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Lighthouses in Canada

With the world's longest coastline and more lakes than the rest of the world combined, Canada is also home to more than 750 lighthouses and long range lights. The Government of Canada has identified some of these scenic landmarks as surplus lighthouses. Working with Parks Canada, we have transferred over 100 lighthouses to individuals, community groups and municipalities. The new owners will conserve these important heritage sites for the benefit of all Canadians.

Learn about the different kinds of lighthouses across Canada and their many roles.

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Types of lighthouses

Lighthouses range greatly in size, structure and setting. Some unique examples of these icons of maritime history include:

Lighthouses are found in every Canadian province, except Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Role of lighthouses

Lighthouses have many purposes. They are used to:

Canada's lighthouse history

The first lighthouse in Canada was built in Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, in 1734. Over the years, the structure was damaged in battle, destroyed by fire and rebuilt several times. The lighthouse known today was built in 1923.

Canada's oldest surviving lighthouse was built in 1758 on Sambro Island, at the entrance to Halifax Harbour.

By the 1800s, growing trade between Canada and Europe led to an increasing number of shipwrecks along our shores. To prevent these disasters, lighthouses were built on:

The first 2 lighthouses on the West Coast opened at Race Rocks and Fisgard Island in 1860. After Confederation in 1867, Canada built a vast network of lighthouses to mark the sea routes essential to maritime safety and trade.

Changing role of lighthouses

Over the years, the number of lighthouses in use, including ones managed by lighthouse keepers, has decreased because of:

Traditional lighthouses are still a big part of Canada's identity, culture and landscape. The Government of Canada has designated many lighthouses under the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act and transferred them to new owners all across Canada. This special status recognizes the beauty and historic importance of heritage lighthouses to Canadian communities.

We now work with provinces, communities and other partners to ensure that heritage lighthouses are conserved and protected for future generations. We also continue to operate modern aids to navigation on lighthouse properties.

Staffed lighthouses

The Government of Canada continues to operate 51 staffed lighthouses across the country, including:

The government manages and maintains most of these lighthouses for operational purposes. One exception is Machias Seal Island in the Gulf of Maine, where lightkeepers continue to staff the lighthouse for sovereignty reasons.

Surplus lighthouses

The Government of Canada has identified many traditional lighthouses that are not in use. They are often transferred to provinces, municipalities, Indigenous or non-profit groups who wish to make the most of the heritage value and tourism potential of these sites. Interested acquirers of surplus lighthouses must fulfill certain requirements to become the new owners, including the completion of Fisheries and Oceans’ business plan template, opening the site to the general public as well as maintaining the heritage character of the site.

Acquisition process for surplus lighthouses

On average, the process for acquiring a lighthouse takes between 3 and 5 years. Fisheries and Oceans Canada must complete numerous steps, including Indigenous consultations, circulation with other levels of government, obtaining a legal survey and market valuation, completing environmental remediation as required, and other administrative steps to adhere to policy. This process can be lengthy and may result in the transfer of the asset to another entity, depending on the results of the required consultation.

If a lighthouse has been nominated under the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act, it must also be evaluated by Parks Canada to determine if it should be designated as a heritage asset. If the lighthouse receives a designation as a heritage asset, the acquirer must agree to maintain its heritage character intact as a condition of the transfer of custodial responsibilities.

Contact us

For more information, please contact Fisheries and Oceans Canada at

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