A petition from Ferguson, Rankin and Company, George and A. Smith, John Meahan, and twenty-six other merchants and inhabitants of Bathurst calling for a lighthouse on Miscou Island was presented to the House of Assembly in 1854. Joining this petition was a letter from the agent at Bathurst for Lloyd’s, the noted marine insurer, which read in part, “In view of the great number of casualties to shipping on the Island of Miscou, at the entrance of this Bay, and the consequent vast loss of property, it becomes a matter of some importance to endeavor to get a Light House established there as a means of averting these evils.”
Construction of the lighthouse, keeper’s dwelling and a woodshed was opened to bids, and a £1,220 contract, stipulating that the work be done by September 1, 1856, was awarded to James Murray of Newcastle on August 25, 1855. One third of the contract, which did not include the lantern, was to be paid upon the contractor obtaining bonds for the work, another third was to be paid as the work progressed, and the final third when the work was completed.
After the lantern arrived from England on the 10th of October, 1856, Keeper William Hay, who was in charge of the Point Escuminac Lighthouse, the only other lighthouse on the northern coast of New Brunswick, was sent to Miscou Island to oversee the installation of the lamps and reflectors. Keeper Hay placed the light into operation on November 4, and then passed responsibility for its care to George McConnell, a practical engineer and mechanic, who had been selected by the Commissioners from a pool of thirteen applicants. The total cost for the lighthouse came to £2,200, and Keeper McConnell initially received an annual salary of £125.
The wooden, octagonal Miscou Island Lighthouse originally measured seventy-four feet from its base to the top of the vane on the lantern room. The lighthouse is quite similar to the original Point Escuminac Lighthouse, built in 1841, but is a few feet taller. Eight lamps, equipped with colored chimneys and backed by reflectors, were initially used in the lantern room at Miscou Island to produce a fixed red light.
In 1860, it was noted that in calm weather, the draft was insufficient to clear the lantern room of smoke, so “smoke conductors” were installed. This improvement saved much labour and material needed to clean the glass and resulted in a more brilliant light.
During 1874, a wooden building was erected 107 yards east of the lighthouse to house a steam fog whistle. The fog alarm, which produced blasts of five seconds separated by twenty-five seconds, commenced operation in June of 1875 and was hailed by captains of steamers and sailing vessels as a great service in foggy conditions. The fog whistle cost $6,055 and was placed under the care of the keeper of the light, George McConnell.
In 1875 the iron lantern, which had a diameter of twelve feet and glass panes measuring 22 ½ x 21 inches, housed nine lamps, seven mammoth flat-wick lamps and two No. 1 circular-wick lamps. Each of the lamps was equipped with a twenty-inch reflector.
A new catoptric illuminating apparatus, which revolved once every seventy-five seconds and produced four bright flashes, with intervals of fifteen seconds between then, followed by thirty seconds of darkness, was installed at Miscou Island in time for the opening of navigation in the spring of 1894.
In 1908, the lighthouse tower was altered to accommodate a new lantern and Fresnel lens, which were manufactured in 1907 by Barbier, Benard, and Turenne of Paris, France. A plaque on the lantern door lists the officers of the Department of Marine who were serving when the new lantern and lens were made. In 1917, it was noted that the third-order Fresnel lens produced a group of two flashes every 7.5 seconds in this manner: flash 0.5 second, eclipse 1 second, flash 0.5 second, eclipse 5.5 seconds.
On August 1, 1946 workers began relocating the tower 200 feet inland. The move was completed just over a month later on September 13.
An informational plaque installed on Miscou Island Lighthouse by Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada reads:
This lighthouse was built in 1856 at the southern entrance to Chaleur Bay by Quebec Trinity House, which then supervised navigation on the St. Lawrence River and Gulf. Considered a major coastal aid it merited the subsequent installation of a powerful dioptric light and a diaphone fog alarm. The octagonal tower of hand-sawn timbers, shingled on the outside, was originally 74 feet in height and was extended in 1903 to 80 feet. This lighthouse, substantially in its original state, is among the oldest in the Gulf of St. Lawrence region.The plaque isn’t quite correct as the tower was built by the Colony of New Brunswick. The tower didn’t come under control of the Department of Marine in Quebec until 1928, when lighthouses were grouped geographically rather than by province. Control of the lighthouses on the northern coast of New Brunswick was divided between Quebec and Charlottetown.
The lighthouse was closed to the public in 2001 due to mercury contamination in the lantern room and lead paint in the soil surrounding the tower. The Fresnel lens formerly floated in a mercury bath, which allowed the lens to revolve with little effort and which was removed from the tower in 1995. The keepers would occasionally have to filter the mercury, so small amounts of it were spilled on lantern room floors.
The cleanup was scheduled to take a few days, but the lighthouse remained closed to the public for years. During the closure, the Province of New Brunswick spent nearly $2 million to make Miscou Island an eco-tourism destination. As part of this effort, the lighthouse received a new paved parking area, washroom facilities, and a large grassy area in 2009. Miscou Island Lighthouse, still equipped with its Fresnel lens, reopened to the public in 2010.
Keepers: George McConnell (1855 – 1877), Robert Rivers (1877 – 1902), Joseph L. Robichaud (1902 – 1912), John A. Ward (1912 – 1940), John Lester Marks (1940 – 1957), Arthur Chiasson (1957 – 1983), Robert Chiasson (1984 – 1988).