Like many mariners of the mid 20th century, Rip (Ernest H) Irwin sailed the waters around Nova Scotia with the assistance of lighthouses and foghorns that were the state-of-the art aids to navigation at that time. With the introduction of new technology such as GPS and the de-staffing of lighthouses as a result of automation of lighting from a central control centre, Rip was quick to notice the growing discontinuation of lighthouses as aids to navigation and the subsequent deterioration of these structures.
Therefore in 1994, Rip along with Chris Mills and Patsy MacDonald became founding members of the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society with the goal of creating “an awareness of our province’s lighthouses and marine heritage” and working “with related groups to ensure the identification, documentation and preservation of coastal sites”. Rip was elected President of the Society and during his term in office, Rip worked on the repair of the Gashouse on Sambro Island with the permission of the Canadian Coast Guard and getting federal heritage status (FHBRO) for the Sambro Island lighthouse.
Rip became Past President in August 1995 and acted as NSLPS representative at the New England Lighthouse Foundation conference in May 1996. This was a period when many concerned citizens around the world gathered together often to discuss ways of preserving lighthouses and upon meeting these kindred spirits, Rip reported that he thought he had died and gone to heaven!
Upon resigning completely from the Board in February 1997, Rip resumed his research to compile the necessary material to write a book that would list and detail all Nova Scotia lights that were in existence at that time. This involved Rip visiting lighthouse sites, some of which could only be accessed by Rip in his small Zodiac boat timing the tides and currents correctly to land safely. His book, Lighthouses and Lights of Nova Scotia, published by Nimbus in 2003 and again as a second edition in 2011, is considered the Bible of NS lighthouses.
In 2006 Rip donated all his lighthouse research material to the Northumberland Fisheries Museum who had built a ¾ model of the old Guysborough lighthouse along the Pictou Harbour waterfront. His extensive collection is housed on the 2nd floor and includes a wall-sized map of lighthouse sites around the Maritime provinces. See this youtube video for more details.
Rip died on October 24 2021 and his determination to preserve NS lighthouse heritage for future generation carries on in our Society that is fast approaching 30 years in existence. Thank you, Rip, for starting us on our way!