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Gibraltar Lighthouse Toronto | Ghost of Accident or Murder

Gibraltar Point Lighthouse – Toronto Island, Ontario, Canada

Standing watch over Toronto Harbour is Gibraltar Lighthouse.  Oldest remaining on all the Great Lakes, and the second oldest in Canada next to Sambro Island by Halifax.

But standing history isn’t always interesting. 

What gets noticed is a horrific legend around a former light-keeper named John Paul Radelmüller.  A man just trying to be kind.  But kindness led to death.

Was it an accident?  Or did drunken rage lead to murder?

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Gibraltar Point Lighthouse - Toronto Island, Ontario, Canada

by Ghost Guide Daniel

Built on Toronto Island in 1808.  A small piece of land strategically poked into Lake Ontario, standing guard over the one-time capital of Upper Canada. 

It was named Gibraltar by Upper Canada’s first lieutenant Governor, John Graves Simcoe.  He’s considered a father of Canada and named many landmarks and towns.  Also founded a little town named York (now called Toronto).

He named the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse after the well-known British Territory located south of Spain.  Most known for the Rock of Gibraltar, an ancient formation honoured back to the times of Romans and Greeks. They considered it the edge of the world.  Of course, this was disproven by later explorers.

Gibraltar Point Lighthouse - Toronto Island, Ontario, Canada
1894 Sketch of Gibraltar Lighthouse & Keeper’s Cabin

Gibraltar Lighthouse stood in 1813.  During the War of 1812 when American ships sail quietly into “Muddy Little York”.  Landing near today’s High Park and leading to a battle taking almost 800 lives.  Giving up the Provincial Capital.

History & Keepers

Gibraltar originally ran off whale oil.  A common lubricant for machinery in the early 19th century.  Switched to Sperm Oil in 1832 and Coal in 1863.  Leading to modern changes, such as steel replacing wood in 1878, and being converted to electric light in 1916.

The keepers of the lighthouse included…

  1. John Paul Radelmüller – 1809-1815
  2. William Halloway – 1816-1831
  3. James Durnan – 1832-1854
  4. George Durnan – 1854-1908
  5. Captain Patrick J. McSherry – 1905-1912
  6. Blake Matthews – 1912-1917
  7. G.F. Eaton – 1917-1918
  8. F.C. Allan – 1918-1944
  9. Mrs. Ladder – 1944-1955
  10. Mrs. Dedie Dodds – 1955-1958

Leading up to Dedie Dodds, the final active Lighthouse Keeper who served through 1956 – the year Gibraltar Point Lighthouse was decommissioned.

Gibraltar Point Lighthouse - Toronto Island, Ontario, Canada
Dedie Dodds

Keepers still serve at today.  Most recent is Manuel Cappel.  However, the role is more honourary at the, now, historic monument. 

John Paul (JP) Radelmüller

Take note of the first name on the above list.  He’s a real person now passed on to ghostly legend. 

Just as the name suggests, Radelmüller (aka Rademiller, Radenmuller, Radan Muller etc.) wasn’t British.  He was Bavarian… born in Bavaria, a country which became part of Germany in 1851, to compete with the growth of Germany’s neighbours, Austria and Prussia (which also fell in 1918… now owned by Germany, Poland and Russia).

At the time, many British royal family members had roots in Germany.  Radelmüller got his first opportunity working as a porter for Prince Edward, the brother of the King George III.

In 1799, he accompanied the Prince to Halifax.  And during a one-year stay he must have fallen in love with Canada. 

Funny Coincidence ::
In 1802, Prince Edward became the Governor of Gibraltar.  And 7 years later, Radelmüller became the Lighthouse Keeper of Toronto’s Gibraltar Point.

Came to Canada

Coming to Toronto, Radelmüller tried to get a free Land Grant in what is now Markham.  To be among other Germans.  But it was denied. 

He found work as a German to English translator.  Then appointed the first Keeper of Gibraltar Point Lighthouse in 1809. 

Gibraltar Point Lighthouse - Toronto Island, Ontario, Canada
Strategic surrounding of York by Americans – War of 1812 (see Gibraltar)

He served in chaos!  First, during the tensions of the War of 1812.  Including the Americans pushing their way in and taking the capital in April of 1813.  Then, witnessing the looting and burning of York (Toronto).

Interesting sidenote ::
Not sure, but it’s either the burning of York, or the burning of Niagara-on-the-Lake (both 1813), which prompted the attempted burning of Washington, DC in August of 1814.  The British successfully burned the White House and Capitol Building, however rain and winds saved the rest of Washington.

And the final chaos for Radelmüller took his life.  It all started in January of 1815.

Death of JP Radelmüller

At the time, Toronto Island was a sparsely populated peninsula, once connected by a road in the East End near the Don River.  It became an island after a nasty storm in 1858.

Gibraltar Point Lighthouse - Toronto Island, Ontario, Canada
Toronto Island as a Peninsula before the storm

For 50 years, the land was mostly used for military.  They opened the first hotel (Retreat on the Peninsula) in 1833… 18 years after Radelmüller disappeared.

Running the Bar got Him Disappeared

Only a month before the war ended, JP Radelmüller made friends with some British soldiers.

They knew him as a kindly German fellow who ran the Lighthouse.  Also, as a part-time barman who got them drunk.  It’s said Radelmüller ran a small bar out of a wood cabin once beside the Lighthouse.

On January 14th, 1815, a couple of British soldiers stationed at Fort York came to visit the Radelmüller’s ‘bootleg bar’.  That same night… he disappeared.

The next day, Radelmüller didn’t report for work.  And they arrested the soldiers, two John’s (Blueman and Henry). 

Gibraltar Point Lighthouse - Toronto Island, Ontario, Canada
Jordan’s York Hotel (King St East) – Location of trial

A trial happened at Jordan’s York Hotel (once on King Street East where the Sun Media Corp Building is today) in March 1815.  By April they were found not guilty.  Maybe due to lack of evidence, including a murder weapon or body.

Accident or Murder?

The main legend stated two drunk soldiers becoming enraged when the booze ran out.  Chasing the Radelmüller up the Lighthouse stairs to the top, before Radelmüller stumbled and fell over the side to his death.  The soldiers buried his body to avoid trouble.

As accounted in the book, “Landmarks of Toronto”.  The fourth Lighthouse Keeper, George Durnan, claimed to have found a jawbone in a shallow grave near Radelmüller’s old cottage.  This may add some value to the claim he died and was buried but says nothing of how it happened.

Gibraltar Point Lighthouse - Toronto Island, Ontario, Canada
George Durnan being interviewed for Landmarks of Toronto

Durnan said the soldier’s, in a drunken rage, beat Radelmüller with belts and a stick until he was dead.  But this was considered only speculation.

As a side note ::
True details of historical accounts, such as this, are muddled due to poor record-keeping.  Deep digging historians can spend years trying to get details to correct or change legends. 

In this case, it’s believed Radelmüller’s body didn’t disappear!  According to the research of Eamonn O’Keefe (featured in a great Toronto Star article written by Peter Edwards),

“Contrary to oft-repeated claims that the keeper was ‘never seen again,’ all evidence suggests that Radelmüller’s body did not vanish in the first place, but was found, examined by the coroner and laid to rest near the lighthouse.”

George Durnan finding bones supports it.  And in all accounts of the story, it’s believable this was an accident.  But no one will every know for sure.

Is JP Radelmüller Still at Gibraltar Point Lighthouse?

The most popular ghost story on the lips of witnesses talked about a ghostly figure.  Seen on the spiral staircase running up inside the lighthouse.  And at the top, a shadow moving on the platform as if still working the old whale oiled light. 

Gibraltar Point Lighthouse - Toronto Island, Ontario, Canada

Other experiences include…

  • Hearing a low moan coming down as you climb the confined stairway.  This escalates to banging from the top, before going dead silent.
  • Whispers from inside the Gibraltar Lighthouse sound like a man’s voice cautiously calling out, “… help!”

The Challenge of Banishment

Regular paranormal encounters are difficult.  Just like as with any abandoned structure felt to be haunted due to history.  They are hard to come by due to absence. 

Without the presence of the living, energetic cries of spirits go unheard. 

And here, investigation is difficult.  Only accomplished on the outside of the structure due to concerns for ‘respect’ and safety.

So, in the end we’re left with the mystery of JP Radelmüller’s ghost just as much as his death.  Maybe that fitting.

Ghost Guide Daniel is the head tour guide of the Ghost Walks.  Currently leading in Hamilton and Niagara-on-the-Lake, and host of the Ghost Guide Daniel Podcast.


Wikipedia –

Geothe Institut –

Toronto Star –

Narcity –

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