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Cap-des-Rosiers Lighthouse National Historic Site

1331, boul. Cap-des-Rosiers, Gaspé, QC — IMPERIAL LIGHTHOUSE, TALLEST IN CANADA

Local community left holding the financial bag as federal government seeks to unload a “surplus” heritage lighthouse.

Why it matters

Cap-des-Rosiers Lighthouse was erected between 1854 and 1858 atop a rugged cliff near the village of Cap-des-Rosiers, and important area for Gaspé marine traffic where the St. Lawrence River meets the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Standing 34 metres high, this monumental lighthouse is the tallest in Canada. Built of regional limestone and faced with white marble, it has a gracefully tapered circular design and a large glass lantern and is a prominent visual landmark in the local area owing to its scale and silhouette. It is considered a showpiece of the Quebec agency of the Canadian Coast Guard (a special agency within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans) and remains an operating light essential to marine safety. The lighthouse was recognized as a National Historic Site in 1973 and as a Classified Federal Heritage Building in 1994, the highest heritage category for federal property.

Why it’s endangered

In 2008, through the efforts of Senators, Members of Parliament, heritage organizations and volunteer citizens, the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act (HLPA) was passed into law promising protection to these vulnerable federal heritage sites. In May 2010, however, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) declared surplus virtually all its lighthouses, numbering close to 1,000. This action effectively emasculated the HLPA and shifted the responsibility for lighthouse protection entirely onto local communities.

The Act allows lighthouses that are declared “surplus to operational requirements” to be designated under the HLPA, but only if a person or body submits a written commitment to buy or otherwise acquire them and protect their heritage character in the event that they are designated.  

Canadians had until May 2012 to nominate lighthouses that matter to them for designation under the HLPA. In the end, 347 lighthouses, including Cap-de-Rosiers, were nominated for designation. However, all of them will require an acceptable business plan from an organization or group willing to acquire and invest in them, or they will not be eligible for designation. Cap-de-Rosiers—like other high-profile and unquestionably iconic and historic Canadian lighthouses—is a large and complex structure that will need regular investment and special conservation skills and equipment. It will be a huge challenge for the small local community to take on the responsibility for upkeep without help from outside funding. While Cap-des-Rosiers is a popular destination with seasonal tourists and welcomes over 7,000 visitors each year, revenue potential is limited at this relatively remote site.

Where it stands

To date, no community group has submitted a business plan to take over the Cap-des-Rosiers lighthouse to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. This leaves the fate of the lighthouse and its heritage designation under the HLPA in a precarious limbo. Meanwhile the physical and structural integrity of Cap-des-Rosiers Lighthouse is threatened in the short term: the lantern requires an urgent restoration and water infiltration is occurring around the windows due to cracks in the cladding of the tower. The last refurbishment of the lighthouse facing was done over 20 years ago.

UPDATE: As of 2015, Cap-des-Rosiers continues to languish, despite drawing an average of 30,000 tourists each year. Despite consensus on the importance of preserving the site, no one is willing to foot the bill for its repairs. Recently, the mayor of Gaspé indicated that the City is prepared to take on responsibility for the lighthouse, provided that the federal government first complete the three to five million in upgrades required.

In an effort to raise awareness, the Site historique maritime du Phare de Cap-des-Rosiers (SHMPCDR) launched an online petition to save the lighthouse last summer. To date, the petition has garnered 1,982 signatures. For more information and to sign the petition, visit: