In 1868, a committee on fisheries and navigation submitted a list of questions to fishermen, shipmasters and collectors of customs in various parts of Canada. Included in the questions was a request for them to state where additional lighthouses, guns, fog bells, or whistles were required. A. Riverin, who fished for herring, cod, salmon, and trout along the North Shore, informed the committee that the coast between Trinity Bay and Seven Islands was dangerous, especially in an east or southwest wind, and recommended that a revolving light and a gun should be established on Egg Island to enable vessels to approach the coast without danger.
Work on a lighthouse for Egg Island began during the summer of 1871, and its light was first exhibited on October 23rd, though the lighthouse would not be completed until the following year. The lighthouse, which stood 600 feet from the southern end of the island, consisted of an octagonal tower surmounting a keeper’s dwelling and measured thirty-five feet from base to vane. A revolving light, whose two faces each had two lamps set in twenty-inch reflectors, was displayed from the lantern room at a height of seventy feet above the water. The light attained its greatest brilliancy every ninety seconds and could be seen up to fifteen miles off. J. B. Spence built the lighthouse under a contract for $2,000, while the total cost for the structure, including the lantern and lighting apparatus, through June 30, 1872 was $3,830.21.
Paul Côté received an annual salary of $500 to serve as first keeper of the light, which consumed about 300 gallons of oil per season. The heroic action of Keeper Côté’s family, as described in the following account carried in Harper’s Weekly, was brought to the attention of the Minister of the Department of Marine and Fisheries in Ottawa by the Marine Agent in Quebec City.
All sailors know how important it is that a flash light should revolve with mathematical accuracy; otherwise one light might be taken for another, and a wreck might be the fatal consequence of such an error. One night, toward the close of the autumn of 1872, a pivot broke in the clock-work regulating these revolutions. The season was too far advanced to get help from the Ministry of Marine at Quebec; the only thing to be done was to replace the machine by human energy, and the keeper and his family devoted themselves to the task. During five weeks of that autumn and five other weeks of the next spring, man, wife, girls, and boys turned the machine by hand. Cold and fatigue stiffened the hands, sleep weighed on their eyelids, but nevertheless they must turn, turn, without haste and without rest, all through those long watches, in which the order was to become an automaton and keep turning the machine. Not one, from the child to the master, either complained or shirked his duty, and the light at Egg Island continued each minute and a half to flash its protecting light over the tempestuous Gulf.
A stout, first-class, octagonal tower was delivered to Egg Island in the fall of 1877 and placed adjacent to the existing keeper’s dwelling. This new tower, which cost $2,428.93, stood fifty feet, base to vane, and was topped by an iron lantern with a diameter of ten feet. The remnant of the original tower likely accounts for the unique shape of the lighthouse seen in the historic images on this page. Sometime before 1904, a single, vertical red stripe was painted on the white tower as a daymark.
Being a religious man, Keeper Côté established a chapel in the lighthouse so that missionaries and priests passing along the North Shore could stop and celebrate mass or provide religious services for his family. Archbishop F.X. Bossé, Prefect Apostolic of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, dedicated the chapel in 1874. Keeper Côté served until 1901, when Tancrèd Pelletier, his son, succeeded him.
Elzéar Chouinard, a native of the Caribou Islets, took charge of the lighthouse in 1911 as its third keeper. Six of Elzéar’s daughters were married in the lighthouse chapel before he retired in 1937 at the age of seventy. M. Émile Chouinard took the place of his father and kept the light on Egg Island until 1958, when he transferred to the lighthouse at Metis-sur-Mer. It was during Emile’s service that Arthur Lafontaine and Ovide Fortin built a concrete tower on the island in 1955.
M. Ange-Henri Dugas, a grandson of Elzéar Chouinard, held the office of keeper from 1958 to 1965, when the fifty-four-year-long lightkeeping legacy of the Chouinard family came to an end. The final keeper at Egg Island was M. Francis Poulin, who served from 1965 until the station was de-staffed in 1969. The keeper’s dwelling was demolished during the early 1970s. The only inhabitants of the island now are numerous birds for whose byproduct the island was named.
Keepers: Paul Cote (1871 - 1901), Tancrède Pelletier (1901 - 1911), Elzéar Chouinard (1911 - 1937), Émile Chouinard (1937 - 1958), Ange-Henri Dugas (1958 - 1965), Francis Poulin (1965 - 1969) .