Guidelines on the Moving and Relocating of Lighthouses

Passed by NSLPS Membership April 20, 2001

Nova Scotia's lighthouses can be found in some surprising and strange places, hundreds, even thousands of kilometres from their original location where they once stood beside salt water as real working lighthouses. More relocation is on the way as the Canadian Coast Guard increases its decommissioning and disposal of lighthouses, putting more lighthouses at risk and on the market. The sturdy nature of our many small "pepperpot" harbour lights makes them attractive candidates for "portability". Relocating lighthouses (some would say "dislocating" or "kidnapping") lighthouses poses some serious heritage issues and has a decidedly mixed track record in Nova Scotia.

Examples The Bad and the Good:

  • Cape North/Cape Race - moved 3000 kilometres from Cape Breton to the side of a four lane highway in front of the National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa.
  • St. Paul's SouthWest - moved from Cape Breton the seldom-seen Coast Guard Parking lot in Dartmouth.
  • Digby Wharf - moved from Nova Scotia to a parking lot at the market square retail development in downtown Saint John, New Brunswick.
  • Port Greville - moved 500 km from its home to the campus of the Coast Guard College and then returned to within a few hundred meters of its original site in 1997.
  • Five Islands - moved several hundred feet from its eroding base to be restored at an adjacent campground.
  • Wallace - moved several km from its original site to be restored as a private cottage.
  • Man of War Point, Cape Breton - recently purchased by private landowner who has moved it back onto his property from its eroded shoreline location.

Dangers of Moving Lighthouses

This is what we lose when a lighthouse is moved from its original location.

  1. Loss of context from original location
    - Conveys false messages about the history and use of a lighthouses.
    - Reduces its unspoiled scenic value.
  2. Loss to a coastal community of a tourism attraction and development opportunity.
  3. Loss of landmark for local identity.
  4. Complete loss of the lighthouse's navigational function, still the ideal use of a lighthouse, either as a potential private aid to navigation or as a daymark for navigational reference.
  5. Damage and loss of original architectural features in move.
  6. Loss and erosion of the authenticity of all lighthouses by reducing them to parking lot attractions and blurring the line between real lighthouses and fake ones.
  7. However it must be conceded that there are sometimes pressing reasons to relocate a lighthouse. When erosion or imminent demolition is threatened or if absolute isolation negates the cultural value of a lighthouse, there can be a case for relocation.

The society proposes the following guidelines:

A fundamental principle of lighthouse preservation should be, whenever possible to retain and restore a lighthouse at its original location.


  1. If a lighthouse is in pressing danger of destruction by uncontainable erosion.
  2. If a lighthouse faces demolition by new or irresponsible owners which may be avoided by relocation.
  3. If a lighthouse has already been moved far from home and is being returned closer to its original location.
  4. If an overwhelming case can be made that a lighthouse is so remote that restoration, maintenance and public access can only be made possible on another site. This exception should be used with care and only as a last resort. Remote is a subjective term. Ecotourism such as hiking, boating and adventure tourism are changing the definition of remote. Some lighthouses create a visual access just by being visible across a harbour as a scenic and cultural landmark. This exception does not justify moving a lighthouse merely for convenience of motor visitors or to exploit the lighthouse as a commercial attraction at a busy location.
  5. If there is a real threat to the public posed by the original location of the lighthouse. This should be a genuine and pressing and demonstrable danger. It should especially be kept in mind that moving a lighthouse itself may create new dangers (creating an inappropriate playground for children in an urban area, creating a traffic hazard, a target for vandals, an unhealthy retail outlet etc.)

Required Process

Moving a lighthouse from its original location creates pressing and important responsibilities if its heritage characters is to be preserved:

  1. The local community should be advised and consulted about the proposed move.
  2. The new location should be as close to the old as possible.
  3. The new location should be accessible to the public.
  4. Year round exterior signage should explain the lighthouse's original location, function and history.
  5. The new location and use should respect and interpret the history of the lighthouse and not reduce it solely to a prop or commercial retail attraction.
  6. Heritage standards should be applied to the lighthouse to ensure it retains its original appearance and is not disfigured or destroyed by the pressures and demands of a new location.
  7. The old location should be documented and marked.

Lighthouses Belong to the Public: Evidence from the Historical Record

In the last year the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has frequently been denying public access to lighthouses. The justification is often given that lighthouses are isolated industrial structures posing serious dangers because they were never intended to be visited by the public. This is false. As a historian who has often researched individual lighthouses, I regularly come across records demonstrating that lighthouses in Nova Scotia have been regularly visited by the public for many generations. Furthermore it is clear that these public visits were officially recognized and in fact encouraged by the federal government.

Lighthouses have featured as prominent community landmarks and destinations for leisure travel for a long time. In fact, many of today's island lighthouses once had much higher levels of visitation. Before car ownership became common after World War Two, limited highway networks, more extensive island settlements and larger numbers of inshore fishing boats meant that more people travelled by water. It was a regular occurrence for people to use small fishing boats or the extensive networks of coastal steamers to visit lighthouses on islands. These visits varied according to season and location but consider just a few examples, starting with a quite isolated lighthouse, the Isle Haute in the Bay of Fundy.

Although many miles from habitation and surrounded by cliffs and tide rips, the lighthouse at the Isle Haute was the destination for family picnics, church picnics and large holiday outings for over a century. Some visits were large enough to attract candy sellers and food vendors from the mainland. Still photos and newsreels clearly indicate how regular and large these visits were. Annual visits by the Orange Lodge fraternity in 1903 brought over 300 people to this island on a single visit! Visiting naturalists and adventure travellers were regular visitors, often boarding and staying over night until the lighthouses was replaced by an unmanned tower in 1956.

Government records show lighthouse officials expected public visits and adapted lighthouse procedures to cope with them, especially for the lights close to cities and towns. At Fort Point light in Liverpool, lighthouse officials actually ordered the construction fence to give lightkeepers more privacy from visitors in the 1870s. Summer visitation was so heavy at the Maughers Beach lighthouse on McMabs Island up in Halifax up to the 1970s that memos instructed lightkeepers to lock up equipment because thieves could take advantage of the many innocent summer visitors to steal tools.

These precautions do not indicate lighthouse officials sought to end public visits, to the contrary, they clearly encouraged them. The Rules and Instructions for the Guidance of Lightkeepers published by the Department of Marine in 1912 as the operational "Bible" for lightstations and was used by lightkeepers until the 1950s. Not only did it require that lightstations be attractive and tidy for visitors so as "to reflect credit on the government and be a model to the neighbourhood" (Rule 75) , it also explicitly instructed keepers to cheerfully welcome visitors and "without charge show the premises at such hours as do not interfere with the proper discharge of their duties" (Rule 36). Such recognition of the public nature of lighthouses is a sad contrast to DFO's recent policy of barring the public from lighthouses and charging license fees for access. Clearly a shift in values seems at work from a past belief in lighthouse as public landmarks to DFO's new approach to treat lighthouses as private real estate commodities.

The Rules and Instructions for the Guidance of Lightkeepers Canada: Department of Marine,1912.
Journal of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly 1860
"A Childhood Spent on Isle Haute" by Ella Fraser Chronicle Herald Jan. 28, 1989, p.1n.
Maughers Beach Lighthouse Records 7952-328 Vol. 1

Contact NSLPS

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1675 Lower Water Street
Halifax NS, Canada B3J 1S3