History of the North Rustico Harbour Lighthouse

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALighthouses have played a vital role for centuries as a way of guiding ships to the nearest harbour to lighting the way home for local fishermen. Before the actual lighthouse was invented, people would light up a shoreline by using bonfires along the coast to warn of the upcoming coast and any possible hazards. The need for actual lighthouses was a realization that soon became reality, first, by the Romans as they built lighthouses along the coast of Europe and the Mediterranean1. It wasn’t long after that lighthouses started popping up along the Atlantic as the shorelines were riddled with rocks, cliffs, fog,  and the growing population of settlers that chose fishing as their source of income. With the rise in lighthouses certain specifications were implemented to ensure the were of optimal use. These specifications included the colour, shape, and design of lighthouses as they all held viable information to those who worked in the waters.  The white body of the tower was a way to stand out at night but, with this came some problems around the coast of Canada due to our winters and the copious amounts of snow that falls. For this reason, the beacons were eventually painted with particular designs of red or black colour. The red was a colour distinctive to Canadian shorelines2.

1899lighthouse-300

Photograph from FHBRO Report of North Rustico lighthouse in 1899

These specifications are apparent in the current North Rustico Harbour Lighthouse.It is a representation of home to the residents of Rustico. In the 1860s, prior to the erection of the lighthouse, there were two range lights that stood on masts that were used to light the harbour while North Rustico was gradually becoming a more prominent fishing village3. In 1876 the current lighthouse was built as a more reliable source of light to the harbour and with is came an attached living quarters for the keepers of the house. The design was created by the Department of Marine but the actual architect is unknown4. It was built by P. Carroll in the summer of 1876  for a contract price of $1700.

In order to maintain the daily functions of a lighthouse there needs to be a keeper. A keeper is a person who would have been paid to care and impart the proper functioning of the light. The first light keeper of the North Rustico lighthouse was Thomas G Pursey from 1876 until 1892.

Pursey124

Photograph from the Rustico Harbour Fisheries Museum of what is thought to be the first lighthouse keeper Thomas G. Pursey. 

Pursey was known as a trustworthy man for keeping the lighthouse clean and in proper working order5.A task that would have been tiring and consumed a lot of time as many of the functions would have to be done by hand. Throughout time the lighthouse has been relocated  and renovated.  With Pursey, it was first moved in 1883 about 500 feet to the northern side of the entrance of the harbour and this was due to the erosion of the coastline at North Rustico Harbour. Again, because of erosion, the lighthouse received a new timber foundation in 1895 but this time under the new keeper, Joseph Doiron, (1892-1897)6. There is little information on Joseph and his short stay at the lighthouse.

Although environmental issues and erosion were major players in the changes the lighthouse faced, the worst damage was during a storm that happened on January 12th 1899. The storm carried extremely strong winds and high tides that eventually attenuated the lighthouse in the shore water7. At that time there was a new keeper named Joseph Napoleon Pino (1897-1912) and he recalled, in a newspaper article,  that the tides from the storm formed a channel under the wharf which caused it to sag and this led to the eventual undermining of the lighthouse. He remembered it was difficult to move and repair as ice formed on the inside of the lighthouse and this created more problems for Pineau as he tried to hack the ice off with an axe. He had said the axe marks could be seen below the light where the ice was chipped off8. In 1899, Col . Anderson and Mr. A. Lord of the Department of Marine investigated the lighthouse after the storm but decided to wait until a later date to determine what they would like to see happen. According to a newspaper article, it wasn’t until March 10th 1899 that the two men returned to view the lighthouse and described it as laying on the beach 150 feet away from its original site of falling9. The eventual outcome was that the lighthouse be deemed as a coast light after  repairs and be moved further away from the shore10.

The beacon then received a new keeper in 1912 until 1925 whose name was Levi Blacquier. He is another keeper where there is little information pertaining to him and his stay at the lighthouse. According to the master collection at the PEI archives, there is a Levi Blaquier, born in 1856, who was a local fishermen in Rustico and later married Edesse. In the 1891 census, Levi was still a fisherman and he and his wife had eight children ranging from age twelve to one year

The final, and perhaps the most well-known, keeper of the North Rustico lighthouse was George Pineau and he was past light keeper Joseph N. Pino’s son. George started his keep  in 1925 until 1960. In the earlier years of his keep, he had to light the kerosene lamps by hand every morning and night but his work became easier when it changed to a flick of a switch in 194111. As George grew up around the lighthouse he would have seen many storms and environmental impacts on the lighthouse such as it receiving another new foundation in 1954 13.   According to a newspaper article, the worst storm that George recalled during his time as a keeper was in the 1930s where he remembered fishing shanties floating around the lighthouse12. The North Rustico Harbour lighthouse eventually caught up with the time and was unmanned in the early 1960s and there was no longer a need for a keeper therefore George returned to fishing.

As an automated dwelling, the lighthouse served as a rental property in the summers up until the early 1970s. Some of the people it housed are still residents  of the Rustico community today. In 1973 the lighthouse was deemed a surplus by the Canadian coast guard in efforts to make cuts but because of many persistent and determined members of the community, their piece of history was salvaged. The Coast Guard returned the light in 1976 and the living quarters was then used to store equipment for the fog alarm14. Two years later the lighthouse then received a new concrete foundation in order to give it four more feet in height and increase the range of light15.

float300

Here is a photo of Norman Peters – “The Bearded Skipper” on FNSC float in the Rustico’s Canada Day celebrations. The group created a phenomenal replica of the lighthouse. 

Recently, for a second time,  the North Rustico lighthouse became at risk when the Canadian Coast Guard issued that they would be declaring most of Canada’s lighthouses as surplus. This would cause the lighthouse to no longer be maintained and the possibility of being removed and demolished if there was no one to step up and take care and responsibilty for the lighthouse.  The ball started rolling when the Friends of North Shore Communities partnered with other groups, Hunter-Clyde Watershed and Conseil Acadien de Rustico, in effort to  preserve the lighthouse. The FNSC wanted to ensure the life of the lighthouse would continue for years to come through preservation and the communities involvement. They realized this could be done by gaining  a heritage status for the lighthouse. In order to to work towards this goal, the Canadian coast guard stated that a person or group of persons must  submit a petition with at least 25 signatures by May 29th 2012. The groups sprung into action and with their petition, they collected 103 signatures in no time. They are continuing to develop business plans for the lighthouse which actively involves the Rustico community and those who may have sentimental relations to the lighthouse16. The history it carries is priceless and its preservation is a priority to many. With the ongoing support throughout the community, the lighthouse will continue to shed it’s light for years to come on the North Rustico harbour.

Today the North Rustico Harbour lighthouse stands on a focal plane of 12.5 meters and the tower boasts approximately 10 meters.The original light is in place at the top of the tower. It is one of few remaining lighthouses on Prince Edward Island that has the attached living component.  It is covered with vinyl siding but part of the windows still have the original metal. It is in good condition with remnants of the old living quarters still visible through the windows of the beacon. There is stairwell, resembling a ladder, that takes you up to the bedrooms upstairs. There has been talk that these stairs have changes as there was once a beautiful staircase. The light still flashes today every five seconds with the eclipse every five seconds17.

Click here to see a history of the community of North Rustico

1David M. Baird, A Pictorial Guide: Lighthouses of Atlantic Canada (Red Deer Press 2003), 11.
2Baird, 13.
3Lighthouse Guy,”North Rustico Lighthouse”, accessed June 28, 2012, http://www.lighthouseguy.com/PrinceEdwardIslandLighthouses/North-Rustico-Lighthouse/21674092_GcDLjs#!i=1729114320&k=wM74TVZ ,  2.
4FHBRO 90-089 North Rustico Harbour pdf December 14th 1990, 1.
5Kraig Anderson, “North Rustico Harbour, PE”, http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=941.
6Lighthouse Guy, 5-6.
7The Daily Examiner, January 12th 1899, “Lighthouse Upset”.
8“No Loneliness At North Rustico Lighthouse”, The Guardian, October 4th 1942 .
9“Local Briefs – gathered by reporters and correspondants everywhere”, The Guardian, Charlottetown PEI, March 10 1899, p. 5.
10Anderson.
11Sally Cole, “Angie Doucette and George Pineau Recall old days”, The Guardian, 1990.
12“No Loneliness At North Rustico Lighthouse”
13North Rustico Lighthouse,accessed June 25, 2012,  www.museevirtuel-virtualmuseum.ca/sgc-cms/expositions-exhibitions/phares-lighthouses/english/lighthouse_Map/q11-northrustico.html   Queens County, Virtual Museum.ca.
14FHBRO report pg.2.
15H.M. Scott Smith ,A light in the Field – lighthouses, fishery buildings, barns and mills of Prince Edward Island,(Goose Lane Editions, 1997), 25.
16Lindsay Carrol, “Lighthouses Find New Champion”, CBC News, accessed June 26, 2012, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/story/2012/02/21/pei-lighthouse-watershed-group-584.html.
17 Lighthouses of Canada: Eastern Prince Edward Island, North Rustico Harbour, accessed August 13, 2012, http://www.unc.edu/~rowlett/lighthouse/pei.htm.