Posted by: alexhickey | September 22, 2017

St. Jacques Island Lighthouse©

A few years ago the Government of Canada announced that it would divest itself of a number of light houses across the country including the one on St. Jacques Island in Fortune Bay. Provincial governments were given first option to take them over, followed by municipal governments and barring interest from them, a third party could submit a proposal.  If there was no interest the lighthouses would simply be left to deteriorate over time or be dismantled.

I reflected on the possibility that we could see the end of the iconic lighthouse on St. Jacques Island if no one showed interest.  At that point I decided that if the provincial government or the municipality wasn’t interested I would make an effort.  That set in motion a process which led to the establishment of the not-for-profit St. Jacques Island Heritage Corporation with a Board of Directors and the submission of a business plan to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in 2013.  What followed was three years of meeting, planning, negotiating and eventually signing a Memorandum of Agreement signing over the lighthouse, out buildings, the light keeper’s residence and the island to the St. Jacques Island Heritage Corporation.

The Corporation has as a mandate the preservation of the light tower for future generations and the provision of programming to inform and educate people about the light tower.  It intends to do that by developing the light keeper’s residence as a tourism rental facility and artist retreat which will raise funds for the preservation of the light tower and programming. The planning for this is now underway.

We also sought to have the lighthouse designated as a National Historic Structure by Parks Canada.  This took another level of effort and months of work.  In the end we were successful in achieving our goal.  The St. Jacques Island Lighthouse is now recognized as a National Historic structure in Canada.

What follows is the text of the case Parks Canada accepted for this designation taken from their site which you can view at Parks Canada’s Page on the St. Jacques Island Lighthouse.

Heritage Lighthouse

Description of Historic Place

St. Jacques Island Light Tower

The St. Jacques Island Lighthouse, also known as the Fortune Bay Lighthouse, is a 12 metre (39 foot) white, cylindrical, cast iron tower. Built in 1908, the lighthouse is the first on site. The lighthouse is situated on a 30-metre (100-foot) cliff on St. Jacques Island overlooking Fortune Bay, on the Southern coast of Newfoundland not far from St. Pierre and Miquelon. The island’s high visibility has made it a location marker for mariners for centuries.

Heritage Value

The St. Jacques Island Lighthouse is a heritage lighthouse because of its historical, architectural, and community values.

Historical values
The St. Jacques Island Lighthouse is an excellent example of the system of lighthouses that was initiated in 1811 on the coast of Newfoundland and grew rapidly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Pre-Confederation lighthouses built in Newfoundland during this period were typically pre-fabricated cast-iron towers. This design was preferred for the climate of the Newfoundland coast because the towers were durable, relatively inexpensive and easy to erect on remote sites. The St. Jacques Island lighthouse illustrates the expansion and development of the lighthouse system during this period, when the British colony was still almost entirely economically-dependent on aquaculture (fishery).

The lighthouse also illustrates Newfoundland’s relationship with industrial England, where the pre-fabricated lighthouse was manufactured by the renowned Chance Brothers and Company. The St. Jacques Island Lighthouse was fundamental to the socio-economic development of the communities in Fortune Bay. The lighthouse aided in providing safer navigation for a local fishing fleet that tripled in size at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries. It facilitated the use of St. Jacques as a safe harbour for off-shore fishing vessels during stormy weather, a role it had served since the early 17th century, and made local and transitory navigation more secure for small inshore vessels, mail boats, passenger ships and commercial vessels.

Architectural values
The St. Jacques Island Lighthouse demonstrates excellent aesthetic design with its elegantly tapered, cylindrical tower with a well-proportioned and attractive lantern. There are only two openings on the tower: a small window located a third of the way up the shaft and a rounded iron door at ground level. The lantern features a “crow’s nest”inspired gallery reminiscent of the enclosed lookouts found on the mast of ships.

The lighthouse exhibits very good functional design in its pre-fabricated, cast-iron construction technology typical of the Newfoundland coast during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The tower consists of rounded rectangular sections that were pre-fabricated in England, and subsequently assembled on site. Seams were filled with lead and caulking, creating a smooth exterior and eliminating any edges or seams where water from the harsh maritime climate could collect or infiltrate the building and lead to corrosion.

Community values
The lighthouse embodies the coastal maritime character of its setting, and is a local landmark in Fortune Bay, as evidenced by the picturesque qualities of its design and form. Its location on a steep 30-metre cliff and the lack of vegetation surrounding it makes the lighthouse highly visible from all around the Bay.

The town of St. Jacques-Coomb’s Cove is comprised of six communities nestled within various inlets that incorporated in 1972: St. Jacques, English Harbour West, Mose Ambrose, Boxey, Coomb’s Cove and Wreck Cove. When the town incorporated and its boundaries were drawn up, it did not include St. Jacques Island, which was under the jurisdiction of the federal government. The town of St. Jacques-Coomb’s Cove is currently in the process of having its boundaries redrawn to include St. Jacques Island specifically for the purpose of having the lighthouse designated as a municipal heritage site, reinforcing the importance of the lighthouse to the community.

Related buildings
There are four related buildings on the site that contribute to the heritage character of the lighthouse: (1) the 1960 light keeper’s residence; (2) the 1960 Generator Building; (3) the 1960 Equipment Building #1; and (4) the 1999 Equipment Building #2.

Note:  Since this was prepared by Parks Canada, the town of St. Jacques-Coomb’s Cove has been successful in achieving a boundary change which now includes St. Jacques Island. The St. Jacques Island Heritage Corporation anticipates that the designation of the light house as a municipal heritage building will take place in the near future. This will be the first building so designated by the town. 

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Responses

  1. Congratulations to you Alex and the St Jacques Island Heritage Corporation

  2. My compliments to Alex Hickey and his team for their vision and persistence in having the St. Jacques Island Lighthouse declared a heritage site. Also congratulations to the Town of St. Jacques – Coomb’s Cove for their support of Alex’s efforts. This site is off particular importance to my family as in 1963 my brother was washed off the island and drowned while serving as Acting Lighthouse Keeper on the island. We are pleased to see that the island and its structures has been declared a national heritage site and will be preserved in perpetuity for the benefit of citizens and visitors to the area.


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