19 interesting facts about Sambro Lighthouse

19 Interesting Facts About Sambro Lighthouse, Nova Scotia

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The Sambro Lighthouse is the oldest functioning lighthouse in the Americas! You’ll learn more about this and 18 other interesting facts in this post.

19 interesting facts about Sambro LighthousePhoto credit – The Sambro Lighthouse Heritage Society. 

The Sambro Lighthouse is a very significant historic building in Canada. It marks the entrance into the second-largest ice-free harbour in the world.

In this post, you’ll learn just what makes the Sambro Lighthouse so unique. Let’s get started!

Read more about 40 Nova Scotia Lighthouses.

19 Interesting Facts About Sambro Lighthouse

Here are the 19 Sambro Lighthouse facts at a glance:

  1. Oldest functioning lighthouse in the Americas
  2. Watches over second-largest ice-free harbour in the world
  3. Runs on solar power
  4. Called the “Canadian Statue of Liberty”
  5. Was the leaning tower of Sambro
  6. Built of stone covered with wood
  7. Was powered by fish oil
  8. Gained 22 feet in 1906
  9. Lens came from Paris
  10. Stripes added for visibility in snow
  11. First fog signal was by cannon
  12. Kept by lighthouse keepers up to 1988
  13. Was a backdrop for popular commercials
  14. Is a federal heritage building and national historic site
  15. Received a 1.3 million dollar repair job in 2016
  16. Tours are offered once a year
  17. Has its own silver coin
  18. Is a famous round the world departure spot
  19. Has its own stamp

Let’s take a closer look at these interesting facts about Sambro Lighthouse.

1. Sambro Lighthouse is the oldest functioning lighthouse the Americas

The light tower was built in 1758. More than 250 years later, it’s still standing and functioning. The Louisbourg Lighthouse was constructed before this light, but the original tower was destroyed when the fortress was taken.

The building of this lighthouse was one of the first things debated by the Legislative Assembly of Nova Scotia.

The second oldest functioning lighthouse in the Americas is Sandy Hook Lighthouse (build in 1764) located in New Jersey, U.S.A.

2. Sambro Lighthouse watches over the second largest ice-free harbour in the world

The harbour is made up of a wide entrance into a main harbour, followed by a narrow channel which ends in a large basin. The lighthouse marks the entrance to the harbour which is an area of dangerous shoals (30 or more).

The only larger harbour is in Sydney, Australia.

3. Sambro Lighthouse is solar powered

In 2008 the light and fog signal became fully solar powered.

Sambro Lighthouse in Nova Scotia Canada
Photo credit – The Sambro Lighthouse Heritage Society. 

This new system replaced the electric system which was powered by an underwater cable from the mainland. The power cable was damaged by a storm in April 2007. Read more here.

4. Sambro Lighthouse is called the Canadian Statue of Liberty

This lighthouse is referred to (by some) as the Canadian Statue of Liberty because it has been so significant in Canada’s history. It was built 109 years before Canada was founded (in 1867) and has been instrumental to the safe entrance into Halifax Harbour.

The harbour is the first inbound and last outbound port of call in eastern North America with transcontinental rail connections. While it still sees a lot of traffic, it was a very significant port for both people and good before air travel. All of this makes Sambro Lighthouse a Statue of Liberty (of sorts) to many, both in the past and present.

5. Was the leaning tower of Sambro

In 1950, the lighthouse keeper noticed that the tower was swaying. This happened because it was leaning by 20 centimetres! This was corrected by pressure pumping grout into the base where mortar damage and loose stones had caused a problem. To reinforce the base, a thick concert collar was also installed.

6. Sambro Lighthouse is built of stone, covered with wood

Wood singles cover the granite structure of Sambro Lighthouse. The wood was added to protect the mortar from the elements. The granite tower is the original tower which was built in 1758.

7. Sambro Lighthouse was initially powered by fish oil

Fish oil was the first fuel used at the Sambro Lighthouse. Burning fish oil created some problems. The open oil lamp smoked up the glass, produced a dim light and caused misting and icing. On top of all that, the oil would run out leaving Sambro without light at times. This led to shipwrecks and loss of life.

It’s reported that at times, ships had to fire at the light to make the keeper show a light. The problem was continually improved until 1906, when a first order Fresnel dioptric lens was installed.

8. Sambro Lighthouse grew 22 feet in 1906

The extra height was added to make the light more visible in fog. It now stands at 24.99 meters, or 82 feet tall. And its light is 42.67 meters or 140 feet above water level.

9. The Sambro Lighthouse first order Fresnel lens came from Paris

In 1906, a Fresnel lens from Paris, France was installed. This lens was constructed of crystal glass prisms set in brass frames. It was removed in 1966 and replaced by a rotating airport beacon. The current light can be seen from around 23 nautical miles away. The Fresnel lens from Sambro Lighthouse is at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic on Lower Water Street in Halifax.

10. The red strips were added for visibility in snow

In 1908, it was painted with red strips to make it more visible in snow. Prior to that it was all white.

11. The first fog signal was by cannon

In 2008 electric horns were installed. But before that a number of things were used to sound the fog alarm including a cannon, a steam fog horn, bomb rockets, acetylene guns and a diaphone.

12. Sambro Lighthouse was kept by keepers from 1759 to 1988

During that time the light had 14 keepers. The first was Capt. Joseph Rous, and the last was Kelly Fairservice Brown. The lighthouse is now automated and solar powered.

13. Sambro Lighthouse was a backdrop for National Sea Products commercials

Bob Warner starred as Captain Highliner in commercials for National Sea Products. You’ll see the Sambro Lighthouse in the following commercial which was played in 1987. Captain Highliner became a part Canadian pop culture often quoted as saying “have you ever been to sea Billy?” although that popular quote is not in the following commercial.

Commercial Featuring Sambro Lighthouse, Nova Scotia

14. Sambro Lighthouse is a classified federal heritage building and national historic site

In 1937, a plaque was placed in the village of Sambro designating the light as a national historic site. And in 1996, it received Federal Heritage Review Board Classified status.

That is the highest ranking status for a Canadian Government Heritage Building.

Sambro Lighthouse
Photo credit – The Sambro Lighthouse Heritage Society. 

It was also designated as a protected heritage building in 1997 by the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society.

15. Sambro Lighthouse received a $1,300,000 repair job in 2016

Work was done on the foundation, stonework, inside stairs and walls, exterior shingles, windows, and the lantern. It also received a fresh coat of paint.

Sambro Island Lighthouse repairs
Photo credit – The Sambro Lighthouse Heritage Society. 

It is hoped that these repairs will make the lighthouse even more desirable to tourists and increase interest in its location as a tourist attraction. Here is a short video of the repairs being done.

Video of Sambro Island Lighthouse Repairs 2016

16. Tours to Sambro Lighthouse are offered once a year

The Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society usually offers (during the summer) a guided trip to see Sambro Lighthouse.

You can also visit the Sambro Lighthouse Heritage Society on Facebook and check under events.

17. Sambro Lighthouse has its own $20 silver coin

In 2004, the Royal Canadian Mint issued a silver coin with the image of this iconic lighthouse. See it here.

Sambro Lighthouse Canadian Mint Silver Coin

18. Sambro Lighthouse is a famous round the world departure spot

Joshua Slocum chose this lighthouse as his departure spot on July 3rd, 1895 as he set out for an around the world nautical adventure. This was the first solo trip around the world!

19. Sambro Lighthouse has a permanent stamp

In 2007, Canada Post issued a permanent stamp featuring Sambro Lighthouse. It is one of five in Canada Post’s definitive flag series. The series features five different Canadian lighthouses. Learn more about it here.

In the following image, Sambro Lighthouse is in the top left.

Sambro Lighthouse Canada Post Stamp

Getting to Sambro Lighthouse

  • Body of water: Sambro Channel
  • Scenic Route: Halifax/Dartmouth
  • Address: Sambro Island Lighthouse, Sambro, Nova Scotia

You can’t drive to Sambro Lighthouse, it requires a boat trip. The Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society usually offers (during the summer) a guided trip to see Sambro Lighthouse. You can also visit the Sambro Lighthouse Heritage Society on Facebook and check under events.

Getting to Sambro Lighthouse: To find Sambro Lighthouse click the Directions link on the following map. Click on your current location and the quickest route will be mapped out for you.

Your Turn

Have I missed anything? Please add to this list by commenting on this post. Or if you’ve visited the Sambro Lighthouse, feel free to share your experience with us.

Sambro Island Lighthouse, Nova Scotia
Photo credit – The Sambro Lighthouse Heritage Society

Please don’t forget to share this with your friends on Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for reading!

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  1. My dad was Head lighthouse keeper for a few years, then the Fairservices took over. Thru the Dept. of Education I took correspondence course for grades 2 through 5. I am now 65 & can’t believe the old fish house is still standing!! I remember the new homes when they were built & the fog horn. The fog gun had 360degree range & extremely loud. Would so love to visit again, it was a special part of my life.

  2. I belong to a co-op of artists who manage and display our work at Art 1274 Hollis in downtown Halifax .In honour of Canada’s birthday we are creating lighthouses in way of painting,pottery,fused glass,wood turning and jewelry.
    Our opening is June 29 from 6pm_8pm and thought this might interest you.
    Thank you for your great blog on lighthouses I will certainly make use of it as I plan to visit several locations gathering reference material for my paintings.

  3. Hi Sue,

    Thanks for adding that point. It would be good for Sambro to be transferred to Parks Canada.

    I’m not a reporter. My husband (Bryan) and I produce content marketing for travel brands, you can see what we do at https://storyteller.travel/about/

    Thank you for your help with the photos for this post, for commenting, and for sharing with your FB page. 🙂

  4. Hi! I’m Sue Paul, from the Sambro Island Heritage Society. I just wanted to say this is a great web page! I am going to share this on our FB page and FB group! The only thing that I think was missed was mention of our mission to have the lighthouse transferred from DFO to Parks Canada! In 1967 for our centennial Parks Canada took the Point Clark lighthouse into their inventory. This year for Canada’s 150th birthday celebration, they should take Sambro Island Lighthouse! What a gift to Canadians! Canada needs to start preserving our historic sites before they are all gone! A country without a history cannot claim to have a culture!

    Are you a reporter?

    Thanks for this great page!

    Sue Paul

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