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Middle Head, NF  Lighthouse accessible by car and a short, easy walk.   

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Middle Head Lighthouse

On the eastern side of the Burin Peninsula are found Great and Little St. Lawrence Harbours, two long, parallel inlets separated by a peninsula. The community of St. Lawrence is located around the base of Great St. Lawrence Harbour.

When Captain James Cook visited the area around 1762, he noted “…severall inhabitants employ’d in the Fishery and likewise severall Stages and Fishing Rooms and convenient places for severall more.” In the official census of 1836, the town had a population of 232.

Aerial view of Middle Head Lighthouse in 1991
Photograph courtesy Canadian Coast Guard
In 1912, a fog alarm was established on Middle Head, the point dividing Great and Little St. Lawrence Harbours. This station consisted of a flat-roofed dwelling, a flat-roofed engine house, and a storehouse, all painted white. The engine house contained a diaphone fog alarm, operated by air compressed by an oil engine that, when needed, sounded three blasts every ninety seconds in this manner: blast 1.25 seconds, silent three seconds, blast 1.25 seconds, silent three seconds, blast 1.25 seconds, silent 80.25 seconds. The first keeper of the station was P. Molloy.

An occulting white light, consisting of a sixth-order lens housed in a lantern on the engine house, was established in 1915. During the summer of 1919, a fire caused by lightning destroyed the fog alarm and light at St. Lawrence. A new lighthouse and fog alarm building were built that year, but the necessary machinery to make them functional did not arrive until the following year. The new fog alarm building was also a white, flat-roofed, while the light was displayed from a tower adjoining the fog alarm building. The fog alarm and light were reestablished on August 30, 1920 and retained their previous characteristics.

The tidal wave that struck several communities along the Burin Peninsula following the earthquake on November 18, 1929 claimed twenty-seven lives and cause extensive damage at St. Lawrence. Virtually all the fishing property, including flakes, stores, and provisions, was lost, and it took about a decade for the fishing grounds to recover. Fortunately, St. Lawrence had another resource to which it could turn. Geologist J.B. Jukes had noted a fluorspar deposit near the town around 1842, but it wasn’t until 1933 that commercial mining started.

Walter Seibert, an American entrepreneur purchased the fluorspar deposits from a St. John’s businessman in 1929. Seibert visited St. Lawrence in 1931 to set up a mining operation, and two years later, many local men were employed in extracting and shipping the ore for Siebert’s company, the St. Lawrence Corporation of Newfoundland. The mines were a major employer for the community until their closing in 1978. While a steady income was welcomed, many miners started developing respiratory illnesses due to the particles of silica that were released into the air by the dry drilling.

On February 18, 1942, two American destroyers, the Truxtun and Wilkes, and the supply ship Pollux ran aground off St. Lawrence while en route to Placentia, Newfoundland. The Wilkes was able to back away from the beach after grounding, but the Truxtun and Pollux> soon broke up in the heavy surf caused by a raging gale in the Atlantic. Despite the heroic efforts of many residents from St. Lawrence and Lawn, 110 men aboard the Truxtun and ninety-three men aboard the Pollux perished. The casualty list from the incident was the largest suffered by the Atlantic Fleet to that point in the war. A week after the tragedy, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a telegram to the residents of St. Lawrence, thanking them for their heroic efforts in rescuing some of the sailors. In appreciation, the government of the United States built a memorial hospital in St. Lawrence following the war.

By 1991, a new lighthouse, a square tower attached two a rectangular building, was constructed on the point at Middle Head, with a keeper’s dwelling located a short distance away. This lighthouse was later replaced with a square, skeletal tower flanked by white rectangular building. No keeper’s residence remains at Middle Head today.

Keepers: Keepers: P. Molloy (1912 - ).

References

  1. Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, 1981.
  2. Journal of the House of Assembly of Newfoundland, various years.

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