The Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act
On May 29, 2010, the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act (HLPA), passed by Parliament in May 2008, came into force and the mechanism for obtaining heritage status for lighthouses was announced. Details can be found on Heritage Lighthouses of Canada (Parks Canada website) and a link to the text of the cat is at Justice Law Website (Government of Canada)
List Of Surplus Lighthouses Made Public
On the same day that the act came into force, Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) made public a list of surplus lighthouses.
Disappointing Announcement By Coast Guard
In accordance with section 8(1) of the "Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act" (HLPA), Canadian Coast Guard published on May 29th, 2010, a list of surplus lighthouses (active and inactive) under their jurisdiction. Every lighthouse with exception of lighthouses still staffed has been declared surplus. By this decision, DFO / Coast Guard is refusing to take any active role in the future implementation of the HLPA. Entire responsibility for preserving Canada's lighthouses has been placed in the laps of communities.
A lighthouse will not be awarded heritage status unless those applying are willing to maintain it. For some smaller lighthouses this is possible. For the large, very historic iconic towers, such as Sambro Lighthouse (oldest standing and operating lighthouse in the Americas), it is not. By declaring all lighthouses surplus DFO has opened the way for a wholesale sell off of these important buildings, and the coastal lands and islands that are now publicly owned, to developers and private individuals. Canadians stand to loose an irreplaceable part of their heritage and access to large portions of the coast, both ocean and lake. Every province except Alberta is impacted by this move.
It was the hope that Coast Guard would retain ownership of some of the more "iconic" lighthouses across the Country and partner with community groups and so that these historic structures could be open to and experienced by the public. The sheer size of some of these icons puts their long-term care outside the ability of smaller not-for-profit groups and thus places their future in jeopardy. This is the exact opposite of what the HLPA was designed to do.
Coast Guard has taken the stand that DFO is not in the heritage business but is mandated only for a marine safety program and as such is not funded to care for heritage buildings. This flies in the face of a Federal policy to recognize and protect designated properties owned by the Federal government. The Federal Buildings and Review Office (FHBRO), administered by Parks Canada, has designated a total of 119 lighthouses across Canada. According to FHBRO policy, designated buildings are to be kept in a reasonable state of repair by the custodial department (in this case, DFO). This seems to include heritage as part of DFO's mandate. In addition, other Federal departments (Department of National Defense is an example) have taken their heritage role seriously and seem to find funding to live up to their responsibilities in caring for heritage structures under their care. Why cannot DFO do the same?
In conclusion, it is our hope that DFO will re-think their decision and take a hands-on approach as implementation of this important legislation begins. (Didn't happen - Dec 4 2018)
Problems With The List Of Surplus Lighthouses
Note that the list was inaccurate. In the Maritime Provinces, at least, lighthouses are mixed up as far as their location in a particular province. Lights that are already skeleton towers are included, and some "lighthouses" are simply a light on a pole on a wharf. In the inactive list, lights that have already been passed over to community groups are included, and some "lighthouses" listed are in places where there is no building at. It may be surmised that DFO still owns the land at these sites, but the act is about buildings, not land.