M999.54.27 | Father Point Lighthouse, 1885-1889

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Father Point Lighthouse, 1885-1889
Henry Richard S. Bunnett
1885-1889, 19th century
Watercolour on paper
22 x 24 cm
Gift of M. Châteauguay Perrault and Mme Valérie Migneault Perrault
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Painting (2229) , painting (2227) , Waterscape (2986)
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Keys to History

Other Navigation Signals
Fog Signals
Because the St. Lawrence is often foggy, there was a need for sound-based navigation aids. It's well known that sound carries far over water, even though its point of origin is sometimes hard to determine.

Canadian lighthouses, at least those in the 19th century, used a variety of sound-making devices, including bells and even canons (filled with a blank charge). But officials favoured fog alarms (foghorns): they were less dangerous and more efficient. Before the advent of electricity, foghorns were driven by steam, and the siren and compressor were usually located in a building beside the lighthouse. This type of aid was most common in the Lower St. Lawrence region, at large lighthouses such as the ones at Belle Isle and Pointe-au-Père (Father Point).

  • What

    In its early years, the Pointe-au-Père Lighthouse had a canon beside it. When visibility on the river was poor, the lightkeeper would load the canon with gun powder and fire it. He did this every half hour until the weather cleared.

  • Where

    Pointe-au-Père is close to Rimouski in the Lower St. Lawrence. In May 1914, the Empress of Ireland sunk nearby, killing 1000 people.

  • When

    In 1903, the fog canon at Pointe-au-Père was replaced by a "Scotch siren," invented at the end of the 19th century, and manufactured in Great Britain. That device was itself replaced the following year by a diaphone, an even more powerful foghorn.

  • Who

    Because the diaphone was a more complex piece of equipment, it was sometimes operated not by the lightkeeper but by a "fog alarm engineer." His wages were taken from the meagre salary of the lighthouse keeper.