By 1676, six English masters had established a summer operation at Salvage that, with their families and servants, had a population of sixty-six people. At the time of the 1836 census, Salvage had 181 inhabitants, but its population had risen to 453 by 1869. That year, the community sent ten vessels to the spring seal hunt, and seventy-three of its men sailed to the Labrador fishery in the summer.
Instead, Inspector Nevill recommended that the appropriated money be used to build a minor light on Goodman’s Island, at the entrance to nearby Barrow Harbour, and that a more powerful light be built for Bonavista Bay at a later date. In the end, no lighthouse was built in the area as a result of the 1882 inspection trip.
Inspector Nevill returned to Bonavista Bay in 1887 and visited King’s Cove Head and Little Denier Island to determine which would be the best site for a lighthouse to serve Bonavista Bay. Little Denier Island was selected, and a road was constructed from the landing place to the summit, where a store was built, to allow work on the lighthouse to begin the following spring. An iron tower was ordered from Victoria Works, and instructions were given for the required lumber for the keeper’s dwelling to be cut at Bonavista Bay.
Construction materials were landed on Little Denier Island during the last part of May in 1888, and work commenced on the station using skilled labour sent from St. John’s and several men from the locality who “were employed at such work as they were suitable for.” A Mr. Cornick was in charge of erecting the iron tower, while William Stowe was foreman for the rest of the work. Under their management, the lighthouse and dwelling were completed in fourteen weeks, allowing the light to be put in operation on October 1st. Robert Oakley, who had been serving as assistant keeper on Cabot Island, was placed in charge of the light.
The mansard-roofed keeper’s dwelling stood 5.3 metres from the keeper’s dwelling and was linked to it by a covered passageway. Both the dwelling and tower were painted in red and white vertical stripes. The 7.6-metre-tall tower employed a revolving, six-sided lens to produce a white flash every thirty seconds at a focal plane of 90.8 metres.
Inspector Nevill visited the completed station on August 3rd, 1889 and was pleased to report that its condition was “far better than any other station has been found in at a first visit.” Nevill recommended that a concrete floor be put in the cellar, a water closet be provided, and that grass seeds be sown around the lighthouse to prevent the “turfy surface around the buildings” from blowing about.
In 1920, the light source was changed to acetylene gas, which reduced the range at which the light was visible from nineteen miles to ten miles. In 1927, the characteristic of the light was changed from a flash every thirty seconds to seven seconds of white light followed by a three-second eclipse. The light source was likely changed at this time from acetylene to kerosene, as the light could be seen from fifteen miles.
In 1931, the light was changed back to acetylene and made an unattended light. Robert Dyke followed by a family of Hunters made trips to Little Denier Island about four times a year to change the gas cylinders. The light is now solar powered and flashes once every three seconds.
The tower was classified a Recognized Federal Heritage Building in 1990.
Keepers: Robert Oakley (1888 – 1902), Henry Squires (1902 – 1930s), Robert Dyke, James Brown ( – 1960s) Hunters.