The Light at Blockhouse Point

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Blockhouse Light with Charlottetown in distance 2016. Photo by Stephen Desroches. Used with the permission of the photographer

There seem to be no images of the first light structure marking the entrance to Charlottetown Harbour but in recent years the present building has become one of the most photographed buildings in the province.  The building on Blockhouse Point has a striking appearance with the light tower and its large attached dwelling and is most often pictured as seen from Alchorn’s Point immediately to the north.  The autumn view above, photographed by Island photographer Stephen Desroches,  is one not often seen but it shows how the building stands at the gateway to the harbour.

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Blockhouse Light from the south ca. 1890. Library and Archives Canada photo. The square window for the sector is on the second floor of the tower. The flagstaff is clearly visible to the right.

Although there was a light structure on the point in the middle of the 19th century the one standing in 1873 when Canada took over responsibility for aids to navigation was considered to be inferior and in 1876 the Dominion parliament appropriated $4,000 for a new building. James Butcher was the contractor for the building which cost $$2,750 and the remainder of the funds were presumably directed to the light itself.  At 42 feet the tower is far from being the tallest on the Island but sitting as it does atop the headland it stands 60 feet above the water and can be seen from a considerable distance. Sailors can pick out the white building from Point Prim.

In addition to the light at the top of the tower the building housed a red sector light on the second floor which can be seen in the 1890 photo. A sector light is a fixed lamp which can be seen from only a certain angle and is used to show the correct line into the port. In this case keeping the red light and the white light tower light in line when coming in from the Strait brought a ship to the Fitzroy Rock bell buoy. One then steered a N.N.E 1/2 E. course to reach Spithead buoy and then turned to head into the harbour.   With the building of the range lights on the Haszard farm in Bellevue Cove in 1890 the sector light was no longer needed and was removed.  It was probably not long after this time that the light opening was converted to a conventional window.

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Blockhouse Light about 1914. Minor architectural detail changes can be seen but the present building is almost exactly as pictured here.

Although the configuration of the building has not changed since its construction in 1876 there were some slight modifications sometime before 1914.  The wooden railing around the dwelling roof and the light tower was removed and on the tower at least the railing was replaced by one of iron or steel. The windows in the tower were changed to include a pediment, the verandah which originally was attached to the west and south faces was removed from the south side the height of the chimney was increased and the cornices, which were originally bracketed, were changed to a flared design.

The flag staff with its arms for signal flags remained in the site until about 1920 but it was likely unused for most of that time.

When it was built the lighthouse stood in a clearing well away from any vegetation and a field extended to the west of the structure. Over the years this has grown in and a grove of trees developed at the end of the point which has been left, possibly to reduce erosion.  Unlike many island lighthouses this structure has not yet had to be moved although there has been considerable loss at the point which can be seen by comparing early photos with more recent ones.

Chart 2037 (2)

Blockhouse Light and lobster hatchery about 1912. No trace of the hatchery or wharf structure remains on the site.

Detail from Chart of Hillsborough Bay showing light and hatchery wharf

Detail from Chart of Hillsborough Bay showing light and hatchery wharf

The building stood alone on the point until the erection of the short-lived lobster hatchery and its attached wharf.  Neither lasted long into the twentieth century and not a trace of the building or wharf remain at the site. A trackway from the point down to the beach provided access to the shoreline of the protected cove. It shows in a number of early photos and can still be made out in the undergrowth under the trees growing on the cliff.    

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Blockhouse Point and Lighthouse from Alchorn’s Point about 1920. The trackway to the beach can be seen. The point has eroded to a point well inside of the three tall trees since this photo was taken.

Contemporary view of Blockhouse Light from Alchorn's Point

Contemporary view of Blockhouse Light from Alchorn’s Point. Photo from Wikimapia.

The Blockhouse Light is one of the most accessible lighthouses on Prince Edward Island. It is close to the National Historic Site at Fort Amherst – Port La Joie.  Although the building itself is closed to the public the site has many visitors brought by both the structure and its commanding view of  Hillsborough Bay on one side and the Harbour entrance on the other. It overlooks the narrow channel through which cruise ships and yachts pass all summer long.

Although Blockhouse Light is much-photographed and is the subject of sketches, paintings and prints by man artists, one of my favourite souvenirs of the light is not a picture but a small plaster-cast model which retains many of the architectural features of this iconic building.

Plaster souvenir model of Blockhouse Light ca. 2000. Maker unknown.

Plaster souvenir model of Blockhouse Light ca. 2000. Maker unknown.

Sources:

This is one of a number of posting concerning Blockhouse Point. The early history of the point is found here, views of the area by a prominent postcard photographer are here and a contemporary view of the area can be seen here.

One of the best sources for information about this light, and indeed all of the Island’s lighthouses, is lighthousefriends.com. Additional information can be found at the site for the PEI Lighthouse Society

Stephen Desroches holds copyright to his photographs which may not be reproduced without permission. He is a professional photographer, artist and designer from Charlottetown. Examples of his work and contact information can be found at stephendesroches.com

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3 thoughts on “The Light at Blockhouse Point

  1. Karen Mair

    Harry I’ve been enjoying your exploration of Blockhouse. Below the 1890 photo the caption says the square window is for the sector. What does that mean? Thanks again for this and warm wishes for 2017.

    Reply
    1. sailstrait Post author

      A sector light is one which can be seen from only one angle. Most lighthouses have lights that can be seen from 360 degrees (as is the case of the top lantern at Blockhouse Point). The sector light is like the light of a projector. Unless you are right in front of the projector you cannot see the lamp. For Blockhouse the lamp would only be visible if you are on the direct line from Spithead buoy. If you were off to the port or starboard of the channel you would not be able to see the light. It is the same principle as range lights but uses only one light. There are sector lights at a couple of places on PEI, one I seem to remember is at Fortune Bay. Some sector lights are more sophisticated with different colours visible from different angles of view. For example a Red-White-Red might show the white if you are on course but if you stray off to the port or starbord the red part of the light becomes visible.

      Reply
  2. Pingback: Blockhouse Point Lobster Hatchery | Sailstrait

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