Student lighthouse project takes shape

March 2022

Walking into the woodworking shop at Hammarskjold High School was like returning to my shop class from many years ago. There was the smell of sawdust in the air and students crouched over project work yet to see the full light of day. I was visiting the class to meet the students of Mr. Robert Dasey, a Technology teacher with Lakehead Public Schools.

Dasey and his friendly character helped introduce a building project similar to other past projects completed by students. An example would be the yellow painted crossing guard kiosks seen around the City of Thunder Bay.

The project will keep students occupied for the next coming months in many different disciplines. As I spoke about the project’s benefits to the community, I could see the enthusiasm and interest in the eyes of the assembled students.

Lucas Hortis, an 18 year old grade 12 student works the family farm in his spare time and is motivated to be in class because he “likes hands-on work and his Dad is in the trades”. Emerson Kukkee, 17, his cohort, also part of the Specialized High School Major Course is hoping that at the end of the project he would have “an example to show at an interview with a perspective employer.” What Kukkee is referring to is a class project to build a scaled down replica of Thunder Bay Main Lighthouse.

The original wooden lighthouse structure built after the Second World War, sits on the breakwater and is a powerful reminder of Thunder Bay’s transshipment story. Many vessels moving product through the Port of Thunder Bay pass by this nautical icon set against the majestic Sleeping Giant. This lighthouse is the first and last light seen on a journey across the Great Lakes and down the St. Lawrence Seaway to markets beyond.

With some light sawdust underfoot, I shared with the class the significance of the Thunder Bay Main Light to the community of Thunder Bay. Not only is it an icon seen on our buses and tourism advertising, it is a wayfinding tool or a landmark to help people fix their location, offering them a sense of connection to the area.

The class was working on scaling the structure down from its original 22 ft. square base to a 6 ft. square footprint. The scaling of the project was the first of many steps that will be taken to build a replicate model of the Main Lighthouse for the Canadian Lighthouses of Lake Superior community group. Dasey says, “anytime that we can get to work with the community is a bonus for us; it’s different for the students to build something that is going to be for other people, something that brings the best out in them”. Hortis agrees, “it takes a level of pride to be able to produce something, to be proud of your product, and to do a good job.”

Part of the educational process here also fits well with recent announcements by the Ontario Government for stronger apprenticeship program opportunities.

As baby boomers move into retirement away from their careers in the trades, there is motivation for students to gain work experience in school, which in turn guides them towards future career options in the trades. Currently there are 7,271 carpenter job vacancies in Ontario alone.

When completed, the Thunder Bay Main Lighthouse model will act as a wayfinding tool on Thunder Bay’s Waterfront. Considering Prince Arthur’s Landing is wedged and surrounded by transshipment infrastructure of rail, concrete grain elevators and brown fields, the kiosk will help direct visitors to local community attractions they can visit. A waterfront map on the model will inform tourists of the attractions such as the Alexander Henry Museum Ship and regional lighthouses to visit.

We hear about tourism development with Viking Cruises coming to town in May and after a long hiatus of cruise ships, the opportunity to build a welcome is exciting. For the students, Dasey reminds me that “construction isn’t just about woodworking, we are looking at glass work, some electrical work, some adaptations and it’s that creative side that is fun for the students. For the students to recognize through their work that they can make a difference in our community helps them on a future path of success”. Kukkee says, “it will be nice to say that you had a part in it; it’s an accomplishment and something that helps.”

The project is partially funded through the Superior Shores Gaming Association bingos and the generous giving of our community and community partners. When the project is completed it will
help visitors find their way, learn some history and connect with the community.

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