The Ottawa River flows over 1,200 kilometres from Lake Temiskaming in the north to the St. Lawrence River near Montréal and forms much of the provincial boundary between Ontario and Quebec. Navigation on the river is possible between the St. Lawrence River and Ottawa, but to continue upstream today to Lake Temiskaming, boaters need to use six by-pass systems, consisting of hydraulic trailers and trucks, to circumvent obstacles that include rapids and dams.
One of these by-pass sites is on Allumette Island where boaters need to have their vessels portaged between Chapeau on the northern side of the island to Desjardinsville on the southern shore of the island as they proceed upstream.
Near the northwest end of Allumette Island, just above Pembroke, lies Île Leblanc, which is actually attached to Allumette Island by a sandbar. Île Leblanc juts out into the Ottawa River, creating a passage known as Lower Narrows that has a width of just 650 metres. The Upper Narrows are found eight kilometres upstream from the Lower Narrows, and here the river again narrows markedly.
In 1884, a 100-foot-wide channel with a depth of seven feet was dredged at the Lower Narrows and marked by buoys. Two years later, in 1886, James MacCool was awarded a $400 contract for erecting two additional beacon lights on the Upper Ottawa for the use of steamers drawing timber. One of these beacons was placed at the end of the pier at Fort William, just above the Upper Narrows, and the other was placed on Île Leblanc to mark the Lower Narrows. The Lower Narrows beacon consisted of a mast, with a shed at its base, which stood upon a cribwork pier near the river’s edge.
James Kennedy was hired as the first keeper of the light starting from May 23, 1887. Keeper Kennedy was paid $100 per year and looked after the light through the 1903 season, after which J.B. LeBlanc took charge of the light.
The pole light served until 1907, when it was replaced by an enclosed wooden tower described in the Annual Report of the Department of Marine:
A lighthouse tower was erected on a pier on the south side of Allumette island, Ottawa river, at the first narrows above Pembroke (Lower Narrows). The old light pole and shed were removed and the light shown from the pole replaced by one shown from an inclosed square wooden tower, with sloping sides, surmounted by square wooden lantern, the whole painted white. The height of the tower from its base to the top of the ventilator on the lantern is 27 feet. The tower stands on a square concrete pier, with sloping sides, standing in the water immediately off the south point of the island at the narrows. The light is a fixed white light, elevated 25 feet above the summer level of the river, and visible six miles from all points of work was done by day’s labour, under the foremanship of Mr. F. Castle, and cost $1,502.75.
The light on the west side of Île Leblanc remains active today, showing a white flash every four seconds, but at some point its official name was changed from Lower Narrows to Passage Lower.
Head Keepers: James Kennedy (1887 – 1903), J.B. Leblanc (1904 – at least 1923).