Cap des Rosiers has witnessed more shipwrecks than any other location in the Gaspésie. From May 1840 to September 1848, there were eight major wrecks in the vicinity. On April 28, 1847, The Carricks,carrying impoverished Irish families to America, foundered just off the cape. Of the 187 passengers on board, eighty-seven perished, and the residents of Cap des Rosiers village succored the 100 survivors. In 1966, the ship’s bell was found in Blanc Sablon, near the Newfoundland border, and brought to the Cap des Rosiers parish church, where it now stands next to a monument honoring the victims of the shipwreck.
The need for a light marking the cape was apparent, and a contract for its construction was granted in October 1853 to Charles François-Xavier Baby, the proprietor of a tug line below Quebec City. Besides the lighthouse at Cap des Rosiers, Baby was simultaneously overseeing the erection of lighthouses at West Point on Anticosti Island, and at Point Amour and on Belle Isle in Newfoundland. According to the contract, the tower and dwelling were to be completed by September 1, 1854, but as it was impossible to find suitable stone in the immediate vicinity, the project was delayed. In fact, by the end of 1854 only the foundations had been dug to solid rock and some work on the foundation walls commenced.
Using stone obtained from Gaspé Basin, the tower walls had been carried up twenty feet above the basement by the end of 1855, and work on the dwelling for the keepers was nearly complete. The plans called for the tower to be ninety-five feet in height above the ground, with an outside diameter of twenty-five-and-a-half feet at the base and seventeen feet at the top. The walls were to be seven-feet-three-inches thick at the base and three-feet thick at the top. Including the basement and lantern room, the tower was to have nine stories, with each of the seven intermediate stories having a window placed alternately on opposite sides of the tower.
By the end of 1856, the keepers’ duplex, which measured fifty feet by twenty-four feet and was connected to the tower by a covered passage, was finished, as was the masonry work on the tower. The lantern and lens for Cap des Rosiers were obtained from the Parisian firm of L. Sautter, and mechanics from the manufacturer came to the cape in 1857 to oversee the fitting of them atop the tower. With the lantern in place, the tower's total height reached 112 feet, making it the tallest lighthouse ever built in Canada. The lighthouse is sometimes referred to as an “Imperial Tower,” as it was constructed with British assistance while the Province of Canada was still a colony. The total cost of the lighthouse was nearly $115,000.
A nine-pounder gun and necessary ammunition was delivered to the station in 1857, and the keepers were required to fire it every hour during fog and snowstorms. The fog gun consumed about 1,500 pounds of powder each season. The gun was kept in a gun house, and a brick magazine with a zinc roof was used to store the powder. Starting in 1881, the fog gun was fired every thirty minutes, when needed, instead of hourly.
A steam fog alarm had been established at Cap Gaspé in 1874, but in 1883, it was decided the aid was not well-suited for that location, and it was relocated to Cap des Rosiers. The fog whistle commenced operation at its new home on August 15, 1883, giving a ten-second blast each minute in thick weather. The whistle was replaced in 1906 by a diaphone fog signal plant, which gave a seven-second blast in each minute. The steam plant for the fog alarm was converted to an oil plant in 1916, and after this the signal gave three blasts every minute in this manner: two-second blast, three seconds silence, two-second blast, three seconds silence, two-second blast, forty-eight seconds silence.
To save the expense of cutting stone and transporting it to the site, the exterior of the tower at Cap des Rosiers was faced with two tiers of white fired brick, which it was thought would prevent moisture from percolating into the interior stonework. This, however, was not the case, and by 1870 the tower had been clapboarded. The tower was reclad with white brick in 1954 and with white marble, believed to be from Massachusetts, in 1984.
During World Ward II, German U-Boats lurked off the cape. One submarine was seen from the lighthouse on September 15, 1942 at 11:00 a.m. Just like his predecessor, two hundred years before, Keeper Joseph Ferguson, immediately dispatched word of the danger to the authorities.
Cap des Rosiers Lighthouse was declared a national historic site in 1974, and the tower itself was designated at Classified Federal Heritage Building in 1994. The lighthouse is one of just seven in Canada to hold this double classification.
Just after the lighthouse was set to open for the 2017 tourist season, Cap-des-Rosiers Lighthouse Historic Site Committee, the non-profit agency that operates the site, was ordered to close the tower for emergency repairs. The committee completed $10,000 in repairs and was poised to open the tower when it was told mold had been discovered in the tower. The lighthouse finally opened for the season on July 13, 2017, but it is in need of $6.5 million in repairs. The municipality of Gaspé passed a resolution in July 2017 calling for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to transfer ownership of the lighthouse to Parks Canada, which is mandated to preserve National Historic sites.
Keepers: Eugène Trudeau (1856 - 1867), Auguste Trudeau (1867 - 1886), Jean B. Vien (1886 - 1890 ), Eugène Costin (1890 - 1915), P. E. Theriault (1915 - 1920), J. Napoléon Côté (1920 - 1927), J. Ferguson (1927 - 1931), J. Napoléon Côté (1931 - 1935), Jospeh Ferguson (1935 - 1951), Joseph-Narcisse Rioux (1951 - 1970), Yves Packwood (1970 - 1971), Owen Gleeton (1971 - 1972), Paul-Roger Caron (1972 - 1978), Yvon Élément (1978 - 1981).