Great Canadian Parks / Newfoundland

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The Parks / Newfoundland & Labrador / Cape St Mary's Ecological Reserve




The first English governor of Placentia, appointed in 1719, may have ordered the construction of a lighthouse which would have been no more than a wooden tower with a fire set on top to guide English ships attempting to enter the harbour. Only a naval chart notation remains as evidence of a structure that would pre-date the first Canadian lighthouse built by the French in Louisburg harbour in 1733. Shrouded in fog and well known for its treacherous currents, Cape St. Mary became a danger to the increasing trade and fishing schooners as well as transatlantic steamers. In 1858, Inspector Robert Oke chose a lighthouse site on a flat table of land 100 metres above sea level on the extreme point of the cape. When it was completed, the delays in landing construction materials in bad weather had at least doubled projected costs and almost immediately the salt spray began to erode the mortar between the bricks necessitating re-pointing in 1877 and 1881. In 1885, the entire structure was encased in iron, backed with concrete, to prevent the need for annual costly repairs. In 1925, a new light mechanism was installed, housing a series of kerosene lamps, and concrete was poured to cover the tower’s iron casing. Today, the lighthouse presents a squat, awkward shape, topped by a new aluminum 400 watt mercury vapour lamp focusing light 20 kilometres out to sea. One of the keeper’s cottages is now an Interpretive Centre operated by the Wildlife Division.

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