Tomahawk Island Light Built in 1900

The Tomahawk Lighthouse Museum on the shores of Lake of the Woods. Take Lighthouse Road off of Hwy 621 between the communities of Bergland and Morson. Here stands a reminder of bygone days and how this lake of many islands could have treacherous travel. Today, the Tomahawk Lighthouse Museum is open to visitors by appointment only, May to September. Come to see photos, artifacts and climb to the roof with outside balcony to view the beauty of Lake of the Woods. Call 807-488-5719

For a list of other historical places

to visit in the Lake of the Woods area,

please see our Museum Tour list.

The following article was compiled by Richard Pentney of Minahico Ontario about the Tomahawk Island Light, Lake of the Woods for publication in the “Water Under the Bridge, History of the Little Grassy River, McCrosson-Tovell, 1893-1993” book published in 1993, page 372.

 “Tomahawk Island Light was built in 1900 and first placed in operation in 1901. It was established to meet the needs of the lumber companies who were towing logs in the area. One of the complaints stated in the request for a light was that smoke in the upper end of the lake made navigation difficult except by daylight.

The light, which was built to serve minor traffic, was maintained as a watched light until 1946. There is nothing in the records which indicates any unusual occurrences with the light itself. This could be taken as an indication that navigation in the way of shipwrecks or the like ever occurred in its vicinity.

Any unusual incidents seemed to centre on the personality of the Keepers. The first Keeper, a Mr. Norton, who was a United States citizen, died on the job within three months of placing the light in operation. He was succeeded by a number of Keepers who served various periods as set out below, until 1946. The racial origin of these Keepers ranged from Irish, Scotch, Scandinavian, English, Native Canadian, and the last and longest tenure was a Keeper of German birth.

One of the early Irish Keepers, whose salary was $150.00 per annum, decided to apply for a raise. He suggested that his salary be doubled. Using all the persuasiveness for which his race is famous he wrote:

‘Considering the confinement and isolation in which a family is kept the whole year round. I think three hundred dollars salary per annum little enough. That would meet with the requirements of the place and the dignity and generosity of the department’

The increase was refused.

The names and tenures of the various Light Keepers are set out below:

James Shaw Norton; appointed June 21, 1901. Died September, 1901

Charles C. Kelly; on temporary basis October 15, 1901

Thomas Sweeney; appointed August 18, 1902, resigned 1914. (Salary increase from $150.00 per annum to $200.00 per annum, April 1, 1905)

Thomas O’Connor; temporary basis at $2.00 per day, May 8, 1914

John R. Atkinson; appointed June 11, 1914, retired April 1, 1922. (Salary increased to min. $360 – max. $420 per annum, October 1, 1920.)

Ludwig Treflin; appointed May 15, 1922, resigned due to illness.

Walter Ricklefs; appointed August 17, 1922, retired June 5, 1946.

The light was converted to automatic equipment May 15, 1946, and the services of the Light Keeper were no longer required.

The original tower was fifteen feet, six inches (15’6”) square at the base, tapering to four feet (4’) square at the top, with a height of about 30 feet. This tower was replaced by a steel pipe mast in 1962.

The original tower was obtained by A.R. Pentney and has been moved five miles east to its main shore location. It is being restored to original condition and should stand for many years to come as a landmark for the lake travelers in the area.”

 The following information was taken from the “Water Under the Bridge, History of the Little Grassy River, McCrosson-Tovell, 1893-1993” book pages 372 - 373.

Tomahawk Lighthouse Museum-Present keeper – Katie Pentney

                In 1974 Ernie and Katie Pentney and their family purchased the Lighthouse and property from Rodney Bovee (R. Bovee had previously purchased the property from Richard Pentney.)

                Ernie was a commercial fisherman and owned a fishery five miles northeast of Tomahawk Island. The Pentney family lived at the fishery for several years, so they were familiar with the Lighthouse and its keepers. After Ernie passed away, Katie became interested in pursuing the history of the Lake (Lake of the Woods) and its Lighthouses.

                The following story is reprinted from the Rainy River Record July 12, 1990.

                “At the end of a quiet road in Minahico, there is a monument that stands to tell the history of Lake of the Woods. The road is known as Lighthouse Road and for that reason – it is easy to guess that the monument is none other than a lighthouse.

                The quest for information on the Tomahawk Island Lighthouse was a treacherous one. Very few photos or people of the light’s early days still exist or have surfaced. Katie’s greatest discovery has come from the mind and collection of a man named Harold Jeffery of Kenora. He is a retired “buoy-man” who travelled the lake for many years repairing lighthouses and setting buoys.

                Keepers of the light lived directly behind the house on the island. They were responsible for the general upkeep of the facility as well as keeping the coal oil lamps fueled and lit. In the 45 year need for a man to watch the tower, there were seven keepers. They ranged in nationalities from Irish to German. Walter Ricklefs was the last keeper to run the light and Katie remembers this about him, “he was a kind man that the children loved dearly, since he would often take them to the top of it (the lighthouse) to look out over the lake.”

                Mr. Jaffery gave Katie the original coal oil and acetylene lamps and the reflector for them from the Tomahawk. She also has had numerous photos of his copied and has a map in her possession that shows a total of nine lighthouses in the southwest vicinity of the lake. As for the rest of the lake, she could not come up with a total number of houses but was versed to the fact that there were many more than nine.

                Her search for information on the Tomahawk lighthouse has also served as the gateway to a broader spectrum of history that has her very enthused. She is also gathering history on the Lake of the Woods in general. She has collected photos of ships, other lighthouses and information on other aspects of the lake.

                She is still in the process of gathering information on the lake and its many historically important aspects. Plans for the data and exhibits will see a display set up in the Tomahawk Lighthouse. Katie is currently looking for more photos or information on boats, docks, sawmills, commercial fishing, mining or any other part of the lake’s history.

                With the removal of the tower comes the question of what guides navigators through the channels and open waters. Katie said that the nostalgic feeling of the lighthouse has been replaced by “a cold steel pole with a battery operated light on top of it”. As for the happenings of the other lighthouses, Katie said she only knows of the one other house in existence on the lake. It is on Bigsby Island and is owned by the MacLeans. They plan to maintain it like the Tomahawk house.

Editors Note: Minahico is a former town located at the junctions of Lighthouse Road and Hwy 619 with Hwy 621 between the communities of Bergland and Morson. Richard Pentney is the brother of Ernie Pentney. Katie Pentney passed away on September 4, 2008 at the age of 91. Katie's son Ken and his wife Laurie continue to maintain the lighthouse. Ken Pentney passed away July 23, 2011. The Tomahawk Lighthouse present day location is on Laurie Pentney’s property on the shores of Lake of the Woods. Please call for an appointment to visit the lighthouse as this is on private proptery.  For other museums and historical sites in the Lake of the Woods region, please see www.lakeofthewoodstourism.ca/museumtour


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