The Lightstation, which is noted by some to be the icon of Yarmouth has a one and a half storey Vernacular style duplex with a one storey shed at basement level at the north end, an enclosed double back entry porch centered on the west side and a full width verandah with a centered, enclosed double entry porch section across the east (front) side.  The medium pitched hipped gable roof has a centered shed roofed wall dormer on the west side and two symmetrically placed shed roofed wall dormers on the east side.  The asymmetrical four bay facade has side facing entrances and an enclosed porch section of verandah.  Most windows have double hung sashes and one over one glazing.  There are paired windows in the dormers and on the gable end walls of the first storey level.  It is made from wood and is shingle clad. 

The Lightstation was constructed in 1912 from a standard Department of Marine and Fisheries Plan to replace the original light keeper's dwelling which was deemed to be inadequate.  In 1995 the Canadian Coast Guard leased the property to the Yarmouth County Tourist Association, since the lightstation had been automated and no longer required a resident light keeper.  The stewardship of the property was given to the Friends of the Yarmouth Light, a non-profit organization whose purpose is to maintain the property as an interpretive centre and museum. On March 1, 2001, Cape Forchu became the first federally owned lightstation to be granted to a Municipal Government, namely the Municipality of Yarmouth.  On August 21, 2001 the Municipality of Yarmouth entered into an agreement with the Friends of the Yarmouth Light for them to carry on as the official stewards of the site, which is visited by thousands of tourists each year.  The Light Tower built behind the dwelling is the prototype of its "apple core" design and was built in 1966, replacing the original wooden structure.  You can find the original lens from the first light at the Yarmouth County Museum and Archives.  More information can be found at www.capeforchulight.com.

The Cape has been welcoming visitors since 1604, when Samuel de Champlain landed and named the area "Cap Forchu", meaning forked tongue of land.  By the mid-nineteenth century the Town of Yarmouth was a booming seaport with vessels coming in and out of the harbor and therefore the Cape was the ideal position for a lighthouse and foghorn.  By 1870 Yarmouth was at its peak and was the second largest port of registry in Canada.  Here the lighthouse could protect vessels both approaching and entering the harbor.  And so the Cape Forchu Light, also commonly known as the Yarmouth Light, was constructed in 1839.  The light itself stood 126 feet above sea level and 91 feet above ground.  In 1869 a fog alarm was installed that sounded with a four-second blast every 26 seconds.  The alarm was kept in another building away from the light,  and in heavy storms the keeper had to make a dangerous march along a narrow, exposed path overlooking cliffs to tend to the fog alarm.  The light in the original tower was lit on January 15th, 1840.

The first lighting apparatus was a kerosene lamp which had to be watched carefully for it could easily go out.  It was later changed to a kerosene-fueled vapour system.  A tank of kerosene was carried up the circular steps every evening, heated until it became a vapour and fed into the mantle.  One light keeper, Herbert Cunningham, said that in his 30 year tenure he climbed the tower stairs at least 47,000 times.  Life as a light keeper became much easier when, in 1940, electricity finally came to the Cape.  It was then replaced in 1962 by a globe made up of a series of prismatic rings of glass; each ring cut at such mathematically precise angles, that as the globe rotated, the light from within refracted and reflected to send rays out over the ocean.  The fundamental theory was simple; a bright light inside a revolving globe.  The white beam of light was visible up to 32 kilometers (20 miles).  The first Cape Forchu lens was built in France by a French physicist named Augustin-Jean Fresnel, who improved the way lighthouses radiated light by replacing mirrors with compound lenses.  These flashes not only warned sailors of impending danger, but actually identified the particular light.  The lens weighed approximately 3300 pounds and was surrounded by a ring of 360 prisms.  The cost was $38,000.00.

The double dwelling at the lightstation is a storey and a half, wood frame structure, built in 1912, and it still stands today. It was constructed from a standard Department of Marine and Fisheries plan which was repeated at a number of stations across the country and painted in the traditional Canadian Coast Guard white with red trim. The storage shed was believed to have been constructed about the same time. The dwelling assumed a role in the Canadian Coast Guard beyond that of a residence. The light itself was automated, but the south side of the residence was used as a central monitoring station for all the lightstations in the southern part of Nova Scotia. The principal keeper lived in the north half of the house and the second keeper occupied a bungalow to the north of the house. The light functioned 24 hours a day. The double dwelling and the shed are now the oldest structures of the site. The bungalow, occupied by the second keeper, and the garage were constructed in the late 1970’s.

In 1961, the old Cape Forchu Lighthouse tower with its majestic beauty was demolished. With timbers so weakened by high winds and rotted by age, it had served its purpose well and it was doubtful whether it would have stood much longer. It had guided mariners safely into Yarmouth Harbour for 122 years. Fortunately, the Yarmouth County Historical Society did manage to obtain the great Fresnel light from the government. Today the Fresnel lens still remains in the museum and is viewed by thousands yearly. The existing lighthouse was erected in 1964 at a cost of $66,000.00.

The new lighthouse was built by Kenney Construction Co. Ltd. of Yarmouth. Today, silhouetted against the sky, stands the 75 foot lighthouse. It was designed by L.E Slaght and it is said to be the first of this type built in Canada. Solidly constructed of concrete eight inches thick and reinforced with 12 tons of steel bars, the unique applecore style lighthouse rises 23 meters above the ground. The lighthouse’s one-million candlepower beam could be seen over 30 nautical miles out to sea. The applecore style is the prototype for its kind in the world, and was so named because of its resemblance to an applecore. The tower was built in this slender shape to withstand the power of the wind. The narrow shape, measuring only 5 feet [1.5 meters] in diameter, allows the wind to travel around the tower instead of against it. A spiral stairway winds its way to the top; no visitors are permitted inside because of the limited space. At the peak, its hexagonal shape flares outward like an inverted cone. On the top of the cone is a lantern 10 feet in diameter which encloses the light, and on the outside a 2 ½ foot wide walkway.

The current light is produced by an automated 250-watt bulb. The revolving light can be seen 10 miles further out to sea than the old one. Operation is completely automatic, even to the changing of the burned out bulbs. The present day fog alarm is electric. Basically, all it takes to operate manually is the push of a button.

In 1980, Cape Forchu became the monitoring station for automated lighthouses on the South Shore, using the Intrac 2000 system. In fact, it had several light keepers who oversaw the system’s sophisticated monitor that kept an electronic eye on other lighthouses operating in the area. While this state of the art equipment could monitor up to 64 unstaffed lighthouses, about 20 other light houses were actually controlled by the Cape Forchu system. In 1993, Cape Forchu was automated and de-staffed. Monitoring was transferred to L’Etete, New Brunswick.

In the mid 1990’s it became apparent that lighthouses were being de-commissioned and were in great danger of being demolished. Petitions were distributed in support of the light and the first meeting of the Friends of the Yarmouth Light Society committee and the public was held on January 17, 1996. The founding members of the society were Nancy Knowles, Joan Jenkins, Joan Thibault, Dawn-Marie Skjelmose, Mauritta Fevens, and Linda Campbell. 

For nearly two centuries, the Light had endured nature’s power, but a modern day problem threatened its existence. In March 2000, the Canadian Coast Guard found lead paint after an environmental assessment, and put a lock on the gate to the site. The assessment was required prior to the advance transfer of the lightstation from the Coast Guard to the Municipality of Yarmouth. Public access to some parts of the site would be restricted and might jeopardize the May 22nd, 2000 season opening. But in December of that same year, the provincial standards governing disposal of contaminated soil were taken off the hazardous waste list regulations and the soil was allowed to be disposed of in municipal landfills. The approximate cost of the cleanup: $168,000.00.

On June 1, 2000, it became the first operating lightstation in Canadian history to be transferred to a municipality by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans under the Alternative Use Program. The proposed agreement concluded that the lightstation be transferred to the municipality for one dollar in exchange for the delivery of services. The agreement also set out the municipality’s responsibility to undertake a cleanup of environmental contaminants on the site. The Municipality of the District of Yarmouth, through a property lease, entrusted the care of the site to the Friends of the Yarmouth Light Society. This transfer was the first of its kind and was being watched by lighthouse preservation societies across the country.

In 2003, the Cape Forchu Lightstation was designated by the Province of Nova Scotia as a Registered Heritage Property

Today, the Cape Forchu Lightstation is a significant tourism draw. The light itself, the 19 acres of well groomed grounds, the view of Yarmouth’s working harbour and the drive to the Cape through the very heart of an active fishing community, are all emblematic of Nova Scotia’s coastal heritage. The tower stands as a proud symbol of dedication and service and maintains a 169 year old tradition of guiding vessels in and out of Yarmouth Harbour.  It is truly a Historical Landmark. As the light shines the way across the water, we are reminded of our historic and economic ties to the sea….