Fierce winds during a powerful spring storm have taken down the 140-year-old Church Point lighthouse in the southwestern part of Nova Scotia.

What was one of the last remaining old-style wooden lighthouses in the area is now a pile of lumber on the side of the beach as winds gusting to more than 100 km/h howled through the province.

"Our hearts are breaking," said Dan Robichaud, owner of the UJ Robichaud TIM-BR Mart less than a kilometre away from the lighthouse.

Church Point Lighthouse

The Church Point lighthouse, which was built in 1874, was destroyed in this week's blizzard. (Courtesy Dan Robichaud)

"One of my staff went out this morning to assess the damage and she almost fell over. She said the lighthouse isn't there."

The lighthouse served as a decorative landmark for walking trails and a bird watching post for Université Sainte-Anne's ornithology classes.

Robichaud said the entire lighthouse was blown off its concrete footing. Some of the debris is off the side of a cliff and the wooden siding is about nine metres away.

"Half of it is lying roughly upside down, badly damaged, certainly not salvageable," said Robichaud. "Half of it is lying down at the high tide mark."

Wind destroys roofs, power lines

Howling winds pulled down power lines across the Maritimes when the storm began Wednesday, leaving about 17,000 Nova Scotians in the dark at the height of the outages.

The storm also blew off part of the roof of an apartment in Fairview, causing up to $200,000 worth of damage.

CBC meteorologist Kalin Mitchell said the strongest recorded winds during the storm were in Inverness County on the western side of the Cape Breton Highlands

The weather station in Grand Étang reported a peak wind gust of 172 km/h.

"This part of Nova Scotia is unique because of its topography. During strong easterly winds, brought on by a system such as a nor'easter, the atmosphere over the Highlands is squeezed between the mountains themselves and an elevated layer of warm air brought in by the storm," Mitchell explained.

"This, in turn, forces the winds down the western side of the Highlands at a much greater velocity than what they hit the eastern side of Cape Breton with."

Mitchell said it's akin to pressing your thumb over the opening of a running hose and the escaping water pushing through with greater force.

The wind was so intense Thursday morning that the Canso Causeway that links Cape Breton with the mainland was closed to high-sided vehicles for much of the morning.

A wind warning remains in effect for Victoria County and Inverness County, where Environment Canada forecasts northwest winds gusting up to 90 km/h.