Rusted, worn and not on any map, Anticosti Island's two Baie Ellis lighthouses are reminders, of the few golden years in the island's stormy history. Known as the graveyard of the Atlantic the island's past includes, over four hundred ships wrecked on its treacherous reefs, inaccurate maps, ghosts and a wilderness that could not be tamed.
Following its discovery by Jacques Cartier in 1535, possession gravitated between France, Canada, and Newfoundland with Canada claiming final ownership. During this time grand schemes to colonize the island, which is about twice the size of Prince Edward Island, foundered and failed. Only a few fishermen and hunters sustained a livelihood year round.
That was until 1895 when the French sportsman and multi millionaire Henri Menier, went searching for an island where he could indulge his passions for hunting and fishing. Following up an advertisement “Island for sale” in a French newspaper, Menier sent his friend George Martin-Zede to inspect the property. Finding it boasted a good harbor, thick forests, flashing rivers, excellent salmon fishing and rugged beauty, Martin-Zede was captivated.
He reported back to Menier that the island named Anticosti belonged to Canada, was near the entrance to the Gulf of
St. Lawrence and was too large for a sportsman's paradise.
He suggested that it should be purchased, developed and colonized. Menier agreed only if Martin-Zede would be the Director General of the project. Plans were drawn up for a model community and constructions started immediately on houses, post office, administrative centre, sawmill roads and
a railway line.
Supplies shipped to the island required landing facilities and docking for larger boats. To solve the problem, a quay nearly a kilometer long that extended out from the village of Port Menier, over the shoals and into the gulf was built and the area around the quay dredged.
Then to avoid ships colliding into the new quay on dark nights or in thick fogs, Menier instructed that ships should be guided into Port Menier by two aligned lights, one stationed at the end of the quay and one on the shore near his recently built chateau. He ordered two lighthouses from the well-known French firm, Sauter & Harle, specialists in what might be termed today, as pre-fabricated lighthouses.
They arrived in pieces at Anticosti in 1905. By the summer of 1906 these two white, gas fired, cylindrical iron light towers with bright red lanterns were assembled. The one on the end of the quay was installed on a concrete base, and the one on the shore near Menier's chateau on a stone base. Their lights were carefully aligned to guide ships safely into Port Menier and became known as the Baie Ellis lights.
Two privately owned new lighthouses, the only ones in Canada, stirred up a small bureaucratic tempest within Canada's marine authorities. It was eventually resolved, that the lights were termed settler's effects and no duty was charged. The Canadian government issued orders to mariners that these navigational lights were now part of the light system of the St. Lawrence River.
Menier died in 1915 and his heirs cut off the steady flow of funds that he had been pouring into the colony. Slowly the model town deteriorated and once again the island went up for sale and was purchased by a series of pulp and paper companies. When the Consolidated Paper Company of Canada owned the island, the two light towers were decommissioned. The one at the end of the quay was moved and installed in the forest on the Baie Ellis Road. The one near the chateau abandoned and over the years its lantern fell into the water.
Then in 1989 when the local people of Anticosti, were improving the site where Menier's chateau once stood, they resolved to restore the rusted lighthouse at the same time. With help to finance the project from the North Shore Sector of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs of Quebec and local contributions, they set to work. The lighthouse was carefully removed from its crumbling base and laid on a bed of pine, sand blasted and painted white. Then the newly restored lighthouse was raised and planted on a new concrete base. Its lantern, freshly painted red was fixed firmly to the top of the tower. The fifty-two foot light tower still stands, but rusted once again from the harsh winter weather.
Plaques at its base tell the story of its moment of glory in the island's golden years. On the other hand the other lighthouse on a lonely road in the middle of a forest is a ghostly reminder of the island's mysterious past.
This story appeared in the
March 2007 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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