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Cape Roseway Lighthouse
Cape Roseway Lighthouse
Cape Roseway on McNutt's Island, N.S. is the site of an early-established light (1788) marking the entrance to Shelburne Harbour. The first lighthouse built at Cape Roseway in 1788 was preceded in Canada by only two others - one at Louisbourg (1733) and another at Sambro island (1758) near Halifax. Like them, the 92-foot octagonal Cape Roseway lighthouse was built with locally cut stone in "the old world style"

The settlement of Shelburne was the reason a light was established here. In the inner reaches of an excellent and sizable harbour rivaling the one at Halifax, the town in 1783 had quickly (but only briefly) become the largest urban centre in British North America.

It had been regarded as a potential place for British development as early as 1720 and was especially considered after the expulsion of the Acadians from the area in 1755. Some English-speakers from the pre-revolutionary colonies to the south did move in during the 1760s and 1670s under the leadership of speculator/entrepreneur, Alexander McNutt, but it was not until 1783 that the town began to flourish. In that year, about 16,000 United Empire Loyalists landed here and built thousands of houses and commercial establishments.

Governor Wentworth in Halifax considered Shelburne Harbour of great consequence to the safety and supply of Halifax and a safe retreat in the hurricane months for the fleets employed in the West Indies. He also saw it as peculiarly well-adapted for all naval operations necessary for defense of or offense on the east coast of America.

Discontinuance of government assistance a few years later took away much of the loyalists� incentive to stay, and most moved on to the Annapolis Valley, Halifax, or the St. John area of New Brunswick. Properties in Shelburne were abandoned, leaving a near-ghost town by 1818 at which time only 300 souls remained.

Although Shelburne quickly dropped in population and importance from its initial status, it did carry on as a small port specializing in the building of schooners and brigantines. When steel-hulled steam-powered ships began to replace wooden sailing vessels late in the 19th century, production shifted to more industrialized cities, particularly those in England and Shelburne's economy fell back on fishing.

As well as having a number of military reserves set aside for an extensive Navy - planned but not realized for this location, Governor Wentworth ordered the construction of the Cape Roseway lighthouse. He boasted that it was the finest on the continent -and that a British military officer had rated it equal to any in the English Channel. A similar one was built in Shelburne itself in 1789.

From its lighting in 1788 and up to the recent past, the Cape Roseway lighthouse guided the comings and goings of the newly-built wooden sailing ships, the fishing vessels, and other assorted marine traffic in the area. Unfortunately, the stone tower was struck by lightning in 1959 and the ensuing fire destroyed its heavy oak timbers giving support inside.

Exterior wooden clapboards (in place by 1835 at least), had formed a protective sheath around the stone but were destroyed as well. Intense heat caused large cracks in the shell-based mortar, and some of the granite blocks were dislodged. Concluding that the tower was beyond economical repair, the Canadian Coast Guard had it demolished to make way for the new and present one on the same site - a 48-foot octagonal concrete tower of standard plan.

A number of other building additions and changes have been effected at Cape Roseway throughout its long history. Currently, there are three houses on site. According to Coast Guard files, one was built in 1958, and the other two apparently pre-date it by a few years at least.

Other buildings include a barn (1880), a frame building to shelter the steam fog trumpet later transformed into a storehouse, and a new fog alarm building (1916-17). When the old lighthouse was being demolished following its fire, a temporary light was set on the roof of this latter building (1960).

Contributors: Chris Mills, Kathy Brown, Bernice Goodick
Sources: Informal Building Report 87-127, Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office (FHBRO), April 11th, 1988, "Atlantic Sentinel" The Standard, Jan. 1950, pp 12 - 15, courtesy Bernice Goodick, and a letter from Bernice.