The missing lighthouse at the harbour mouth

Today one of the most popular subjects of both private photos and images on postcards and tourism advertising is the lighthouse.  The iconic images portray the historic link between land and sea and are symbols of the Island’s maritime past.

It was not always so.

Before the Great War, during the golden age of postcards when as many as 500 postcard photos of the province were available for purchase, the image of the lighthouse is almost entirely absent. It is almost as if lighthouses did not exist. A good example of the wilful exclusion of the lighthouse from popular imagery can be found at the mouth of Charlottetown Harbour

"Entrance to Harbor, Charlottetown, P.E.I." Warwick Bros. & Rutter postcard #4559 ca. 1905

“Entrance to Harbor, Charlottetown, P.E.I.” Warwick Bros. & Rutter postcard #4559 before 1905

Blockhouse Light, which was built in 1876 is an outstanding example of the type of structure which we associate with Island coastal scenery. It is currently featured on postcards and tourism advertising but in 1905 the image chosen to illustrate the charms of the area was  picture, not of the light, but of the cove just inside the point.  The view looks across the channel towards Lobster Point with Trout Point lost in the soft focus to the left of the scene. The dramatic view of the light itself is outside the frame of the picture to the right. If you had not been to the spot you might not know that the lighthouse existed.

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Cove beneath Block House lighthouse looking east. June 2016

Today the scene of the postcard is still recognizable and not much has changed. There has been erosion of the point but it is less evident on the cove side than on the shore facing Hillsborough Bay. Perhaps the cove is shallower than it once was but on warm summer days boats still anchor there. Even the roadway sloping down the cliff-face in the postcard is still discoverable in the tall spruces that now dominate the point. Overlooking this quiet cove is Block House lighthouse but the postcard publishers did not feel it worthwhile to show it.

Block House Point

“Block House Point” Warwick Bros. & Rutter postcard #1817. Photo by W.S. Louson

From the Bay side of the point the image chosen for the card series is not, as it would be today, the lighthouse standing on the cliff but rather the cliff itself. It is almost as if the postcard publisher goes out-of-the-way to avoid any man-made objects to detract from the natural scenery. And that may, in fact, be the case. Many of the P.E.I,. cards were published by the Toronto firm Warwick Bros. & Rutter and most of these feature photos taken by Island amateur photographer W. S. Louson.  Louson  seems to have specialized in scenic views: birch trees, fields of flowers, harvest scenes, rugged cliffs, forest glades and quiet brooks. Louson was a tourism booster but he seems to have his own ideas about the kind of Island he wished to show.

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“The Harbor” Tignish, P.E.I.” Warwick Bros. & Rutter postcard #6243.

Only rarely did the man-made intrude on the vision of the gentle Island of which Louson was so proud.  Aside from a few photos of public buildings like Prince of Wales College and the Summerside High School, when structures are show it is often only as a backdrop. Such is the case with the only one of the nearly 150 Warwick & Rutter postcards to actually show a light house.   The main focus here is the fishing activity  and the lighthouse is incidental.

The approach of this particular publisher is not an aberration. One is hard pressed to find lighthouse images on postcards of the period from any of the dozen printers (including several  from the Island) who were responsible for the hundreds of thousands of P.E.I. cards which were sent in the mails or carefully collected in postcard albums. It is not clear just when the attitude began to change and lighthouses became a fit subject to be shown on postcards but as the character of the structures changed from simple aids to navigation, an adjunct to the fishing industry, to become a symbol of a marine heritage which was itself disappearing the lighthouse changed from being a service to being a symbol.

The idyllic scene in the cove beneath the light was radically altered in 1905 with the construction of a lobster factory and in a postcard of that industrial facility the lighthouse presides over the hatchery buildings. However, today all trace of the wharf and buildings have disappeared and the site has reverted to the scene of the early postcard of the entrance to the harbour.  Standing on the beach looking east to Lobster Point the Block House light cannot be seen.

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “The missing lighthouse at the harbour mouth

  1. Faye Pound

    An interesting thing about W.S. Louson’s day was that he was on company business and on the way to country stores when he took most photos. Seldom is a major PEI lighthouse on the way to a store. Love the material you are covering!

    Reply
    1. sailstrait Post author

      Ah yes.. but he visited a lot of places without general stores as well and took photos of beaches, cliffs and brooks. Our sense of what he took pictures of may be distorted because so many of the pictures in the archives collection are of general stores. In the early 1900s he had a collection of lantern slides of Island views which numbered some 500 images, many of which were also used for postcards. That collection does not seem to have survived so the postcards must stand in as a representative sampling….almost no lighthouses..

      Reply
  2. Scott Isenor

    I have a real photo postcard that looks like it may fit within your topic. It’s of 3 ladies in a row boat at Rocky Point, not necessarily by Louson but hopefully, you can be the judge. I would be happy to provide a scan but I don’t see a means of attaching an image to my response. If you’re interested in my scan, reply to me and provide a means for me to attach an image and I will be happy to send it to you.

    Reply

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