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Researching the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada
  Recherche sur la Forteresse-de-Louisbourg Lieu historique national du Canada


Extracted from © The Seagull

Louisbourg Heritage Notes

October 2000

Louisbourg Lighthouses

In September’s Seagull, Juanita mentioned Lighthouse Day which was the 29 September. She spoke with Helen and me one evening about doing something to celebrate our lighthouse. There was not much time to do anything, though I put some pictures in the Post Office. Perhaps next year we can plan an event at the lighthouse to emphasize how important it is to Louisbourg.

There has been concern in the community about the future of the lighthouse. Iris Stevens, Gerry Gartland and Jean Bagnell have each written to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans or to the Coast Guard. Iris and Jean sent petitions along with their letters. They worry about the loss of the powerful light, the change in the foghorn and deterioration of the structure.

French Lighthouse - First in Canada : Construction of the French light started in 1731 and it was lit in April 1734. It was a grey fieldstone tower standing about 74 feet high (22.5 metres). The light came from 31 cotton wicks floating in a basin of cod oil and was reportedly visible for 18 miles out to sea (28.9k). It was lit at night from April to December. Ocean going and coastal vessels were charged a fee and the light operated at a profit. The light keeper from 1734-1744 was Jean Grenard dit Belair, a retired soldier. He lived in a small house near the base of the light tower. The next closest light to Louisbourg, along a dark and treacherous coast was in Boston harbour.

In September 1736 a fire destroyed the lantern. It was redesigned and the light was back in operation by July 1738. Until the new lantern could be constructed a light was kept in the tower by burning wood and coal on a grate. Louisbourg officials reported that this light was not as bright as the cod oil flame. The new lantern had a number of modifications to improve safety and make it fireproof. It was larger and made entirely of stone and brick with iron window sashes. The oil basin was wider and shallower. The light survived the New England siege of 1745 and was used by the English during their occupation of town. It continued to be operated by the French until the siege of 1758 when it was damaged.

The Nova Scotia Lighthouse: Louisbourg was without a light for over 80 years. The ruins of the French tower are pictured on a 1790s chart of the harbour and so must have helped passing ships mark the harbour. In 1832 a wooden pyramid-shaped structure, painted white and standing 15 feet high (4.5 metres) was erected on the ruins of the French light to act as a beacon during the daylight hours. This was much like a cross that fishermen had put up before the first French lighthouse. A light was constructed on Scatarie in 1839. In 1842 a new light was built at Louisbourg.

The new light was a wooden building combining lightkeeper’s residence and lantern. It stood 35 feet high (10.6 metres) and was painted white with a broad black vertical stripe on the front and the two sides. Initially the light was a fixed white light made up of 9 lamps and their reflectors. Around the time of World War I the stationary lamp was replaced by a clock gear operated petroleum vapour light. The increased use of the harbour after the 1895 arrival of the S&L railway led to the installation of a fog horn. The foghorn became a significant feature of Louisbourg and required an engineer who was paid more than the lighthouse keeper. The lighthouse was destroyed by fire in June 1923. The lightkeepers included Laurence Kavanaugh III, Laurence Kavanaugh IV, William Burke, James Burke, Philip Price and William Cameron.

20th Century Reinforced Concrete Light: The present light tower was constructed in 1923/24 and lit towards the last of January 1924. It is reinforced concrete designed by the Department of Marine and Fisheries and stands almost 55 feet high (16.7 metres). The light is completely automated. The Louisbourg light has been identified by the Federal Heritage Building Review Office as a Recognized Heritage Property. This is ". . . because of its association with the theme of aid to navigation, because of its historical and environmental significance as the site of the first lighthouse in Canada and the second on the North American continent, and for architectural reasons." The design for the Louisbourg light is also used in the lighthouse on Georges Island in Halifax Harbour. The head lightkeepers have included Wilfred Covey, M. J. Tanner and Roy Forgeron.

Sharp Family

The earliest reference is to George Sharp in the 1827 census of Louisbourg. There are 3 Sharp families in the 1871 census of Louisbourg. These are George (80) and his wife Mary (83) and their sons John Frederick Sharp (48) and George Sharp (53). The Cape Breton Topographical map by Ambrose Church (1864 \1870s) shows houses for the 2 George Sharps. They were on the left side of the Compound Road going towards the Fortress administration building. That hill is still known as Sharp’s Hill. The Sharp name seems to have disappeared from Louisbourg by the 1891 census.

On Saturday, 23 September, I met Marion Gaetan of Bridgewater, who is researching the Sharp family. Marjorie MacDonald introduced us at the Library. Marion’s grandmother was Annie Elizabeth Sharp, the daughter of John Francis Sharp who was the son of John Frederick Sharp and his wife Naomi. John Francis married Catherine Bates. He died on the Dorcas on August 21, 1893. His mother, Naomi, was buried in St. Bartholomew’s churchyard on the same day. John Francis had one sister, Mary Eliza, who married Joseph Richard Kelly in 1875. They were the great grandparents of Barbara (Kelly) Landry of Sydney.

George Sharp (53), his wife Margaret (45) lived in West Louisbourg on Sharp’s Hill. George was buried in St. Bartholomew’s in May 1881. His wife Margaret then married Richard Kelly. They are possibly the great grandparents of Gerard Kelly.

Post Office Box #35

Something useful seems to come out of most situations. The recent postal rejiggering is no exception. Donald John Cameron told me the story of why his father’s post office box and his post office box was #35 for over 60 years. When the post office opened in February 1939, Donald John’s father, Gordon , went to get a box and he was asked by post master Hugh Lynk what number he would like. Gordon couldn’t decide for a moment, but then said, " I’m 35 years old this year, why not that number?" "Number 35, it is," said Hugh. If anyone has post office stories please contact me.

Looking for the ideal Christmas gift? Why not send a Louisbourg tartan tie or scarf?

Bill O’Shea

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