The Sambro lighthouse was built during the Seven Years’ War by the very first act passed by Nova Scotia’s House of Assembly on October 2, 1758 which placed a tax on incoming vessels and alcohol imports to pay for the lighthouse. An earlier attempt by the colonial officials in 1752 to finance the lighthouse with a lottery was unsuccessful. With funding secured by the Assembly, construction began in the fall of 1758. Masonry work was completed by November 3, 1758 and a temporary light was first lit while construction continued. Construction was completed in 1759 and Joseph Rous (son of Captain John Rous) was appointed as the first keeper.The lighthouse was first automated on 1988. Cannons were used to provide fog warnings beginning in the late 18th century until the 1870s when a steam fog whistle was installed.
The island’s location at the mouth of busy Halifax Harbour, surrounded by many rocks and shoals made it the setting of many shipwrecks over the years. One of the worst was the sinking of the liner SS Daniel Steinmann in 1884. Only nine people of the 130 aboard survived to be rescued by keepers of the lighthouse.
The lighthouse grew 22 feet higher in the fall of 1906, when the octagonal tower was extended by two extra stories. A new first order Fresnel lens from Barbier, Benard & Turenne in Paris was installed to complete the work in November 1906. Acetylene was first tested and then manufactured for the light in a specially constructed “gas house” in the cove below the lighthouse. Red stripes were added to the tower in 1908 to make the tower more visible against the snow. Sambro served as the departure point from North America for Joshua Slocum’s famous solo navigation around the world in 1895. After an extended visit to his boyhood home at Brier Island and old haunts on the coast of Nova Scotia, Joshua Slocum departed on his around the world voyage from Sambro Island Lighthouse on July 3, 1895. “I watched light after light sink astern as I sailed into the unbounded sea, till Sambro, the last of them all, was below the horizon. The Spray was then alone…”