If you’ve ever stood at the railing beside the thundering Horseshoe Falls, mesmerized by the flow of water racing over the brink, here’s a fact that may surprise you: The flow of the St. Clair River below the Blue Water Bridges is more than twice as fast.
From the earliest days of Sarnia’s existence, when it was known simply as The Rapids, sailing that swift water has been a challenge. The mouth of Lake Huron also has its trouble spots, including a shallow ridge of sand known as the Corsica Shoals.
Three miles east of the Michigan shoreline and six miles north of the Blue Water Bridge, the Corsica Shoals was once home to an historic navigational aid — the Huron Lightship.
The lightship served as a floating lighthouse, with a bright light affixed to the top of her mast. In grim weather, her steam-powered foghorn blasted a three-second warning every 30 seconds. From 1935 to 1970, she was anchored at the Corsica Shoals, and from there guided mariners into the dredged channel leading into the river.
When taken out of service in 1970, the Huron Lightship was the last of four similar crafts once stationed in Lake Huron. In 1989, she was designated a National Historic Landmark in the United States.
Lightships had been operating in the Great Lakes since 1832 when the first, the wooden Lois McLain, was based in the hazardous Straits of Mackinac.
In Lake Huron, the Huron Lightship was the third vessel stationed at the Corsica Shoals since 1893. The first, known as Lightship No. 61, was ripped from her moorings and driven into the beach at Point Edward in the Great Storm of 1913, also known as the White Hurricane.
She was replaced in 1921 by Lightship No. 96, serving until the Huron Lightship, arrived at the shoals in 1935.
The Great Lakes had 10 lightships operating in 1921. By the time the Huron was decommissioned none were left.
Today, the historic vessel can be visited at the Huron Lightship Museum in Port Huron’s Pine Grove Park. One of four museums in Port Huron, it’s open daily in summer from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 (U.S.) adults, $8 students and seniors.
Eventually replaced by automation and advancing technology, the Great Lakes lightships – and particularly the Huron Lightship – are pieces of maritime history we share with our neighbours in Port Huron.
During her time on station, the Huron Lightship was an important beacon for both Great Lakes freighters and local recreational boaters.