Throughout history innumerable vessels sailing through Newfoundland's waters have been dashed upon the rocks of her rugged coastline. The lighthouse and that extraordinary breed of men and women who chose to maintain and operate them, played an extremely important role in safeguarding the lives of mariners who executed their trade off Newfoundland's formidable coast. Located at the headland of Cape Bonavista is the Cape Bonavista Lighthouse. It was erected to guide mariners bound for Labrador. The two-storey wooden structure is built around a masonry tower which supports the lantern. The light was put in operation on September 11, 1843. The lighting apparatus was a revolving red and white catoptric light comprised of 16 Argand burners. It was removed from Inchcape (Bell) Rock Lighthouse in Scotland where it had been in use since 1811. The apparatus was mounted on a metal frame which revolved at regulated intervals with the power of a weight-driven clockwork mechanism. In 1895 it was replaced by the apparatus from Harbour Grace Island Lighthouse which originally came from Isle of May, Scotland (1816). This apparatus had six Argand burners and reflectors that showed two white flashes followed by one red flash. This revolving red and white catoptric light can be seen at a distance of 30 miles. In 1962, it was replaced by an electric light. Four years later the electric light was placed on a metal tower outside the building and the 1895 apparatus returned to the lighthouse where it is on display today.
The first light keeper at Cape Bonavista was Jeremiah White who was born in Taghmon, County Wexford, Ireland. In the 1820s, Jeremiah came to Newfoundland to escape the many economic problems. Jeremiah and his wife Mary lived in St. John's where they had four children, Matthew, Johanna, Thomas and Nicholas. In 1842, he was appointed the keeper for the lighthouse at Cape Bonavista. His sons continued to tend the light until 1895.
Mr. Hubert Abbott, a native of Bonavista also attended the light. He was first a fog alarm keeper until he was appointed lighthouse keeper in 1923. He attended the light and lived at the Cape until he retired in 1960.
The Lighthouse is now a Provincial Historic Site, restored to the 1870 period, as if Jeremiah White and his family were still there. On the second floor of the lighthouse is an interpretive display which gives the history of the lighthouse and its keepers.