The Silence of Sambro Island Lighthouse is Golden?

blogsambro The Canadian Coast Guard has silenced the Foghorn at Sambro Island Lighthouse which has alarmed or blasted the Mainland South Heritage Society into action. Leslie Harnish, the president of the Society, wants the “coast guard to put the foghorn back on” claiming the Foghorn has been blowing since the early 1800s(1).

Bev Cleveland, a Coast guard spokeswoman, claims mariners were consulted to determine that the Foghorn is not needed and a Notice to mariners will be published. Afterwards, mariners can respond in writing if they oppose the silent foghorn.

Perry Rideout, who manages all federal property including Lighthouses, claims Sambro Island Lighthouse is not one of the 45 Nova Scotia lighthouses on the divestiture list waiting for sale. According to Mr. Rideout, all federal navigational aids (the beacon in the tower) are maintained, yet he doesn’t have the federal money to maintain the de-staffed obsolete Lighthouse tower. Is he hoping that Lighthouse Levitation will keep the Beacon shining above the water?

Leslie Harnish, who claims the shabby place is falling apart, is concerned with what the Coast Guard plans to do for the 250th celebration of the Lighthouse in 2008(2). Ironically, “It’s (Sambro Island Lighthouse) the oldest operating lighthouse in North America…” according to Leslie Harnish yet, Boston Harbor Lighthouse has been operational and manned for 284 years whereas Sambro Island Lighthouse has been operational for 247 years and manned for 229 years(3).

Did someone use the “New Math Satire by Tom Lehrer” to calculate this Bizarre Beacon Boast? And, this Lighthouse labyrinth is published by both American and Canadian Lighthouse sources.

Perhaps, our Canadian cousins mean Sambro Island Lighthouse is the oldest operating lighthouse in Canada? From 1760 to 1772, the open oil Lamp fueled by fish oil would frequently go out and was left out if no ships were in sight.

In 1771, the sloop Granby from Boston, Massachusetts was shipwrecked with no survivors. Commodore Gambier noted “the fatal accident happened for want of a Light being properly kept in the Lighthouse.” He also reported that naval ships occasionally fired at the Lighthouse to force Light-keepers to show a Light! Wonder if the alarm clock of the Light-keepers came with a soldiers snooze song singing Cannon Balls bursting in air?

In 1772, Fountain oil lamps with flues for containing the smoke were installed to minimize blackening the Lantern glass which dimmed or obscured the Light. We can safely say Sambro Island Lighthouse was not fully operational for the first 12 years! Subtract another 12 years of irregular operation leaves 235 years of operation.After reading this, some critics may claim they meant Sambro Island Lighthouse is the oldest continuous operating Lighthouse in North America. Adding “continuous(4)” to the sources after this post is a shallow distinction and for the Guinness Book of World Records, the Lighthouse of the Hub (Boston Harbor) is the oldest operating Lighthouse in North America.

Sambro Island Lighthouse is closed to the public.

blue_starMap Location:
For a Map location, please visit the Google Map of Sambro Island Lighthouse.

(1) Cannons provided the Fog signals until the 1870s when a steam-powered fog whistle was installed.

(2) On October 2, 1758, the General Assembly of Nova Scotia passed an Act to establish a Lighthouse on Sambro Island. A temporary Light was lit until the 60-foot high stone Lighthouse was built in 1759 and Sambro Island Lighthouse was First Lit in 1760 exhibiting a Fixed White Light 115-feet above sea level to guide navigation entering Halifax Harbour.

In 1906, the Tower height was extended another 22-feet and a 9-feet high First-order Fresnel dioptric lens was installed. The French lens was replaced by a 3-foot diameter DCB-36 Aerobeacon in 1966. Currently, Sambro Island Lighthouse exhibits a Flashing White Light every 5-seconds 140-feet above sea level to a visible range of 22 nautical miles.

Leslie Harnish does not specify which structures at the Light Station are shabby. Due to the efforts of the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society, the restoration of the stone Tower protected by wood sheathing and shingles was completed in December 1998. Since 1988, the obsolete support structures have been deteriorating.

(3) Boston Harbor Lighthouse — Sambro Island Lighthouse

Date Years Date Years
Sep 14, 1716 1760 (44)
Jun 13, 1776 60 1776 16
Dec 05, 1783 (7 -Dark) 1783 7
2007 224 2007 224
  ——   ——
Operational 284 versus 247

(4) Is it necessary to split hairs to spin a yarn? For example, some historians (Old Salts?) claim that Sandy Hook Lighthouse is the oldest continuous operating American Lighthouse which is also incorrect. On June 1, 1776, Patriots damaged the Lighthouse using cannons and the powerful British navy possessed the ineffective Lighthouse for most of the war. Sandy Hook Lighthouse holds the record as the longest continuous standing Lighthouse for 243 years.

Related News Story:

Sambro foghorn goes quiet

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About Debbie Dolphin

Lighthouse author and photographer living in New England

Posted on November 20, 2007, in News and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Hi Karla Patterson,

    Thank you for sharing your inspirational information to save our Lighthouse heritage!

    Debbie Dolphin’s last blog post..Bird Island Lighthouse Light-keeper retires

  2. Karla & Ernie Patterson

    Hi Guys/Girls:
    Being a true Sambroian who lives in Winnipeg, it gives me great joy to spread the word (and photographs) out West about our little jewel in the salt sea waters in Nova Scotia. There are so many Westerners who, on my word, have visited our beautiful province and the SLH (Sambro Light House) and my relatives and friends have never let me down by taking wonderful care of my friends when they visit, which is just a normal thing for the folks downhome – they have always opened their arms to all my western friends. There are many photos on our office walls taken by westerners, who just think – ‘if gold had a flavour it would taste like the Sambro Lighthouse and those special people who know and love it”. Let’s get the gold back (the fog horn). I will be back in Nova Scotia this summer and will expect to hear that calming sound (not just for our fishermen, but for those at home waiting for their safe return) of our heritage, which makes us Nova Scotians so special.

    My accolades go out to those of you who have supported our Sambro Light House over the years – I am so proud of you for standing up to the plate – now it is time for our Government to step up to the plate and hit a 3-run home run for all of us.

    Karla Patterson (nee Hamm)

  3. Hi Chris,

    Thank you for the Sambro Island Light update!

    A new Sambro Island Light post will be published as soon as we know the date of the 250th birthday.

  4. Preparations are now underway for a number of events on and around Sambro Island to celebrate the light’s 250th birthday. The Canadian Coast Guard is now in the process of installing a solar-powered light and fog horn, both of which are not operational yet (as of March 16, 2008). There are also plans to paint the lighthouse. I will post more details as they become available.

  5. Hi R. Willis,

    Hopefully, Jim Guptill of the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society can answer your question. Jim can be contacted by visiting the NSLPS – Contact Page.

    Debbie Dolphin’s last blog post..The Evolving Eye of Lighthouse Engineering

  6. Hello,
    Can anyone tell us if something special will be going on this year to celebrate 250 years old?

  7. I’m sure we can. Thanks again.

  8. Hi Chris,

    Thank you for explaining the details!

    Hopefully in the future, we can work together to post any news of the hard working preservation efforts of the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society?

  9. Hi Debbie-

    Thanks for your response. Not to belabour the point or get into sematics too much but — the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society ascertained that the Sambro Island Lighthouse is the oldest operating lighthouse structure in North America — it’s certainly not the oldest lightstation on the continent — as you say — that honour goes to Little Brewster Island in Boston Harbour. We base this claim on the fact that the bulk of the structure that remains in service today on Sambro Island was built 1758-1760, whereas, the current Boston Light was built in 1783. To my knowledge there are no other physical lighthouse structures older than Sambro Island still in service in the Americas.

    Unfortunately, some media sources are not terribly clear or accurate in their reporting of these matters. As you say, our prime goal should not be to proclaim who has the best, tallest or oldest, but trying to preserve and protect these crucial elements of our maritime history. Thanks for your time and interest.

  10. Hi Chris,

    Thank you for explaining your research.

    Hopefully, there is no confusion about the phrase “oldest continuous operating Lighthouse” example since the post clearly uses this phrase as one possible illustration of the meaning in the news article with no individual claims intended or made (The post never stated anyone made a “continuous operating” claim).

    The post was attempting to seek clarification of who made the following claim in the original news source: “The foghorn has been turned off at what is said to be North America’s oldest working lighthouse.” – Sambro foghorn goes quiet, published Nov 13, 2007.

    Per Footnote (3), Boston Harbor Lighthouse is North America’s oldest working Lighthouse with 284 years versus the 247 or 248 years (1759 or 1760 for the present Tower) of the Sambro Island Lighthouse.

    I am sorry but the confusing news source published the oldest working Sambro Island Lighthouse claim apparently without realizing or considering that Boston Harbor Lighthouse is the oldest Working Lighthouse in North America.

    Perhaps, Lighthouse news stories in America or Canada or any nation can place their emphasis on reporting about the preservation efforts required to save all old historic Lighthouse Treasures and Symbols of Safety for the present and future generations?

  11. Just to clear up the confusion over the Canadian “boast” about Sambro Island. We (the NSLPS) have researched it to be the oldest operating lighthouse in North America. No one has made the “continuously operating” claim. Although the light was heightened in 1906, the bulk of the tower is the original granite structure. The tower was begun in 1758, lit (in some form) in 1759 and it was was de-staffed in 1988. The tower continues to operate today, with a DCB 36 lens giving one flash every 5 seconds.

  12. Hi Leslie Harnish,

    Thank you for explaining the details of poor condition at the Light Station in the original news story!

    Unfortunately, the preservation of the history and Architectural Radiance of many Lighthouses was not a priority until recently. Lighthouse Levitation was my point to highlight the expensive costs to restore these Active Lighthouse Gems.

    Maybe, my hindsight is 20/20 but many solutions to save Lighthouses were used in the past as noted in my Nottawasaga Island Lighthouse Endangered by Politics? as a economical way to save and preserve our Lighthouse Treasures!

    Footnote #3 was posted because the information seems to be published in several places and the original source of the bizarre statement is difficult to locate.

    “Again, thank you for the coverage on the state of the Sambro Island Lighthouse.”
    Your welcome.

    At any time you would like to update the condition of Sambro Island Lighthouse and/or any restoration efforts, please let me know and hopefully, we can report on the positive progress of saving all the buildings and tower of your historic Lighthouse Treasure!

  13. Thank you for bringing attention to the unfortunate situation at the Sambro Island Lighthouse.
    In Footnote #2, I’d like to comment that I am in no way questioning the restoration work of the NSLPS done in 1998. Both the MSHS and the NSLPS have the same goal in regards to this lighthouse and plan to work together to celebrate the 250th anniversary this year. Much of the “shabbiness” comes from general maintenance that has not taken place since the restoration and further damage caused by Hurricane Juan in 2003, a later blizzard referred to as “White Juan” in 2004, and more recently, Hurricane Noel in 2007.

    In Footnote #3, I cannot comment about the validity of the claim that Sambro is the oldest as my comments are based on the what the experts that have researched this in the past have told me. Again, thank you for the coverage on the state of the Sambro Island Lighthouse.

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