Key piece of lighthouse history makes it back home

Sueann Musick
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Rip Irwin, author and founding member of the Nova Scotia Preservation Lighthouse Society, sits beside the original lens taken from the second lighthouse built in Caribou.  The lens was donated to the Northumberland Fisheries Lighthouse Museum Wednesday by fellow society member Barry MacDonald.  The lens will be housed in the original lantern house from the Caribou lighthouse and will be only the third lantern house in Canada to have its original lens. Sueann Musick – The News

PICTOU – A piece of local lighthouse history has come home.

Barry MacDonald, president of the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society, donated the original lens from the second Caribou lighthouse to the Northumberland Fisheries Lighthouse Museum Wednesday.

The lens is close to a century old and will eventually be housed outside the lighthouse museum in the original lantern house that was taken from the top of the second Caribou lighthouse.  It is only the third lens in Canada to be stored in its original lantern house. The other two are located in British Columbia.

“Normally when they are taken out they do a lot of one time as replacements over a year period and these things are just brought back to a warehouse and left there,” he said, adding it’s quite a job to remove them and at times they are destroyed.

MacDonald, along with Rip Irwin, who has written books on lighthouses and is a founding member of the preservation society, presented the lens Wednesday to Michelle Davey, manager of the Northumberland Fisheries Museum. Davey said the lens will be stored inside museum until some work is done to the lantern house.

The first lighthouse on Caribou Island was built in 1868 and lasted until 1916, and they built the second lighthouse which was in service until 1971.

“This lantern is from that lighthouse, in 2016 it will be a 100 years old. We are very fortunate to have this,” said Irwin.

He said Pictou County residents Wally Gallant and Charlie Clark discovered the lantern house in the backyard of a Pictou resident and had it restored with the help of Partner’s Construction.

“That’s 100 years old and in order to do a proper job they had to take it all apart and sandblast the seams,” he said. “I am not sure how they got it back together but they did it and they did a wonderful job.”

Irwin said it is special for the museum to have the lantern house here, but something bigger came together when MacDonald told them he had the original lens from the second lighthouse.

“Barry has kept it all these years and is donating it the museum so we will have the lantern and lens together again after a hundred years,” he said. “It’s a beautiful piece of the work, it wouldn't be the same to have the lantern without the lens.”

MacDonald said a friend in the Coast Guard contacted him when he was replacing the Caribou lens with modern technology.

“Probably 10 years ago, when the rotating mechanism with the lens failed, it was replaced,” MacDonald said. “My friend called and said, “we just took the lens out at Caribou, can you find a home for it, and I said, ‘I sure can.’”

MacDonald and Irwin said they are both pleased to see the lens and lantern find their home at the museum, considering the future of many lighthouses across Canada is grim right now.

The Caribou lighthouse, along with many others in the province, has been deemed surplus by the Canadian Coast Guard. The federal government announced last year it would be cutting its ties with lighthouses in hopes communities would step up and have a lighthouse in their area registered for heritage protection.

Once a petition has been received, the petitioning group has until the early spring of 2015 to submit a business proposal to Fisheries and Oceans showing how they plan to maintain the lighthouse.

MacDonald said 37 business plans were submitted to DFO for lighthouses in Nova Scotia, but no business plans were submitted for the Caribou lighthouse.

“The petition is there, if someone comes forth with the business plan, there is a good chance they will take it,” he said.

The business plan requires a detailed guide from a community group or non-profit organization willing to maintain the lighthouse. Some community groups have successfully operated businesses, such as ice-cream stands or a bed and breakfast out of them.  

“That is incredible part of the whole story,” said Irwin.” The coast guard didn’t care about the details of the lighthouses and wouldn’t spend any money on them, but now they are asking people to submit a business plan to prove they have the capability of supporting the light. It just seems crazy to me.”

Davey said Northumberland Fisheries looked at the business plan, but can’t take on such a project when it is in the process building a new museum on Pictou’s waterfront.

Organizations: Northumberland Fisheries Lighthouse Museum Wednesday.The, Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society, Canadian Coast Guard

Geographic location: Pictou County, Canada, British Columbia Caribou Island Nova Scotia Northumberland

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