From the candle to the light bulb: illuminating ideas!

From the candle to the light bulb: illuminating ideas!

Illustration: A happy fireside
Source: Bibliothèque et Archives Canada/C-058599

During the 19th century, numerous inventions significantly increased the efficiency of lighting in streets and homes, greatly enhancing the security of nocturnal life and making entertainment and even work at night possible. Then, in the 20th century, electricity almost made people forget what living in the dark was like. What a revolution – and over such a brief period of time!

This new series of chronicles invites you to discover the captivating history of lighting, from the modest tools used by those who first arrived in the St. Lawrence River valley to the modern light systems developed now, in the 21st century.

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First episode
Lighting under the French Regime
Lighting under the French Regime

Aquarelle: Un menuet canadien
Source: Bibliothèque et Archives Canada/e001201248

During pre-history, the first means of lighting used by humankind was, quite simply, a burning log. If it contained resin, it would give off a very bright light. Early people, who were quite clever, soon learned to soak logs in resin before setting them on fire. In this way, the wood burned little, yet served as a sort of “wick” to hold the fuel. Animal fat lamps and candles were the descendants of the first torches.

During the time of New France, they were still the principal means of lighting used, complementing the lighting produced by stoves and fireplaces.

The most common lamp during the French Regime was the “bec-de-corbeau” (raven’s beak) lamp. This lamp consisted of a container that could hold a small amount of animal fat in which an extended part held a wick. This lamp was generally made of a material that conducted heat, such as iron, so that solid tallow would liquefy and than move along the wick. Oil from fish, seals, whales and porpoises could also be used as fuel. A “bec-de-corbeau” (raven’s beak) lamp that was equipped with a slender rod and a hook could be hung from a beam. The “Betty” lamp was a modified version of this lamp, with a closed container. Such lamps were economic, but inefficient and dirty since the fuel tended to splatter from the wick. To solve this problem, certain lamps were equipped with devices that served to collect drips.

Much safer that the lamp, the candle (called a bougie in New France) provided a solid fuel rather than a liquid one and, as a result, there was no possibility of spills. Candles were generally made of tallow, although they could also be made from bee's wax. There were two methods for making candles from tallow. The first involved dipping wicks, which were tied to a stick, into liquid tallow. Once the materials had cooled, the operation would be started over again, and repeated until the candles reached the desired dimension. The second method involved pouring the tallow into tin molds in which a wick had first been placed. The molds could be either individual or arranged in groups of two, four or six. Although most of the settlers made their own candles, it was also possible to buy some from those who made candle-making their trade, the chandlers and the taper makers.

When it came time to use the candles, they could be stood on almost any surface, with the help of a little melted wax, or impaled on nails. Nevertheless, it was always safer to use candlesticks or candelabra. Candlesticks consisted of plates designed to hold a single candle either on a metal spike or in a drip pan. They were often equipped with a handle. Candlesticks with a long stem were referred to as “martinets” in New France. Candelabras consisted of a foot, a stem and a drip pan. They could have one or more branches. Some candelabras were installed on walls while others would be suspended from the ceiling, like chandeliers. The pieces of crystal that were occasionally used to decorate chandeliers also served to increase the power of the light through refraction.

In order to maintain a good degree of light throughout burning, it was important to cut the burned portion of the wick in lamps and candles on a regular basis, using wick trimmers. When the wick is thin and too long, the candles do not burn as well, and tend to drip and smoke more. Candles could be put out with a candle snuffer, namely a cone-shaped instrument used to suffocate the flame.

The candle, which was a big part of daily life, was the object of several superstitions. It was said, for example, that a candle that wept announced a disappointment and that a candle whose flames leapt meant that a soul in purgatory needed prayers. It was also believed that placing your throat between two tapers, on St. Blaise's day, would protect you from sore throats.

Candles and animal fat lamps were used in Quebec until the 19th century. However, as a result of the increased need for lighting during the industrial period, people experimented with new types of fuel and introduced a variety of improvements. To learn more about this lighting revolution, we invite you to return on August 5, 2008.

  • LEMIEUX, Germain. La Vie paysanne, 1860-1900. Sudbury, Éditions Prise de parole; Laval, Éditions FM, 1982. 239 pages.
  • LESSARD, Michel et Huguette Marquis. Encyclopédie des antiquités du Québec: trois siècles de production artisanale. Montréal: Editions de l'Homme, 1971. 526 pages.
  • POMERLEAU, Jeanne. Arts et métiers de nos ancêtres, 1650-1950. Montréal, Guérin littérature, 1994. 507 pages.
  • PROVENCHER, Jean. C'était l'hiver. La vie traditionnelle rurale dans la vallée du Saint-Laurent. Montréal, Boréal,1986. 278 pages.
  • SCHIVELBUSCH, Wolfgang. La nuit désenchantée: à propos de l'histoire de l'éclairage artificiel au XIXth century. [Paris], Gallimard, 1993. 199 pages.
  • WOODHEAD, E. I. et al., Appareils d'éclairage: collection de référence nationale, Parcs Canada, Ottawa, Parcs Canada, Direction des lieux et des parcs historiques nationaux, 1984. 103 pages.

Second episode
Lighting in the 19th century: a revolution!

Lighting in the 19<sup>th</sup> century:  a revolution!With industrialization, in the 19th century, the need for lighting increased. In the large cities, factories operated long hours, both day and night, and more and more people wanted to read, write and meet at all times of the day. In order to satisfy this increasing demand, lighting equipment was modernized, thereby revolutionizing the century. Finally, the night could be lit up.

In the hope of creating lamps that could burn longer, people first took an interest in fuel. They discovered that installing the oil container above or beside the burner could serve to avoid the difficulties encountered by a constantly dropping oil level. In fact, when the oil is provided by gravity, all you have to do is control the flow in order to obtain a continuous supply. This idea, which was developed in the Middle Ages, was used over and over again by numerous lamp developers in the 19th century. Other inventors opted to carry the oil to the wick, using pumps, clockwork mechanisms or simply water pressure.

Such innovations did not, however, increase the amount of light cast by lamps. In this respect, the real change occurred at the end of the 18th century when Ami Argand, a physicist from Geneva, developed his “double air current” lamp, which produced light equivalent to 10 or 12 candles. In order to increase the area of the wick and improve oxygenation, he used a wick shaped like a long tube. This wick was inserted between two metal cylinders placed inside one another. The interior cylinder served to circulate the air to the centre of the flame. Argand also discovered that a glass chimney around the flame increased the light intensity while protecting the flame from air currents. Moreover, he invented a device to raise or lower the wick, in order to control light intensity. Following these inventions, a series of adjustments was made to lamps, but the basics were already in place.

In the 19th century, new fuels were also developed, intended to be accessible to all and more practical. One of them, called “burning fluid”, was a mixture of alcohol and turpentine that was rather dangerous. It was soon replaced by fuels produced by distilling petroleum. In 1846, kerosene or lamp oil was invented by Canadian Abraham Gesner and, at around the same time, liquid paraffin was developed by James Young of England. These new fuels were in use in Canada as of 1860, during the same period when oil wells proliferated throughout the country. The kerosene lamps were very similar to the oil lamps, with a few adjustments. Made of porcelain, copper or glass, they could be very elegant. Another fuel developed in the 19th century that could be used for lighting was an inflammable gas. This gas could be produced artificially or collected from natural sources. In Canada, in the large cities such as Montreal, Quebec and Toronto, gas distribution services were offered as of 1840. Gas was used to light public buildings, streets and a few homes.

These new lamps had a very short-lived reign. With the advent of the 20th century, they were eclipsed by electricity. The first light bulb presented to the public was the one developed by Joseph Swan, an Englishman, in 1878. Using electricity, the filament it contained was heated to incandescence, producing light. One year later, Edison managed to create a vacuum in a glass light bulb and, using a cotton thread, his lamp remained lit for more than 45 hours. After conducting several experiments to find the best material for the filament, tungsten was finally retained, in about 1910, because it resisted heat well. In order to extend the life of light bulbs, they were filled with a rare gas, argon, which delays the combustion of the filament. The inside of the bulb was also made opaque so as to obtain light that was less blinding. Canadians discovered electrical lighting as the electrical network was developed, at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries.

The lighting devices used in homes have evolved significantly since the time of the French Regime. The same applies to lighting means used outside. To learn more about lanterns and other portable lamps, we invite you to return on September 16, 2008.

  • DÉRIBÉRÉ, Maurice et Paulette Déribéré. Préhistoire et histoire de la lumière. Paris, France-Empire, 1979. 299 pages.
  • JOLY, Dominique. L'ampoule électrique: et la lumière fut. Tournai, Casterman, 1992. 45 pages.
  • LESSARD, Michel et Huguette Marquis. Encyclopédie des antiquités du Québec: trois siècles de production artisanale. Montréal, Éditions de l'Homme, 1971. 526 pages.
  • MAHOT, Bernard. Les lampes à huile. Paris, Massin, 2005. 233 pages.
  • MAHOT, Bernard. Les lampes à pétrole: l'éclairage de nos aïeux. Paris, Massin, 2006. 237 pages.
  • WOODHEAD, Eileen, Catherine Sullivan et Gérard Gusset. Appareils d'éclairage: collection de référence nationale, Parcs Canada. Ottawa, Parcs Canada, Direction des lieux et des parcs historiques nationaux, 1984. 103 pages.

Third episode
Lighting to go
Lighting to go

Photographie: Le garde-freins balance sa lanterne aLate de donner le «feu vert» au train, 1943
Source: Bibliothèque et Archives Canada/Crédit: Nicholas Morant/e000761160

For thousands of years, people who wanted to adventure outside in the middle of the night demonstrated a great deal of ingenuity when it came to lighting their way. The first “flashlights”, of course, were torches. They would be made with one or more tree branches, coated with a fuel such as fat, pitch or resin.

The first lanterns that could be used to carry candles and lamps that used liquid fuel appeared in the Middle Ages. These means of lighting provided new possibilities for outdoor lighting. For example, in New France, the candle lantern was very common. Generally round, it was made from a sheet of tin plate with a cut-out design. This type of lantern was particularly good for carrying light. When someone wanted to sit down and make the most of the light, they would open the lantern door or place the candle on a dowel fixed on top of it.

The cresset, was a piece of tin plate, copper or bronze topped with a transparent material such as a horn, ivory oiled paper, talc, pig’s bladder, parchment. In the 16th century, people started using glass. The lantern could be square or round. In order to allow air to circulate, holes were made in the bottom of the lantern and there would be an opening at the top to allow the smoke out.

In the middle of the 18th century, the bull’s eye lamp was developed. Its convex glass lens concentrated the light, making it more intense. Other, prettily decorated lamps were made by gold and silver smiths for religious ceremonies. Symbolizing divinity and adding to the splendor of processions, they were used for the feasts of Corpus Christi and St. Mark, among others.

With the development of oil lamps in the 19th century, lanterns underwent a transformation. For example, the kerosene lantern was developed after 1870. It looked like an interior lamp with a globe, which was not as slim and was closed at the top by means of a metal cap with holes in it. This lantern was equipped with a wire handle that served to carry it or hang it. Lanterns were also adapted for use with means of transport and could be attached to horse carriages, trains, ships, bicycles and automobiles. At the outset, however, they were used more to indicate the presence of vehicles rather than to light them!

Lanterns were made by lantern makers, a trade similar to that of the tinsmith. Nevertheless, many lantern makers also made numerous other objects from sheet metal. In Europe, rich merchants and gentlemen used the services of lantern carriers. These men, who were paid by the trip, would proceed ahead of them as they walked through the streets. In Quebec and Montreal, in the 19th century, watch keepers worked by lantern light.

People who did not have a lantern and had to complete urgent work outside could also simply light a fire. So they would not have to keep stoking the fire with wood, certain ingenious individuals would place a turnip or a clog, with a whole in the bottom of it, over the fire. They would fill it with oil that would drip slowly over the fire, keeping it going.

In addition to making it easier to move about at night, the development of the lantern also brought about the development of fixed exterior lighting. To learn more about the lighting of streets, we invite you to return on September 30, 2008.

  • DÉRIBÉRÉ, Maurice et Paulette. Préhistoire et histoire de la lumière. Paris, France-Empire, 1979. 299 pages.
  • GENÊT, Nicole, et al. Les objets familiers de nos ancêtres. Montréal, Éditions de l'homme, 1974. 303 pages.
  • LEMIEUX, Germain. La vie paysanne, 1860-1900. Sudbury, Éditions Prise de parole ; Laval, Éditions FM, 1982. 239 pages.
  • POMERLEAU, Jeanne. Arts et métiers de nos ancêtres, 1650-1950. Montréal, Guérin littérature, 1994. 507 pages.
  • WOODHEAD, E I , et al. Appareils d'éclairage: collection de référence nationale, Parcs Canada. Ottawa, Parcs Canada, Direction des lieux et des parcs historiques nationaux, 1984. 103 pages.

Fourth episode
Street Lighting
Street Lighting

Aquarelle: Une rue à Québec
Source: Bibliothèque et Archives Canada/e001201215

Under the French Regime, the streets of Québec, Trois-Rivières and Montreal were not lit. People who had to travel about at night had to be on the look-out for obstacles in their way, as well as for thieves and “night runners”. Since the Middle Ages, urban populations prepared to deal with darkness much like sailors kept an eye out for storms. All the gates to the cities and doors to homes would be closed and watchmen would stroll throughout the streets. Given this situation, anyone walking about at night was suspect.

In France, public lighting truly came into being at the end of the 17th century. In the St. Lawrence River Valley, such lighting was developed only in the 19th century. In the early days of urban lighting, the settlers continued to carry lanterns as they moved about since the streets were poorly lit and lamps were not lit during nights where there was a full moon, as measure of economy.

The first urban lighting devices were lanterns, some of which were equipped with a polished tin plate in order to reflect the light. They housed oil lamps. In Montreal, the first lanterns were installed and maintained by individuals and, in about 1818, the city installed roughly one hundred.

The development of public lighting led to the appearance of a new trade, The streetlamp lighter. This individual was responsible for lighting, putting out and maintaining lamps. In Québec, where the streetlamps measured eight to ten feet tall, the streetlamp lighter had to carry a ladder. He would also carry a small chest containing wicks and his clothing was generally spotted with oil. Replacing the oil lamps, gas streetlights appeared in about 1838 in Montreal and a decade or so later in Québec. Then the streetlamp lighter would have to stand his ladder against a long perch in order to open and close the gas valves.

A notable improvement in urban lighting occurred in the 1880s when electricity gradually replaced gas. While gas streetlamps created a sort of half shadow in the streets, incandescent lamps and electric arc lamps gave people night vision similar to the vision they enjoyed during the day. Night, which had once felt unsafe, became a time of pleasure. Shops made the most of the situation and lit up their showcase windows. Electricity brought such change that some people started to think about streets that would be as bright as during broad daylight, and others dreamed of a very tall tower that would be capable of lighting an entire city on its own. Nevertheless, people soon realized that very intense lighting was not desirable since it was too costly and too blinding.

The appearance of electric streetlights did not result in the complete disappearance of streetlamp lighters. In certain villages, streetlamps continued to be turned on by a switch near the top of the pole until the 1960s. The streetlamp lighters would go from light to light, carrying a long stick equipped with a hook.

In the cities, lighting made it safer to go about at night. The same was true for lighting at sea. To learn more about beacons, we invite you to return on October 14, 2008.

  • LACHANCE, André. Vivre à la ville en Nouvelle-France. Outremont, Libre expression, 2004. 306 pages.
  • POMERLEAU, Jeanne. Arts et métiers de nos ancêtres, 1650-1950. Montréal, Guérin littérature, 1994. 507 pages.
  • SCHIVELBUSCH, Wolfgang. La nuit désenchantée: à propos de l'histoire de l'éclairage artificiel au XIXth century. [Paris], Gallimard, 1993. 199 pages.
  • WOODHEAD, E. I. et al., Appareils d'éclairage: collection de référence nationale, Parcs Canada. Ottawa, Parcs Canada, 1984. 103 pages.

Fifth episode
Lighting at Sea
Lighting at Sea

Aquarelle: Les Mille Îles, 1865
Source: Bibliothèque et Archives Canada
Crédit: Acquis avec l’aide d’une subvention du ministère des Communications en vertu de la Loi sur l’exportation et l’importation des biens culturels/c120460k

Since Antiquity, beacons and lighthouses have been built to guide sailors. The Egyptians built the very first lighthouse on the island of Pharos, around 300 B.C.E. Lighting up the night, its presence near the shore made the maritime areas safer. The reefs, shoals, and sandbanks in the St. Lawrence River and the gulf, not to mention the currents and tides, made lighthouses very useful there. Yet, under the French Regime, the only lighthouse built was that at Louisbourg.

In the 19th century, with the increase in traffic on the St. Lawrence River, the Trinity House, (now the Transportation Department) took charge of building lighthouses to mark the river. The first of these costly facilities was the one on Île Verte. Up to 1862, 22 lighthouses were built, along with their accessory buildings. These lighthouses were generally red and white so that they could still be visible landmarks during the day.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, lighthouses were operated with whale oil lamps, and later by oil or acetylen lamps. Reflectors and lenses, developed in Europe, were used to amplify the light. Some of these devices were so powerful that, when the sun struck the lenses, curtains had to be drawn to prevent fires. Some lighthouses were also equipped with a clockwork mechanism similar to that of a grandfather clock. The mechanism turned the lighting device so as to create a flashing effect.

The man who made sure that this equipment functioned properly was called a lighthouse keeper. This position did not require any training, but the candidate had to be in good health, have excellent vision, have a reputation for good conduct, know how to read, write and do arithmetic and, ideally, should have already worked at sea. Often, the position was passed down from father to son.

During the shipping season, the lighthouse keeper worked long hours. He lit the lighthouse lamp and turned it off, maintained and repaired the equipment, supervised shipping movements, rescued shipwrecked people and kept a log of his activities. In the case of revolving lights, the lighthouse keeper had to get up two or three times a night to raise te weights of the clockwork system. Yet, when winter came, the lighthouse keeper had a few months of vacation.

Since lighthouse locations were chosen in keeping with shipping needs and not those of the lighthouse keeper, lighthouses were not always built on sites that were convenient for the keepers. Lighthouses located near villages were highly prized since the lighthouse keeper could live there with his family. Other lighthouses were located on inhospitable sites such as small, uninhabited islands or, worse yet, on boats or pillars. These would be completely surrounded by water. The lighthouse keeper lived there with his assistants.

On foggy days, when light was of no use, sound was used. Initially, canons loaded with blanks were used, then later compressed air whistles, which were operated by means of motors and called foghorns. These foghorns, which were in use as of 1860, emitted sounds at regular intervals. Unlike light, sound travels in unpredictable manners over the water, occasionally giving incorrect indications.

As the electrical network developed in the 20th century, the lighthouses gradually adopted this form of energy. Increasingly, they were automated, which meant that fewer and fewer lighthouse keepers were required. Moreover, radar and satellite-assisted navigation made lighthouses less and less necessary.

In the 21st century, although lighting technologies have become increasing perfected, there are new challenges to be faced. To learn more about contemporary lighting problems, we invite you to return on October 28, 2008.

  • BENT, Jason. «Les phares des îles de la Madeleine», Cap-aux-Diamants, no 74, été 2003, pp. 39-43.
  • HALLEY, Patrice. Les sentinelles du Saint-Laurent: sur la route des phares du Québec. [Montréal], Éditions de l'Homme, 2002. 246 pages.
  • LAFRENIERE, Normand. Le gardien de phare dans le Saint-Laurent: un métier disparu. Toronto, Approvisionnement et Services Canada, 1996. 110 p.

Sixth episode
Contemporary Lighting

Contemporary LightingMiniscule light sources and changing colors, lamps that operate on solar energy and new technologies, which, for our ancestors, would have sounded like science fiction, produce the desired lighting. Fortunately, the progress of the 21st century has not necessarily resulted in excesses. More and more, urban planning specialists have to deal with new needs and new concerns. They understand that better lighting does not always mean more lighting.

During the 20th century, the performances of electric lights continually improved. Using the principle of the incandescent light bulb, the halogen lamp produces intense light, while giving off very little heat. Resonance lamps, which are long-lasting and consume little energy, produce light by passing an electrical current through a gas. These include fluorescent tubes, neon lights, sodium-vapor lamps, xenon lamps and, in a format that is more suitable for domestic lighting, the fluorescent-compact lamp. In the 1990s, light-emitting diodes (LED) offered new possibilities. The advantage of these tiny diodes is that they can emit different colors. Some, the “organic light-emitting diodes” (OLED) are flexible and transparent. They are already used in watches and telephones.

Obviously, these technological advances are put to good use in public lighting, as well as in commercial lighting. For a long time, city lighting developed in a rather anarchic manner, resulting in too much light in cities and lighting that was both banal and standard. Increasingly, groups of urban planners, architects and engineers are re-thinking the lighting of buildings and planning the lighting of entire neighborhoods with greater attention to esthetics. As a result, instead of lighting everything indifferently, they prefer to highlight certain buildings, focusing, for example, on buildings with a heritage, sports or economic value. They are striving to highlight what makes up the identity of a city. By doing this, some compare themselves to artists creating a work of art.

In Vieux-Montréal, a neighborhood where lighting has been the object of an overall plan, very original lighting arrangements have been developed. For example, the dome of the Marché Bonsecours is lit in a different color every 15 minutes in order to break up the intensity of the night. On Place d’Armes, the statues are lit in turn, in historical order, based on when they were erected. And, with a nod to the past, Rue Sainte-Hélène is lit by means of 22 gas lamps. When this type of lighting is successful, it can result in an additional attraction for a city.

These specialized lighting arrangements have been continued in Pointe-Saint-Charles, on the site of Maison Saint-Gabriel where buildings dating back to the French Regime have been lit so as to evoke the lighting of the early days in New France.

In addition to esthetics, another problem can be taken into consideration when planning lighting, namely light pollution. In fact, excessive lighting hides the stars and disturbs the natural rhythms of fauna and flora. In order to minimize the environmental impact of lamps, fixtures that face the ground are given preference and the use of visors is recommended to limit the range of light that is directed up. Yellow, amber and red lighting is also less brilliant than blue shades. Moreover, it is not necessary to have lights on all night. In Vieux-Montréal, most lights are turned off after 11:00 p.m. or, on certain nights, after midnight. Conscientious people make an effort to use devices that consume as little energy as possible. Thus, the technologies developed in the 20th century provide solutions for new concerns.

This is the last of the series of chronicles on lighting.

  • DESCHÊNES, Marie-Josée. «Lumière sur la ville», Continuité, no 103, hiver 2004-2005, pp. 27-30.
  • FIELL, Charlotte et Peter. 1000 lights: 1960 to present. Köln, Taschen, 2005. 575 pages.
  • LEGRIS, Chloé, «Où sont passées les étoiles?», Continuité, no 103, hiver 2004-2005, pp. 23-25.
  • MOREL, Gilles et Colette Proulx. «Idées brillantes pour le Vieux-Montréal», Continuité, no 103, hiver 2004-2005, pp. 32-35.
  • VACHON, Geneviève et Pierre Larochelle. «Pour éclairer le sens de la ville», Continuité, no 103, hiver 2004-2005, pp. 19-22.
  • WOODHEAD, E. I. et al., Appareils d'éclairage: collection de référence nationale. Ottawa, Parcs Canada, 1984. 103 pages.


Weeping candle
A weeping candle is one from which a few drips of liquid wax suddenly flow.
Disappearing stars
About 20 stars are visible to the naked eye in Montreal whereas close to 3,000 are visible at Lac Mégantic.
Light pollution
Light pollution is the loss of light into the sky. This light comes into contact with particles that are present in the atmosphere and is re-directed towards the earth. The situation is worse in winter when the light is also reflected off snow.
Safety first!
The primary objective of urban lighting has long been public safety. Yet, surprisingly enough, sometimes lighting certain places less can make them safer. Certain American schools noted a decrease in vandalism after turning their lights off at night.
Xenon lamp
Xenon lamps, which provide a bright white light, are used for automobile headlights, among other things.
Sodium-vapor lamp
Introduced in 1932, these lamps are used to light roads. They give off a bright yellow light.
The neon lamp produces a red light that is used a great deal for advertising purposes.
Fluorescent tube
When an electrical discharge travels through the gas in a fluorescent tube, the ionization of the atoms gives off ultraviolet rays. The white powder covering the interior surface of the tube makes it visible.
Halogen lamp
The halogen gas used in this type of lamp, often iodine or bromine, recovers the tungsten that evaporates and re-deposits it on the filament.
When silence wakes you up…
The lighthouse keepers became so used to the regular sound of the foghorn that some would wake up suddenly if the siren stopped sounding.
Pillar lighthouses
These lighthouses stood on masonry bases, built at sea. Unlike boat lighthouses, they had the advantage of being stable.
Boat lighthouses
These red or black boats, equipped with lamps or sound signals, were used as temporary lighthouses, or to mark the river in places where it was impossible to build a traditional lighthouse. Several of these lighthouse boats were not equipped with motors and had to be towed. The men who operated and maintained these lamps had to deal with the constant rolling of the river and had very few days off. In Quebec, seven or eight of these boats were used between 1830 and 1960. In the 1960s, they were replaced by automatic buoys and pillar lighthouses.
Ingenious lighthouse keepers
Some lighthouse keepers were quite inventive when it came to devising systems that would keep them from having to get up so often. One, for example, drilled a hole in the ceiling of his home so that the weight would be lowered for a longer period of time, delaying the moment when he would have to raise it. Another installed an alarm indicating when he had to raise the weight.
Lighthouse keeper dynasties
On Île Verte, the Lindsay family operated the lighthouse for more than 137 years. At Pointe-des-Monts, the Fafard family served as the lighthouse keepers for more than 81 years.
Being able to distinguish colors
Someone who was color-blind could not become a lighthouse keeper since he would not be able to decode the colored flags used for shipping.
Catoptric, dioptric or catadioptric?
The first lighthouses built on the St. Lawrence were generally equipped with a catoptric system or, in other words, a series of parabolic reflectors. Some lighthouses were equipped with a dioptric system. This means they had glass lenses instead of metal reflectors, which created a light beam with a greater scope and greater intensity that was also more precise. Finally, other lighthouses, which were more developed, used both refraction and reflection. They were called catadioptric. The Cap-des-Rosiers lighthouse, built around 1858, was of this kind. Its optical system was built in France and installed by French technicians.
Acetylene lamp
Acetylene is a combustible, explosive gas. It is produced by causing calcium carbide with water. Acetylene produces a bright, white light.
What lamps!
The Louisbourg lighthouse operated with 32 whale-oil lamps.
Accessory buildings
Lighthouses were often accompanied by other buildings such as an oil shed, a powder magazine or a warehouse of provisions for shipwreck victims.
Costly lighthouses
In 1831, the lighthouse built on Anticosti Island cost more than $33,800.
Like broad daylight
Electric lighting is so similar to daylight that the eye sees as it does in broad daylight, Using cones. In the shadow cast by gas lamps, the eye uses “night vision”, namely it uses rods. In this case, the eye has to work much harder.
Electric arc lights
To create an electric arc, two live sticks of graphite are moved against one another, which creates an arc. When the two sticks are moved apart, that creates a luminous arc which gives off intense light, equivalent to 2000 candles. In comparison, the incandescent lamp is equivalent to 65 candles. Arc lamps were used up to the 1950s to light streets and large buildings. They were also used for projectors and beacons. They produced a great deal of heat and smoke and were also smelly and noisy.
Parisian lighting
In Paris a law was enacted in 1667 asking merchants to maintain street lanterns which had to be lit at night in keeping with a certain schedule.
Darkness is an effective ally for young people wanting to play tricks. For example, certain scoundrels made the most of the night to dig holes in which passersby would fall while others enjoyed dismantling benches or coating latches with refuse.
Exceptional lighting
For certain festivities, cities in New France were lit by means of torches coated with suet.
Watch keeper
In 1816, watch keeping was implemented in the streets of Quebec City and Montreal. Watch keepers would stroll through the streets in the city calling out the time and the weather. They would be armed with a baton and equipped with a noisemaker to be used to call for help. If fire broke out, they could be counted on to shout out “Fire!”
Parchment was prepared from animal skin and used for writing.
Originally, this word designated a large lantern placed on the stern of a ship to make it visible at night.
Wood the provided good light
The preferred woods were juniper, vines or pine which produced more light and less smoke. The Aboriginal peoples also used rolled birch bark.
The electricity heats the tungsten to about 2500°C without melting it. In this way, it can make light for more than 1000 hours.
Sought after materials
The materials tested included paper, platinum and carbonized bamboo.
Surprisingly enough, the globe used for the electrical bulb was not a new shape. In the 18th century, a glass lamp that operated by means of olive oil was in use in France. It was called a “viholo” or “veillole”, which meant night light. Its shape was the same as that of our light bulb today. It did, however, have a hole in the top for a wick. It would be filled with olive oil and its base could be inserted into the drip pan of a candle-holder.
Oil lamps
In order to adapt the oil lamps for use with this new fuel, modifications were made to the burner. Small holes were drilled in it to allow just the right amount of oxygen to flow through, for better combustion. Flat wicks were preferred over round wicks and the chimneys were studied so as to ensure the flame received an optimal amount of air.
Once the oil is distilled to eliminate the explosive gases and the heavy elements, it is transformed into a safe, inflammable oil.
Danger of explosion
Burning fluid lamps were very dangerous. They caused a fire, in 1846, in the Théâtre Saint-Louis in Québec. One of these lamps exploded, killing 50 people.
Tubular wick
The wick used by Ami Argand was a long flat wick folded widthwise. Flat, braided wicks were developed by Mr. Léger, in 1766.
Water in lamps: an old trick
A very old means for resolving the problem of a dropping oil level involved adding water to move it up towards the wick.
A very old idea
The first lamps with side tanks, designed in the 6th century, were based on the Egyptian clepsydra, when it came to controlling oil flow. The clepsydra was a clock that used the regular flow of water in a graduated vase to measure time.
Supply problem
When the oil level is low, the fuel cannot get up to the wick by means of capillary action. For this reason, oil lamps require care since the fuel must be topped up constantly.
A cumbersome fuel container on the side...
In order to eliminate the shadow cast by a lateral fuel container, a ring-shaped recipient was invented at the start of the 19th century. A burner would be placed in the middle of it and the whole thing would be topped with a polished glass dome. This type of lamp was referred to as an “astral” lamp. In a somewhat similar manner, the “solar” lamp had a burner that was placed in the middle of a circular tank and a base in which holes had been drilled to as to let the air through. They could use various types of fuel, even suet.
Wick trimmer
A wick trimmer is a pair of scissors equipped with a small box into which the cut wick falls. Since this instrument would quickly become dirty, it would be placed on a plate designed specifically to hold it.
Drip pan
A drip pan is a small cylinder used to hold the bottom of a candle. Long drip pans were equipped with spring devices to lift the candles.
Taper makers
Candles used in religious celebrations were also called tapers. They were usually made of bee’s wax. In New France, most tapers were made by the religious communities.
In 1744, in Québec, Jean Drogni worked as a chandler. In 1825, there were at least 23 chandlers in Montreal. Since the raw material used by chandlers was tallow, which is also used to make soap, several chandlers were also soap makers.
Bee’s wax
Wax candles burned better and had no odor, although they were very expensive and were only used by the elite and the Church.
In the 17th century, candles were also called “bougies” in French. This name referred to the City of Bougie, in Algeria, from which the Europeans imported wax.
Most often, this would be beef or sheep fat. Tallow did not smell pleasant and attracted rodents.
Wicks for lamps and candles consisted of twisted linen, cotton or wool threads. In the 19th century they were braided.
The stove as a means of lighting
By leaving the door to a stove partially open, it was possible to obtain a little light. The Acadians referred to this as “s’éclairer à la craque” (lighting through a crack).