With over 29,000 kilometres of twisting coastline, laden with submerged rocks, hidden inlets, and monolithic icebergs, it's little wonder that Newfoundland and Labrador has several hundred navigational lights clinging to its craggy shores. For centuries, explorers navigated our coastline without the benefit of GPS, coast guard, motors, or even electricity. They counted on our lighthouses and their keepers for guidance in the thickest fog and darkest night.
Surrounded by the wild Atlantic Ocean, this rugged place has seen its fair share of shipwrecks. Hundreds of stories of rescue have been passed down through local families for generations. And while our lighthouses were constructed to prevent disaster, they also hold stories of heroism in the face of tragedy. Stories that only take a visit to uncover.
The first lighthouse was erected in Fort Amherst in 1813. It stands tall on the south side of the Narrows, the entrance to St. John's Harbour. A portion of the East Coast Trail cuts through the hills above, affording a spectacular view of one of the oldest cities in North America and its beacon of light.
And Fort Amherst was just the beginning. Since then, hundreds of lighthouses have been raised along Newfoundland and Labrador’s rocky coastline. To make them easier to spot from a distance, many were painted plain white. Some have red and white stripes, reminiscent of a rather giant barbershop pole.
In spite of their candy cane appearance at times, the image of these vigilant, solitary guardians is a romantic one. Perhaps it’s the sense of mystery they evoke, or the connection to shipwrecks and long voyages over water. Maybe it’s simply the incredible view. But whatever the reason, people are drawn to these structures, almost magnetically. And nowhere is this feeling better captured than right here in Newfoundland and Labrador. Where the beauty and peril of our dramatic coastline exist side by side.
Fortunately for those who follow the light, this is one place that has plenty of it to go around. There are so many lighthouses in Newfoundland and Labrador it's impossible to list them all, but here are some notable examples.
Cape Spear Lighthouse
Just a 20-minute drive from St. John's, this lighthouse is a National Historic Site of Canada. It is located along the popular East Coast Trail and is home to the most easterly point of land in North America. The building itself retains its original structure, the oldest in the province. In this place on the edge of the continent, you can watch the sun rise first before anyone else in North America.
Cape Race Lighthouse
This watchtower has the notable distinction of being the site of Newfoundland's first wireless communication station. The Myrick Wireless Interpretation Centre is a replica of the 1904 Marconi Wireless Station and was a centre for reporting news around the world. In fact, it received the distress call from the RMS Titanic that fateful night it struck an iceberg and sank in waters just off Newfoundland. It contains exhibits about the history of communications at Cape Race, a RMS Titanic exhibit, and a gift shop.
Ferryland Head Lighthouse
About an hour drive south from St. John's you'll find historic Ferryland. Your destination is a 15-minute walk across a gorgeous meadow called the Gaze. This lighthouse is the home of the famous Lighthouse Picnics, where you can treat yourself to a delicious lunch basket on grassy slopes overlooking the ocean.
Cape Bonavista Lighthouse
As the place where John Cabot first made landfall in Newfoundland in 1497, the Bonavista Lighthouse is one of the most visited Provincial Historic Sites in the province. The lightkeepers’ quarters have been restored to the 1870s and guided tours are available.
Long Point Lighthouse
Located at the northern tip of the North Twillingate Islands, the location is surrounded by hiking trails overlooking Notre Dame Bay. It's a prime spot for you to view icebergs, whales, and seabirds.
Point Riche Lighthouse
Point Riche Lighthouse near Port au Choix National Historic Site is maintained by staff from the centre. It’s about 1.5 km past the Historic Site. There’s plenty of paved parking and the area is a good place to watch for whales and seabirds.
Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse
In the heart of Gros Morne National Park, this lighthouse has guided ships into Bonne Bay since 1897. The light itself may now be automated, but the exhibit in the lightkeepers’ house demonstrates how people lived along this coast for 4,000 years.
Point Amour Lighthouse
Built in 1858 and located near L'Anse-Amour, Labrador, this lighthouse towers at 33 metres, making it the second tallest in Canada and earning it Provincial Historic Site status. For those who make the 132-step journey to the top, it offers up a panoramic view of the surrounding land and sea. An interpretation centre is on-site and tours are also available. On Friday evenings in July and August you can enjoy a unique Lighthouse Dinner dining experience.
Rose Blanche Lighthouse
The southwest coast of Newfoundland is littered with historic wrecks. Most notably, in 1828 an Irish immigrant ship ran aground off Isle aux Morts during a raging storm. For three full days, a 17-year-old girl named Ann Harvey and her Newfoundland dog, Hairyman, ferried passengers and crew to land through fog and lashing wind in a 12-foot skiff. In the 1870s, a string of lighthouses were constructed in the area, including this stone tower at Rose Blanche, sometime between 1871 and 1873.