Rounding the eastern tip, Cartier’s two small caravels skirted along the north shore until they saw a prominent cape, which, on August 1, 1534, they set out to explore in longboats. Cartier wrote, “When we had rowed along the said coast for some two hours, the tide began to turn and came against us from the west so violently that it was impossible to make a stone’s throw of headway with thirteen oars. And we deemed it advisable to leave the longboats, with part of our men to stand guard over them, and for ten or twelve of us to go along the shore as far as that cape where we found that the coast began to turn off towards the southwest.”
Once back to the ships, Cartier decided that given the heavy downstream winds and the strong tidal currents, they would not gain much ground before the seasonal easterly winds set it. It was time to turn back for home, ending five months of exploration of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The following year, Cartier returned, and on August 14, 1535 commented on the great number of whales he saw near that cape. This time, he named the prominent cape, Cap de Rabast, an old French term meaning, the place of turning back.
The invention of the steamship in the nineteenth century allowed shipping routes to pass on the north side of Anticosti Island and through the Strait of Belle Isle, a shorter and less foggy route than its southern counterpart. Prior to that, fishing fleets and sailing vessels had primarily used Honguedo Strait, which lies between Anticosti Island and the Gaspé Peninsula.
To assist with the increased marine traffic in Jacques Cartier Strait, three lighthouses were established along the north shore of Anticosti Island in 1919 at Pointe-Carleton, Cap-de-la-Table, and Cap de Rabast, also known as Pointe Nord (North Point). These lighthouses feature the same architectural design: a white octagonal reinforced concrete tower with a flared cornice and a red multi-sided lantern. Enhancing the design of the towers are a pedimented cap over the doorway and triangular lintels over the vertically-aligned windows. Cap de Rabast Lighthouse stands seventy-two feet tall from base to vane and originally displayed three white flashes, at intervals of four seconds, followed by an eclipse of twelve seconds. A diaphone foghorn, housed in a fog alarm building near the tower, sounded two, two-and-a-half-second blasts, spaced by five seconds and followed by sixty-five seconds of silence. A double dwelling was also built in 1918-1919 but was later replaced by separate residences.
The 1920 Annual Report of the Department of Marine and Fisheries stated: “The three light and fog alarm stations on the north shore of Anticosti Island at Cap De Rabast, Charleton Point, and Table Head, built during the war, are now in permanent operation, with the result that with their aid many vessels now pass on the north side of the island, shortening the distance between Quebec and the strait of Belle Isle, inward or outward.”
Life at the station was isolated. With no overland road, the keepers were thirty-five miles by boat from both Port Menier and Havre St. Pierre on the mainland. During the winter, the mail periodically arrived by air, with pilots throwing out mailbags when above the lighthouse.
W.A. Calladine, reported in 1953 in the News of the Department of Transport what it took to deliver supplies to the station:
Rock and boulders prevent landing supplies directly on shore and barrels of oil are therefore tossed overboard from the surf boat and carefully maneuvered with pike poles in the hands of crew members standing in the water over their knees. Brought to reaching distance, the barrels are then cautiously rolled up on the shore to the oil storage sheds. Coal, provisions and other supplies are carried from the small boats on two-man litters.
The light was automated in 1980. Anticosti remains an isolated island, being visited by just a few summer tourists and autumn deer hunters. The Cap de Rabast station, under the care of Pourvoirie Lac Geneviéve d’Anticosti, accommodates some of those visitors by offering lodging in the two keeper’s dwelling. The light tower was declared a Recognized Federal Heritage Building in 1990.
Keepers: J.R. Bergeron (1919 - 1926), J.C. L’Italien (1926 - 1927), J. Barriault (1927 - 1948), Cléophas Barriault (1948), Rosaire Boudreau (1956 - 1964), Rémi Ferguson (1965 - 1966), Lionel Barriault (1966 - 1967), Léon Element (1967 - 1970), Roger Poulin (1970 - 1980).