GIBRALTAR POINT LIGHTHOUSE – The Legend Exposed! (A OCPRS Toronto, Canada, Investigation)

Posted on July 27, 2011


By: Demetrius (Co-Founder of the OCPRS, Toronto, Canada)

The OCPRS visited the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse on June 4 2011. Like many other historic sites found throughout the city of Toronto, the lighthouse is said to be haunted. The legend of Gibraltar Point describes various paranormal activities. Mysterious lights at the top of the lighthouse have been reported when no light should have been lit. There are also reports of shadowy figures darting about the lighthouse, and even the ghost of one of its keepers has been seen to wander.  Such strange occurrences have been reported for more than a century. Today, most people who are familiar with the legend of Gibraltar Point have heard the stories through tours of Toronto’s waterfront, childhood camp-stories, or books promoting supernatural tales. The reputation for being haunted has also been maintained by a plaque mounted on the lighthouse, which reads:

“This lighthouse, one of the earliest on the Great Lakes, was completed in 1808 as an hexagonal tower 52 feet high, topped by a wooden cage with a fixed whale-oil lantern. In 1832 it was raised to 82 feet and later equipped with a revolving light. The mysterious disappearance of its first keeper, J.P. Rademuller, in 1815 and the subsequent discovery nearby of part of a human skeleton enhanced its reputation as a haunted building.”

-OntarioArchaeological and Historic Sites Board-

The plaque does not substantiate any paranormal phenomenon but it does acknowledge the legend of Gibraltar Point. In doing so, many people continue to believe that the lighthouse is haunted. Among the different versions of the legend told, there is some truth. However, like most legends, where fact begins or ends is a matter of opinion.

The Legend of Gibraltar Point:

The first lighthouse keeper of Gibraltar Point was John Paul Rademuller from between 1808-1815 A.D. To earn extra income, Rademuller smuggled and sold beer from the United States of America. One day, some soldiers from Fort York went to the lighthouse to buy some bootlegged beer, or perhaps they wanted to rob him of his illicit earnings. For some reason, Rademuller refused to sell the soldiers any of his beer. Enraged at Rademuller’s refusal, the soldiers beat him. Despite the beating, Rademuller refused to give the soldiers what they wanted. The soldiers found an axe nearby and used it to cut Rademuller to pieces and then proceeded to bury his severed limbs around the lighthouse to hide their crime. Since that time to the present, the ghost of J.P. Rademuller is said to haunt the lighthouse and its grounds.

            The legend itself is based on the mysterious disappearance of John Paul Rademuller, but like all legends, the story is plagued with conflicting details. The legend itself seems to be supported from equally troubling records supposedly made by the York Gazette – ofUpper Canada, January 14 1815 – which stated:

“Died on the evening of the 2nd of January, J.P. Radan Muller, keeper of the lighthouse on Gibraltar Point. From circumstances there is moral proof of his having been murdered. If the horrid crime admits of aggravation when the inoffensive and benevolent character of the unfortunate sufferer are considered, his murder will be pronounced most barbarous and inhuman. The parties lost with him are the proposed perpetrators and are in prison.”

It should be mentioned here that the York Gazette report is questionable since other credible sources note that no such article was ever written or exists in records. Legitimate or not, the article continues to be circulated as a part of the telling of the Gibraltar Point legend. Despite all this, some sources suggest that the incident was indeed reported in the Upper Canada newspaper and that there was some type of evidence leading many people to believe that Rademuller’s disappearance was owed to murder.

            An odd detail mentioned in the York Gazette concerns how Rademuller is described as “benevolent,” yet the legend itself describes him as a bootlegger. In J. Ross Robertson’s book Landmarks of Toronto, Rademuller is even described as a “quiet, inoffensive man, who attended to his duties faithfully.” Whether or not Rademuller was indeed a bootlegger is unknown. Further details from J. Ross Robertson’s book suggest that he may have been smuggling beer, where he wrote: “Muller…always liked a glass of beer, and by way of improving his stipend as lighthouse keeper, he always kept a spare keg on hand for his friends. It is understood that the beer was obtained from a brewery near Lewiston, N.Y.” Here, the account of Rademuller’s selling beer to supplement his income is noted, but only as a second-hand account. It may have been true that he was involved in the smuggling of beer since American alcoholic beverages and other goods were prohibited, or heavily taxed as imports. Although held as a possibility, Rademuller’s involvement in smuggling may not be true. On the other hand, if he was involved in such activity, it is possible that his disappearance is owed to such illicit activity. These conflicting details may help determine whether or not the newspaper report and legend itself, are true or not. J. Ross Robertson points out other details to suggest that the legend is untrue along with the so-called York Gazette reports, where he writes:

“There is no record of a trial of soldiers for murder between 1808-17, nor is there any mention of such an happening in the Upper Canada Gazette published weekly inYork, a paper which generally chronicled news of importance.”

            Other details not found in the doubtful York Gazette reports can be found in J. Ross Robertson’s book where he does describe a murder, as told to him by one of the lighthouse keepers of Gibraltar Point. Unlike the legend, Robertson’s outline of events, do not include an axe as the murder weapon. Furthermore, Robertson expressed the following:

“This is the story that has been handed down from generation to generation. There is no doubt that it has been garnished in the telling. It may be a fairy tale…but Mr. George Durnan, the late light keeper, states that he heard the story from his father, and that he, the son, with his uncle Joe Durnan, found in 1893, bits of a coffin and part of the jaw bone of a man, four feet beneath the sand and about five hundred feet west of the present keeper’s house.”

The Durnan family had a long history with the lighthouse at Gibraltar Point. James Durnan was the keeper from 1832-1853 A.D., and his son George followed in his footsteps. The legend of Gibraltar Point was maintained, and perhaps even originated through the Durnan family. Even if the Durnan family truly found parts of a coffin along with a human jaw bone, why would the murderers have buried their victim in a coffin? There are many more questions that could be asked about such a detail, but more importantly, the most interesting aspect of Robertson’s book is that there is never any mention of ghosts! However, this aspect of the legend will be explored following a few more considerations about the legend itself.

            What remains certain is that people had a good reason to believe Rademuller was murdered, although how and why remains a mystery today. As for who was suspected of murdering him, the two men accused – according to the legend – were soldiers from FortYork. As the story goes, the soldiers maintained their innocence, and it wasn’t until April 15 1815 that the York Gazette printed the outcome of the trial: “No conviction of the supposed murderers of the late J.P. Radan Muller.”

            Having some historical basis, the legend and the various primary and secondary sources only seem to fill in the missing details, but with little evidence. The origins of the legend of Gibraltar Point do seem to stem from the Durnan family. The mystery of Gibraltar Point has become a local legend, and from it people have come to believe that the lighthouse is haunted. However, the most pressing question that is asked is whether or not the lighthouse is truly haunted? If the sources of the legend are to be accepted, it is only practical to consider what the Durnan family has come to believe, along with what they have experienced since they have a long standing history to the lighthouse, and have also become a part of the legend itself.

            From the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) archives, an April 3 1958 broadcast provided some insights into the so-called haunted lighthouse. In it, John Durnan, the nephew of George Durnan, shared what he knew about the legend:

“Our family has been connected with this lighthouse for 150 years. We know about the lighthouse keeper being murdered, but as far as being haunted we don’t know anything about that.”

As late as 1958 the Durnan family maintains that Rademuller was murdered, but more importantly, there is never any mention of a ghost. Even George Durnan’s telling of the legend fails to mention a ghost, as retold in J. Ross Robertson’s book, Landmarks of Toronto.

            If the lighthouse was truly thought to be haunted it would have been known to the Durnan family. However, there are no supporting details from any such person to confirm the lighthouse is haunted. Again, from the CBC archives, the April 3 1958 broadcast included the personal experiences and opinion of the last lighthouse keeper of Gibraltar Point, Mrs. DeeDee Dodds:

“I’ve never met the ghost, but I can understand how the legend persists. The cooing of the pigeons is very eerie on a dark night, and the wind howling though the lighthouse gives you the shivers. When the moon is full it’s reflected back from the top of the lighthouse. This spring when I was riding my bike I was startled to see a light when the navigation season was closed. It wasn’t for a few seconds that I realized that the moon was full…” 

It becomes clear that through such records that the legend itself is questionable, but the stories about ghosts and other paranormal activity cannot be supported. Despite this, the OCPRS conducted an investigation in order to determine the truth for themselves.

The Investigation of Gibraltar Point Lighthouse:

            All investigations of the OCPRS begin with prayers, and although the Gibraltar Point lighthouse was most likely not haunted, precautions were still taken. On this particular investigation, the prayer for intercession from St. Michael was used. In addition to the typical equipment used to document all investigations, crosses, holy water and holy oil were also brought along just in case it became necessary to provide a treatment, for whatever reasons.

            Taking a ferry boat to Hanlan’s Point in the early evening, the first part of the investigation was conducted while there was still daylight. According to one of the lighthouse keepers – George Durnan – he and his father and uncle discovered a human jaw-bone and bits of a coffin they believed belonged to J.P. Rademuller. In his account given to J. Ross Robertson, the remains were re-buried around 500 feet west from the lighthouse. Not certain of the exact location of the supposed burial site of J.P. Rademuller, it became necessary to explore the general area in the hopes of detecting any paranormal activity. The Durnan family never disclosed precisely where the jaw-bone was buried, but only a general location of the area was given. Both an EMF (Electro Magnetic Field) and EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena) test was conducted in the general area. Photographs of the area were also taken. Nothing out of the ordinary was observed, measured, or recorded.

            The lighthouse door was locked and the investigation could only be conducted externally. This was not necessarily a set-back since most reports of “ghosts” and other paranormal phenomena are said to occur outside the lighthouse. Once again, an EMF and EVP test was conducted to measure and record anything unusual. The EMF meter did react to the power lines running along the road next to the lighthouse, but nothing unusual was measured by or around the lighthouse itself. The EVP that was later examined also failed to provide anything to suggest that the lighthouse is haunted. Photographs were also negative. These same tests were conducted after sunset. The night time investigation yielded the same results – negative. Nothing paranormal was observed or documented.


            The research conducted on Gibraltar Point strongly suggested that the lighthouse is not haunted. Any detail that would otherwise suggest that the lighthouse may be haunted simply has no basis for such a belief. The so-called haunted lighthouse and “ghost” of its first keeper have mostly been maintained through tourism industries of Toronto’s lakeshore. Of course, even the Ontario Archaeological and Historic Sites Board has contributed to this by placing a plaque on the lighthouse, but their concern has more to do with the preservation of historical landmarks. Although it may seem innocent and harmless the promotion of the paranormal also promotes false ideas about spirituality.

            The “ghost” of J.P. Rademuller is based on the very popular non-Christian belief that victims of murder become lost, wandering souls in the afterlife, seeking some form of justice. More importantly, such a belief also ignores what the Church knows about the afterlife. The soul does not wander about in the afterlife, but just as Hebrews 9:27 states, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” The soul is not consigned to the earthly domain, but to either heaven or hell. There are some arguments which try to suggest that murder victims do seek vengeance, and one example comes from the bible itself. In Genesis 4:10 Cain murders his brother Abel, but in doing so, Abel’s blood “cries out.” This, however, is a cry onto the Lord, and not among humanity. There is never any mention of Abel’s soul – or any other soul – wandering about as a result of murder.St. John Chrysostom says it best where he wrote: “Nor, indeed, is it possible for a soul, once separated from its body, to wander here anymore. For, the souls of the righteous are in the hands of God […] and the souls, also of sinners, are straightaway led away hence and it cannot be that a soul, when it has gone-out of the body can wander here.” The Holy Church Fathers were concerned with the afterlife and surely they would have discovered some insights about wandering ghosts through sacred texts or Holy Traditions, but they did not. Despite what the Church teaches, the popularity of ghost myths and legends appeal to the masses. It is perhaps for this reason that the “ghost” of J.P. Rademuller has been promoted through the tourism industry. What has occurred here is the exploitation of the supernatural for the sake commercialism. In doing so, what is compromised is the truth found within the Church. If one considers how the Gibraltar Point legend is partly promoted through historic societies, television, and books, it is no wonder that even Christians can fall victim to non-Christian beliefs about the afterlife.

            There was indeed a J.P. Rademuller, and his mysterious disappearance has only stirred the imagination of local residence for almost 200 years. The lighthouse stands empty and unused. It is one of the earliest lighthouses to have been built here in Canada. The legend is part of the overall history of Gibraltar Point, but having separated fact from fiction, the CPRS firmly believes that the evidence has demonstrated that the lighthouse is not haunted. By sharing this opinion it also becomes necessary to educate the curious public about the harm such legends may have on concepts about the afterlife. Of course for most people, spirituality is merely an indirect consequence of such stories. Yet, such people who care little about true spirituality are eager to accept fables. The lighthouse no longer lights the waterways and has gone dark. For most people the truth has been equally extinguished. The investigation of Gibraltar Point will hopefully help people re-examine their worldviews and shed some light on the differences between Christian and non-Christian spirituality.