Ghost stories still haunt Gibraltar Point Lighthouse on Toronto Islands
Couple Mehdi Labonne, left, and Monica Kulik take a break from their bike ride at the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse at Toronto Island on Thursday, June 21, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin
Peter Goffin, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, July 16, 2018 11:39AM EDT
TORONTO - On a hot and sunny weekday morning, hundreds of people take the ferry ride to the Toronto Islands, filling beaches, paths and picnic areas that just a year ago were flooded by record-high lake levels.
At Hanlan's Point, the quiet westernmost wing of the islands, visitors walk and bike past giant sandbags still lining the shore.
Most of them are heading to the clothing optional beach. But those who stay on the path a little longer will come across a vital piece of Toronto history, practically cut off from the rest of the city.
The Gibraltar Point Lighthouse guided ships into Toronto's harbour when the port was the city's most thriving commercial asset.
Built in 1808, when Toronto was still called York, the lighthouse is the oldest building of its kind still standing on the Great Lakes and the second-oldest in Canada, Heritage Toronto said.
“It really doesn't function as a lighthouse anymore, now they use electronic beacons to keep ships off,” Warren Hoselton, the City of Toronto's Parks Supervisor for the islands.
It was decommissioned in the late 1950s, and handed over to the City of Toronto, he said.
The shores of Lake Ontario have receded over the years, leaving the lighthouse about 100 metres short of the water. Its cool stone walls, dappled by chipped white paint, are mostly hidden from the well-used path around Hanlan's Point by dense greenery.
Just steps from the lighthouse clearing is a lush wetland, populated by ducklings, gulls and heron.
The lighthouse is a popular destination though and, after a drastically shortened summer season in 2017, the Toronto islands are back to business as usual, Hoselton said.
“We literally missed the best half of the season (last year) and it was a 50 per cent hit on revenues and attendance,” Hoselton said.
Flooding brought on by heavy rains kept the islands closed until the end of July. Water taxis and some ferries continued to run, but people were discouraged from trudging around the waterlogged islands.
“The people are back in droves (this year),” Hoselton said. “You wouldn't be able to see a whole lot of flooding damage.”
Some of the visitors returning to the Gibraltar point area have come in search of ghosts.
“I was just with a group (called the) Paranormal Seekers,” Hoselton said. “There has been lots of groups coming over for that specifically from far and wide.”
The first lighthouse keeper, J.P. Radan Muller, disappeared mysteriously in 1815 and, years later, a set of human bones were found nearby, according to the Ontario Heritage Trust.
Legend has it Radan Muller was murdered by local soldiers and that his spirit still haunts the lighthouse.
“I've heard two stories, and both of them centre around alcohol - surprise, surprise,” Hoselton said.
In one version, Radan Muller sold the soldiers a batch of liquor diluted with water. When the booze froze on a long winter march, the soldiers realized they had been cheated and returned to the lighthouse to get revenge.
In another version, Radan Muller was serving soldiers at his home and made the mistake of trying to close up shop early, leading to a deadly fight.
“I don't think there's been anything concrete on findings,” Hoselton said of Radan Muller's ghost. “If (the lighthouse) is occupied by a spirit, they must be a very friendly one because you wouldn't even know they are there. They are well-behaved.”