End of an era as Point Aconi lighthouse mysteriously destroyed

Elizabeth Patterson
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Suspicious blaze under investigation by fire marshal's office

POINT ACONI — A Cape Breton landmark mysteriously disappeared under a cloak of flames over the weekend.

Once the location of the main lighthouse tower, only marshmallowy bits of rubble remains of the Point Aconi lighthouse, which burnt over the weekend.

The Point Aconi lighthouse somehow burned to the ground without anyone noticing, at some time since Friday.

"It just went unnoticed," said Florence Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bill Capstick, who received a call Sunday that the structure was gone. "It was burnt and nobody knew about it. It burnt some time over the weekend probably late Friday night. And none of the emergency services knew about it. It burnt unnoticed and just faded away. It's a shame.

"Everything's gone, totally. There's no lighthouse left."

Located at the end of a slushy, rutted road that's barely driveable, the lighthouse's remote location and the fact there are no other buildings near it could be the main reasons why nobody noticed the fire. Capstick said the location is pretty much only visible from the water. In fact, the only reason Capstick thinks it burned Friday night or early Saturday morning is that the area surrounding the two buildings that make up the lighthouse site remains dry and free of ice, which it wouldn't be if it had burned earlier in the week. Capstick said there was no reason for it to burn since there was no power going to it.

"The lighthouse was separate from the main building," said Capstick. "Unless sparks landed on it, but chances are it had something thrown at it to get it started.

"Somebody burnt it."

There's been a lighthouse in that general area since 1874, said Barry MacDonald, president of the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society.

"To lose any lighthouse is a very sad thing," MacDonald said when contacted at his home in Seaforth, N.S.

The Ingonish native said it's important to realize it's the end of an era because such a structure will never be built on that site again.

"Once it's gone, it's gone forever."

At one time, the Point Aconi lighthouse was made of three separate buildings and employed three lighthouse keepers. That was reduced to one keeper in 1975 and automation came later. The generator building that was on site was built around 1965, while the 11-metre glass fibre tower was built in 1989. The operational light, visible for 13 nautical miles, is supplemented with an automated horn that gives a six-second blast every 60 seconds.

Although generally abandoned for years, MacDonald said at one time it appeared people in the area were planning to turn the lighthouse into a heritage centre. But like the light, that possibility has now been snuffed out.

"It's a very sad day when you lose one of these locations," said MacDonald.

For Capstick, the loss of the lighthouse is significant to the area's history.

"It's a shame that it's gone. Anyone out in a boat, it was such a familiar landmark — they're not going to have that anymore — it's now history. The cement slab is left and all the debris is laying on top of it.

"Burnt out pretty good."

epatterson@cbpost.com

To see a photo of the lighthouse, CLICK HERE.

Organizations: Florence Volunteer Fire Department, Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society

Geographic location: Seaforth, Ingonish

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