P.E.I. has coastlines for its borders and-- until recently-- relied on shipping as its only link to the outside world. It is not surprising, then, that the lighthouse became a fixture on capes and points all around the Island. For over 150 years, the sight of an immaculate white tower atop the red cliffs, with the sparkling sea below, has been a sight as beautiful as it is common. There are approximately 80 lights on the Island coast, with half of them considered traditional lighthouses. But their picture-postcard quality does not always suggest the vital role they played in the past. When the cliffs were wrapped in fog, and the sea was black, the lighthouse was often the difference between life and death.
The village of Darnley (map), located roughly 17 km from Kensington, had two lighthouses to guide ships into the sheltered waters of Malpeque Harbour. The original lighthouse possessed brilliant kerosene lamps that were ignited at sunset and turned off at sunrise. Government ships patrolled the coastlines of the Island, delivering the barrels of kerosene to the lighthouse keepers. One of these ships, the 'Brant,' was equipped with a horn that could be heard for miles. When the lighthouse keeper heard this signal blow, he would know to report directly to his post, where he could receive the new shipment of fuel. Over the years, the lighthouses were gradually electrified and automated; the keepers-- like the kerosene-- became a thing of the past.
Built in 1856, the Fish Island Lighthouse was a fixed light navigational aid, shining a beacon out from the head of Malpeque Harbour. The original structure consisted of a tall tower with a two-story living quarters attached to the back, which allowed the keeper to always remain near his work. In 1876, it was converted into a kerosene-powered rotating light, and remained so until 1962, when the edifice was replaced with an electric light mounted on a steel structure. The lighthouse continued to stand sentinel on Fish Island until 1989, when the community banded together to move it to Cabot Beach Provincial Park in Malpeque (map), directly across the water from its original location.
It made for a breathtaking scene when the two halves of the lighthouse were lifted by helicopter and transported through the air to the new location. It is hard not to wonder what the first keepers of the Fish Island light would have thought, seeing their steadfast beacon dangling from a radically different type of ship. The picture tells much of the story about what happened to Island lighthouses. As traffic moved from the sea to the air, and navigation became rocket science, there was less and less need for the traditional manned lighthouse. Today, the smaller, white-shingled lighthouses figure more prominently on postcards than in shipping. The Fish Island lighthouse has even been featured in the popular Island-filmed television series, "Emily of New Moon." But while its image is beamed across millions of TV screens, its beam of light is no longer cast across Malpeque waters.