Baskin's Beach and Twelve Mile Island
a historical place on the Ottawa River, Canada

May 13, 2010:

Thanks to Venetia Moorhouse for the following research on the area of the Lighthouse at Twelve Mile Island


Long before the white man arrived the Ottawa River was traveled by First Nations peoples with their canoes. 
Samuel D. Champlain was not likely the first European to journey up the Ottawa but at least he was the first to keep a diary of his experiences. Early on, the river 
provided transport primarily for the fur trade as well as for timber logged along the river. Tall straight white pines were quite 
valuable as these were used for masts for British navy sailing ships.  Mr. Pinhey of Horaceville settled at Pinhey's Point in 1819. 
The point provides a small protected harbour, a days paddle from the rapids at Britannia.  As time passed logs were boomed to 
reduce loss and floating hazards to navigation of passenger and other working vessels.  A wharf by Baskin Beach was called 
Baskin Landing after the early Baskin family. Logs were stockpiled near the wharf to fuel the steamboat traffic. 
Armitage Landing consisted of a wharf located near the end of the road now known as the Thomas Dolan Parkway.  The Monitor and the Alymer were two early boats of record. 

The first lighthouse was built near Baskin Wharf, in the late 1890's, to mark a deep narrow channel which lies along the river 
course between the Ontario shore and west of Twelve Mile Island.  The lighthouse consisted of a little shack with a pole nailed to it 
on which an oil lantern was run up.  In 1905 the lantern-on-pole lighthouse was replaced by two towers each with stairs leading 
up to an oil light.  These lights provided an aid to navigation termed a range*  so that boats could follow the deepest channel. 

The first lighthouse keeper was William Baskin (Big Bill).  The next keeper was Silas Sullivan who for thirty years each day of 
the navigation season, walked from Dunrobin to light the two lights.  He would overnight in a cabin and after sunrise extinguish 
the two lights.  In 1923 Tommy Campbell took over the lighthouse contract and walked back and forth morning and evening, probably 
from the 5th line, to operate the lights.  In 1934 Osler Campbell, Tommy's son, continued this contract.  He was proud of himself 
for measuring the amount of coal oil sufficient for operation through the night until the morning.  This necessitated only one 
trip in the evening each day.  However, if it was blowing hard he went in the dark and checked on the lights.  Osler was the last 
person to manually light these lights.  The contract terminated in 1952 when electric power became available and automated lights 
were installed. The range lights at Baskin Beach are now mounted on “Claymar” towers**.  This form of tower resembles a large 
corrugated pipe stood on end and fixed to a concrete pad.  Each spring Department of Transport men would arrive by boat to start 
the light on Twelve Mile Island and the same task at the lighthouses until late 1970's. 

There is a red flashing light on Twelve Mile Island now standing on a claymar** pole.  A  lighthouse, is of record as being on 
Twelve Mile Island as early as 1879 (see map), in the Belden's Atlas of Carleton County.  As the island is in the province of Quebec it 
is presumed that operation of the light was performed by a resident of that province.  Another presumption is that the Island 
is so named as it is twelve miles, as the crow flies, from the Deschenes rapids adjacent the Britannia Yacht Club.

In the 1930s or 1940s a member of the Yacht Club built a cottage on the island.  Rocks and boulders were piled about the cottage 
as protection from the elements such as ice flows.  The cottage is now long gone as is the protective rock barrier, however 
it seems the barrier was sufficient for several trees to gain enough stature to withstand the ice.  Among these was an 
outstanding tall elm tree that had not been touched by Dutch elm disease.  The umbrella shaped tree stood proudly, until in 
late 1970's, the Coast Guard contracted to have land cleared for installation of a helicopter pad on the island and also beside 
each of the two lighthouses.  Brush was cleared between the range lights.  On the island instead of merely clearing an area 
sufficient for a helicopter pad, the island was literally scalped.  The elm tree was no more.  

At that time local CBC radio would invite listeners to submit questions. I called with the question "Why was the beautiful elm 
tree cut down on Twelve Mile island?   A few mornings later it was explained that answers were usually prerecorded for 
broadcast but this morning a Coastguard person was being interviewed, live. I asked the question again and they replied that 
it was a contractor doing the job!!!  I guess they were over zealous.  No sorry.  New trees were planted on the island but 
none survived. (Note: This tree probably succumbed to "Dutch Elm Disease" which eradicated most of the elm trees in the Ottawa area ... Al)

In the following years the Coast Guard utilized a helicopter out of Trenton Ontario to service the range lighthouses and the 
Twelve Mile Island red light.  For the locals this was an occasion of some entertainment.  The unmistakable sound of a nearby 
helicopter would give time to walk down the road to watch as the pilot would hover and land on the pad.  It seems the lights 
would be serviced on a sunny, calm, clear day, mid to late April each year. The commercial use of the Ottawa River since the 
1940's, was the towing of log booms from Chats Falls, down river to the rapids. This stopped early 1980s. The river is now used 
by pleasure craft only.  It is believed the Coast Guard had planned to discontinue these Range lights.  However objections were 
strenuously communicated from recreational sailors from three clubs which may have been instrumental in continuing operation 
to this day.

Cost of operation is now minimal as photovoltaic solar panels where installed in 2005  or 2006 on each of the lights so they now 
operate independent of utility power and helicopter servicing.  I have personally benefitted on several evenings when the lights 
have been a most welcome aid to navigation.

Submitted April -  2010 Venetia Moorhouse                

This submission is based upon my personal knowledge, Conversations with Osler Campbell (who made the very best maple syrup ever)

Dunrobin & District Tweedsmuir History, Toroblton by the River Vol. 1 and Vol 2., (Torbolton Township)

Belden's Atlas of Carleton, 1879, web site,

*   The word "RANGE" indicates two lights fixed one behind and above the other to define a preferred direction of travel when seen 
    by a distant observer as being in line one above the other.

**  Claymar tower is a round corrugated metal pillar or column with one end fixed in the ground and portion of the top part painted 
    green or red and a small beacon or light mounted on top of the column.

The above is copyrighted by the Dunrobin Women's Institute.

... Venetia Moorhouse

Good morning, Mrs. Moorhouse,
Congratulations on your very interesting article, which adds to our knowledge of this stretch of the Ottawa River.
Among my "bookmarks" on the subject is the following web page, which has a small, distant view of the present range lights 
at Baskin Beach:
The photo is a good illustration of the definition of a "range" that you provide at the end of your article. The orange-red 
and black shapes on the two towers are formed by slats arranged in the shape of a truncated pyramid, called "daymarks." The 
front daymark points upward while the rear is directed downward: when the mariner aligns them perfectly, they form an 
hourglass-shaped daymark, with the vertical black line indicating the preferred channel at that particular point in the river.
Ranges like this one were used to mark the right channel into a harbour or a channel that avoided reefs and shoals, etc. 
According to the 1912 list of the Department of Marine and Fisheries, the two lights of the Baskin Wharf range "lead through 
the deepest channel over Constance Shoal." The early lists indicate the range was established in 1883.
The case of the Twelve Mile Island Light is curious. Google has a good view of the island, showing an aerial view of the 
Claymar tower and the square helipad used by the Coast Guard:,-76.020482&spn=0.001745,0.003428&t=h&z=18

The location (45.489599,-76.020482) converts to approximately 45° 29'23"N  76° 1'14"W.
The first light at these coordinates that is mentioned in the government's lists was erected only in 1968: there was no 
mention of a light on Twelve Mile Island in the 1879, 1912 or 1963 lists, for example. And yet, Belden's 1879 Atlas clearly 
indicates there was a lighthouse on the island. It would be interesting to find confirmation of this. Sometimes a light 
was announced in advance but was never actually established, for various reasons (lack of funds, "wrong" place to 
have a lighthouse, etc.).
I will send Al Lewis a photo of the current (1968) light on Twelve Mile Island, provided by the Coast Guard (Prescott Base) 
several years ago, for posting on the "Lighthouses on the Ottawa River" web page.
Thanks for sending a copy of your article!
... Michel Forand
 Map of Twelve Mile Island / Baskin's Beach                                                  The Louis Dozois family discovers gold in 1897
 Source: Belden's 1879 map of Carleton County, page 43                                       Ottawa Citizen Digital Archives, August 11, 1897

Map of Twelve Mile Island   Gold Discovered at Twelve Mile Island  

June 1, 2010: Hello Al, Here is a scan of the Coast Guard photo of the current Twelve Mile Island Light, mentioned in Ms Moorhouse's article and in my earlier e-mail. Michel Forand
Photograph of Twelve Mile Island, Ottawa River, Canada
July 24, 2011:
The following striking photograph was taken by Mr. Dan Witmer and appeared in the Ottawa Citizen of July 19, 2011: The photo was taken during a violent storm with wind speeds up to 96 km/h. The brigantine, Black Jack, seeks shelter to the leeward side of Twelve Mile Island. The Black Jack is used for training crews for the Tall Ships. Tall Ship Black Jack, storm, Twelve Mile Island, Ottawa River

New September 12, 2015:
The Black Jack in calmer weather. Painting by Ottawa artist Ben Babelowsky Tall Ship Black Jack, at Kingston, Ontario in 1984

E-mail Venetia Moorhouse, Michel Forand and Al Lewis

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