Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site - Historic Places Days

Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site

St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
1914 - 1930 Black Head Road, St. John's, NL
Get directions


On Canada’s most easterly point of land, the oldest surviving lighthouse in Newfoundland and Labrador offers a glimpse into the lives of 19th century lighthouse keepers and their families. Marvel at icebergs, migrating whales, and hunting seabirds on this rough Atlantic coast.

Notes from "Familiar landmarks: heritage lighthouses in Canada"

A glimmer of hope at Cape Spear

During Historic Places Days, from 8 July 2023, let yourself be guided by the stories of lighthouses and the families who have occupied them. These familiar landmarks have a lot to tell!


During the day of November 16th, 1861, the ships Salmah and Harriet were forced to wait at anchor between Cape Spear and the entrance to St. John’s Harbour after heavy seas prevented them from entering the port. Watching from shore, Lightkeeper and former harbour pilot James Cantwell, very familiar with the weather in the area, became worried that if the wind shifted to the Northeast, the two ships would be blown around on the Cape. Very soon his worse fears came true: as the wind turned North Easterly, the two ships started dragging their anchors. The Salmah was saved by a steam tug, but the Harriet was doomed. At dawn she ran around on the unforgiving rocky shores of Cape Spear


Fighting the elements and huge personal dangers, the lighthouse keeper and his assistant, James and Dennis Cantwell, worked their way out onto the rocks with ropes for the crewmen to tight onto themselves. There efforts were made even more dangerous as the cargo of the Harriet broke loose, adding huge barrels of pork and flower to the already considerable dangers on a ground, sinking ship.


The Cantwell’s then pulled the crew one at a time ashore. The crew were in terrible shape. They were hypothermic and many were wounded. While the rescue was still ongoing, Elizabeth Cantwell started administering first aid and moved the survivors into her home, the lighthouse. An article reporting the rescue stated that if the Cantwell’s had “…been less active or less skillful in rendering assistance, not on of the poor fellows would have been rescued.”


Keeping a lighthouse like Cape Spear is not the responsibility of a single keeper: it is a family vocation. Without the dedication of each Cantwell, how many families would have mourned the loss of their loved ones?


  • Family-Friendly
  • Guided Tour
  • National Historic Site
  • Parking
  • Pet-Friendly
  • Washrooms
  • Wheelchair Access


1914 - 1930 Black Head Road, St. John's, NL
Get directions

Nearby Places

Blackhead One Room School and Church Museum

St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
Located in Blackhead Village is this beautifully restored 1879 one room school and church.
View Place | Get Directions

Signal Hill National Historic Site

St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
Site where Guglielmo Marconi received the world’s first transatlantic wireless signal.
View Place | Get Directions

Railway Coastal Museum

St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
The Railway Coastal Museum tells the fascinating story of the Newfoundland Railway.
View Place | Get Directions

Newfoundland & Labrador Pharmacy Museum

St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
Museum dedicated to pharmacy and health care practices in Newfoundland & Labrador.
View Place | Get Directions

Popular VisitLists Including "Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site"

My Lighthouse list!

Amherstburg, Ontario to Grand Manan, New Brunswick 20 places
Lighthouses. Everyone needs a beacon of light once in a while!
View VisitList

Virtual road trip – Canada from coast to coast to coast

Gjoa Haven, Nunavut to 9 places
Dreaming of taking a “road trip” across Canada, from the red sands of Prince Edward Island to the lush green parks of British Columbia? This is the perfect opportunity to travel virtually! The Parks Canada Youth Ambassadors are proud to present their virtual visit list, “Canada from coast to coast to coast”. These national historic […]
View VisitList

Historical Places You Need to Visit in Every Province

Prince George, British Columbia to Dawson City, Yukon 11 places
A trip across Canada would not be complete without visiting Canadian Historical Landmarks.
View VisitList

Military History of Atlantic Canada

Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia to Torbay, Newfoundland and Labrador 39 places
Some of the places that connect to the complex military history of Canada and the world
View VisitList

Following "Familiar landmarks: heritage lighthouses in Canada"

Back to the VisitList

Stories about Canadian heritage lighthouses, their keepers and families.

Register A Place

Create an account to add your historic place.

Make a VisitList

Welcome! To get started on a VisitList, you’ll need to have an account with #HistoricPlacesDays.

Already have an account? to sign in.
We use your contact information to process your registration and correspond with you about the National Trust and its programs. You can unsubscribe at any time. We care about your privacy. Read our privacy statement.

Sign In

Sites that participate in #HistoricPlacesDays need to have an account.

Welcome! To get started on a new VisitList or to edit an existing one, you’ll need to have an account with #HistoricPlacesDays. Sign in below!

Not registered? Click here to create an account.

Forgot Password

Enter your email address to request a password reset.

to sign in.

Get the latest scoop on everything #HistoricPlacesDays – join our e-newsletter and never miss a beat.