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Île Plate, PQ     

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Île Plate Lighthouse

Quebec’s Lower North Shore stretches 375 kilometres along the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, from Natashquan River on the west to the Labrador border on the east.

Flat Island’s new concrete tower
Photograph courtesy Library and Archives Canada
La Tabatière is a small community located roughly midway along the Lower North Shore that was known as the region’s best seal-fishing station in the eighteenth century. Six kilometres offshore from La Tabatière is Great Mecatina Island, a distinctive landmark that was formerly home to several fishing families during the peak fishing season.

After visiting potential sites for lighthouses to mark the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Strait of Belle Isle, John Page, Chief Engineer of Public Works for the Province of Canada, submitted a detailed report in 1860 listing the comparative advantages of the various locations. This report contained the following information on Great Mecatina Island:

This island is on the coast of Labrador, 73 ½ miles in a south-westerly direction from Greenly Island, at the Western entrance of the strait of Belle Isle, it stands out fully 2 ½ miles from the mainland, the intervening space being known as Mecattina Harbor.

The Island is large, completely bare, and not less than 500 feet high in the centre, it consists of granite traversed with deep chasms and trap dykes, which, together with its relative position to the mainland, presents an appearance so remarkable, as to be readily distinguished from other parts of the coast.

On the east and south, it is surrounded with a number of small islands and rocks, the principal of which are Treble, Murr islets and rocks and Flat Island. These forming the chief dangers in this vicinity, their relative positions were carefully examined, and the place subsequently fixed upon as the most advantageous site for a light house was on Flat Island, which lies about 3 miles seaward of the south point of great Mecattina Island. It is about three quarter of a mile diameter, including a deep indent on the east and west sides, which form well-sheltered coves easy of access to small vessels, especially the one which opens to the N. West.

The island, like all others on this part of the coast, is of a granite character, the rock generally has a reddish tinge, except along the side of a gorge, that runs in an east and west direction through the island, where it is of a light grey color.

It is completely bare, with the exception of a few sheltered places, which are covered with short coarse grass. Several fresh water ponds were observed, generally of small area but two of them were found to be of considerable depth, and appeared as if they contained water throughout the year.

Salt water sand is said to be abundant at “Sandy Cove” in Meccatina Harbor.

The place selected as the most suitable for the erection of the necessary buildings is the highest level spot on the S. W. side of the island, 85 feet over the level of the sea, 140 feet South of the gorge above referred to, 240 feet north and 750 feet in a northeasterly direction from water mark.

A Light on this island would possess the advantage of being nearly midway between the western entrance of the Strait of Belle Isle, and the light station proposed to be established in the vicinity of Cape Whittle, and would stand about 5 miles to the northward of a line between these points.

It is believed a Tower 50 feet in height, with a “second order” light, would be sufficient for every purpose.

Aerial view of Flat Island showing original lighthouse and modern skeletal tower
Photographs courtesy Department of Fisheries and Ocean
A lighthouse was established on Greenly Island in 1878, but Flat Island (Île Plate) would not receive a lighthouse until 1913, the same year that a light was placed on St. Mary Island, eighty-five kilometres to the southwest. A light off Cape Whittle was not established until 1928. Before the erection of a lighthouse on Flat Island, this beacon on the island served as a daymark for mariners.

Work on a reinforced-concrete tower, keepers’ dwelling, oil shed, boathouse, and a road was begun in 1912 by day labour under the direction D. Bilodeau, and the station was completed the following year. A revolving third-order lens was installed inside the white, hexagonal tower’s red lantern room to produce a group of three white flashes every fifteen seconds. St. Mary Island was given a similar, yet distinctive, characteristic of two white flashes every fifteen seconds.

Oct. Dubois was appointed the first head keeper of Flat Island Lighthouse, but his service lasted just a few months. Xavier McKinnon was the longest-serving keeper of the lighthouse, having been in charge of the station from 1930 until 1956.

In 1979, the light atop the concrete tower was discontinued, and a replacement light was established on a skeletal tower. The keepers’ dwelling and outbuildings have been demolished, leaving just the old concrete tower and an active skeletal tower on the island.

Head Keepers: Oct. Dubois (1913), A. McKennon (1914 – 1916), D. Renaud (1915 – 1916), E. Carbonneau (1916 – 1930), Xavier McKinnon (1930 – 1956), Lionel McKinnon (1956 – 1970), Albert Beck (1970 – 1978).

References

  1. Annual Report of the Department of Marine, various years.

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