Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Survival of Canada's Largest, Oldest Lighthouses in Question despite Legislation

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Survival of Canada's Largest, Oldest Lighthouses in Question despite Legislation

Article excerpt

Survival of 'iconic' lighthouses in question


HALIFAX - On a craggy, windswept island at the southern entrance to Halifax harbour stands the oldest operating lighthouse in North America.

Built from granite blocks in 1758, the Sambro lighthouse -- a historic treasure known for its distinctive red-and-white stripes -- has withstood countless storms and even a direct hit from a hurricane in 2003.

But the 25-metre sentinel is facing a new, less obvious threat, as are several other large and remote lighthouses in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia.

Sambro, like 970 other lighthouses across Canada, has been declared surplus by the federal Fisheries Department, mainly because these aids to navigation are no longer required by mariners who now rely on global positioning satellites to guide them.

However, passage of the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act in May 2008 was supposed to enable non-profit groups, municipalities and provinces to acquire lighthouses deemed suitable for tourism.

The deadline for submitting a business plan to Parks Canada is Saturday.

As of April 8, 112 plans had been sent in, including 45 from Ontario, 20 from Nova Scotia, 19 from P.E.I., 12 from Quebec, eight from Newfoundland and Labrador, five from New Brunswick, two from Manitoba and one from British Columbia.

Barry MacDonald, president of the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society, says more plans will be filed before the deadline, but the biggest, oldest and most isolated lights will likely become neglected orphans.

The problem, he says, is that it costs a small fortune to maintain lighthouses like Sambro.

A community group in Sambro wants to protect the lighthouse, but they don't have the means to maintain the tower, MacDonald says.

"The reality of maintaining such a large piece of infrastructure, particularly on an island, was just too daunting for them," he says.

In 2008, the coast guard repainted the lighthouse, using a helicopter to ferry supplies, including a large web of scaffolding. Total cost: about $80,000.

"That lighthouse is too big to put a ladder up and paint," he said. "For a lot of these larger iconic lighthouses, there's a big question about their long-term survival."

MacDonald says even if business plans are submitted for these historic properties, the only way for them to become viable enterprises is with financial support from Ottawa.

Last month, MacDonald wrote to federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield to request a meeting, but that went nowhere.

Requests for interviews with Ashfield and Peter Kent, the minister responsible for Parks Canada, were declined. …

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