History of the Rose Blanche Lighthouse
On February 21, 1871, the Journal of the House of Assembly for Newfoundland reads: “Mr. Emerson, presented petitions from John Cunningham and others of Burgeo and vicinity, P. H. Sorsoliel and others of Rose Blanche, Petites, Burnt Islands, Harbour Le Cou, Sound Islands, Garia, Western Point and LaPoile Bay, which were severally received and read praying for the erection of lighthouses in the districts of Burgeo and LaPoile.”
On July 26, 1871, Inspector J. T. Neville selected the location of the Rose Blanche Lighthouse, 95 feet (29 metres) above sea level, on a rocky point of land that jutted into the Atlantic Ocean. The lighthouse was constructed from the very granite on which it stands, by local workers using the basic tools of the time. After two years of strenuous work, the light was lit for the first time in 1873. The building, which also housed the living quarters for the lightkeeper and his family, was designed by either Robert Oake or J. T. Neville, inspector of lighthouses for Newfoundland. D & T Stevenson, lighthouse engineers from Edinburgh, Scotland, designed and supplied the original lighting apparatus. The company, named after the father and uncle of author, Robert Louis Stevenson, designed a number of lighthouses in the UK and Newfoundland. It is not known for certain if Robert Louis, who worked in his family’s engineering firm on school breaks, actually worked on this light. The light was dioptric of the 4th order. It was a fixed white light, that was exhibited from sunset to sunrise, and could be seen in clear weather for 13 miles. (21 kms) The light that is presently on display inside the lighthouse is a gift from The Canadian Coast Guard. It is a 6th order Fresnel lens and to our knowledge is one of only 27 such lights that are still in existence.
The light was a reassuring beacon for the mariners along the south coast of Newfoundland for more than 70 years, but was decommissioned in the early 1940s prior to confederation with Canada. It was replaced with a beacon mounted on a wooden support that was later replaced by a steel structure in the early 1960s.
After it was abandoned, the ravages of time and the fury of the North Atlantic began to take its toll on the old lighthouse and it gradually fell to ruin. By the 1980s the only part of the structure left standing was the tower. The spiral stone staircase, which led to the light at the top of the tower, extended into the tower walls and kept the tower from crumbling.
In 1988 The Southwest Coast Development Association and other community groups began their quest to save the lighthouse. Eight years later they were successful in obtaining funds from Human Resources Development Canada and the Strategic Regional Diversification Agreement. The actual restoration work began in the fall of 1996, and 70% of the original stone blocks were used to rebuild. The remainder was cut, using the original method, from the nearby quarry that had supplied the stones in 1871. On July 23, 1999, the official opening ceremony, a gala affair, was held at the site. Endless searching and countless hours of restoration and construction saw the lighthouse standing proudly once again, its interior filled with antiques and replicas of the 19th century. However, it still did not have its shining jewel – a working beacon. That dream too became a reality, on August 3, 2002, when a flashing red light, donated by the Canadian Coast Guard, was officially activated.
There were 5 light keepers and their familes that lived at the lighthouse throughout its more than 70 years of operation. The first was John A. Roberts (1873-1892), followed by John Cook (1893-1909), his son, Bruce Cook (1910-1932), Philip Hatcher (1932 -1933), and James Skinner (1933-1938), Philip Hatcher did a second term (1938-1940s) and was the last lightkeeper to work there.
The lighthouse may be the only restored granite lighthouse in Atlantic Canada. It was designated a Provincial Registered Heritage Structure on September 7, 2002 - the first lighthouse in Newfoundland and Labrador to be thus recognized.