No active lighthouse will be turned off, however if the building is in bad shape it could be replaced with a simpler, steel framed structure. Instead of tearing down all the lighthouses however, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) started the process to sell the lighthouse buildings to interested parties. Groups had two years, up to May 29, 2012, to bring forward a plan to purchase the structures.
Queens County has six lighthouses, with four of them being active navigational aids. Fort Point and Port Medway lighthouses are both already owned by the Region of Queens, but are not active.
The Medway Area Community Association is purchasing the Medway Head lighthouse, while the Spectacle Light Society is working to get the light in Port Mouton designated a heritage site. No interested parties have come forward for either Western Head or Coffin Island.
How to buy a lighthouse
Perry Rideout, manager of strategic planning and Investment with DFO, says lighthouses can’t be bought by private individuals looking to turn them into homes or move them on private lands. Many have turned into tourist attractions as well as navigational aids, he says, so they want to keep the building and property in the hands of the community.
There are two different ways a group can acquire a lighthouse: either under the Heritage Protection Lighthouse Act, which falls under Parks Canada, or straight purchasing, which is done through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Both processes involve mostly the same type of work, which involves doing title searches, land assessments and seeing if there are first nations claims in the area. Both also need business plans drawn up on how the group or groups will look after the structure.
Another similarity is once acquired the groups are responsible for maintaining the building and the surrounding property. However they do not need to worry about the light itself.
“The equipment itself would be maintained by the Coastguard. The group doesn’t have any responsibility in operating the navigational aid,” says Rideout.
The heritage designation is granted through Parks Canada, and is designed to protect the character of the lighthouse. Applications to make a lighthouse a heritage site are weighed against the structures architectural, historic and community significance.
“Once the lighthouse is given designation, the act requires it be reasonably maintained, and any work done to the lighthouse must be done in accordance to the act,” says Norman Shields, communications manager with Parks Canada.
He says any group that takes over the lighthouse has to do repair work that keeps the heritage character.
“The purpose is to protect the lighthouse.”
Once heritage status is granted, it then goes to DFO to begin the selling process.
Rideout says he isn’t aware of anyone interested in taking over the Western Head Lighthouse, nor is there anyone petitioning for Heritage Status for the light. However that doesn’t mean the lighthouse is going anywhere when the May 29 deadline passes.
“I think there’s a general fear out there come the 29th of May we’ll be dismantling lighthouses, and that’s not the case,” he says.
Though he didn’t have the specific status of repair for the building, he says where it is made out of concrete it is likely in good condition.
Technicians will continue to visit the site to make sure the light and other navigational equipment is functional, and also assess the condition to of the structure. Any repair work would be weighed against the cost of putting up a lower maintenance structure.
“Our priority would be on projects to support the navigational aid only,” he says.
Any lighthouse still owned by the government could be replace with a lower maintenance structure, if repair costs grow too great.
No group has come forward to take over the Coffin Island lighthouse, but it is also a little different than the others in Queens County.
Coffin Island has had a lot of changes this past decade, with a new structure built further from the shore in 2006. When the Coastguard tried to move the original wooden structure, they discovered there was too much damage to repair. What stands on the island is now considered a low maintenance structure, made out of fiberglass.
Rideout says if a group came forward before the May 29 deadline though, they could start the process of transferring ownership.
Dan Sinclair, a member of the Medway Area Community Association (MACA), says they haven’t applied for the lighthouse under the heritage because the structure itself doesn’t have a lot of heritage value. It still holds a lot of value to the community though, he says.
The original structure at Medway Head was built in the mid 1830’s, however since then it has had four different lighthouses sit at the sight. The most recent one was built in 1983.
“Although it doesn’t have heritage value as a structure, it has heritage value as an icon of the community.”
The purchasing price will be $1, but there is some repair work to be done on the structure. MACA is working with a local contractor and architect to get estimated costs to repair the structure.
“We found last year on inspection that water had gotten in through various nooks and crannies, and done some damage inside,” he says.
The Coastguard has done some work already, such as removing insulation left over from when the building was heated. Insulation was needed when the lighthouse had a backup battery supply, which needed to be kept at a warm temperature. The batteries were removed several years ago however.
Most of the work that remains is on the exterior to make it watertight.
A meeting is planned for later this month to present the repair costs to the community. Sinclair added they are looking to get funding help from the federal government as well.
The Port Mouton Lighthouse, better known as the Spectacle Light, is another lighthouse in Queens with an active group looking to take it over. This group is seeking heritage status for the light.
The lighthouse was saved once before in 2005, after the community banded together to prevent its demolition. It was also extensively repaired at that time as well. In 2009, a formal group was formed to look after the lighthouse.
Mel Cutler, president of the Spectacle Light Society, says they are looking towards the future of the lighthouse once they take it over. They are hoping to eventually bring some tourism opportunities to the site, doing walkabouts and presenting a history of the lighthouse keepers.
“Because of this May deadline to apply for heritage status, we’ve got to make that application and supply a business case for why we think it will make a good heritage site and how we can sustain it financially over the years,” he says.
He says heritage status gives the lighthouse a little more appeal to tourists, and also opens up opportunities for grant money as well. However even if they didn’t get heritage status, Cutler says they would still apply to take over the site.
The federal government owns the lighthouse and a small part of the land around the building, while the provincial Department of Natural Resources (DNR) looks after the rest of the island.
Most of the work needs to be approved by DNR, however Cutler says they have been very good with all their requests so far.
In December of 2011 contaminated soil from the lighthouse grounds was hauled off site, with new soil brought it. The contamination was due to lead paint that had been used on the structure over the years, and had to be removed before the federal government would allow the lighthouse to be sold.
With files from Aethne Hinchliffe