Classified Federal Heritage Building

Sambro Island, Nova Scotia
Sambro Island Lighthouse Classified Federal Heritage Building (© CCG, 1995)
Exterior photo
(© CCG, 1995)
Address : Lightstation, Sambro Island, Nova Scotia

Recognition Statute: Treasury Board Policy on Management of Real Property
Designation Date: 1996-08-22
  • 1758 to 1760 (Construction)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • Unknown  (Architect)
Other Name(s):
  • Sambro Island Lighthouse  (Other Name)
Custodian: Fisheries and Oceans Canada
FHBRO Report Reference: 95-034
DFRP Number: 02835 00

Description of Historic Place

The Lighttower is a simple, well-proportioned profile with tapered octagonal shaft that is 82 feet high supporting a flaring lantern platform and a small utilitarian aluminium lantern. The stone and concrete shaft with narrow slit openings are concealed under wooden shingles, which have been painted in alternating red and white bands. A thick hardwood column supports a winding wooden staircase which climbs up through the tower’s center. Built on Sambro Island about 12 miles offshore, the Lighttower is the defining feature on a treeless and windswept outcropping. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.

Heritage Value

The Lighttower is a Classified Federal Heritage building because of its historical associations, and its architectural and environmental values.

Historical Value:
The Lighttower is one of the best examples of the establishment of permanent coastal navigational aids along the coast of Nova Scotia. It is also associated with the theme of safe shipping during the early developmental stages of Halifax and Nova Scotia. The Lighttower is considered the oldest operational lighthouse not only in Canada but also in North America. The Lighttower is one of the most historically important lighthouses in Canada due to its age and its association with marine traffic in and out of Halifax Harbour for almost 250 years. It was seen and recorded by Captain James Cook when he entered Halifax Harbour. It was also witness to the welcome accorded to some 12,000 Loyalists who landed at Halifax in 1783.

Architectural Value:
The Lighttower creates a well-scaled design of simply detailed construction. The Lighttower shows good quality of craftsmanship in the cut stone blocks for the tower and in the work around the tower’s refitted base and extended top. The Lighttower is the dominant component amongst four other loosely grouped structures situated on the island. The scale, colour and height of the red and white painted tower contrast with the darker mass of the island. It is a landmark to both residents and tourists by virtue of its prominence and relationship to the maritime environment.

Environmental Value:
The character of Sambro Island and its built heritage remain virtually unchanged whereby the Lighttower is the dominent structure on the island. A number of small wooden structures, including the Gas House and a Fog Alarm Building, are also scattered across the exposed site. The picturesque Lighttower reinforces the maritime coastal setting of Sambro Island. The Lighttower’s tapered profile dominates the immediate maritime landscape. It is well known to both the local and the greater shipping community being the most prominent navigational landmark for vessels passing to and from Halifax.

Joan Mattie, Lighthouse and Gas Station, Sambro Island Lightstation, Sambro Island (entrance to Halifax Harbour), N.S. Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office Report
95-034l Sambro Island Lighttower, Sambro Island, Nova Scotia, Heritage Character Statement 95-034.

Character-Defining Elements

The character-defining elements of the Sambro Island Lighttower should be respected.

Its role as an illustration of the establishment of the navigation system and the provision of aid to navigation along the coast of Nova Scotia.
Its standard design and good quality materials and craftsmanship as evidenced in: the building’s form and massing which consists of a tall slightly tapered octagonal tower with narrow slit openings, flared lantern platform, lantern and light; the building’s sturdy construction of granite and formed concrete; the buildings clean lines and subtle ornamentation and picturesque silhouette; the painted shingles cladding the tower; the interior hardwood column and stairs.

The manner in which the building reinforces the picturesque, maritime coastal setting of the Sambro Island Light Station and its associated seascape through its dramatic setting.

Heritage Character Statement

Disclaimer - 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 Sambro Island lighttower was constructed in 1758 or 1760. Alterations have occurred apace with developments in the technology for lanterns, and in 1906 the tower was raised 20 feet, changing its height from 62 to 82 feet. The lighthouse was designated a national historic site in 1937. The origins of the gas house on the site are obscure; it is known to have existed by 1939. Transport Canada is the custodian of the structures at the site. See FHBRO Building Report 95-34.

Reasons For Designation

The lighttower at Sambro Island was designated Classified for its historical associations, its environmental significance, and also for its architectural design.

One of the most historically important lighthouses in Canada due to its age and its association with Halifax Harbour's marine traffic for over 235 years, this stone and concrete tower is considered the oldest operating lighthouse in North America. It has seen many developments in lighthouse design and apparatus technology, from its beginnings as a massive stone structure with a wood-framed sash-windowed lantern.

The construction of this lighthouse at the approach to Halifax gives evidence of the city's growing maturity at this time, and is one of few remaining structures from this period. Inherently a landmark, the lighthouse dominates Sambro Island and has a considerable presence within the larger community.

The nearby gas house was designated Recognized largely for its environmental significance as a character-reinforcing component of the cultural landscape that is Sambro Island.

Character Defining Elements

The heritage value of the lighttower and gas house at Sambro Island reside in their simple yet elegant functional design, surviving early materials, and site relationships.

The simple well-proportioned tower is octagonal and tapered, with a flaring lantern platform and a small, utilitarian aluminum lantern. The stone and concrete shaft with narrow slit openings is concealed under wooden shingles, which have been painted in alternating red and white bands. The profile and massing of the station should not be altered. The original portion of the tower is built of cut granite, five feet thick at the base and tapering to four feet where it joins the concrete extension added in 1906-07.

A thick hardwood column supports a winding wooden staircase which climbs up through the tower's center. Structural interventions in the 1950s introduced additional concrete and reinforcing to stabilize the listing structure, and grouted the masonry at the base. Any further interventions should be based on an understanding of the original structural concept, and on the principles of reversibility and minimal intervention. The advice of a conservation professional with experience in stone and concrete preservation is recommended for any intervention.

The light apparatus and related elements are integral to the function, and therefore the character, of the structure and should be maintained in place, with attention given to ensuring proper protection of metal surfaces. Paint types and colours should be based on precedent. The shingles should be renewed when they reach the end of their service life. The colour scheme - wide bands of red and white - dates from 1908 and provides a distinctive identity for the structure which should be protected.

The gas house, a shingled building of simple design and pleasing proportions, is nestled close to the water's edge on a prominent platform made of large dry-laid granite blocks. Its massing is of interest, with small gabled porches projecting from two facades. The utilitarian placement of windows and doors is in keeping with the functional character of the site and should not be altered. The wood-shingled roof is in keeping with the materials of the site. The sidewall shingles are extremely weathered and will require replacement in kind. Careful attention should be paid to ensuring that the openings are weatherproof and that roof intersections are properly flashed to keep water out of the structure. The brick chimney with simple corbelling at the upper courses merits masonry conservation expertise.

The character of Sambro Island and its built heritage remains virtually unchanged. The lighthouse, by its very function and design, has been the dominant structure on the island since its completion ca.1 760. The gas house and a number of small wooden structures, including a fog alarm building, are scattered across the rugged, exposed site and act as an appropriate foil to the lighthouse. The simple, utilitarian character of the site should be protected.