Classified Federal Heritage Building
Seal Island, Nova Scotia
(© Agence Parcs Canada / Parks Canada Agency, D. Carter - Edwards, 1989.)
Seal Island, Nova Scotia
Treasury Board Policy on Management of Real Property
1830 to 1830
Event, Person, Organization:
Joint venture of New Brunswick, under the direction of Tidmarch and Sangent, and Nova Scotia, under the direction of Ward and Barlow
Seal Island Lighthouse
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
FHBRO Report Reference:
Description of Historic Place
The Lighthouse, also known as Seal Island Lighthouse, is located on an island situated near the Bay of Fundy. The sturdy lighthouse is a tapered, octagonal tower, constructed in heavy timber and capped with a prominent, octagonal lantern. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.
The Lighthouse is a Classified Federal Heritage Building because of its historical associations, and its architectural and environmental value.
The Lighthouse is one of the best examples of a structure associated with the development of lighthouses in Atlantic Canada during the colonial period (pre-1867). The fourth oldest lighthouse in Canada, it was constructed as a response to the many shipwrecks which occurred in and past the Bay of Fundy during the primacy of the Maritimes as a world shipping power. It is of strong regional importance because of its close association with the Hichen and Crowell families who founded Canada’s first life-saving station at this site. The establishment of the lighthouse came as a result of the lobbying efforts of Mary Crowell. Its construction and maintenance also demonstrate a significant joint venture between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to address the reliance on shipping by the colonies which produced heavy traffic off the south-west coast of Nova Scotia and into the Bay of Fundy.
The Lighthouse is a good example of early 19th-century lighthouse construction. The very good functional design demonstrates a distinctively Canadian departure from typical British plans. Its timber design was suited to the Canadian-Atlantic climate and benefited from local skills and materials. This lighthouse and its contemporaries set the pattern for similar inexpensive, wooden navigational aids, which became the hallmark of the Canadian navigational system from this point well into the 20th century.
The Lighthouse reinforces the character of its maritime, coastal setting and is a well-known landmark in the region.
Sources: Gordon Fulton, Lighttower, Big Shippegan, New Brunswick, Lighttower, Pictou Bar, Nova Scotia, Federal Heritage Building Review Office, Building Report 90-099, 90-105; Seal Island Lighthouse, Seal Island, Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, Heritage Character Statement, 89-175.
The following character-defining elements of the Lighthouse should be respected.
Its 19th-century Canadian lighthouse design, very good functional design, and craftsmanship and materials, for example: the tapered octagonal form and prominent lantern; the heavy timber constuction and masonry foundation; the structural features such as trenails, braces and knees; the shingle cladding, its doorway and two small windows; the interior wooden stairs.
The manner in which the Lighthouse reinforces the character of the maritime, coastal setting, and is a well-known structure in the region, as evidenced by: the picturesque qualities of its design and form, which complement the harsh, natural environment, and the adjacent structures at the site; its high visibility within the area given its large scale and location; its use as a landmark for recreational, fishing and commercial marine traffic off the coast of Nova Scotia, which makes it well-known.
Heritage Character Statement
The heritage character statement was developed by FHBRO to explain the reasons for the designation of a federal heritage building and what it is about the building that makes it significant (the heritage character). It is a key reference document for anyone involved in planning interventions to federal heritage buildings and is used by FHBRO in their review of interventions.
The Seal Island Lighthouse was built in 1830 as a joint venture of the colonies of New Brunswick (under the direction of Tidmarch and Sangent) and Nova Scotia (under the direction of Ward and Barlow). It continues in its original function. Transport Canada is the custodian. See FHBRO Building Report 89-175.
Reasons for Designation
The Seal Island Lighthouse was designated Recognized because of its thematic association with coastal navigation and shipping in and past the Bay of Fundy; because of its association with the Hichen and Crowell families, founders of the first life-saving station in Canada at this site; and because of its functional design which marked a distinctively Canadian departure from typical British designs. It was also designated for its importance as the fourth oldest lighthouse in Canada, and for its landmark qualities.
Constructed in response to the many ship-wrecks which occurred in this area during the primacy of the Maritimes as a world shipping power, this lighthouse is associated with the thematic development of lighthouses in Atlantic Canada during the colonial period. The reliance on shipping by the colonies resulted in heavy traffic off the south-west coast of Nova Scotia and into the Bay of Fundy. The loss of significant amounts of cargo and many lives in shipping mishaps necessitated the development of navigational aids. The importance of this lighthouse can be seen in the unusual collaboration between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in its construction and maintenance.
The association with the Crowell and Hichen families, whose lives have been commemorated in folklore and publications, is a key element in the importance of this site. The designation recognizes their work in saving lives, their establishment of the first life-saving station in Canada, and indeed the very establishment of this lighthouse, which owed a considerable debt to the lobbying of Mary Crowell.
Of a simple functional design which combines strength and beauty, the lighthouse employs materials and craftsmanship typical of its period of construction. Unlike British navigational aids because of its wood (rather than stone) construction, the design was suited to the climate and benefited from local skills and materials. This lighthouse and its contemporaries set the pattern for similar inexpensive wooden navigational aids which became the hallmark of the Canadian navigational system from this point well into the 20th century.
As a landmark, the site continues to serve recreational, fishing and commercial navigational traffic off the coast of Nova Scotia.
Character Defining Elements
The heritage character of the Seal Island Lighthouse resides in its tapered octagonal form and its simple construction in heavy timber. Architectural features of this structure which are of note and which should be preserved include the materials and details of its construction; its shingle sheathing; its doorway and two small windows; and its masonry foundation.
Structure-related features such as trenails, braces and knees, and workman's marks in the form of adze and saw marks should be respected. Regular examination and timely conservation work should be undertaken to ensure the continued integrity of the wood members, especially where they meet the foundation. The masonry foundation also merits the attention of a masonry conservation expert when repairs are planned.
The wooden stairs are an important feature of the interior and should be retained. Investigation should be carried out to identify and preserve other early material and finishes. Modifications required for the continuing usefulness of the building should be designed to have minimal impact on early building fabric.
The associated barn contributes to the character of the setting, and should be retained. Development of adjacent land would reduce this heritage character of the site and should be discouraged.