Brier Island (West) Lighthouse

David Davies

Weymouth, Canada

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Artist's Description

(Lighthouse Friends.com) At the beginning of the nineteenth century, it was stated in the Assembly in Halifax: “That the establishment of a light house on Brier Island, Nova Scotia, Canada at the north west entrance of St. Mary’s Bay, would be of greatest utility to the trade in this province, and also of the province of New Brunswick.” In 1806, a sum of £500 was granted to erect a stone lighthouse on Brier Island, but two years later the legislature reconsidered and appropriated £200 for a wooden lighthouse. A sum of £200 was contributed by New Brunswick to assist with the project.

The original Brier Island Lighthouse was built in 1809, but in 1818 it was described as “so vilely constructed and ill lighted” that it was a hazard, and by 1832, the octagonal tower had been rebuilt. In fact, New Brunswick had been contributing £100 annually for the maintenance of the Brier Island Lighthouse, but in 1820 due to “well founded complaints of mariners” no such grant was made. The light was reported to be so poorly constructed and negligently maintained that vessels turning toward land expecting to see the light, ended up on the rocks before discovering it.

A committee of the House of Assembly of New Brunswick in 1821 recommended that a gallery be constructed around the lantern so that snow could be cleared from the glass in winter and that a decent salary be paid “to some trusty person” to attend the light instead of the present practice of hiring the job out to the lowest bidder. The committee advised that the grant for 1820 and 1821 should be paid in full confidence that Nova Scotia would adopt measures to address the complaints.

John Suthern served as keeper of Brier Island Lighthouse, also known locally as the West Light or Southwest Light, for several decades starting in 1820. Suthern had served in Admiral Nelson’s fleet, and was aboard the Bellerophon, when she held Napoleon Bonaporte following his surrender in 1815. Suthern was granted the position of keeper as a pensioner for his service in the Royal Navy. Suthern’s grandson, John Slocum was the first person to single-handedly sail around the world. Slocum departed North American for his adventure on July 3, 1895 from Sambro Island Lighthouse, after an extended visit to his boyhood home on Brier Island.

A steam fog whistle was established on the south side of the Brier Island Lighthouse on March 1, 1873. During thick and foggy weather and snowstorms, the whistle sounded three times each minute in the following patter: four-second blast, four seconds of silence, four-second blast, four seconds of silence, four-second blast, forty seconds of silence. Frank Suthern, whose father had been serving as keeper of the lighthouse since 1867, was made responsible for the fog whistle in 1873.

In 1905, keeper’s dwellings were built for the two light stations on Brier Island, Grand Passage and Brier Island, by Mr. E. C. Bowers, of Westport, for a contract price of $3,150. At this time, John N. Peters was in charge of the light, and B. H. Morrell was responsible for the fog whistle. Each received an annual salary for $400.

A new fog-alarm building, equipped with two fifty-horsepower boilers, three air compressors, and a three-inch diaphone, was constructed by day labor under the supervision of S. Montgomery at a cost of $9,575.63 in 1907. Shortly after this time, the formerly all-white tower was given three red horizontal bands to increase its visibility in snowy weather.

The wooden tower burned down in 1944 and was replaced by the current , a white octagonal concrete tower with 3 horizontal red bands standing 18.3 meter tall. Gilbert Ingersoll was appointed principal keeper of Brier Island Lighthouse in 1966, with two assistants serving under him. One of the assistant positions was eliminated in 1969, and the remaining one a decade later in 1979, leaving Keeper Ingersoll alone at the light until it was unmanned in 1987.

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