A Guiding Light at Pointe-au-Père

The Pointe-au-Père lighthouse © Parks Canada. All rights reserved.
S.S. Empress of Ireland © Library and Archives Canada / PA-116389

For the Week of Monday, September 20, 2021

On September 20, 1990, the Pointe-au-Père lighthouse was designated as a Classified Federal Heritage Building. Constructed in 1909, it was the third lighthouse at Pointe-au-Père, which is now part of the town of Rimouski in the Bas-Saint Laurent region in Quebec.

As maritime traffic increased along the St. Lawrence River in the 19th century, so too did the construction of lighthouses. Their bright lights served as important aids to navigation that helped ensure the safe transportation of people and goods. In 1859, the Montreal Ocean Steamship Company built the first wooden lighthouse at Pointe-au-Père.Unlike earlier lighthouses that often used whale oil, its light switched to less expensive kerosene in 1861, an alternative fuel developed by Canadian Abraham Gesner. This type of fuel derived from coal was highly flammable and, in April 1867, the Pointe-au-Père lighthouse burned to the ground. The lighthouse was rebuilt later that year. 

The design of the new lighthouse remained largely the same, but with improvements to the lighting system, including better-placed reflectors. More than two decades later, the catoptric lens with a fixed light was replaced by a rotating, flashing light. In an effort to further modernize, in 1909 a third lighthouse was built at Pointe-au-Père, adjacent to the 1867 reconstruction, which became an office for St. Lawrence River pilots. The 1909 lighthouse was taller than its predecessors, at 33 metres in height, built of reinforced concrete, supported by eight flying buttresses, and equipped with a dioptric lens, which captured more light and reflected it more efficiently towards passing vessels.

Lightkeepers and their families were essential to the operation of lighthouses in the 19th century, maintaining and manually adjusting reflectors and lamps. They were joined at Pointe-au-Père by a wireless telegraph operator, who facilitated communications between ships along the St. Lawrence, following the construction of a Marconi station in 1906 next to the lighthouse. Crawford Leslie was the telegraph operator in 1914, when a distress signal was received at Point-au-Père from the ocean liner Empress of Ireland, following a collision with the Norwegian Collier Storstad near the estuary of the St. Lawrence River. Leslie alerted Canadian steamers Eureka and Lady Evelyn of Rimouski, which then rushed to the scene, saving 465 of the 1,477 people on board.

The Pointe-au-Père Lighthouse of 1909, which was replaced by a less costly skeleton tower equipped with an automated light in 1975 and remained It remained in operation until 1997, and is a designated National Historic Site (1974), Classified Federal Heritage Building (1990), and Heritage Lighthouse (2015).



Learn more about Parks Canada’s approach to public history by checking out the Framework for History and Commemoration (2019) on our website.