Keeper of the light

Jeff Elliott
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Newfoundland’s first principal female lightkeeper tends to 100-year-old lighthouse

Flower’s Coves Jaye Roberts, the first principal female lightkeeper in Newfoundland, stands in front of the lighthouse in New Ferolle. This year marks the 100th since it was built. — TC Media photo

Jaye Roberts’ memories of lighthouses go back a long way.

“I remember climbing the stairs with my grandfather, carrying a can of oil and having to actually light the light,” she says.

That was a long time ago in the light station on Bell Island, where her granddad was principal keeper for 42 years.

Roberts picked up her forefather’s legacy eight years ago, when she became principal keeper at the New Ferolle lighthouse, a 51-foot-tall hexagonal tower with six buttresses that juts out into the Strait of Belle Isle at the end of the Ferolle Peninsula.

She’s the only woman to achieve the title in Newfoundland.

“It’s not like the way it was when my grandfather was doing this,” she said, reiterating a comment that was directed her way recently. “It is pretty much maintenance now, but the fishermen still have a little bit of security knowing that the station is there.”

Roberts, who has been employed by the Canadian Coast Guard and DFO for 25 years, works on a rotational basis at the lighthouse, transitioning between the station and her home in Flower’s Cove.

Established in this province during the early 1800s, lighthouses were built to provide a guidepost to mariners at sea, bridging the gap between ships and shore. They worked in isolated areas, in harsh weather conditions, to provide safe guidance.

Such services have since been modernized and enhanced, with all light stations being fitted with solarized equipment that requires minimal human intervention.

Regardless of technological advancements, Roberts’ list of work objectives, tacked to the wall of a tiny nearby structure that serves as her office, are still quite extensive.

When she isn’t performing routine running maintenance on light station equipment and systems, she’s acting as on-site security and management.

During the in-between, she’s taking periodic observations of marine weather conditions, making note of the state of the sea, the height of the waves and measuring barometric pressure.

There’s a lot of nurturing involved, she implied, when caring for a tower that just turned 100 years old.

The Canadian government began work on the lighthouse in 1911, along with a fog alarm building, a double dwelling for the keepers, an oil house and a combined boathouse and storehouse.

The station was completed in 1913 and inhabited for three generations by the Beaudoin family.

Originally installed with a third-order Fresnel lens, which produced a group of four flashes every 7.5 seconds, the station was converted to generated electricity in 1967.

The station’s most recent refurbishment took place seven years ago, with necessary sandblasting and a recalibration of the light.

Five years later, all of the original mercury was finally extracted.

It’s gone through plenty of alterations since its conception and now all that remains on the weathered point is a small office, a modernized foghorn, the original lighthouse and its keeper.

The Northern Pen

Organizations: Canadian Coast Guard

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Bell Island

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