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Women lightkeepers, heroes by the sea

Imagine the solitary life of a lighthouse keeper: working alone in a remote location, throughout the night and during storms, always making sure that the light never goes out. Add to that being a grieving widow, or a person caring for an ailing spouse or young children. Such was the life for Canada’s women lightkeepers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Officially, lightkeepers were usually men but, in reality, the whole family helped to keep the lights going. As the position was awarded for life, when a lightkeeper passed away, someone had to immediately take over. That person was often the lightkeeper’s wife or child because they were already in place and had the knowledge and experience to operate the light. As such, there were several women lightkeepers across the country throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The life of a lightkeeper was a challenging one. They dealt with isolation and challenging weather conditions, and needed to be constantly vigilant. Women lightkeepers worked tirelessly and often in solitude. They were not only responsible for the well-being of their own families, but also for the safety of mariners.

Library and Archives Canada holds an extensive collection of documents related to lighthouses and lightkeepers. As part of International Women’s Day on March 8, we shine a light on Canada’s women lightkeepers and invite you to explore a sample of documents and images that illuminate their challenging lives and contributions to maritime life in Canada. We invite you to use our Co-Lab tool to transcribe, tag, translate and describe these digitized records from our collection.