Janet Head, which was named after Bayfield’s daughter, is a prominent feature on Manitoulin Island’s northern shore and helps form the protected anchorage of Gore Bay. Parliament appropriated $2,000 in 1878 for a lighthouse on Janet Head, and a $1,890 contract for its construction was awarded to Richard Whiteacre, with the condition that it be completed by August 15, 1879.
Robert Boyter, the first keeper, was born in Kilrenny, Fife, Scotland in October 1835, and emigrated to Thornbury, Ontario around 1868. In his quarterly report of June 30, 1885, he relates the following tragic tale:
I am sorry to say any remarks this time are of a very melancholy nature. My wife and eldest son left here on the 11th (of April) to go to his farm on the North shore with a yoke of oxen but owing to the depth of snow and water on the ice the oxen tired and they had to stay on Dart Island all night and did not reach Spanish river Mills until one oclock next day. She was so badly chilled and frozen that she died on 19th, the boy is still living but if he gets over it will be crippled for life.Learning of the death of his wife and the condition of his son, Boyter hired George Thorne of Gore Bay, with his team of horses, to take him to Spanish. Making the crossing with them was a Mr. Lewis and two young girls, Mary Baxter, age eleven, and Nellie O’Shea, daughter of the hotel keeper at Spanish. They started their journey on a clear day, but before long a severe blizzard blew up, making it difficult for the men to see the line of trees that marked the route across the ice. The group was forced to spend the night on the ice, suffering from the cold. When the horses refused to travel the next day, Boyter and Thorne set out on foot to get help and met a search party, who continued on to the stranded group. Mary Baxter had died by the time party reached them, and Nellie O’shea later lost part of a foot to the frostbite.
Keeper Boyter later remarried but came to his own tragic end. After spending the day in town on business in 1895, he got into his boat and hoisted sail, but overbalanced, fell in, and drowned in the bay.
Janet Head Lighthouse is currently owned by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and is leased to the Municipality of Gordon/Barrie Island. The lighthouse served as a summer residence for the Fletcher family from 1967, when Stephen and Muriel took out a lease on the property, until the lease was awarded to Janet Head Campground in 1999. After the campground closed, the Fletcher family returned in 2005 and continues to call the lighthouse home.
On September 7, 1979, Stephen Fletcher was preparing to wallpaper one of the rooms when he discovered the following letter that had been written on Department of Transport letterhead by Keeper George Thorburn in 1941 and placed in a stovepipe hole:
I am papering this room today July 16 finished N.W. room yesterday. The Russians & Germans are in a big battle, Germans trying to capture Moscow. The British RAF are bombing Germany and German held countries hard causing heavy damage.
I am just curious to know how long it will be when someone repapers these rooms.
George A. Thorburn
I am papering this room again North East room downstairs. 12 years since I papered it before, and we are heading for another war with Russia. The United Nations are fighting in Korea now trying for nearly three years to get a settlement.
I won’t be looking after light much longer. Dominion Election on August 10th this year and I may lose my job. I am not feeling too good. Very hot weather and my heart is troubling me.
George A. Thorburn
Keeper Thorburn did not lose his job, but continued as lightkeeper until 1955, when the light was automated. He stayed on after that as caretaker.
For many years, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) leased the property to the municipality of Gordon-Barrie Island, and the municipality then let the Fletcher family use the lighthouse as a vacation home in return for maintaining the structure and letting the public tour it on select days. In 2016, the DFO announced that they could no longer lease the lighthouse as possible safety concerns had been found in the structure. Once it addresses these issues, the DFO will likely transfer the lighthouse to the municipality.
The Coast Guard continues to maintain the light, which is currently an occulting, solar-powered L.E.D. light that runs twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, flashing three seconds on and two seconds off.
Description/Height of tower above ground
Lighthouse built in 1879.
White light. 3 seconds on, 2 seconds off.
White, square tower with attached dwelling. 10.6 m.
Head Keepers: Robert Boyter (1879 – 1895), James Kinney (1895 – 1903), Captain Angus Matheson (1903 – 1913), Robert Lewis (1913 – 1935), William Johnson (1935 – 1936), George Thorburn (1936 – 1955).