porphyry stone is a volcanic rock formed from a slow cooling process of igneous material.

The first lighthouse was established here in 1873 and was the second Canadian light on Lake Superior. It was a square, white wooden building that was 36 feet high.

The present light tower dates from 1960. It is a 48-foot high cylindrical tower that is supported by an iron skeletal framework. One side of the framework is covered with slats to serve as a day mark. An octagonal lantern tops the structure and has a focal plane 82 feet above Lake Superior.

A pair of two-story dwellings, a fog signal building, and a group of smaller structures, all are painted white and have red roofs. A bank of modern free-standing fog horns are located outside the fog signal building.

The automated light is an active aid to navigation and not open to the public. It can only be viewed by boat.

Porphyry Point
An essay by Jane Byers

On Porphyry Island just off the northern shores of Lake Superior proudly stands the Porphyry Point Lighthouse.  Named for the black volcanic rock it’s perched on, the lighthouse has watched over the entrance to Black Bay since 1873.  Only the second Canadian light station established on the great lake, the McKay’s have tended the light for three generations, Grandpa being the last. The light station was manned vigilantly from just before the ice melted in the spring until the lake’s winter freeze.  Time spent on the island was a magical experience never forgotten by those fortunate enough to have visited there.

Lying just east of the mighty Sleeping Giant and only accessible by water or air, Porphyry Island was a seventeen nautical mile or a two hour passage by boat from the mainland camp. Grandpa’s expert maneuvering of the fishing vessel and Superior’s restless waters would make the voyage to the island an exhilarating adventure. A few drops of the lake’s frigid spray could take one’s breath away, and the enormous swells would make one’s stomach drop with each surge. Plowing into the harbor’s calm was always a welcome sensation as the powerful engines subdued and one glided to a stop at the dock. From there, it was just a fifteen minute tractor ride through the woods to the lighthouse.

The days flew by on the island. Hours were lost on the beaches collecting pieces of broken glass, polished to perfection from their trip along the rocky bottom of the lake. Against the black pebble sand, they looked like sparkling treasure and came in every color.  Smooth pulp logs washed ashore and were perfect for constructing massive forts. Exploring the woods one would occasionally discover an Ojibwe Indian burial mound. Their arrowheads were sometimes found and fashioned into tomahawks again. Fishing with Grandpa entailed helping with the nets and cleaning the fish for Grandma to fry to perfection and eat with fresh produce from her garden. 

The greatest thrill of all was climbing to the top of the lighthouse tower to gaze out from almost ninety feet above the beautiful blue lake. Looking down on the huge freighters as they made their way along the shipping channel was breathtaking. Days when the thick, heavy fog would move in Porphyry’s horns would start their deep, eerie warnings.  The radio would periodically crackle with “Maydays” from frightened boaters lost in the disorienting haze.  Alone, Grandpa would head to his boat and always find the distressed vessel to rescue, towing them safely into the harbor.

Animals were abundant on Porphyry.  Each spring would find a moose living on the island, having walked across the ice in the winter. Shortly after the light keeper’s return, they would swim away. Fox and deer were spotted frequently, and rabbits were everywhere.  The fall brought bears from the mainland as they swam over to feast on the Mountain Ash berries.

The Porphyry Point Light was made fully automated soon after Grandpa retired in 1979.  He was awarded The Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship and also presented to Queen Mother Elizabeth. The light tower is locked, and the island is now deserted, a nature preserve owned by the Canadian Coast Guard. Only visited by the odd sea kayaker, the forest and animals have reclaimed their island.  The era of manned light stations is now mainly a thing of the past.  Being a light keeper’s granddaughter is a cherished memory experienced by the extremely lucky and very few.  

Click on image to enlarge

Photograph by Dave Wobser

Historical views courtesy of the
Canadian Coast Guard

Location: Edward Island on the east side of the entrance to Thunder Bay.
Date Built: 1960
Active: Yes

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