The yellow glare of kerosene light, and the boom of air-powered foghorn - they’re the sights and sounds of the old coast. Before electricity and automation brought high-powered light bulbs and electronic fog signals to lightstations around the world, mariners relied on the flash of oil lamps and the rush of air through seaward-pointing fog trumpets to warn them of the hidden dangers of reef and rock.
It’s been decades since keepers and their families stood nightly vigils in towers and foghorn buildings, but for a couple of hours on a foggy March night in Halifax, the blare of horns and the wink of little kerosene lights made a reappearance on the Nova Scotia coast.
As part of the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society’s monthly lighthouse program, the society, with the help of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, helped bring beacons and fog signals of old to life. Visitors to the museum’s Small Craft Gallery were treated to two century’s-worth of lighthouse technology, including lenses, oil lamps, reflectors, and horns of all shapes and sounds.
The program began with the resounding blasts of an “Airchime” diaphragm air foghorn, a Canadian-designed and manufactured horn still in use at a handful of Canadian lightstations. Visitors also had the chance to crank a hand foghorn—and gain a little appreciation for the lightkeepers (and their kids) who spent hours in the damp embrace of foggy days and nights, pumping away to guide fishing boats and coastal freighters into ports up and down the Nova Scotia coast.
Lighthouse afficionados and a few ex-keepers were also on hand to explain the workings of kerosene vapor burners, Fresnel lenses and diaphones. And as a modern 400mm Tidelands lens sent beams of light around the gallery, a little seventh order Chance Brothers lens quietly spread its kerosene-powered glow over the crowd.
Out on Halifax Harbor, a tanker blew a throaty warning on its foghorn. It was a perfect moment, as light and sound combined to recall the glory days of lighthouses on the Nova Scotia coast.
This story appeared in the
November 2003 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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