Cape Spear

Coordinates: 47°31′25″N 52°37′10″W / 47.52361°N 52.61944°W / 47.52361; -52.61944
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Cape Spear
Cape Spear is located in Newfoundland
Cape Spear
Cape Spear
Location of Cape Spear in Newfoundland
Cape Spear is located in Canada
Cape Spear
Cape Spear
Location of Cape Spear in Canada
Cape Spear is located in North America
Cape Spear
Cape Spear
Location of Cape Spear in North America
Coordinates: 47°31′25″N 52°37′10″W / 47.52361°N 52.61944°W / 47.52361; -52.61944
LocationNewfoundland, Canada
Elevation75 m (246 ft)
Current light Edit this at Wikidata
Constructed1955 Edit this on Wikidata
Constructionconcrete Edit this on Wikidata
Height13.7 m (45 ft) Edit this on Wikidata
Markingswhite (tower), white (lantern), red (guard rail) Edit this on Wikidata
OperatorParks Canada Edit this on Wikidata
Heritagerecognized federal heritage building of Canada Edit this on Wikidata
Focal height71 m (233 ft) Edit this on Wikidata
Range20 nmi (37 km; 23 mi) Edit this on Wikidata
CharacteristicFl(3) W 15s Edit this on Wikidata
Original light[2] Edit this at Wikidata
Constructed1836 Edit this on Wikidata
Constructionlimestone Edit this on Wikidata
Markingswhite (tower), white (lantern), red and white (dome) Edit this on Wikidata
Heritagenational Historic Sites of Canada, classified federal heritage building of Canada, heritage lighthouse Edit this on Wikidata
Deactivated1955 Edit this on Wikidata

Cape Spear (French: Cap d'Espoir) is a headland located on the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland near St. John's in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. At a longitude of 52°37' W, it is the easternmost point in Canada and North America, excluding Greenland.[1]

Cape Spear is within the municipal boundaries of the city of St. John's, located about 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) from downtown St. John's.[3]

The Portuguese named this location Cabo da Esperança, meaning "cape of hope", which became Cap d'Espoir in French and finally "Cape Spear".

Cape Spear is the trailhead/trail end for two components of the East Coast Trail.[4]


The Cape Spear region[clarification needed] was originally inhabited by Beothuk peoples.[5] Additionally, Mi'kmaq communities practiced a non-sedentary presence in the area,[which?][5][6] harvesting subsistence resources on a temporary basis prior to permanent residency at settlements such as St. George's Bay and Conne River from the nineteenth century onwards.[6] In contrast to European settlers who viewed the cape as a place of significance as the easternmost point in Canada, there is no known archaeological evidence to indicate that Cape Spear was viewed by local Indigenous communities as a place of symbolic geographical importance.[5] According to Fife and Roseman, historically there are "no indications that either the Beothuk or the Mi'kmaq equated Cape Spear with a 'land's end' that was meaningful to them."[5]

World War II[edit]

World War II battery

Because of its proximity to convoy routes during the Second World War, a Canadian-manned gun battery including two Lend-Lease ex-US 10-inch M1888 guns on disappearing carriages was installed at Cape Spear to defend the entrance to St. John's harbor. Barracks and underground passages leading to the bunkers were built for the use of troops stationed there. The gun barrels remain in place.[7][8] The bunkers and gun barrels that are located at the site afford a sheltered view of the ocean.


A lighthouse has operated at Cape Spear since September 1836. The original Cape Spear lighthouse was the second lighthouse built in Newfoundland; the first was built in 1810 at Fort Amherst, at the entrance to St. John's Harbour. In 1832, the first legislative assembly for the colony created a lighthouse board. Cape Spear was chosen as the site for a new lighthouse because it was on the rocky eastern coast near the entrance to St. John's harbor.

Nicholas Croke and William Parker, two St. John's builders, won the contract for the lighthouse and work began in 1834 or early in 1835.[9] The first lighthouse was a square wooden building with a tower in the middle containing the light. A foghorn was added in 1878. The first light used at Cape Spear had already been used since 1815 at a lighthouse on Inchkeith on the east coast of Scotland. The original light used seven Argand burners and curved reflectors. This was later replaced by a dioptric lens system; the light was first lit by oil, then acetylene, and finally electricity in 1930.

A new concrete lighthouse was built in 1955, and the original light was moved to the new building.[3]


In 1835, dense fog enveloped an approaching warship carrying a VIP visitor to St. John's. The Governor sent out several pilot boats, and a young harbour pilot names James Cantwell succeeded in locating the ship and guiding it safely into harbour. Asked what reward he would like, he requested the job of keeper at the Cape Spear lighthouse, then under construction. It had been promised to another man, Emmanuel Warre, but when Warre died ten years later Cantwell became the second keeper. He served for 35 years; his son Dennis, who had been his assistant, later took over and, with two intermissions, the Cantwell family kept the Cape Spear light for over 150 years.[10]

List of Keepers[11]
Name Years
Emanuel Warre 1836–1846
James Cantwell 1846–1879
Austin Oke Sheppard 1880–1886
Dennis Cantwell 1886–1909
James Cantwell 1909–1918
William Cantwell 1918–1925
Jack Cantwell 1925–1939
Weston Cantwell 1939–1944
Frank Cantwell 1944–1965
Martin Hefferan 1965–1982
Gerald Cantwell 1982–1997

National Historic Site[edit]

The original Cape Spear lighthouse is the oldest surviving lighthouse in Newfoundland and the location has been designated a National Historic Site of Canada.[12] The original lighthouse building and the lightkeeper's residence have been restored to the period of 1839, and are open to the public. The visitor centre includes a gift shop. The lighthouse was designated under the federal Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act in June 2016.[13]

Some visitors attracted by the scenery and history have been swept away by the large and unpredictable waves at Cape Spear, prompting Parks Canada to post numerous warning signs in the area.

Radar Station[edit]

Cape Spear Radar Station
Part of United States General Surveillance Radar
Emblem of the 685th Air Warning Squadron
TypeRadar Station
Site information
Controlled byNewfoundland Base Command
Site history
Built byUnited States Army
In use1943-1945
Garrison information
Garrison685th Air Warning Company

Cape Spear Radar Station (Prime) was a United States Army General Surveillance Ground Radar Early Warning Station in the Dominion of Newfoundland.[14][15] It was built during World War II and responsible for monitoring air traffic from RCAF Torbay and into the Atlantic Ocean.[16][17][18][19] It was closed in 1945.[20]

The site was established in 1942 as a United States Ground Radar Early Warning Station, funded by the United States Army,[21] which stationed the 685th Air Warning Company on the site under operational control of Newfoundland Base Command at Pepperrell Air Force Base.[22][23] Three officers and 49 enlisted men of the 685th were assigned to Cape Spear.[24] It operated an SCR-271 manned Early-warning radar with information sent to a plotting center at Pepperrell AFB to track aircraft. The station was assigned to Royal Canadian Air Force in November 1944, and was given designation "No 42 RU". The RCAF operated the station until 20 June, 1945.[25]

United States Army Air Forces units and assignments[edit]


Inactivated November 1944


See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Environment Canada – Parks, Cape Spear National Historic Park brochure, 1986.


  1. ^ a b Staveley, Michael (February 6, 2006). "Cape Spear". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
  2. ^ Rowlett, Russ. "Lighthouses of Canada: Southeastern Newfoundland". The Lighthouse Directory. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved December 30, 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site". Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
  4. ^ Brown, David; Findlay, Arthur (2008). 501 Must-Take Journeys. Octopus Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-7537-1592-5.
  5. ^ a b c d Fife, Wayne; Roseman, Sharon R. "Where North America Ends," The Tourism Imaginary and Pilgrimages to the Edges of the World. Tourism and Cultural Change, vol. 44. Channel View Publications, 2015. Web. p.143-144. Retrieved from Google Books; March 12, 2017. ISBN 9781845415235
  6. ^ a b Martijn, Charles A. "Early Mikmaq Presence in Southern Newfoundland: An Ethnohistorical Perspective, c.1500-1763". Vol. 19, No 1: The New Early Modern Newfoundland: Part 2, Newfoundland and Labrador Studies. St. John's, Newfoundland: Memorial University, 2003. Web. n. pag. Retrieved March 12, 2017. ISSN 1715-1430
  7. ^ Berhow, Mark A., ed. (2015). American Seacoast Defenses, A Reference Guide (Third ed.). McLean, Virginia: CDSG Press. p. 225. ISBN 978-0-9748167-3-9.
  8. ^ "Defenses in Newfoundland, Canada". Coast Defense Study Group. May 24, 2016.
  9. ^ "Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site of Canada". Parks Canada. Retrieved June 26, 2014.
  10. ^ Molloy, David (1994). The First Landfall - Historic Lighthouses of Newfoundland and Labrador. Breakwater. p. 53. ISBN 1550810960.
  11. ^ Cape Spear Lighthouse Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine Lighthouse Friends
  12. ^ Cape Spear Lighthouse. Canadian Register of Historic Places. Retrieved July 1, 2012.
  13. ^ "Cape Spear Lighthouse Receives Heritage Lighthouse Designation". News, Government of Canada. Government of Canada. June 30, 2016. Archived from the original on March 30, 2017. Retrieved March 29, 2017. Cape Spear Lighthouse is one of 76 lighthouses from across Canada to be designated since the Act was adopted in 2008, with more designations to come.
  14. ^ "Searching the Skies, The Legacy of the United States Cold War Defense Radar Program" (PDF).
  15. ^ "Cape Spear Battery - FortWiki Historic U.S. And Canadian Forts".
  16. ^ Cardoulis, John N (1990). A Friendly Invasion (The American Military in Newfoundland: 1940-1990). St John's: Breakwater Books Ltd. p. 25. ISBN 0-920911-85-4.
  17. ^ "Fort Cape Spear - Cape Spear, Newfoundland and Labrador - Historic Forts on".
  18. ^ "The CADIN Pinetree Line Locations".
  19. ^ Smallwood, Joseph R (1981). Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador (PDF). St John's: Newfoundland Book Publishers (1967) Ltd. p. 340. ISBN 0920508146. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 21, 2023. Retrieved July 3, 2023.
  20. ^ "Other American Stations".
  21. ^ "A Handbook of Aerospace Defense Organization 1946 - 1980" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on February 13, 2016. Retrieved July 3, 2023.
  22. ^ Group, NBC (1997). A History of the Air Defence of Canada 1948-1997. Washington, DC: Commander Fighter Group. p. 148. ISBN 0-9681973-0-2.
  23. ^ "Newfoundland Forts".
  24. ^ "Cape Spear, NF".
  25. ^ "Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on February 21, 2023. Retrieved July 3, 2023.

Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency.

  • Cornett, Lloyd H. and Johnson, Mildred W., A Handbook of Aerospace Defense Organization 1946 - 1980,[1] Archived February 13, 2016, at the Wayback Machine Office of History, Aerospace Defense Center, Peterson AFB, CO (1980)

External links[edit]

47°31′25″N 52°37′10″W / 47.52361°N 52.61944°W / 47.52361; -52.61944