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Pictou Island West, NS  Lighthouse destroyed.   

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Pictou Island West Lighthouse

Pictou Island lies in Northumberland Strait, roughly eight kilometres from Nova Scotia and seventeen kilometres from Prince Edward Island, and is nine kilometres long and two kilometres wide.

The Crown granted the island in 1809 to Sir Alexander Forrester Inglis Cochrane, likely as a reward for the Royal Navy victories had under his command during the Napoleonic Wars. The first European settlers arrived on the island a few years later and were mainly Irish and Scottish immigrants. These hard-working, independent people subsisted by farming and fishing.

A narrow dirt road, the island’s main thoroughfare, runs in an almost straight line along the southern side of the island. At one time, there were around forty households on the island and over 200 residents spread out along the road. The community boasted a church, school, community hall, and a post office. Today, the island has just a few year-round residents, but the population more than doubles during the summer. As there is no commercial power on the island, residents and visitors make do with solar power, wind power, or generators.

Pictou Island West End Lighthouse in 1952
Photograph courtesy Canadian Coast Guard
A lighthouse was placed in operation on the southeast end of the island in 1853, and in 1904, work began on a lighthouse on the west end of the island. The following excerpt from the Annual Report of the Department of Marine describes this new lighthouse:
A lighthouse, established on the west end of Pictou Island, will be put in operation on the opening of navigation in 1905.

The lighthouse, which stands on the west point of the island, about 100 feet from its extremity, is an octagonal wooden building, with sloping sides, painted white, surmounted by a polygonal iron lantern, painted red. The height from its base to the ventilator on the lantern is 49 feet.

The light will be a group-revolving white light, showing 3 flashes with intervals of 15 seconds between their points of greatest brilliancy, followed by an interval of 30 seconds, the system completing a revolution in one minute. The light is elevated 61 feet above high-water mark, and should be visible 13 miles from all points of approach by water, except where hidden by trees and high land on the island to the eastward. The illuminating apparatus is catoptric.

This building was erected under contract, by Benj. D. Huntley, of Vernon River, P.E.I. His contract price was $1,470.

When placed in operation at the opening of navigation in 1905, the light was temporarily a revolving catoptric light that showed a flash every twenty seconds.

Charles D. Patterson was appointed the first keeper of the lighthouse at an annual salary of $400. The 1921 census shows that Keeper Patterson and his wife Aggie (Margaret) had eleven children at the time, ranging in age from twenty-seven to four. By the time Keeper Patterson retired in 1933, he was making over $1,000 a year. His retirement salary was fixed at $500 per year.

John A. MacDonald replaced Charles Patterson and served at the station until it was converted to automatic status on February 15, 1962. Melvin MacDonald was made caretaker of the automated light at an annual salary of $100.

In 1965, a skeletal, metal tower, with sloping sides, took the place of the octagonal wooden lighthouse. Today, a square, metal tower, with vertical sides, stands on the west point of Pictou Island, and it displays a flashing white light. A red rectangular daymark with a white horizontal band makes the tower more visible from the sea.

Keepers: Charles D. Patterson (1905 – 1933), John A. (Jack) MacDonald (1933 – 1962).


  1. Annual Report of the Department of Marine and Fisheries, various years.
  2. Lighthouses & Lights of Nova Scotia, E.H. Rip Irwin, 2003.

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