These four drawings on tracing cloth – remarkable for the quality of their lines, clear details, and colourful accents – were made between 1865 and 1867. Part of an effort to facilitate navigation on the St. Lawrence River, they present plan views, elevations, sections, and detail work for four lighthouses. Three of the drawings are for sites between Montréal and Trois-Rivières: at Île aux Raisins, Île aux Prunes, and Batiscan. The fourth depicts the L’Islet site, downriver from Québec, on the river’s south shore. The design and drawing of the lighthouses were entrusted to Montréal architect Henri-Maurice Perrault (1828-1903), whose practice enjoyed considerable prosperity during the 1870s. Working alone and with colleague Albert Mesnard (1847-1919), Perrault was involved in the construction of several important public and private buildings in Montréal, such as the Jacques Cartier Bank (1870), the Place d’Armes post office (1876), and Saint-Henri Church (1887). In 1874, Perrault worked with Alexander Cowper Hutchison (1838-1922) to build Montréal’s City Hall.
The lighthouses were commissioned by Trinity House of Montréal, a corporation that, from 1832, regulated navigation and piloting on a stretch of the St. Lawrence downriver from Montréal’s port. Previously, this sector had been under the jurisdiction of the Trinity House in Québec, but early nineteenth-century growth in traffic and tonnage created a need for an independent authority in Montréal. This office closed in 1870, when all of its responsibilities were transferred to the Department of Marine and Fisheries, created in 1868.
Three of the drawings are accompanied by specifications written by Perrault, each several pages long. These specifications deal exclusively with lighthouse architecture and do not provide any details on the lighting technology used, no doubt because the lighting mechanism would be installed after construction. Current knowledge of lighthouse technology in Québec during the second half of the nineteenth century suggests the use of a kerosene lamp, which started to replace whale-oil lighthouse lanterns in 1861.