It could be the light atop its tower casting a sharp and shining beacon through the darkness of the night or through the banks of fog that sometimes quietly veil both land and sea. Otherwise, it could be the unmistakable and mournful wail of the foghorn. In any case, for just over 150 years, the lighthouse located at Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve has continued to be both a stalwart and enduring part of the horizon.
Since people first sailed into Placentia Bay to fish its rich waters, it was no doubt recognised that the moods of the bay were at times treacherous and tempestuous. And although there is little evidence, except a notation on a naval chart, it is possible that already in the 18th century, a lighthouse existed at Cape St. Mary’s.
In any case, in 1857, the House of Assembly in Newfoundland (the name of the province was only officially changed to “Newfoundland and Labrador” in 2001), upon the recommendation of a Robert Oke passed a Bill to erect a lighthouse at Cape St. Mary’s. Unfortunately, plagued by delays in the construction of the lighthouse, the cost increased. However, eventually, during the summer of 1860, the lighthouse was installed and on the 20 September, 1860, it went into operation. The first lighthouse keeper was a John Reilly who was given assistance from a William Collins.
Challenges to Overcome
Nonetheless, the lighthouse was fraught with challenges. Apparently, with the salt spray began to erode the mortar of the structure and hence, in 1877 and 1881, the bricks required re-pointing. And then in 1885, no doubt recognising the areas of weakness, the entire structure was encased in iron and buttressed and backed with concrete.
By 1925, a new light mechanism consisting of a series of kerosene lights was installed. This was followed in the 1950s, with the construction of two single story structures. At this time as well, the lighthouse was yet again encased, this time in concrete.
In the Present Day
Today, the aluminum 400 watt mercury vapour lamp shines 20 kilometres out to sea flashes every 5 s and the foghorn blasts every 30 s. Thus, without question, the sound and sight of the Cape St. Mary’s lighthouse continues to offer a guiding light to the ever-present and increasing sea traffic which plies the waters of Placentia Bay.