Something seems not quite right about the St. Paul’s Island lighthouse. For starters, it’s not on Saint Paul’s Island. It’s at the side of the road, not the edge of the ocean. It’s made of metal, not concrete. And, it’s barely two stories tall. In fact, I suppose, everything seems not quite right about it. But that’s why there’s a museum next-door, to make sense of it all.
St. Paul’s Island Lighthouse is located in the town of Dingwall, about 3 kilometers from the Cabot Trail, on the north side of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.
So, let’s clear up a few things. St. Paul’s Island is located about 24 kilometers north of the northern end of Cape Breton. It’s even further from Dingwall, but you can see it on the horizon on a clear day. The lighthouse that now stands in Dingwall was one of two that was positioned on St. Paul’s Island, to protect against shipwrecks in the channel between Cape Breton Island and Newfoundland. It was originally put into service in 1915, and it was moved to Dingwall in 2010, for the purpose of preserving it.
When I saw it, I figured they just moved the top part of it. But no, it turns out this is the whole thing. Its original perch atop some high rocks allowed for the lighthouse itself to be quite diminutive. And rather than having the thick concrete walls of a normal lighthouse, this one was built out of cast iron.
If you’d like to climb up to the top of the lighthouse, you should first go into the museum, which is in the house next-door. Admission is free but donations are welcome. Chances are, you’ll find an enthusiastic volunteer who can tell you every fact imaginable about the history of this light and the other one on St. Paul’s Island. Eventually, you’ll get to go out to the lighthouse itself, climb the stairs…
… and take an up-close look at the lens.
I must admit, I was hoping for a shorter visit than the one I experienced. After several days filled with hiking, including a challenging trail earlier this day, had left me feeling somewhat wiped out. By the time my guide took me up to the very warm top of the lighthouse, I was looking for an escape. Fortunately, some other visitors wandered in, and I politely handed the presentation over to them.
I don’t say any of this to be critical – everything was very interesting and the volunteer was very friendly. But, you might want to go in with a game plan. Maybe start by saying, “I only have about ten minutes… ” and you’ll avoid the awkwardness that comes with an extended tour of the museum.
The rest of Dingwall is worth some exploration, as well. It’s a nice little oceanfront community with some great views of the Atlantic Ocean. But, after a week of overdoing it every day, I didn’t have the energy to invest much more time in Dingwall.
Instead, I decided to drive up to Meat Cove. It’s as far as you can drive on the north end of Cape Breton Island, and it’s how I ended my 7th day of the trip.
Here’s a look at the drive from Dingwall to Ingonish:
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The Bottom Line
You should definitely drive out to Dingwall, and stop at the lighthouse museum if you have the time. If you’re interested in every historical detail that’s recorded in the museum, you could easily be there for an hour or more. If you’re only interested in a short visit, have a plan, and try not to end up in an awkward situation.