New Brunswick

Saint John, N.B., home to foghorn inventor

Robert Foulis, a Scottish immigrant, invented the steam-powered foghorn here in 1853.

Though Saint John residents know the sound of the foghorn, many might not realize its historic connection with the Port City.

Robert Foulis, a Scottish immigrant, invented the steam-powered foghorn here in 1853.

"He was an engineer, and a surveyor, an artist and a remarkable inventor," said Stephen Clayden from the New Brunswick Museum. ""Quite amazing renaissance man in a sense."

Foulis is one of the famous, yet sometimes forgotten, citizens being remembered as Saint John celebrates its 225th birthday this year.

"[The foghorn was] installed out on Partridge Island, I believe in 1859, and that was the world's first steam-powered or automatic foghorn," Clayden explained.

While Foulis invented the coastal warning device, Clayden explained he didn't receive any wealth.

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography notes the New Brunswick legislature did pass a resolution in 1864 recognizing the claim of Foulis as inventor of the foghorn and a coded system of telegraphing.

Reports show, however, it was an American who actually patented it.

Foulis ended up dying in poverty in Saint John in 1866.

Foggy facts

Clayden explained the persistent fog along the Fundy coast owes to constant tidal action and resulting temperature changes.

While fog may prove challenging for navigators and sun worshippers, it also has benefits for the environment.

"That adds probably up to maybe 15 per cent above and beyond of water that goes into the forest soils," Clayden explained.

"In addition, it keeps temperatures much cooler than they would be otherwise. So it's maintained or created an environment here -- as we all know along the Bay of Fundy -- that's significantly cooler than areas somewhat inland."

Clayden said Saint John gets about as much fog as Halifax, but far less than St. John's, N.L.