Digest>Archives> December 2004

Gone But Not Forgotten: Ontario's Dominion Lighthouse Depot

By Bill Edwards

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The old Dominion Lighthouse Depot in Prescott, ...

The Dominion Lighthouse Depot (DLD) was commissioned at Prescott, Ontario, Canada, in 1903. The depot relocated from Morrisburg and took over a facility in Prescott that had been constructed in 1900 by the Imperial Starch Company. The DLD supported aids to navigation, coast to coast, from 1903 to 1985. From 1940 to 1945, it manufactured war materials (depth-charge pistols and primers used by Canadian and British warships in sinking U-boats) during World War II. In 1962, it became the Prescott Base for the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG).

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Large buoys on the grounds of the Prescott Coast ...

The CCG moved into a modern facility in 1985 and demolished the old DLD in 1986, turning the space into a parking lot for the current station. The boathouse is all that remains of the original structures – that is, if you don’t count the lantern and lens that reside at the Prescott Rotary Light, also known as the Prescott Harbor Inner Light (there is also a light located on the breakwater).

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Buoys at the Prescott Coast Guard Base. Photo ...

The replica lighthouse also serves as the Prescott Visitor Center, run by the local Rotary Club. The base of the lighthouse houses a small ice cream and gift shop (closed during the winter). When it’s open, you may climb the tower to the lantern and see the fifth order lens up close. The lens and related devices seen there were used in the training of CCG lightkeepers at the Dominion Lighthouse Depot. In fact, the lantern is the one that was on top of the old DLD building. Back in its day, the DLD was the biggest supplier of lighthouse equipment in Canada. They also built their own lanterns, and the current base still does.

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An exhibit on aids to navigation in the reception ...

Ted Cater, who is in charge of the Marine Aids Program at the Canadian Coast Guard’s Prescott Base, says that about 25 years ago the old station employed about 260 people and that currently they have roughly five dozens employees. He says the current station resides on the old DLD parking lot. Essentially, they swapped lots!

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Lighthouse lenses on display in the reception ...

Mr. Cater was the senior lightkeeper there in the early 1980s, in charge of the lighthouse keepers and responsible for the major light stations on the lower Great Lakes. At the time, that added up to about 350 lights, 22 major lights with about two dozens lightkeepers on staff during that time. Ted says that responsibility turned into a bittersweet one when he ended up working on the automation program. Everything was automated by 1990.

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This lighthouse, known as the Prescott Rotary ...

The Canadian Coast Guard in Prescott is one of a group of 11 facilities across Canada that is responsible for maintaining the integrity of the Marine Transportation System. The Prescott Base area of operations extends from the Beauharnois Canal near Montreal to Grand Bend on Lake Huron. This area includes portions of the Ottawa River, the St. Lawrence Seaway, Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and the Detroit River/Lake St. Clair/St. Clair River. In total, there are more than 3,300 kilometers (over 2,000 miles) of shoreline within the Prescott Base area of operations.

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A sign in the parking lot of the Coast Guard ...

The Prescott Base has several functions including Aids to Navigation (lighthouses, foghorns, buoys, etc.), with 350 fixed aids, 310 floating lighted aids and 850 floating unlighted aids; Search and Rescue; icebreaking and winter reconnaissance and responding to pollution incidents. The base also administers the Navigable Waters Protection Act. This act regulates the construction of any structure that may obstruct the free movement of vessels on navigable waters.

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Inside the machine shop of the Dominion ...

Prescott’s shop and yard facilities are used primarily in maintaining aids to navigation, as well as Coast Guard ships and cutters, in the area of operations. In the late fall of each year, the majority of buoys in the area are brought to Cornwall, Prescott and Amherstburg, where they are inspected, repaired and repainted, if necessary, so that they are ready for the next season.

Various vessels based in Prescott continuously monitor the waterways for oil and chemical pollution. They are responsible for ensuring the cleanup of any pollutants and also work to identify polluters. Three ships are also responsible for servicing and maintaining lightstations, buoys and remotely located shore lights, as well as icebreaking and other required duties. They are the 232-foot-long medium class icebreaker Griffon, which can also carry the station’s helicopter, medium class icebreaker/buoy tender Simcoe and small buoy tender Caribou Isle.

1995 marked the official opening of the Prescott Marine Communications & Traffic Services. This new center was formed following a consolidation of the Cardinal and Toronto Coast Guard Radio Stations. MCTS provides a safety service to the mariner, regulates marine traffic, provides a ship-shore communications service and assists in protecting the marine environment against pollution. All vessels, including those of the Canadian Coast Guard, utilize these services.

The Prescott Base has not forgotten its roots from the Dominion Lighthouse Depot. In its reception area (sorry, not open to the public) are display cases of various lighthouse artifacts and in the center of the room is a fabulous lighthouse lens display.

This story appeared in the December 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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