Hair-raising tales hardly exaggerate the perils of Great Lakes navigation, from raging gales to shoals and reefs. The Door Peninsula, with its rugged coastline, hidden offshore rocks, and propensity for sudden storms, poses great hazards, especially at the northern tip, through the strait called Death’s Door. The Sturgeon Bay–Lake Michigan Ship Canal, which opened in 1881, eliminated that notorious passage, but sailors still relied on lighthouses and other navigational aids along both sides of the peninsula. Many of these ships carried lumber from Wisconsin’s then-abundant forests, heading out of Green Bay for ports in Milwaukee, Chicago, Cleveland, and Buffalo.
In 1869, when it built the Baileys Harbor Range Lights (DR9), the Federal Lighthouse Board also erected the Cana Island light, situating it between North and Moonlight bays, two harbors where ships could take refuge during storms. The yellow brick tower, which tapers to a steel-bracketed deck and iron railing, is linked by a passageway to the keeper’s brick residence. The lighthouse survived one of the worst gales ever to hit the area in 1880, when waves broke over the keeper’s residence, and spray at times completely covered the lantern, eighty-eight feet above the lake. In 1901 the tower received a new steel shell, painted white. Today, visitors can walk to Cana Island, a wildlife sanctuary, on a gravel causeway, built c. 1917, to the lighthouse, which is now maintained by the Door County Maritime Museum.