Louisbourg Lighthouse

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45° 54' 24.0'' N    -59° 57' 30.5'' W
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     This is a lighthouse to visit. Visitor Info45° 54' 24.0'' N    -59° 57' 30.5'' W    Google Map

Louisbourg Lighthouse During the Seige of 1758
© Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management
Louisbourg Lighthouse During the Seige of 1758
A depiction by an English engraver who had never seen either Louisbourg or the lighthouse, likely taken from a sketch made by a military artist.

The First Lighthouse at Louisbourg
The lighthouse constructed by the French at Louisbourg was the first established in Canada, and the second on the North American continent. (The first North American light was lit on September 14, 1716 on Little Brewster Island in Boston Harbour.) Louisbourg, built near the northeast corner of Cape Breton Island, was the base from which the French planned to hold New France against the English. The Fortress was dependant upon ships from France to supply most of its needs. Safe entrance to the harbour at the end of the long voyage became a concern.

The initial plan to build a tower and light was made in late 1727, though the formal decision to build was not made until spring of 1729, after one of the King's ships, Le Profond nearly met its end in the harbour which was marked only by a navigational cross, and periodically by a bonfire.

Courtesy Parks Canada
The First Louisbourg Lighthouse
Built by the French in 1730.

Construction began in August of 1731. The c. 70 foot circular tower made of coursed rubble was completed two years later. The first lighting of the sperm oil lantern was not made until the first of April, 1734. This was due to a delay in the arrival of some 400 small lantern panes from France - the first ones sent were the wrong size and new ones could not be shipped until the next spring. The actual light was a circle of cod-liver oil fed wicks set in a copper ring mounted on cork floats. This light was said to be visible for 18 nautical miles, an impressive distance for those times. A small duty was levied on vessels using Louisbourg Harbour to cover the expense of construction and upkeep - including the lightkeepers salary. This was a profitable light, since the duty covered the cost of building it, and more.

The Fire

As in all these early open-flame lights, much heat was generated inside the lantern. The lantern design proved faulty, for the wood had no protection from the high temperatures, resulting in the gutting of the lantern by fire, during the night of September 11, 1736. The stone tower survived, and a light on top of it, burning coal and wood, was quickly re-established. Also, during the two years of reconstruction,  beacons were lit along the coast.

The reconstructed lantern was designed to prevent a similar occurrence. The project engineer installed a larger fuel basin, placed in a water jacket to dissipate the heat, and with wicks spaced further apart so that the heat generated would be less intense. There was no wood in the lantern. It was designed with six stone pillars surmounted by a vault-shaped brick roof covered with lead, with vents fitted into each of the 6 faces, and a chimney. The window frames were of iron. The "new" light was completed in July, 1738. Reflectors were added in 1751 to focus the light from the thirty-two lamp wicks. This light functioned for twenty years.

During the second British seige of Louisbourg, the tower was heavily damaged, particularly so on the evening of June 9, 1758, when British batteries and naval vessels opened a heavy bombardment on Louisbourg. The light was deemed beyond repair and left to disintegrate.

Contributor: Kathy Brown, Ken Donovan. Sources: Against Darkenss and Storm, Harry Thurston; Lighthouses of Nova Scotia, David E. Stephens; Historic Sites and Monuments Board Plaques; Fortress of Louisbourg.