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Community group calls on heritage minister to help save remote 200-year-old lighthouse

A drone photograph of Seal Island lighthouse taken on Sept. 2, 2023. (Sonia Newell/Seal Island Lighthouse Preservation Society - image credit)
A drone photograph of Seal Island lighthouse taken on Sept. 2, 2023. (Sonia Newell/Seal Island Lighthouse Preservation Society - image credit)

A community group is calling on the federal heritage minister to help save the 200-year-old Seal Island lighthouse that the Canadian Coast Guard and Fisheries and Oceans Canada say is too expensive to maintain.

The lighthouse is located on a remote island about 30 kilometres off southwest Nova Scotia.

The oldest wooden lighthouse in Nova Scotia and the second oldest in Canada, it was constructed in 1831 by local families in response to numerous shipwrecks in the area.

Seal Island Lighthouse Preservation Society wants to save the existing lighthouse for its historical and architectural significance.

The lighthouse was given heritage status by the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office in 2009.

Mary McLaren, a society board member, says the structure is in good shape overall but it needs repairs.

She said the coast guard, which has primary responsibility for the structure, has not adequately maintained it.

McLaren said the wooden shingles, which haven't been painted in years, are deteriorating and a badly installed window has caused some rotting in the interior.

Mary McLaren is a board member of the Seal Island Lighthouse Preservation Society
Mary McLaren is a board member of the Seal Island Lighthouse Preservation Society

Mary McLaren is a board member of the Seal Island Lighthouse Preservation Society. (Phil Matthews)

An emailed joint response from DFO and the Canadian Coast Guard to CBC News, said the lighthouse requires extensive structural repairs.

According to the email, a decision was made to erect a steel tower next to the existing lighthouse to serve as a navigational aid because of lower maintenance costs and for the health and safety of coast guard maintenance employees.

"A decision has not been made regarding the disposal of the lighthouse structure once the new steel tower will be built," the email said.

The society wrote to heritage minister Pascale St-Onge on Friday asking for her support to ensure that the lighthouse is repaired to the standards outlined in the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act.

"We are deeply concerned that DFO and Coast Guard is intentionally allowing this historic structure to undergo 'demolition by neglect,' and disregarding their responsibility as outlined in the Heritage Act," the letter said.

McLaren said the society is willing to consider taking over the building but wants the coast guard to fix the building first.

She said despite being classified as a federal heritage building, DFO and the coast guard have not taken the classification seriously.

The lighthouse was built on Seal Island off the southwest tip of Nova Scotia in 1831 and is still operational.
The lighthouse was built on Seal Island off the southwest tip of Nova Scotia in 1831 and is still operational.

The lighthouse was built on Seal Island off the southwest tip of Nova Scotia in 1831 and is still operational. (Paula Waybret)

McLaren said under the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act they are supposed to maintain the structure.

"This has not happened. So, in 15 years of doing nothing … it requires some more significant repairs than had they just been doing what they needed to do all along."

McLaren said the society has started a petition to save the lighthouse and is trying to raise more awareness about its historical and architectural significance through social media.

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