Thunder Bay Main Lighthouse is one of 10 local-area lighthouses that have been declared surplus by the federal government and are slated for closure and possible demolition.
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Susan Visser has always had a passion for lighthouses.
Raised on the shores of Lake Superior, her father was a commercial fisherman and they’ve always been a part of her life.
But now, thanks to government cutbacks, Visser fears Ottawa is on the fast track to tearing down structures it considers surplus. On the list are 10 local lighthouses, and Visser said they hope to gather enough public support to put a stop to the plan.
“Maintaining the lighthouses is No. 1. They’re phenomenal,” Visser said Friday, six days before a planned public grassroots meeting scheduled for Thunder Bay’s Waverly Public Library.
The lighthouses, many of which were built in the 1910s, are part of the city’s heritage and the group dedicated to saving them, Friends of Trowbridge Lighthouse, is hoping enough people are willing to donate time and supplies to keep them from the chopping block.
Under the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act, the surplus lighthouses can be transferred to new owners wishing to take advantage of their heritage designation or tourism potential.
Thus a feasible business plan is the main focus of Thursday’s meeting, which starts at 7 p.m., said Diane Berube, the group’s founder.
Without one, she knows the cause is likely lost.
While the federal government has not publicly indicated they will tear down the surplus structures, the group has been told by people in the know this is the plan, replacing them with light poles.
That would be a shame, Berube said.
“The buildings will all be gone. So every part of our history that has been erected in those areas will be nothing but a pole and a light, because (the government does) maintain the light is still important,” Berube said.
Visser added they’ll be looking for volunteers to help with building maintenance and care. Having those people in place will be a huge part of the case they plan to make to the government. She also thinks it will catch on with lighthouse lovers across the country.
“It would be work-to-stay programs, where you could come and paint a room and you could stay for a week or two, depending on the work, what you want to do on the lighthouses and what you’re able to do,” Visser said.
Money is also needed.
“We are very open to donations. We need bricks, mortars. We need lots of paint and lumber. (The lighthouses) have not been looked after by the coast guard for about the last 15 years. They’re not in really rough shape, but they need the cosmetic, inside and out, done – and some concrete stuff too.”
Berube said it would be a shame to lose the lighthouses, a list that includes the iconic Thunder Bay Main, located on the city’s breakwater.
Others listed as surplus and facing possible demolition include Trowbridge Island, Lamb Island, Angus Island, Battle Island, Point Porphyry, Caribou Island, Otter Island, Shaganash Island and Slate Island. They’re among 970 active and inactive lighthouses Ottawa declared surplus in 2010.
All 10 local lighthouses on that list are under consideration for heritage designation under Parks Canada’s Heritage Lighthouse program. The public was given two years, a period that ended on May 29, to submit nominations. A total of 87 Ontario lighthouses were nominated.
A final decision will be make by Parks Canada no later than May 29, 2015, and will take into account the advice of an advisory committee as well as criteria established for designation.
Berube is hopeful the Thunder Bay-area lighthouses merit saving, regardless of how it happens.
“People are still using the lighthouses to this day, she said, if not instrumentally, then emotionally.
“They know they’ve reached Thunder Bay. They know when they’ve got to their destination when they see light.”
Friends of Trowbridge Lighthouse also plans to send letters of support to Ottawa.
Click here to submit a letter to the editor.