Foghorns – In the Beginning Was the Diaphone . . .

Foghorns – In the Beginning Was the Diaphone . . .

Well, in the beginning was the Lightkeeper’s Voice, Fog Bell, Sirens, Dynamite, Cannons and other assorted methods, and then came the Hand Horn. 

Powers Brothers Hand Horn - photo Chris Mills
Lothrop Hand Horn - photo Chris Mills

First of all was the Powers Brothers Hand Horn used in the days before mechanical equipment. Many were used up until the early 1950s. and were still kept on station in case of emergencies well into the 1990s. The horn was activated when a vessel required it, usually by blowing its own horn any time of day or night, occasionally having to wake the keeper with more than one blast. Another smaller version was this Lothrop Hand Horn (right)

[audio:http://lighthousememories.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/PowerBrosHandhorn-Mills.mp3|titles=Powers Brothers Hand Horn]

[audio:http://lighthousememories.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Lothrop.mp3|titles=Lothrop Hand Horn]
Hand foghorn - photo John Coldwell

 When I lived in Linz, Austria I found this funny looking hand-operated foghorn on the bank of the Danube beside the railway tracks. It was just inside the west border of the town. I had seen a similar one on a railway bridge over the Danube but it was too far away to take a photo. I never did hear them in service. Not sure if it was for ships or railroad service. The Danube River can be a very foggy place at times.

OK, let us get on to the title of this article – the mighty Diaphone!

Diaphone – A powerful type of foghorn invented in Canada which produced a loud blast followed by a grunt. It used compressed air generated by a steam, gas or oil engine, usually housed in its own building. (definition from Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society [NSLPS].) See the full Diaphone operation here.  

F-Type Diaphone (interior view) - photo Chris Mills
F-Type Diaphone (exterior - bottom right) - photo Chris Mills

[audio:http://lighthousememories.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Lennard_Island_-Diaphone1.mp3|titles=Diaphone Horn]


As automation progressed, the mighty SINGLE Diaphone was now replaced with an electronic panel, many six volt (6V) batteries and banks (and sometimes more banks) of Airchime horns.

Airchime – A less powerful type of foghorn invented in Canada which produced a blast followed by a grunt. The Airchime used two horns of different frequencies and a grunt timer to switch the air from one to the other. It used compressed air generated by a diesel engine and compressor, or electronically from banks of batteries. (part definition from Chris Mills.) 

Air Chimes - photo Chris Mills
Air Chimes (center, top) - photo Chris Mills

The air compressors for the Airchime horns were a lot smaller than the ones used for the diaphones. Pictured below are the single-cylinder diesel-driven compressors and air receiver tanks from Triple Island Lighthouse, BC. Old F-type Diaphone air horns were driven by two-cylinder compressors and required much larger volume air receiver tanks. [nggallery id=52]

[audio:http://lighthousememories.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Pulteney_Point_2X_Electronic_Airchime.mp3|titles=Air Chime]


The MULTIPLE airchimes were now replaced with an electronic panel, many, many six volt (6V) batteries and a SINGLE Stone-Chance horn.

Single bank of Stone-Chance horns - photo Chris Mills
Single Stone-Chance emitter -








[audio:http://lighthousememories.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Ivory_Island_2X_Stone-Chance.mp3|titles=Stone Chance Electronic Foghorn]


The MULTIPLE Stone-Chance were also replaced with an electronic panel, several 12V batteries and a SINGLE API CG 1000

Single API horn - photo John Coldwell

.API – The first horns of this electric type with limited range were manufactured by AGA (Sweden). This API horn below was manufactured by Automatic Power Incorporated (API) now called Pharos Marine-Automatic Power.

[audio:http://lighthousememories.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Mcinnes_Island_API_CG_1000.mp3|titles=API CG 1000]


Tidelands Fog Signal - photo Garry Fletcher

The multiple Stone-Chance emitters were also replaced with an electronic panel,
several 12V batteries and a bank of high frequency emitters made by Tideland Signals.

 (Sorry, no sound file for this horn)




The NEW GPS 2003 fog signal.

[audio:http://lighthousememories.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Silence.wav|titles=GPS 2003]

That’s right. You heard NOTHING! The Canadian Government declared that all boats are now equipped with the Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment and so foghorns are no longer required. They will only be heard in memories.

See Sherrill Kitson’s article on the shutting down of the foghorns in 2003.


I guess one of the first foghorns was a trumpet such as the ones shown here. I found these photos rummaging around eBay. These were probably the same ones used on boats. If so, it would then be hard to tell between a ship and a land station – a property that made the Diaphone the best sound signal ever.


Horn Sounds From Different Lightstations Across Canada

I want to thank Chris Mills of Pharos Communications for his help in obtaining photos,  sounds, and descriptions of some of these foghorns. Chris lives in Nova Scotia so that is why a lot of the samples are from down there.

Electronic Airchimes from Boars Head, NS [audio:http://lighthousememories.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Boars_Head_2X_Electronic_Airchimes.mp3|titles=Airchimes]

AGA Foghorn from Cross Island, NS [audio:http://lighthousememories.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Cross_AGA_2KW.mp3|titles=AGA]

400 watt Electronic Airchime from Grand Passage, NS  [audio:http://lighthousememories.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Grand_Passage_400W_Electronic_Airchime.mp3|titles=Airchime]

Stone-Chance Foghorn from Kaiens Island, BC [audio:http://lighthousememories.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Kaiens_Island_1X_Stone-Chance.mp3|titles=Stone-Chance]

Stone-Chance Foghorn from Langara Point, BC [audio:http://lighthousememories.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Langara_Point_1X_Stone-Chance.mp3|titles=Stone-Chance]

Air-powered Airchime Foghorn from Lennard Island, BC [audio:http://lighthousememories.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Lennard_Island_2X_Airchimes.mp3|titles=Air-powered Airchime]

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Retired (2001) British Columbia lighthouse keeper after 32 years on the lights.

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