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Maritime Image of the Day: North America’s Oldest Lighthouse

Sambro Island Lighthouse. Photograph by Kevin Hall, used with permission

PortandTerminal.com, January 5, 2020

SAMBRO, NOVA SCOTIA – Today’s Maritime Image of the Day was taken by photographer Kevin Hall and features the Sambro Island Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse in North America.

Located in Nova Scotia on Canada’s Atlantic coast, the Sambro Lighthouse was built in 1758. More than 250 years later, it still stands and is in operation.

The lighthouse is located strategically at the entrance to Halifax Harbour in Nova Scotia, the second-largest natural harbour in the world and home to the Port of Halifax.

We have added two callouts to show the relative position of the Sambro lighthouse to the Port of Halifax. The original chart is titled Halifax Harbour, by J.F.W Des Barres. Published in London, England in 1779. (David Rumsey Historical Map Collection).

For the first nine years after the founding of Halifax, no signal marked the treacherous shoals at the mouth of the harbour and shipwrecks were commonplace. Legislation to establish the lighthouse was passed at the first session of the Legislative Assembly of Nova Scotia in 1758 and its construction was paid with by a tax on alcohol.

In 1908 the lighthouse was given 3 distinctive red stripes to make it more visible in snowy conditions.

The 82-foot tall Sambro Light tower is built of stone sheathed with wood shingles to protect the mortar from deterioration in the salt atmosphere. Originally the tower was painted completely white. In 1908 it was given 3 distinctive red stripes to make it more visible in snowy conditions.

The original lighthouse burned whale oil in lamps equipped with mirror reflectors to magnify the light. During the daytime, canvas curtains had to be drawn across the windows by the lighthouse keeper to prevent sunlight magnified by the reflectors from setting the lighthouse on fire.

The original Fresnel lens used at Sambro Island lighthouse is on display at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia

In 1906, a Fresnel lens from Paris, France was installed. This lens was constructed of crystal glass prisms set in brass frames. It was removed in 1966 and replaced by a rotating airport beacon. The current light can be seen from around 23 nautical miles away.

In 2008 the lighthouse was converted to solar power. The last lighthouse keeper left in 1988 when it was automated.

The lighthouse was designated a national historic site in 1937.

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