Carbonear Island has been referred to as the Gibraltar of Newfoundland. As early as 1614, in the days of Peter Easton, the settlers in that part of Conception Bay used the natural defenses of the Island to protect themselves against pirate attacks. Later, it was the only location in Newfoundland to be successfully defended against the French invasion of 1697. In 1705, French troops again failed to capture the island when they mounted expeditions from their headquarters in Placentia to drive the English out of Newfoundland.
For many years after that, Carbonear Island was maintained as an armed garrison. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the island was a fishing station and home to a small number of settlers. A lighthouse, with a keeper to tend the kerosene light, was erected there in the nineteenth century. The kerosene light and the lighthouse keeper were replaced with an automatic light around 1928.
Today, Carbonear Island is deserted. In 1954 it was designated as a National Historic Event site by Parks Canada.