March 11, 2008
Miller Speaks to Second Reading of Lighthouse Heritage Act
Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to rise in the House today to speak to Bill S-215, An Act to protect heritage lighthouses.
As we know, this initiative has been before us several times previously and has always received broad support. In fact, this is the seventh edition of this bill since 2000. I am proud to sponsor this bill in the House, but there were many people before me that have taken up this cause and I would like to take a moment to mention them now.
This bill owes a great deal to the work done by the late Senator Forrestall and carried on by Senator Carney and Senator Murray, who together moulded this bill from a desire to protect part of Canada's maritime heritage into the legislation that we have today.
Senator Carney has worked tirelessly to champion this initiative. In fact, she worked right up until her last day in the Senate to ensure that a number of administrative and financial concerns were addressed.
As well, I would be remiss if I did not thank the member for South Shore—St. Margaret's for his help on this initiative.
I would also like to recognize the hard work of Mr. Barry MacDonald and his organization, the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society. I thank Barry. Mr. MacDonald's contribution to this legislation was paramount when it came to continuing this process that would allow us to protect not just the lighthouses of the fine province of Nova Scotia but throughout the country as well.
In fact, there are nine lighthouses in my riding of Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, which include some of the six imperial tower lighthouses. Cove Island is one of these and it is a treasure. Cove Island Lighthouse was built in 1858, while Griffith Island Lighthouse, which is also in my riding, along with Chantry Island, Point Clark, Nottawasaga and the Christian Island lighthouses were all built in 1859.
This bill would provide for the designation of heritage lighthouses to require that they be reasonably maintained to prevent unauthorized alteration or disposal and to facilitate the sale or transfer of heritage lighthouses. We can all appreciate the role that lighthouses have played in shaping Canada's history since the 18th century on Canada's coasts, along the St. Lawrence River and on the Great Lakes.
Lighthouses have long shaped the history and economic development of this country. These majestic structures have helped to open key transportation corridors into the heartland of central Canada and the markets of our neighbours to the south.
What makes lighthouses so special and memorable? Perhaps it is because they represent where we have come from as a people and a nation. They stand as unwavering proud and unique symbols of our maritime history.
If we look closely, it is hard not to imagine lighthouse keepers in their lonely outposts, protecting our mariners as they strove to steer their vessels safely through rough waters in fog and darkness. For those mariners, the glowing, steady beam of the lighthouse shining from the shore must have instilled a sense of relief, a sense that they had made it, and that their lives and their cargo were safe.
Let us talk a moment about some of the people who manned those often remote lighthouses across the country. Friends of mine, Bert and Pearl Hopkins of Tobermory are two of those people. They spent years in various lighthouses, finishing up their careers on Caribou Island in Lake Superior.
There is no denying lighthouses have played a critical role in the development of Canada as a nation. Like the railroad tracks that etch our landscape and the grain elevators that dominate the prairie sky, lighthouses are embedded in the Canadian consciousness. They are woven into songs, poetry, stories and art. Today, they are frequented by thousands of hikers and tourists from across Canada and around the world.
Light stations were pivotal in Canada becoming a trading nation, lighting the way for safe passage of mariners, commerce and opportunity. Lighthouses were essential, modern technologies that facilitated trade within and between nations.
The first Canadian lighthouse and the second oldest lighthouse on the continent was constructed at Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island in 1734.
Another important east coast lighthouse, the Sambro Lighthouse, was established by the very first act passed by Nova Scotia's House of Assembly in 1758. The act placed a tax on incoming vessels and alcohol imports to pay for the lighthouse. It is the oldest operating lighthouse in North America and a Canadian national historic site that celebrates its 250th anniversary this year, an event that makes passage of this bill so important and timely.
The history of lighthouses on the Great Lakes goes back to 1803 when a decision was made to construct a lighthouse at Mississauga Point on Lake Ontario. Several other towers were built on the lower Great Lakes during the next two decades. It was not until 1847 that the first lighthouse on Lake Huron was built at Godridge. The establishment of more lighthouses continued through the mid-1850s, prompted by the settlement of my region along the Bruce Peninsula and the free trade agreement with the United States in 1854, which considerably increased shipping.
John Francis is the owner and publisher of the Tobermory Press and one of my constituents. He is also a lighthouse enthusiast, and his comments on this bill should be heard by the House. He wrote, “The lighthouses on the Great Lakes are among the most important historical buildings in Canada. As government assets, lighthouses are valued only for their function. Preservation and public access are often incompatible with tight budgets and limited manpower. The transfer of responsibility from the federal ministry to private trusts and historical societies will ensure that historical lighthouses are carefully preserved and accessible to the public”.
Fish, fur and lumber were abundant in the upper Great Lakes area. Harvesting these resources led to increased economic activity and navigation through central Canadian waters. This fundamental need sparked plans for the imperial towers.
Named to denote the fact that their material and construction costs would be assumed by Great Britain, the imperial lighthouses were absolutely majestic. During the mid-1800s, 11 were planned and six were built. Constructed from limestone and whitewash, these stone towers are truly magnificent.
On the west coast, the start of the Fraser River gold rush in 1858 saw Victoria, B.C. go from a small frontier settlement to a thriving city in a matter of months. The huge increase in shipping that resulted from the gold rush quickly led to demands from shipowners and captains for aids to navigation.
The Fisgard Lighthouse was the first permanent lighthouse constructed on the west coast of Canada. It was constructed in 1859 along with Race Rocks Lighthouse, and thus began B.C.'s association with lighthouses in support of its maritime transportation and heritage.
By the first decade of the 20th century, more than 800 staffed lighthouses and other aids to navigation, such as lighted beacons and foghorns, were in service across the country. Before the advent of the automobile, our waterways were the highways of choice for travellers and their cargo. Today, however, rapid technological changes have set aside the traditional roles of our lighthouses.
In the 21st century, new marine safety and navigation technologies are replacing lighthouses as aids to navigation. These new technologies are more effective and accessible to vessel operators. As a result, many of our lighthouses are becoming operationally redundant. As a result of our focus on new and more effective aids to navigation, expenditures on upkeep and maintenance of lighthouses have been reduced and many are now in a state of disrepair.
Should we care about this state of neglect? Yes, we should. For one thing, since lighthouses often define a community, they can be integrated in community development and other activities that can support tourism and historical purposes. That is why we should all support Bill S-215, a bill that would provide statutory protection for lighthouses across Canada.
I want to speak a little about the role of lighthouses in the 21st century. For example, today much of the shores around the Great Lakes have been transformed into cottage country. Surplus lighthouses represent an opportunity to enhance recreational activities and help redefine communities. As a result, communities across the country are looking at these properties in a new light. There is ample evidence of this.
Ongoing growth and ecotourism has resulted in Fisheries and Oceans Canada divesting more than 130 lighthouse properties. Many of these have been successfully converted into interpretive centres, museums, bed and breakfasts, gift shops, restaurants and other small business ventures.
Let me talk for a moment about lighthouses in my home province which have undergone major, very successful transformations. Cove Island Lightstation, which I mentioned earlier, is in my riding of Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound and is one of the few lighthouses on the Great Lakes that has retained navigational significance. It continues to be in top-notch condition, and is the only imperial tower to have its original Fresnel lens. Its incredible strength means the light can reach 20 miles.
Standing in what is now Fathom Five National Marine Park, the very first underwater national park in Canada, Cove Island Lighthouse remains the crown jewel of the 6 imperial towers. Its role in opening navigation on Lake Huron led to its designation as a federal heritage building. Standing tall above the rugged shore, this tower is one of the highest in the entire country.
During the summer months the light station is accessible to visitors through boat tours operating out of Tobermory. The sight success is largely due to the collaborative effort between Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Cove Island Lightstation Heritage Association. This cooperation resulted in the restoration of both the tower and keeper's residence for multiple purposes.
Similarly, Cabot Head Lightstation, also in my riding, was refurbished by the Friends of Cabot Head who operate the restored building as a museum for local residents and tourists. Visitors to this area can also catch boat tours to the Flowerpot Island Lightstation, which is also located in Fathom Five National Marine Park.
Its lightkeeper's residence and several other buildings were renovated by Fisheries and Oceans and the Friends of the Bruce District Parks Association. Their efforts to restore the structures have resulted in the lightkeeper's dwelling operating seasonally as a museum and gift shop.
Thanks to the Friends of Fathom Five and the former St. Edmund's Township, the Big Tub Lighthouse was made more accessible to visitors. A viewing area was cleared and an interpretive sign was installed. This tower at Lighthouse Point was particularly important for guiding ships from the treacherous waters of Lake Huron and the Georgian Bay into the harbour.
Tobermory's light still guides boats through powerful currents, dense fog and shoals to the safety of Big Tub Harbour. Underwater shipwrecks are a testament to the dangerous waters, and those undersea monuments still attract scuba divers in large numbers from around the world. Big Tub, Flowerpot Island, Cabot Head and Cove Island are just a few examples of Ontario's lighthouses that have undergone noteworthy restoration as part of tourism and economic development.
With the help of community groups like those just mentioned, lighthouses are being restored to their original splendour.
This government is committed to working with community members and other levels of government, and Bill S-215 enhances our ability to join forces to preserve these vital links to our past. Light stations in central Canada hold tremendous heritage value, economic worth and architectural significance as they do in our many coastal areas.
What does Bill S-215 do? Bill S-215 enshrines in cultural and historical significance, and acknowledges the places of lightstations in our maritime and national heritage. This bill offers lighthouses much needed protection. Bill S-215 would protect heritage lighthouses under the legislative authority of Parliament. The bill would require heritage lighthouses to be reasonably maintained and would prevent unauthorized alteration or disposal.
Other provisions under Bill S-215 align with other federal government efforts to build a culture of heritage conservation in Canada. Honouring our maritime heritage is a shared responsibility. Under the proposed bill the minister responsible for Parks Canada would designate the heritage process and would task or establish a new organization to administer the provisions of the bill, and this includes developing criteria for designating, maintaining or altering heritage.
There is a proposed amendment coming forth, and the government wholeheartedly supports the spirit of this bill since the late Senator Forrestall first championed this initiative in 2000, and there has been general support for it in the House.
The government is pleased to support it, along with its Fisheries and Oceans divestiture program. It is the government's view that what this amendment does in a nutshell is it would amend the bill by replacing the terms “related built structure” with “related buildings”.
I see that my time is quickly running out, so I will urge all members of the House to support this bill. I think we may have unanimous support. It is a very non-partisan bill. It is something that will go a long way to protect the lighthouses.