Heritage Canada Foundation

Brief to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans

Bill S-220 An Act to protect heritage lighthouses


The Heritage Canada Foundation is a national organization and registered charity created in 1973 by the Government of Canada to preserve heritage places and to encourage all Canadians to recognize, understand and care for the built heritage of Canada. One of the essential roles of the Heritage Canada Foundation is to work with government at all levels to secure programs, policies and legislation for heritage property in Canada. In 1988, for example, the Heritage Canada Foundation served an important role in the adoption of the federal Act to protect heritage railway stations.

Why is Bill S-220 needed?

Bill S-220, An Act to protect heritage lighthouses, provides a means for the Government of Canada to examine, recognize, protect and maintain a highly significant group of heritage structures. Binding, legal protection for designated heritage lighthouses is absolutely essential. Otherwise, accountability is compromised, and decisions about the stewardship of heritage buildings can be made in an arbitrary manner. It is important to stress that the all provincial and territorial jurisdictions and, by delegated authority, all municipal governments in Canada have binding heritage statutes and related legal measures, such as covenants and easements, to protect and guide the management of heritage property. Within the federal jurisdiction, only railways stations are subject to such binding legislation. Prior to the Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act, the Government of Canada recognized only six heritage railway stations in the entire country through the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, and even these had no legal protection. Today, 166 heritage railway stations have been designated by the federal government. An exact parallel exists with heritage lighthouses, and the need to protect them has become critical.

What are the weaknesses of the current federal approach to heritage lighthouses?

The Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office (FHBRO) evaluates the heritage significance of federally-owned heritage buildings, but it is a closed process. There is no public consultation required. It is a fundamental principle of cultural resource management today, also recognized by Parks Canada, that community values relating to heritage property must be understood and respected.

Moreover, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has no explicit mandate to preserve and manage heritage resources. The federal government has designated the Minister of the Environment to serve that role.

What are the strengths of Bill S-220?

Bill S-220 provides a systematic and legally binding mechanism for the recognition, protection, maintenance and possible disposal of heritage lighthouses.

What are the costs relating to such legislation?

In her report to Parliament in 2004, the Auditor General of Canada described the deterioration of federal heritage buildings and the need for action. She called on the federal government to develop a nationwide strategy and determination of resources needed to care for our built heritage. New funds must be allocated. The status quo is clearly unacceptable.

Current examples of lighthouses in need of attention:

Cape Sable Lighthouse, Nova Scotia

A lighthouse was first established on Cape Sable Island in 1861. It was a wooden, octagonal structure, 50 feet in height. This lighthouse was replaced in 1924 by the present “classic” design, concrete structure which at 101 feet is Nova Scotia's tallest lighthouse. This lighthouse is one of only two in Nova Scotia to be given “Classified” status under FHBRO.

Very little has been done in the line of maintenance to this tower, despite strong recommendations from local residents, and the tower is almost completely devoid of paint. This condition has in turn contributed to the crumbling of concrete. Cape Sable Lighthouse is in desperate need of attention.

Sambro Island Gas House, Nova Scotia

Part of the historic fabric of Sambro Island, this modest wooden structure was constructed in the 1800s and was the site of testing and manufacture of acetylene gas as a lighthouse illuminant in the early part of the 20 th century. The building received “Recognized” status under FHBRO.

In 1995, a group of lighthouse preservationists carried out extensive repairs to the gas house which included a new roof. This work was completely carried out by volunteers, with materials purchased through fundraising efforts. The goal was to stabilize the building until a second effort could be made at total restoration.

In 2003, hurricane Juan caused extensive damage to the building, seriously affecting an entire wall. (See cover photo – HERITAGE magazine, summer 2006) and seriously undermining the granite block foundation. Letters were promptly written to both FHBRO and DFO-Real Properties, the custodian of the building, drawing their attention to this damage and asking that the building be repaired, at least to the point that winter gales would not cause more damage. The Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society (NSLPS) offered to commit $7,500.00 toward materials as well as several volunteers to help carry out repairs. As part of this proposal, DFO-Real Properties was asked to provide labour. This proposal was turned down by DFO. As a result, this FHBRO “Recognized” building is now in danger and will succumb to the elements unless immediate action is taken.

Seal Island Lighthouse, Nova Scotia

Built in 1830, this pre-Confederation lighthouse is the second oldest octagonal, wooden lighthouse in Canada. The lighthouse is a “Recognized” structure under FHBRO. Once a major lightstation comprising several buildings, this lighthouse has had little maintenance since de-staffing in 1990.

In 2003, the NSLPS wrote a letter to DFO calling attention to problems with the lighthouse, including water leaks which had caused rot to the floor boards at different levels and a serious lack of ventilation resulting in mould and dampness. To date, nothing has been done to remedy these problems.

The tower has been painted once since 1990, but reports tell NSLPS that this work was carried out in unfavourable weather conditions and as a result the lighthouse is very much in need of re-painting.

Estevan Point, British Columbia

This lighthouse is of particular historical significance, having been designed by Canadian architect, Col. William P. Anderson. It is a fine example of his “flying-buttress” towers which he designed for the Department of Marine and Fisheries in the early part of the 20 th century. This lighthouse towers 127 ft. (from base to weathervane) and is surmounted by a classic “Chance Brothers” lantern room. Built in 1907, it is still one of British Columbia's manned lightstations.

Due to problems with water leakage to the lantern room, several options are apparently being examined by Coast Guard maintenance. One of these options involves removal of the lantern room from the lighthouse for repairs. It has been the experience, in the Maritime region at least, that once these lantern rooms are removed, they do not get re-installed. A case in point is Devil's Island, at the entrance to Halifax harbour, where the lantern room was removed, the gallery deck sealed and a solar panel and optic installed in its place. The lantern room now lies, in pieces, beside the lighthouse.

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