A long and interesting history surrounds Red Rock Lighthouse as it sits perched atop Mink Island, a small island near the entrance to Parry Sound. First put into service in 1881, the lighthouse continued to brighten the way for boats and sailors until 1977.

The History of the Lighthouse

The town of Parry Sound was young when the lighthouse was built, having been surveyed in 1869. The founder of the town, William Beatty, also decided to have a lighthouse erected to improve access to Parry Sound through the Georgian Bay.

The light for the lighthouse was first placed in operation in November of 1870 with William McGowan serving as the first lightkeeper. The lighthouse was also a residence with McGowan living there with his wife and five children.

In 1879, it was decided that a new lighthouse would replace the one on Mink Island. This one would be located on Red Rock, which was named due to the reddish shade of granite. Red Rock Lighthouse was finished in 1881 and placed in operation. William McGowan also became keeper of Red Rock, but he resigned soon after. Adam Lawson was the second lightkeeper.

The lighthouse perched on a granite rock where it was exposed to winds and heavy storms. At times, the sea would break over the top of the lighthouse, which led to part of the wooden building becoming unsound. In 1894, repairs were made to strengthen the lighthouse.

Stories of the Lighthouse

Other lightkeepers took care of Red Rock, with Adam Brown serving for almost 40 years. He was 105 when he died. One of his famous stories told of being exiled at the lighthouse on Christmas. The cold winter of 1903 saw the building encrusted in ice. Brown determined to reach shore without help on Christmas Eve by taking his boat and rowing toward the mainland.

Brown became unable to navigate his boat because of ice. He abandoned his boat and walked toward land on the ice. He was getting tired when he heard voices, which turned out to be two fisherman who were on a fishing shanty located on the ice. They helped him make it to the shore.

While the lighthouse helped save many a boat, it caused the death of hundreds of birds. In fact, Brown told the story that almost 300 birds were killed by hitting the lantern room on October 6, 1936. He nursed many birds back to health at the lighthouse each year.

Progress and Prestige

The lighthouse saw many changes during its years of use. The light changed from fixed to one that illuminated for a period of time before being eclipsed for a short period.

A new tower was built in 1912, made out of reinforced concrete. A fog alarm was added along with an iron lantern. A helipad was installed on the roof in the 1970’s to make it easier for helicopters to reach the lighthouse.

Red Rock Lighthouse became a Recognized Federal Heritage Building in 2007. It is now owned by the Canadian Coast Guard. Visitors can take a boat tour around the lighthouse, but the grounds and tower are closed. To experience more of the lighthouse history, they can visit the Museum on Tower Hill to see a lamp and reflector that was in the first Red Rock Lighthouse. This lighthouse is a prime example of typical lighthouse design and location, which earned it the recognition it has achieved.


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Saturday 9:00 – 5:00
Sunday 11:00 – 4:00

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