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 Pointe des Monts, PQ    
Lighthouse accessible by car and a short, easy walk.Lighthouse open for climbing.Interior open or museum on site.Fee charged.Overnight lodging available.Photogenic lighthouse or setting.
Description: Pointe des Monts, a jog along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, is located where the river ends and the Gulf of St. Lawrence begins. From here, the south shore, located fifty miles away, appears merely as a distant blue line.

Due to high costs and limited resources, twenty-one years passed before a second lighthouse was built along the St. Lawrence River to join the 1809 Île Verte Lighthouse. In 1828, John Lambly, Harbour Master for Quebec, testified before a special committee of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada that lighthouses were needed at three places: Stone Pillar, Southwest Point on Anticosti Island, and Pointe des Monts. Lambly called Pointe des Monts a “station formed by nature for a Light House,” as a light there would serve as a point of departure on the north shore allowing ships to avoid Anitcosti Island, Manicouagan Shoal, and the strong southeast current along the south shore.

Pointe des Monts Lighthouse in 1892
Photograph courtesy Canadian Coast Guard
Construction on Pointe des Monts Lighthouse began in July 1829, under the direction of Charles Touchette, but the work soon triggered a few complaints. William Lampson had acquired a lease, at the cost of £1,200 per year, that gave him exclusive hunting, fishing, and trading rights in King’s Posts, a vast territory that included Pointe de Monts. Lampson petitioned the government for compensation claiming that the work on the lighthouse had already scared off seals and affected the natives. “As soon as the foundation of the Light-house were laid,” Lampson wrote, “they [the natives] flocked thither, lounging about the place, and endeavouring to obtain rum, which they know is always to be got where the whites establish themselves. For a single bottle of rum, the Indians will, when in a state of intoxication, without hesitation give a pack of peltry of such value … [as] would suffice for the support of their families during the whole winter.” A committee of the House of Assembly looked into the matter and suggested that two arbitrators be appointed to determine the damages caused to Lampson.

Another complaint received was from Captain Bayfield, a cartographer for the Royal Navy, who disputed the site selection, stating that it was too far east of true Point des Monts for eastbound vessels to see the light when near Manicougan Shoals. Lambly agreed with Bayfield’s assessment but noted that westbound vessels could see the light, which was more critical, and since construction had already begun, the site remained unchanged. To better serve eastbound vessels, a swath of trees at true Point des Monts was felled to open up a view to the lighthouse.

The contractor attempted to use local granite to build the tower, but after it was found too difficult to work with, limestone was brought in from Montreal, though white fire brick was used for the outer layer of the tower. John Lambly left Quebec with the lantern room and lighting apparatus, imported from England, at the end of July 1830. After arriving at the site, he found that the top of the tower had to be modified to receive the lantern, and the exhibition of the light was delayed until September 20, 1830. The total cost of the lighthouse came to £4,727.

The conical tower stands ninety feet (twenty-seven metres) tall and tapers from a diameter of forty feet (twelve metres) at its base to twenty feet (six metres) at the lantern room. The tower’s walls are six feet (1.8 metres) thick at the base and two feet (0.6 metres) thick at the lantern level. The original fixed light was produced by an array of seventeen Argand lamps, each with a polished twenty-one inch parabolic reflector. In 1914, a triple-flashing catoptric apparatus replaced the original lighting apparatus, and a new lantern deck and gallery were installed. A hole had to be cut through the floors of the lighthouse so a weight could descend in the tower and power a clockwork mechanism responsible for revolving the catoptric apparatus.

In 1852, M. Poitras clapboarded the lighthouse to make it watertight. The tower, which has six windows, aligned one above the other, on both its southern and northern side, retained its all-white daymark until two broad horizontal red stripes were added in 1881. Photographs from 1917 and 1935 show that the tower was once again all white, but today it sports its two red stripes.

Pointe des Monts Lighthouse with signal flags and a derrick installed atop a shed in 1894 for firing cotton powder cartridges
Starting in 1867, a cannon was fired every hour during periods of fog and snowstorms. This nine-pounder carronade was replaced by a thirty-two-pounder in 1882, but in 1894, a device for exploding cotton powder cartridges, which were cheaper and could thus be fired more frequently, was erected at the station. In 1918, a fog signal building was built on true Pointe Des Monts, 1.2 miles southwest of the lighthouse, to house a three-inch diaphone foghorn plant power by an oil engine. This new signal sounded two 3.5-second blasts in a minute.

In 1883, a flag signal system and telegraph were added to the lightstation, which information from passing ships to be communicated to Quebec City. A wireless radio system was installed in 1928, but flags were still used as not all ships were equipped with radio. The telegraph and flag signals were discontinued in 1947, when telephone service reached the station.

The first keeper at Pointe des Monts was James Wallace, who served for fourteen years. Zoël Bedard succeeded him in 1844 and cared for the light until his passing in 1867. As the ground was frozen, his body was kept at the station for six months until the shipping channels opened, allowing it to be taken to Quebec City for burial. Mrs. Bedard applied to replace her husband as keeper, but was informed that she could not be hired “because of her advanced age and because the position of lightkeeper must needs be filled by a man whose services are at all times more competent.”

The stone tower initially also served as the living quarters for the keeper, his assistant, and their families. The ground floor was a kitchen with a fireplace and oven contained in the thick walls. The next five floors served as a living area and bedrooms, and the seventh floor housed the materials for keeping the light. Living conditions in the tower were less than ideal. Problems with water leaks and dampness were often reported, and at times, so much water leaked through the lantern that beds and furniture had to be removed from the upper levels of the tower. During the winter of 1846-1847, a religious school for the native Montagnais was added to the station with Fathers Flavian Durocher and André Gurin also taking up residence in the tower.

Paul Peuliot, the third keeper, was a former sea captain. The Montagnais stayed away from the station during his tenure, believing that the lighthouse was haunted and visited by the devil himself. Peuliot perpetuated the idea by claiming to have seen a man walking around the turret at night. When the inspector arrived at the station in 1872, he found Keeper Peuliot “laboring under mental derangement, and sufficiently ill to necessitate his removal.” Peuliot was taken to Quebec and two trustworthy men were placed in charge of the station until Louis-Ferdinand Fafard arrived to take charge of the light. Three generations of the Fafard family would serve as head keepers over the next eighty-three years.

Soon after their arrival, the entire Fafard family, except Louis, was struck with typhoid fever. In the spring of 1873, Keeper Fafard noted:

Toward the end of autumn, with the first heavy snowfall, my family was afflicted with typhoid fever. The onset of this terrible sickness forced seven to their beds, and the rest were soon to follow. I was the only one not to abed. My closest neighbour lived twenty miles away, and as bad news is quick to travel far and wide, the lighthouse was soon marked as a site of infection, and even the Indians went out of their way to avoid it in their travels. . . .my tending to the light and the invalids was no more than perfunctory when the Lord took pity on us and in His mercy sent us rest and joy by determining that there be a general recovery.

During the Fafards’ second winter at Pointe de Monts, in November 1873, a schooner foundered at the point. There was no loss of life, but with no open shipping channel, the four-man crew took refuge at the station until the opening of navigation in the spring. What does a shipwrecked sailor do with himself while waiting for spring at a lighthouse? John Davis, the ship’s cook, took a liking to a Montagnais woman and would pay regular visits to their camp, until one day he had an altercation with his love rival, and returned to the lighthouse with eyes “bluer than black.” He did not return to the camp.

After laboring in the damp, cold tower for five years, Louis Fafard suffered serious health problems and was granted six months leave for treatment in Quebec City. In the interim, his two eldest sons took responsibility for tending the light.

After the station was equipped with a telegraph in 1883, the combined provision depot and house of refuge for shipwrecked mariners, which was built next to the lighthouse in 1850, was no longer needed, and the keepers moved out of the tower into this structure in 1889. A formal keeper’s dwelling was finally built in 1911-1912. This one-and-a-half-storey dwelling with a gabled roof remains at the station today.

During World War II, convoys of ships were escorted by frigates and destroyers to protect them from U-boats, which prowled the east coast of North America looking for easy targets. On October 14, 1944, the HMCS Magog, joined Convoy ONS-33 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. At 19h25 that day, U-1223 fired a spread of two torpedoes one of which tore off sixty-five feet from the stern of the Magog, killing three sailors and injuring three others. This incident happened just off Pointe des Monts and Alphonsia Fafard, wife of Keeper Georges Fafard, gave the following account of the aftermath. “The families of the Pointe, Fafards and Comeaus alike, then witness a splendid maritime ballet: the frigates and corvettes, with all their alarm sirens sounding, cover the convoy with a thick artificial fog, while geysers shoot up here and there as depth charges are launched.”

In 1954, Sauveur Duguay replaced Georges Fafard, who transferred to the lighthouse at Mitis-sur-Mer, and shortly thereafter new dwellings were built for the keepers at the site of the fog alarm. Keeper Duguay, who also worked as a forestry contractor, opened the road to Highway 138 in 1959 so he could transport the black spruce logs he harvested at Pointe des Monts to the mill in Baie-Trinite. On December 4, 1964, the light atop Pointe de Monts Lighthouse was exhibited for the last time. Thereafter, the station's light was shown from a skeletal tower erected near the modern dwellings and fog signal building at true Pointe des Monts.

The Ministry of Transport had slated the disused limestone tower for demolition, but Jacques Landry, the keeper at the time, and his wife Berthe-Marie worked tirelessly to save the historic structures on the small island. In 1965, the Government of Quebec purchased the lighthouse and designated it a historic monument. Keeper Landry was responsible for placing the first exhibits in the historic lighthouse and for restoring the adjacent keeper's dwelling and opening a restaurant in it. In recognition of Landry's efforts, the Corporation du Phare de Pointe-des-Monts, which runs the lighthouse today, named the modern reception building in the parking lot after him.

The light atop the skeletal tower at true Pointe des Monts was automated in 1985, and the last keeper was transferred to another station. (The fog signal had been deactivated in 1972.) The modern light at true Pointe des Monts was deactivated in 2000, and the tower was removed. The two modern keeper's dwelling at the second site of the light are available as vacation rentals.

Today, Pointe des Monts Lighthouse is open to the public for tours with displays on the history of the station, while the keeper’s dwelling operates as a delightful restaurant and B&B.

Keepers: James Wallace (1830 - 1844), Zoël Bedard (1844 - 1867), Paul Peuliot (1867 - 1872), Louis-Ferdinand Fafard (1872 -1889), Victor Fafard ( 1889 - 1926), Georges Fafard (1926 - 1954), Sauveur Duguay (1954 - 1959), Jacques Landry (1959 - 1978), Roland Boudreault (1978 - 1983).

References

  1. Annual Report of the Department of Marine and Fisheries, various years.
  2. Légendes et récites de la Cote-Nord du Saint-Laurent, Élioza Farfard-Lacasse, 1937.
  3. Lightkeeping on the St. Lawrence, The End of an Era, Normand Lafreniére, 1996.
  4. Sentinels in the Stream, Lighthouses of the St. Lawrence River, George Fischer & Claude Bouchard, 2001.
  5. Northern Lights, Lighthouses of Canada, David Baird, 1999.
  6. Heritage Lighthouse Program, Pointe des Monts.

Location: Located southwest of Baie Trinité off QC 138.
Latitude: 49.32571
Longitude: -67.36694

For a larger map of Pointe des Monts Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map.


Travel Instructions: From QC-138 southeast of Baie-Trinité, turn south on Chemin du Vieux Phare and continue 12.5 kilometres, where you can park and walk across a 200-metre-long wooden bridge to reach the lighthouse and keeper's dwelling - at high tide the lighthouse is actually on an island.

A museum is housed in the lighthouse, and the keeper's dwelling contains a restaurant on the first floor and four rooms for overnight accommodations on the second floor. Two modern keeper's dwellings on true Pointe des Monts have been available as vacation rentals.

The lighthouse is owned by Québec Ministère de la Culture et des Communication and managed by Corporation du Phare de Pointe-des-Monts. Grounds/tower/dwelling open.

Find the closest hotels to Pointe des Monts Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
Pointe des Monts Lightstation underwent a thorough restoration in 2011. The exteriors of the various dwellings were painted, and the exhibits in the tower were refreshed. When visitors enter the lighthouse they are now given an iPod-type device that tells the history of the station. At each floor, both on the way up and on the way down, a recording automatically starts to play that shares interesting stories regarding the lighthouse and its keepers. I must say that in my opinion this is the most interesting and informative interpretation of a Canadian lighthouse that I have seen.

Included in the displays on the various floors are an incandescent lamp, a compressor and fuel tank for the kerosene, weights used to rotate the lighting apparatus, a telegram from a lighthouse keeper, and numerous images and photograph of the keepers and their families. Make sure you plan to spend at least a couple of hours at the lighthouse, and, if possible, I would recommend dinner, an overnight stay, and breakfast too.


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