With over 29,000 km of twisting coastline, laden with submerged rocks, inlets, icebergs, and fog, it's no wonder Newfoundland and Labrador has several hundred navigational lights clinging to its shores. Long before electricity, motorboats and coast guards, fishermen and sailors relied on lighthouses and their keepers to guide them safe from peril.
This rugged place has known its fair share of shipwrecks, tragedies that occurred before lighthouses were constructed. Hundreds of stories of rescues have been passed down through our families for centuries, and you can relive some of these by visiting the lighthouses that were eventually placed over those dramatically-beautiful coastlines to prevent further wrecks.
Newfoundland and Labrador established its first permanent lighthouse in 1813 at Fort Amherst, the entrance to St. John's harbour. Since then, hundreds of lighthouses and small beacons took up residence along our shores, usually painted in different styles – such as plain white or candy-striped – to help sailors recognize the location they were approaching.
Cape Race Lighthouse was the location for Newfoundland's first wireless communication station and was established a couple of years after the first transatlantic message was sent by Marconi from Signal Hill. The lighthouse became a centre for reporting news around the world and received the Titanic's distress signal after the vessel hit an iceberg off Newfoundland waters. Myrick Wireless Interpretation Centre is a replica of the 1904 Marconi Wireless Station. This station received the distress signal from the RMS Titanic. It contains an exhibition about the history of communications at Cape Race, a Titanic exhibit and gift shop.
The majority of these lighthouses are still in operation and can be reached by car or by a short, scenic hike. Relive a bygone era as you enter these historic buildings and explore their rich history. Some have even been remodelled into restaurants and bed and breakfasts offering stunning ocean views, like Quirpon Lighthouse Inn on the island's northern tip and Cape Anguille Lighthouse Inn on the west coast. To find out more about either of these, visit Linkum Tours.
The image of the lighthouse and its keeper – a vigilant, solitary guardian – is a romantic one, and nowhere is this feeling better captured than by visiting these historic sites, where the beauty and peril of our coastlines exist side by side.
There are so many lighthouses in Newfoundland and Labrador it's impossible to list them all, but here are some particularly notable ones.
Cape Spear Lighthouse: Just a 20-minute drive from St. John's, this lighthouse is a National Historic Site of Canada. It is located along the popular East Coast Trail and is the most easterly point in North America. The lighthouse building is the oldest original lighthouse structure in the province.
Ferryland Head Lighthouse: South from St. John's, about an hour's drive to Ferryland, the access to the lighthouse is by a pleasant 15-minute walk across the Gaze. This is the home of the famous Lighthouse Picnics, where visitors can buy a delicious lunch basket to eat on the surrounding grassy slopes overlooking the ocean.
Cape Bonavista Lighthouse: Just outside the town of Bonavista. As the place where John Cabot first made landfall in Newfoundland in 1497, this is one of the most visited provincial historic sites in the province. Guided tours of the lighthouse exhibit and the keeper's quarters, which have been restored to the 1870s, are available.
Long Point Lighthouse: Located at the northern tip of North Twillingate Islands, the location is surrounded by hiking trails and overlooks Notre Dame Bay. It's a prime spot for viewing icebergs, whales and seabirds.
Point Riche Lighthouse: Point Riche Lighthouse near Port au Choix National Historic Site is maintained by staff from the centre. It’s about 1.5 kms past the Historic Site. There’s plenty of paved parking, and the area is a good place to watch for whales and seabirds.
Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse: In the heart of Gros Morne National Park, this lighthouse has guided ships into Bonne Bay since 1897. The light is automated, but the lightkeeper’s house holds an exhibit about how people have lived along this coast for 4,000 years.
Point Amour Lighthouse: Near L'Anse Amour, Labrador, this Provincial Historic Site is the second tallest lighthouse in Canada. It was built in 1858 to aid the passage of ships between this country and Europe. An interpretation centre is on site and tours are also available.
Rose Blanche Lighthouse: The southwest coast of Newfoundland is littered with shipwrecks dating from the early days of European exploration of North America. Most notably, in 1828, in the nearby community of Isle aux Morts, an Irish immigrant ship ran aground and broke apart during a raging storm. For three full days a 17-year-old girl named Ann Harvey, along with her Newfoundland dog Hairyman, saved passengers and crew by bravely ferrying them to land through fog and lashing wind in a 12-foot skiff. A string of lighthouses was constructed in the area in the 1870s, including the stone lighthouse at Rose Blanche built between 1871 and 1873.
Locations of Lighthouses
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Cape RaceThe light station is a National Historic Site and has one of the most powerful lights in the world. It is an important landfall marker for North America.
Rose BlancheThis is one of the last granite lighthouses on the Atlantic seaboard. It was built in 1873 and restored in 1999.
L'Anse-AmourImagine…you’re at the top of the tallest lighthouse in Atlantic Canada. You see an iceberg, whales, a shipwreck in the distance. Get your camera ready!
Bell IslandLocated at the East End of the island, on Lighthouse Road, is a well-preserved lighthouse in operation since 1939.
Grand BankWith property dating back to the 1850s, the historic waterfront and lighthouse gives the visitor a glimpse of Grand Bank both past and present.
BonavistaOne of the most photographed sites in the province - experience 19th century light keeping life in this 1843 lighthouse. A great spot for whales, icebergs, and puffins.
TrinityVisit us to learn about Trinity's military history at this site while also learning about its latter history as a lighthouse.
Cape RayThe Site has Dorset Artifacts that was discovered in Cape Ray on display, along with the history of the Lighthouse with connections on table mountains, sandy beaches, piping plover, trails.
Harbour BretonWalk the scenic trail with Harbour Breton Bay Fjord as your backdrop and learn about life at the lighthouse.
Rocky HarbourWander the headland and visit the exhibits inside the light keeper’s home to discover the heritage of this place. Check the schedule for special activities and events.
Cow HeadLocated in the enclave of Gros Morne Park off Route 430. located on scenic Cow Head Summerside Trail.
Cape SpearCommemorated for the age and architecture of the oldest surviving lighthouse in the province. Located at the most easterly point in North America.
FerrylandBuilt in 1870, the lighthouse is the location for Lighthouse Picnics, a unique venture that offers exquisite food in combination with history, culture and whale watching. A 25 minute hike.
TwillingateOne of the most photographed landmarks on the northeast coast of Newfoundland built in 1876 and now newly renovated to house travelling exhibits.