Swallowtail Lighthouse was built in response to a number of shipwrecks, including the tragic wreck of the Lord Ashburton in January 1857 where 21 sailors died. Two of the survivors eventually settled on Grand Manan. The land was purchased from James Small from the original land grant given to John Sprague. The peninsula was a strategic location for vessels coming into North Head harbour or navigating around the northern end of the island.
The lighthouse and presumably the keepers house were built in 1859 but the lighthouse was not put into operation until July 7, 1860 upon arrival of the cast iron lantern from England. Almost immediately, the lighthouse was damaged in a number of north east gales, particularly devastating for the exposed location of the peninsula.
Jonathon Kent, an experienced light keeper and vessel pilot was the first keeper, followed by his son and a number of other keepers. Grimmer Ingersoll was the last keeper when the light station was destaffed in 1985.
A fog bell was introduced in 1915 and was located at the end of the peninsula. In 1922 the building and bell were moved to the lighthouse to make it easier for the light keeper to operate both the bell and the light at the same time.
The keepers house was replaced in 1958 as part of a general updating of light station buildings across the country.
The keepers portion of the peninsula was deemed surplus in 1992 and sold to the Village of North Head (later amalgamated into the Village of grand Manan). The keepers house was run as a Bed & Breakfast from 1996 until 2004, after which the house was empty pending a successful tender for use. In 2008, the Village, frustrated with the lack of an appropriate tender decided to sell the keepers house and property. This was rescinded when a community group was formed to look after the management of the property.
As part of a country wide effort to turn lighthouses over to communities, the lighthouse was turned over to the Village of Grand Manan in December, 2012. Swallowtail Keepers Society has a long-term lease for the entire property.
Still an active aid to navigation with Canadian Coast Guard, the building was sold to the Village of grand Manan in 2012 as part of an extensive plan to turn over lighthouses to communities.
Three of the four floors have been repurposed to house information and artefacts related to lighthouse history of the Grand Manan archipelago. Flights of stairs lead from one floor to the next. A ladder creates access to the lantern room and spectacular views on a clear day. Access to the bell house is also accessible on the first floor.
A small entrance fee is required to help with ongoing maintenance and associated costs.