Digest>Archives> March 2004

A New Light on the Rainy River

By Jeremy D'Entremont


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This 1900 photo shows the 128-foot steamer ...

The village of Barwick, part of the Township of Chapple, is in northern Ontario at about the midpoint of the Rainy River, which flows from Rainy Lake and empties into Lake of the Woods about 30 miles to the west. Starting in the 1870s the river was bustling with steamboat traffic.

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In the construction process of the new lighthouse ...

For a time as many as 21 steamers served the route between Fort Frances and Kenora, formerly known by the unpicturesque name of Rat Portage. The steamers often pulled barges loaded with settlers’ belongings. Before train service arrived in 1901, most of the homesteading families in this area came by steamboat.

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In the construction process of the new lighthouse ...

There are rapids on the river a few miles to each side of Barwick, and locals helped the steamers pass through these dangerous areas. With the use of “heaving ropes” attached to the vessel and a “snubbing post” up the river, the boats would winch themselves through the rapids. The local good Samaritans would receive a hundred-pound bag of flour for their trouble.

The arrival of the railroad and later a dam near Fort Frances ended the steamboat era on the river in the early 20th century. But with all the earlier boat traffic and hazards, it’s no wonder that a number of navigational lights were established on the river. According to researcher Michel Forand, these were post and mast lights that can’t be classified as lighthouses. As far as he’s been able to tell there’s never been a true lighthouse on the Rainy River — until now, that is.

A couple of years ago the building of a lighthouse on the Barwick waterfront was proposed to the Chapple Heritage Committee. The committee decided to raise funds to construct the lighthouse, and much of it came from over 100 donors who each “purchased a brick” to help out. “For the most part bricks have been purchased by former and current residents,” says Rilla Race of the Chapple Heritage Committee, “either in their own names or in memory of a loved one who has lived here in the past.”

A model of the lighthouse will eventually be on display in the Chapple Museum, and the names will be engraved on gold plates around the base. The museum is only open from May to September, but Race says, “At other times we are hoping to find a place for it in the township office so that people may come at any time of year to see it.”

A few local corporate sponsors also donated services and/or materials. Plans for a wooden lighthouse were obtained from the Canadian Coast Guard, and by the spring of 2003 land use permits were in order and construction began. Coinciding with the lighthouse project, the Barwick hotel was demolished. Blocks from the hotel were used for the lighthouse base. The project was in full swing by late summer, and residents were frequently stopping by to monitor progress.

On September 25, 2003 a lighting ceremony was held. About 100 people gathered for a bonfire and watched as Wayne Nugent, the man who first came up with idea of a lighthouse, flipped the switch for the light. Another dedication ceremony is planned for sometime in 2004 after all work is completed on the building.

The new Barwick Lighthouse stands as an appropriate symbol of the community’s ties to the Rainy River.

To find out more, contact Chapple Heritage, Box 54, Barwick, Ontario, Canada P0W 1A0, or visit the Township of Chapple web site at


This story appeared in the March 2004 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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