1860: The Inaugural Illumination of Canada’s Swallowtail Lighthouse

July 7, 1860

The Swallowtail Lighthouse first went into service on Grand Manan Island, a section of the Bay of Fundy that is part of the present-day Canadian province of New Brunswick. At the time of that lighthouse’s debut, New Brunswick was a British colony; in 1867, it became one of the four original provinces of the Dominion of Canada.

The inaugural lighting of the Swallowtail Lighthouse’s lantern was performed by Jonathon Kent, the structure’s first keeper. Kent brought to his new role a wealth of experience as a seasoned lighthouse keeper and vessel pilot.

A leading catalyst for the construction of the Swallowtail Lighthouse was a deadly shipwreck in that region of Canada. In January 1857, the merchant ship Lord Ashburton became ensnared in a violent nor’easter off the coast of Grand Manan Island. This vessel ultimately slammed into a stony headland at the island’s north end and broke up on the rocks there. The ship’s captain and most the crew lost their lives as a result of this collision, but 10 of the men made it onto the shore alive. Two of those men subsequently froze to death, while the others were rescued by local residents.   

This maritime tragedy underscored the urgent need for a navigational aid in that vicinity of the Bay of Fundy, and the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly formally called for “a Light House to be erected on the Northern Head of Grand Manan”. John P. McKay, a resident of New Brunswick’s seaport city of Saint John, was hired to build that lighthouse at a Grand Manan Island headland that was called “Swallow’s Tail” and located near the community of North Head (now part of the village of Grand Manan).

Construction on the Swallowtail Lighthouse began in 1859. This lighthouse was the first of five to be built on Grand Manan Island.

The Swallowtail Lighthouse was automated and destaffed in 1985. The final keeper to serve there was Grimmer Ingersoll. Over the decades, this lighthouse has become a major landmark of Grand Manan Island and also one of the enduring symbols of New Brunswick’s larger maritime heritage. 

Photo Credit: Jake Wellington (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en)

For more information on the Swallowtail Lighthouse, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swallowtail_Lighthouse and http://swallowtaillighthouse.com/history.html

Additional information on New Brunswick’s lighthouses is available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_lighthouses_in_New_Brunswick

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