This Week in History


The First Lighthouse in Canada

For the week of Monday, March 27, 2017

On April 1, 1733, the first lighthouse in Canada lit the port of Louisbourg for the first time. The town started as a fishing port, but after the French built a fortress there in 1713, it became the capital of Isle Royale (now Cape Breton Island). With its sea-based economy depending heavily on its relations with France, building a lighthouse was essential. The town had to ensure the French ships that regularly brought supplies could reach their destination safely. As well, the island’s rocky coastline was dangerous. Thus, in 1731, the Government of France sent the funds needed to build the Louisbourg lighthouse. Construction was completed in 1733.

Plans of the Louisbourg lighthouse in 1733.
© Nova Scotia Archives Map Collection: Towns: Louisbourg; Location 2.5.2. 1733

The first Canadian lighthouse (and the second in North America) was built of stone and stood 20-metres tall. It seemed ready to weather all storms. Its light guided ships that were up to 29 km away. The top of the lighthouse, which housed an oil lantern, was made of wood and glass. In 1737, a fire destroyed the lantern, but the lighthouse tower survived. The lantern was rebuilt a year later.

The lighthouse was badly damaged by the British during the second siege of Louisbourg. After a two-month siege, the French surrendered on July 26, 1758. The British who took over the land did not repair the lighthouse, but rather built a new one in 1842 near the old lighthouse. After its destruction by fire, a third (and current) lighthouse was built between 1922 and 1924. It is an elegant example of a neoclassical-style reinforced concrete lighthouse, displaying the style’s tripartite division of base, shaft and capital. Standing 17-metres tall, it is architecturally more ornate than most of the lighthouses built in the 20th century.

The lighthouse in the middle of the second siege of Louisbourg in 1758.
© Library and Archives Canada / Acc. No. R9266‑1520 / Peter Winkworth Collection of Canadiana

The existing lighthouse is recognized as a federal heritage building for its historical and environmental importance and for its help with navigation. The Fortress of Louisbourg is a national historic site.

To find out about other important lighthouses in Canada, read A Symbol of Canada's Atlantic Coast, Into the Light, Sovereignty on the Pacific Coast: Fisgard Lighthouse, and Spotlight on Cape Spear in the This Week In History archives.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada, and be sure to visit the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada webpage. Explore Canada 150!

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