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Pilier de Pierre (Stone Pillar), PQ  Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.   

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Pilier de Pierre (Stone Pillar) Lighthouse

The Traverse is a tricky section of the south channel of the St. Lawrence River below Quebec. Here, the tides are strong, rocks abound, and good anchorages are hard to find. Two small, rocky islets, known as The Pillars, are located at the south end or head of the Traverse, about three miles from the southern shore of the river. Stone Pillar is a quarter of a mile long and barren, while Woody Pillar, lying a mile and a quarter west of Stone Pillar, has trees on its western side.

Stone Pillar Lighthouse in 1906 with old lantern
Photograph courtesy Library and Archives Canada
In 1828, a special committee was appointed in the House of Assembly of Lower Canada to determine where additional lighthouses were most needed. After interviewing Captain Bayfield of the Royal Navy and Captain Lambly, Harbour Master for Quebec, the committee recommended lights be placed at Pointe des Monts and at the Traverse. While a lighthouse would be built at Pointe des Monts, Bayfield and Lambly disagreed on how to mark the Traverse. Lambly proposed a stone lighthouse be built on Stone Pillar, while Bayfield insisted a floating vessel at the foot of the Traverse would be better.

The schooner-rigged Brillant was moored at the foot of the Traverse in 1831, but the following year, Trinity House of Quebec, “considering the inefficiency of the Floating Light at the North East entrance of the Traverse, without an auxiliary Light at the South West entrance of that narrow Channel,” called for a lighthouse on Stone Pillar.

This additional light was not approved until 1841, when an act was passed allowing two pence to be collected from all vessels departing Quebec or Montreal between 1843 and 1845 for ports outside the province. The money thus collected would be used to construct lighthouses on Stone Pillar and on the Island of Bicquette.

Appropriately, a circular stone tower, designed by Charles Atherton and built under the direction of Joseph Archer, was erected on Stone Pillar. The tower’s lighting apparatus, containing fifteen lamps and reflectors, revolved every minute-and-a-half to produce a flashing light that was first exhibited on September 28, 1843. Besides housing the light, for its first twenty years, the tower also served as the residence for the keeper.

Stone Pillar Lighthouse in 1936. Note different lantern and dwelling than in 1906.
Photograph courtesy Library and Archives Canada
Charles Julyan was paid £100 per year to serve as the first keeper of Stone Pillar Lighthouse, and out of this amount he was required to hire an assistant. Keeper Julyan was permitted to leave the station when shipping closed for the season, but Trinity House of Quebec held him responsible for any vandalism that occurred in his absence. It appears that Julyan swapped positions in 1854 with Thomas Roche, who was keeper at Heath Point, the easternmost point of Anticosti Island. Roche served at Stone Pillar for five years, from 1854 to 1859, and records show that in 1860 he petitioned the House of Assembly for a pension, claiming that he lost his eyesight while at Stone Pillar. The Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada voted in 1859 that “a sum, not exceeding Six hundred dollars, be granted to Her Majesty, for Indemnity to Thomas Roche, late Light-house Keeper at L’Islet, having lost his sight while on duty, and two of his sons having been drowned in November last, while making the last trip from Lighthouse to shore.”

The increasing speed of vessels navigating the St. Lawrence made it desirable in 1894 to shorten the period of rotation of several flashing lights along the river. The characteristic of Stone Pillar was thus changed from a white flash every ninety seconds to a white flash every thirty seconds.

The inspector’s report in 1893 noted that the stone dwelling house at Stone Pillar was old and in bad order and was to be renewed. This work was carried out in 1895, when a new dwelling was built at a cost of $975.

A serious fire at the station in July of 1913 destroyed the 1895 dwelling along with the lantern and lighting apparatus. A replacement dwelling was built under contract by J. E. Forin for $4,444.44, and a new lantern and single flash, long focus reflector were provided and installed atop the tower for $3,383.21. The characteristic of the lighthouse with its new lighting apparatus was a fixed white light for three-and-a-half seconds, intensified by a flash, followed by a three-and-a-half-second eclipse.

Just 1,900 feet south of Stone Pillar is Algernon Rock, a rocky spine barely visible at high tide. Shortly after midnight on June 1, 1857, the 277-foot-long Canadian, owned by the Montreal Steamship Company, ran aground on this dangerous ledge. The vessel was a total loss, but all aboard survived.

Algernon Rock Lighthouse atop concrete pier
Photograph courtesy Library and Archives Canada
To mark this threat to mariners, a timber pier, topped by a square, thirty-two-foot “reflecting tower,” was built on the Algernon Rock in 1876 at a cost of $8,729. Due to “difficulties experienced in connection with the reflecting apparatus,” this device, whose purpose seems to have been to simply reflect the light from South Pillar, was not put in operation. However, the pier and tower, painted white with broad black corners, served as a highly visible daymark. In the spring of 1879, the reflecting apparatus was destroyed by fire, but the pier and tower were not damaged.

It was then decided to install a sixth-order lens in the tower, and a fixed white light commenced operation at Algernon Rock on April 20, 1880. The keeper at Stone Pillar Lighthouse was also responsible for the light on Algernon Rock, but it was understood that he would hire an assistant to take care of it. In 1905, the wooden pier, which had been sheathed in iron plates as a protection against ice, was refaced with concrete. The light was made unwatched in 1927, and then in 1947, the wooden tower was demolished and replaced with a metal, skeletal tower.

Antonio Bourgault, the last keeper of Stone Pillar Lighthouse, served for thirty-four years, longer than any of his predecessors. During his tenure, the keeper’s dwelling burned down on November 20, 1955, and Bourgault was forced to live in a small shed until the station was de-staffed in 1960.

With the financial support of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Friends of Port-Joli, a non-profit organization formed to promote the maritime heritage of Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, worked to restore Stone Pillar Lighthouse between 2006 and 2008. As part of this effort, the tower’s door and windows were replaced along with the glass in the lantern room. A solar-powered LED lighting system was installed in the lantern room, and the joints in the tower were repointed. The Friends also installed informational signs at a rest stop along QC-132 near Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, where the public can get a distant view of the tower and learn about its intriguing history. To complete the restoration of the station, the Friends would eventually like to rebuild the keeper’s dwelling.

Keepers: Charles Julyan (1843 – 1854), Thomas Roche (1854 – 1859), Henry Harding (1859 – 1862), D. Vaughan (1862 – 1869), Damase Babin (1870 – 1874), Louis Damase Babin, Jr. (1874 – 1901), Georges-Octave Leclere (1901 – 1911), E. Francouer (1912 – 1921), Joseph-Francis Giasson (1921 – 1926), Antonio Bourgault (1926 – 1960).

References

  1. Annual Report of the Department of Marine and Fisheries, various years.
  2. Report of the Commissioner of Public Works, various years.
  3. “Phare du Pilier de Pierre, Île du Pilier de Pierre, Québec,” Gris Orange Consultant Inc., 2011.

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Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, used by permission.
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