The Saguenay River is roughly 180 metres deep in its lower section, but ninety kilometers above the St. Lawrence, it rapidly contracts and assumes the typical character of a river, with mud banks and shoals of large boulders. Just above this point of contraction is the City of Saguenay, known earlier as Chicoutimi, which around the turn of the nineteenth century was home to paper mills that produced 100,000 tons of wood pulp annually. During this period, the Saguenay River was used not only by vessels laden with lumber products but also by the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company’s passenger steamers, which called at Chicoutimi several times a week during the summer.
To help mariners locate the entrance to the Saguenay River, a lighthouse was erected in 1872 on Lark Islet, situated just off the southern side of the river’s mouth. The following year, the government provided five pairs of range lights to mark the turn in the river just below Chicoutimi. The Quebec firm of Price Brothers and Company, which owned the lumber operations in Chicoutimi, maintained these lights until the government hired keepers for them in 1875. These lights originally appeared as 1st Range through 5th Range in the List of Lights, but they were later given the following official names: Poste-Saint-Martin (front, rear), Rivière Valin (front, rear), Savard Range (replaced by Simard Range in 1912), Rivière du Caribou, and Rivière-du-Moulin (front in 1906, rear in 1906). These five range lights remain active today, though modern towers are now in use.
In 1875, a pair of range lights was established on Pointe Noire (Black Point), the southern point at the entrance to the Saguenay River. The range lights on Pointe Noire are still active but are now displayed from modern towers. Pointe Noire is located within the Saguenay – St. Lawrence Marine Park and is home to the Pointe-Noire Interpretation and Observation Centre, where visitors can use telescopes to identify marine animals and bird life in the area.
The next light to be erected to guide traffic on the Saguenay River was at Grosse Roche, roughly twenty kilometres above the mouth of the river. This square dwelling with a square tower centered atop its hipped roof was built in 1906. Grosse Roche Lighthouse was built on a spot of land six feet above high-water mark and thirty feet from the river’s edge, and stood thirty-five feet tall from its base to the ventilator atop its lantern room. A fixed white light from a sixth-order Fresnel lens was displayed at a focal plane of thirty-six feet and was visible for ten kilometres upstream and downstream. Albert Roy of Chicoutimi built the lighthouse under a contract for $1,500.
Nazaire Morin was appointed the first keeper of the Grosse Roche Lighthouse at an annual salary of $500. He served until his death in 1913. His wife then looked after the light until Xavier Maltais took charge of the light later that year. Antoine Maltais served as keeper of Grosse Roche Lighthouse from 1914 until 1921, when an AGA gas-type lantern replaced the oil lamp used to produce the light and the light was automated. The lantern atop the red roof of the white, square dwelling was still sending out a flashing white light through at least 1971. Today, there is no light at this location.
The final staffed lighthouse to be built on the Saguenay River was at Cap à l’Est, a critical turn thirty-one kilometres below Saguenay, where Ha! Ha! Bay branches off from the river. Built in 1909, Cap à l’Est Lighthouse is a thirty-three-foot-tall, octagonal, reinforced-concrete tower surmounted by an octagonal lantern. The construction was performed by day’s labour under the supervision of H de Haan at a cost of $2,636.16. A sixth-order Fresnel lens initially beamed forth a fixed white light under the care of G. Sergerie, its first and only keeper. In 1917, Aga equipment was installed in the lighthouse, changing the characteristic of the light to a white flash every three-and-a-half seconds and allowing for the automation of the light. Today, the light has a signature of a flash every five seconds.
Of the many once-manned lights that have guided mariners along the Saguenay River, Cap à l’Est Lighthouse is the only one that hasn’t been replaced by a modern tower. The Canadian Coast Guard services the light by helicopter using a landing pad adjacent to the lighthouse.
Keepers: Nazaire Morin (1906 – 1913), Mrs. Morin (1913), Xavier Maltais (1913 – 1914), Antoine Maltais (1914 – 1921).