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Quebec Bulletin
April - May 2015/Volume 18/Number 2

The Rivière-à-la-Martre Lighthouse: more than 9,000 Years of History

Chisel
D. Leblanc
Chisel, restored as part of the project.

A few years ago, those in charge of work being done on the Rivière-à-la-Martre lighthouse, in the Gaspé area, made a wonderful discovery. Did you know that the lighthouse is located near the site of a former quarry, operated by the First Nations approximately 9,000 years ago? The recovery of prehistoric artifacts, such as blades and a chisel, has confirmed the presence of significant tooling activities at this site.

Excavation activities also revealed the foundations of the first navigation aid developed at this site – a day marker – and those of the first lighthouse and its adjoining home built in 1876. These buildings were demolished in 1906 to make room for the current lighthouse.

Foundation of the first lighthouse built in 1876.
É. Phaneuf
Foundation of the first lighthouse built in 1876.

The discovery of a large number of isolators confirms that the lighthouse used to be home to a telegraph station. Its line, property of the Montreal Telegraph Company, linked Gaspé to Montréal.

The discovery of the artifacts has also provided more insight into the occupants of the lighthouse. Around 30 shoe soles of various sizes were found, some of which could have belonged to a woman or older children. An empty bottle of "Dr.Coderre's Infant's Syrup” was also found, allowing us to conclude that the site was formerly home to a family. Moreover, one of the soles found bore The Merchants Rubber brand. This Montréal boot manufacturing company, founded in 1903, was bought out by another company in 1907. The sole bearing this brand would have therefore been manufactured between 1903 and 1907 and might have belonged to the lighthouse keeper based there at the time, Auguste Leclerc.

The Rivière-à-la-Martre lighthouse is the only building of its kind in Québec

The Rivière-à-la-Martre lighthouse is the only building of its kind in Quebec, and possibly in Canada. This lighthouse is made of wood, but its most distinguishing feature is that the original light is still in place and functioning. At the time, the use of a liquid mercury bath allowed the prism to float, based on the same principle as wood floating on water. A simple system of counterweights, like those used in a cuckoo clock, enabled the prism, which weighed a few tonnes, to rotate. Thanks to this ingenious process, the lighthouse could emit its unique light signal. Another feature is the octogonal tower, which reaches a height of 63 feet (19.2 m) and is characterized by a drip edge arched under the lantern platform.


Interested in lighthouse history? Take a look at our historical photos on Flickr.

Source: Fouilles archéologiques de la station de phare de Sainte-Marthe-de-Gaspé en Gaspésie, AECOM Tecsult Inc., March 2010.

Jean Pineault
Real Property Assets, Environment, Safety and Security

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