Cape St. Mary's Lighthouse

Heritage Lighthouse

Cape St. Mary’s, Newfoundland and Labrador
General view of Cape St. Mary's Lighthouse, 2009. (© Kraig Anderson -
General view
(© Kraig Anderson -
Address : Cape St. Mary’s, Newfoundland and Labrador

Recognition Statute: Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act (S.C. 2008, c 16)
Designation Date: 2015-02-12
  • 1860 to 1860 (Construction)
  • 1860 to 1860 (Established)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • Robert Oke  (Architect)

Description of Historic Place

The Cape St. Mary’s Lighthouse is a tapered, octagonal tower that measures 10 metres (33 feet). Originally built as a brick tower in 1859-60, it was first covered with concrete and encased in a cylinder of cast-iron sheets in 1885, and then covered in poured concrete in the mid-1950s, giving it its current form. The lighthouse is located at Cape St. Mary’s, an isolated point of land at the southwestern tip of the Avalon Peninsula.

There are three related buildings on the site that contribute to the heritage character of the lighthouse: (1) the 1965 Lightkeeper’s Dwelling, (2) the 1965 Assistant Lightkeeper’s Dwelling, and (3) the 1970 Office/Equipment Building.

Heritage Value

The Cape St. Mary’s Lighthouse is a heritage lighthouse because of its historical, architectural, and community values.

Historical values
The Cape St. Mary’s Lighthouse is an excellent example of the efforts by colonial governments to make marine navigation safer. The lighthouse was built by the colony of Newfoundland in 1859-60 to provide guidance to fishing and supply boats entering Placentia and St. Mary’s Bays. The lighthouse also provided aid to international marine traffic approaching the Gulf of St. Lawrence from the Atlantic Ocean.
The construction of the Cape St. Mary Lighthouse was the critical event that enabled the establishment of communities along the southern coast of the Avalon Peninsula. The lighthouse has been, since its construction, vital to the fishing industry in Placentia and St. Mary’s Bays. The survival of the Cape St. Mary’s Lighthouse is a testament to the light’s importance to the local fishery, the area’s most significant economic activity.

Architectural values
The Cape St. Mary’s Lighthouse is a very good example of a concrete octagonal tower with a distinctive appearance. As a result of the several layers added throughout the tower’s life, the Cape St. Mary’s Lighthouse projects an impression of weight and impenetrability. The modifications to the tower mean that it possesses a visual appearance unlike any other extant lighthouses.
The Cape St. Mary’s Lighthouse, in the years after its construction, went through different building phases in order to find the best solution to the extreme weather conditions on the cape. The final solutions, iron and concrete, were excellent and lasting choices. By providing a solid, secure, and weather resistant base, the lighthouse was able to fulfil its function as a secure foundation for its lantern. The construction methods used on the tower represent the standard techniques available at the time and demonstrate excellent craftsmanship.

Community values
The Cape St. Mary’s Lighthouse stands in front of broad and undifferentiated open lands and on a high headland overlooking the ocean. The broad, grassy plains, and 100-metre cliffs provide a stunning locale, and the sturdy tower helps to establish the maritime character of the area. The Cape St. Mary’s Lighthouse is a familiar landmark and a symbol of the southern Avalon Peninsula because of its long history and prominent location at the southern point of the cape. It is also a well-known reference point to the maritime community that navigates through the area, and to the many tourists who visit Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve. Cape St. Mary’s Lighthouse is also host to a number of community activities that bring residents out to the cape.

Related buildings
Three related buildings, as listed in section one (1), contribute to the heritage character of the lighthouse.

Character-Defining Elements

The following character-defining elements of the Cape St. Mary’s Lighthouse should be respected:
— its prominent location as a major coastal light on Cape St. Mary’s, on the Atlantic Ocean;
— its intact, as-built structural form, height, and balanced proportions;
— its distinctive visual appearance, resulting from successive layers of material and characterized by its squat proportions, bulky octagonal massing, and smooth concrete shell;
— its successive layers, which include the original brick structure, the concrete and cast-iron sheets added in 1885, and the exterior concrete shell added in 1925;
— its gently tapered walls; its flared cornice; its platform enclosed by a metal railing; its prefabricated metal lantern;
— its simple arrangement of openings, including the door and two small “punched” windows one above the other;
— its small concrete staircase that protrudes from the southern elevation;
— its simple interior layout, consisting of three levels, with ladders providing access to the lantern above;
— its colour scheme, consisting of white for the tower and grey for the lantern; and,
— its visual prominence in relation to the water and landscape.

The following character-defining elements of the related buildings should be respected:
— their respective built forms, profiles, and proportions;
— their traditional red and white exterior colour schemes;
— their contextual relationships to the lighthouse within an historic lightstation setting.