A History Of The Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act

Note: The timeline of this document runs backwards, from passage in May 2008 to the beginning of the campaign in the year 2000. This is the information that was placed on the NSLPS Website. Minimal editing has been done and no historical information has been changed.

The May 2008 Press Release From The Heritage Canada Foundation

The Heritage Canada Foundation (HCF) is delighted to report that bill S-215, An Act to protect heritage lighthouses was passed by Parliament on Wednesday after nearly ten years of effort. The private members bill, sponsored by former B.C. Senator Pat Carney who worked tirelessly on its passing, empowers communities to help preserve Canadas heritage lighthouses. It is expected to receive Royal Assent shortly.

A strong supporter of this preservation initiative since 1999, HCF has worked closely with elected officials and local advocates in helping to bring this legislation forward. "Its a momentous day for Maritime heritage in Canada, said Natalie Bull, executive director. "HCF looks forward to helping local community groups to seize this conservation opportunity.

There are federal lighthouses in every province except Alberta and Saskatchewan. MP Larry Miller, whose Ontario riding (Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound) has several historic lighthouses, carried the bill through the House of Commons.

Moving third reading in the Senate, Senator Lowell Murray noted the original version of the bill was introduced in 2000 by the late Senator Michael Forrestall of N.S. Until now, successive bills have failed to make it through the legislative process.

"Its wonderful to see all the hard work by so many people finally come to fruition, said Barry MacDonald of the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society who has worked for this legislation from the beginning.

After criteria for heritage lighthouses are established, communities will be able to petition the Minister of the Environment for heritage designation and propose community uses for any building surplus to operational requirements.

A Description Of The New Heritage Lighthouse Legislation:

The new Act to Protect Heritage Lighthouses:

  • Provides a means for the selection and designation of federal heritage lighthouses;
  • Prevents the unauthorized alteration of federal heritage lighthouses;
  • Requires that designated federal heritage lighthouses be maintained in a manner consistent with accepted conservation standards;
  • Facilitates the sale or transfer of federal heritage lighthouses in order to ensure the lighthouses public purpose.

Significant features of the legislation:

  • Increased protection of the heritage lighthouses under federal stewardship.
  • A clear process for the identification, maintenance and divestiture of federal heritage lighthouses.
  • New mechanisms for public involvement in the protection of federally owned lighthouses:
  • Public nominations of lighthouses to be considered for heritage designation;
  • Public consultation before alterations are made to heritage lighthouses;
  • Public notice of lighthouses considered surplus to the federal government;
  • Public notice of the transfer of a federal heritage lighthouse to a community group or municipality;
  • Public meeting if a lighthouse is considered for sale to a private owner;
  • Public notice and public meeting if a lighthouse is to be demolished.


The legislation will come into force in two years in order to enable Parks Canada to develop the criteria for heritage designation, with the assistance of an advisory council, and for approval of the Minister of the Environment.

Communities will have a further two years to petition the Minister for heritage designation and to propose community uses for any building surplus to DFO operational requirements.

Timetable for implementation

  • 2008 Bill gets Royal Ascent
  • 2010 Coming into Force of legislation
  • 2010-2012 - Nominations of heritage lighthouses for designation to the Minister of the Environment must be received
    List of surplus lighthouses must be posted by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans
  • 2012-2015 The Minister of the Environment must publish list of designated lighthouses and those denied designation

Some Background To Bill S-215 An Act To Protect Heritage Lighthouses


Canadas built heritage is the most vivid physical representations of the countrys cultural heritage. Lighthouses, like railway stations, have a special significance to Canadians. They are iconic structures. Many have significant architecture. But their importance stems more from their role in Canadian history. Often standing in relative isolation on islands or headlands, they are important artefacts of Canadas maritime history. Many lighthouses have been guiding fishermen and mariners to port since the age of sail, and they stand as a testament to the tragedies throughout history that have befallen thousands of Canadian fishermen and mariners who, due to harsh conditions of climate, coast, and sea, were unable to bring their vessels to port.

Why an act to Protect Canadas Heritage Lighthouses Is Needed

All provincial and territorial jurisdictions and, by delegated authority, all municipal governments in Canada have binding heritage statutes and related legal measures, such as covenants and easements, to protect and guide the management of heritage property. Within the federal jurisdiction, only railways stations and now lighthouses are subject to such binding legislation.

This type of federal legislation has proven to be a highly effective tool for preserving heritage buildings. Prior to the Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act, the Government of Canada recognized only six heritage railway stations in the entire country through the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, and even these had no legal protection. Today, 166 heritage railway stations have been designated by the federal government. An exact parallel exists with heritage lighthouses.

The decline of the Canadian lighthouse can be traced back to its automation, which began in the 1970s. At the time, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans deemed many older structures too expensive to maintain. Sadly, dozens of lighthouses, keepers dwellings and ancillary buildings were torn down, burned, vandalized, or sold and moved off lightstation property.

Presently, surplus lighthouse properties are subject to the Real Properties Act, making it very difficult for communities to take over and maintain lighthouse structures and sites, and virtually guaranteeing their sale for private development.

During the months preceding the passing of the bill, Canadians from across the country took the time to make presentations to the federal Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans on the need for legislation to protect heritage lighthouses.

According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, there are roughly 750 structures that could be defined as lighthouses, but within that number, about 246 or 250 are lighthouses in the "postcard sense of the word. The others are defined as "navigational aids that do meet the broader definition of lighthouse.

In Canada, only 22 lighthouses have the highest level of federal heritage protection, and even this does not provide complete protection. Yet, in the United States, almost 70 percent of lighthouses older than 50 years have protection under the National Register of Historic Places.

What Were the Weaknesses of Previous Federal Policies on Heritage Lighthouses?

Provincial heritage legislation and municipal bylaws cannot apply to federal buildings. Fourteen lighthouses have been recognized as National Historic Sites by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, but legally these buildings can still be demolished or disposed of by a federal custodial body.

The current federal heritage designation practice occurs under the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office (FHBRO) which evaluates the heritage significan+e of federally-owned heritage buildings, but there is no public input in this process. Under FHBRO a heritage building can either be Classified or Recognized: 22 lighthouses are classified, and 104 are recognized. But FHBRO is policy only, and does not afford the same binding protection as legislation. Once a lighthouse leaves the federal inventory, even FHBRO protection ends.

Prior to this new heritage lighthouse legislation, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans had no explicit mandate to preserve and manage heritage resources. The federal government has designated the Minister of the Environment to serve that role. If a lighthouse is designated as a federal heritage building, DFO must consult with FHBRO though this is not mandatory. Current disposal practice according to the Treasury Board Guide to the Management of Real Property requires the Government to make "best efforts toward protection, but does not make a covenant or other form or statutory protection a condition of sale.

Prior to the enactment of this new legislation there was no requirement that heritage lighthouses be reasonably maintained. With the de-staffing of many lighthouses in recent years buildings were closed up and abandoned resulting in dampness-based mould and rot leaving them liable to vandalism.

The Campaign For A Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act, 2006 - 2008

Heritage lighthouse legislation was introduced in parliament a number of times before the act finally passed in 2008. Legislation kept having to be re-introduced because of the closure of minority parliaments. The tenacity of the Protection Act Committee and Parliamentarians in re-introducing this bill seven times is to be commended.

A Private Members bill that originated in the Senate to protect heritage lighthouses was first introduced in April of 2000 as Bill S-21, and subsequently as Bill S-43 (May 2002), Bill S-7 (October 2002), Bill S-5 (February 2004), Bill S-14 (October 2004), Bill S-220 (October 2006), and finally Bill S-215 (October 2007).

This legislation originated in 2000 with Senator Michael Forrestall of Nova Scotia. Until his death in June of 2006, Senator Pat Carney of British Columbia worked with Senator Forestall to have this legislation enacted. Senator Carney reintroduced the Bill as S-220 in October 2006. On May 7, 2008, Bill S-215 received 3rd reading in the Senate and was passed on for Royal Assent.

The Campaign in Detail 2006-2008

Bill S-220 (October 2006)

In December, 2006, the "Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act, Bill S-220", was given third and final reading in the Senate of Canada. This was once again accomplished under the leadership of Senator Pat Carney. The Bill was then introduced in the House of Commons by South Shore/ St. Margarets MP, Gerald Keddy. In March, 2007, the Bill was given second reading and referred to Committee, where amendments were proposed. These amendments were under study when Parliament rose for summer break and the legislation died on the order books.

Bill S215 introduced in the Senate, October, 2007.

February, 2007: NSLPS President Barry MacDonald attended a conference in Victoria, BC, sponsored by the Heritage Canada Foundation. Along with Senator Pat Carney, Barry gave a presentation titled "Canada's Lighthouses, Rich History - Uncertain Future" which pointed out the need for legislation to protect our lighthouses. This was followed by similar talks in Vancouver and St. John's, NL. This effort by Barry, which lead to national interest in the legislation was an important factor in its passage in 2008.

March 11, 2008: The bill passes Second Reading in the House of Commons

March 12, 2008: Mr. Larry Miller, Member of Parliament for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound moves referral of the Act to Committee. This is the seventh time that the bill has been debated. Barry MacDonald, President of NSLPS, reports that there is now a real movement toward getting it passed as soon as possible It will be discussed in the Standing Committee for Fisheries and Oceans in April, and after that will go back to the Commons for Third and Final Reading.

Here is some of what Mr. Miller said about Bill S-215:

"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 . . .

"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. "

APRIL 28, 2008: Discussion by the Standing Committee for Fisheries and Oceans finishes.

Bill S215 referred back to the House of Commons for third and final reading.

May 1st, 2008: The Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act passes third and final reading in the Canadian House of Commons and is headed for the Canadian Senate.
May 9, 2008: Bill S-215, an Act to Protect Heritage Lighthouses, passed third and final reading in the Canadian Senate on May 7, 2008.
May 29, 2008: Bill S-215 signed into law by the Governor General of Canada.

The First Website Information About The Campaign For A Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act

The Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society (NSLPS) established a Lighthouse Protection Act Committee in the year 2000. The following article was placed on the NSLPS Website in the year 2000, at the beginning of the campaign for a Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act. No major editing changes have been made.

Why Canada Needs a Lighthouse Protection Act

Changing technologies and deep budget cuts at Canadian Coast Guard are leading to a steady decommissioning of Canadian Lighthouses and severe neglect of surviving lightstations. Existing heritage protection is wholly inadequate. Few lights have been classified. Ironically, many community groups have come forward to assist in restoring and maintaining their lightstations, but property and disposal regulations enforced by the federal Treasury Board make their participation all but impossible and prefer to sell lighthouses to the highest bidder. A Lighthouse Protection Act would set heritage standards for all lighthouses. It would enable a trustee relationship whereby lighthouses remain public property but can be developed appropriately by communities. A ready-to-use precedent exists in the Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act which was passed by Parliament in 1988. Unless this action is taken soon, Canada stands to lose hundreds of heritage structures and irreplaceable public access to our coastlines.

Facts about Canada's Threatened Lighthouses

  • FACT: Lighthouses are icons of maritime history in Canada. They are often the sole remaining federal presence in communities on the east and west coasts, and on the Great Lakes.
  • FACT: Today (2000), Canada has 583 surviving lighthouses.
  • Newfoundland: 72 lighthouses
  • Nova Scotia: 160
  • Prince Edward Island: 56
  • Quebec: 59
  • Ontario: 104
  • New Brunswick: 78
  • Manitoba: 2
  • British Columbia: 52
  • FACT: In the first decade of the 20th century, Canada had more than 800 staffed lighthouses, beacons and fog horns. Today there are 52 lighthouses with resident keepers.
  • FACT: Large scale automation, cuts to the Canadian Coast Guard and subsequent downgrading of traditional aids to navigation means that existing lightstations receive minimal maintenance. Historically significant structures are literally falling apart.
  • FACT: Dozens of lighthouses, keepers' dwellings and ancillary buildings have been torn down, burned, vandalized, or sold and moved off lightstation property.
  • FACT: Surplus lighthouse properties are presently subject to the Real Properties Act, making it very difficult for communities to take over and maintain lighthouse structures and sites, and virtually guaranteeing their sale for private development.
  • FACT: Canada's lightstations often offer the only public access to a coastline where public access is disappearing.
  • FACT: In Canada, the Federal Heritage Building Review Office (FHBRO) has classified (fully protected) only 19 heritage lighthouses. A further 101 lights are recognized (partially protected). FHBRO has rejected 157 lighthouses from heritage status according to existing federal regulations.
  • FACT: Only 3.25 percent of Canada's 583 surviving lighthouses have full heritage protection. Under current federal regulations, more lighthouses are being rejected than protected.
  • FACT: In the United States, nearly 70 percent of lighthouses over 50 years old have heritage protection by the National Register of Historic Places and the number is climbing.


LIGHTHOUSE: An enclosed structure with an enclosed lantern displaying a light for the purposes of marine navigation. Some older metal skeleton structures with an enclosed upper portion and lantern are also included in the NSLPS database of Canadian lighthouses.

LIGHTSTATION: A lightstation comprises the lighthouse, fog signal building, keepers' dwellings and associated structures.
Sources: Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society Database; Federal Heritage Building Review Office; Historic Lighthouse Preservation Handbook, US Parks Service; Canadian Coast Guard-List of Lights, Buoys and Fog Signals 1992.

A Lighthouse Protection Act: A Statement Of Principles

These are the principles upon which the first draft of the Act was built in the year 2000.
They are not necessarily the principles on which the final act passed in 2008 is based.

. The Lighthouse Protection Act recognizes the cultural and historical significance of lighthouses, the importance of their natural and environmental settings, and their potential as catalysts for the revitalization of coastal communities.

2. Specifically, the Lighthouse Protection Act acknowledges that lighthouses are:

  • (a) fundamental to the identity of Canadian coastal communities;
  • (b) an inalienable part of our Maritime and National heritage;
  • (c) a special kind of national property deserving protection from neglect and privatization, that must remain in the public domain.

3. The Lighthouse Protection Act encourages ways in which coastal communities and/or communities of interest can become "trustees of the lights" for the nation. The Lighthouse Protection Act allows for ways in which lighthouses and lighthouse sites can be maintained and preserved, not only navigationally, where that remains a pr present and a continuing necessity, but also can be developed for other purposes according to the criteria of the Lighthouse Alternative Use Programme.

4. The Lighthouse Protection Act will define the distinctive characteristics and the interplay of characteristics belonging to lighthouses and lighthouse sites. This would include, but not be restricted to, the following points.

The significance of lighthouses:

  • (I) navigationally
  • (ii) culturally
  • (iii) historically
  • (iv) educationally
  • (v) environmentally
  • (vi) architecturally
  • (vii) in matters of sovereignty
  • (viii) politically
  • (ix) socially
  • (x) economically

The Lighthouse Protection Act will designate the Lights included under its protectorate according to these characteristics and will ensure that no lighthouse or lighthouse site be disposed of without public consultation.

5. The Lighthouse Protection Act seeks inter-governmental co-operation and requires co-operation between various government departments.

6. For instance, the navigational and strategic significance of some Lights would mean that they remain totally under the trusteeship and operational mandate of CCG within DFO, but without prejudice to the fundamental principles of the Act. In such a case, the CCG would be the managing governmental body for any alternative use according to the criteria of the Lighthouse Alternative Use Programme.

7. Or, for instance, the interplay of distinctive characteristics with some Lights would mean a partnership between DFO/CCG and Dept. of Canadian Heritage/Parks Canada clearly delineating their respective responsibilities for the site. The weighting of the distinctive characteristics would determine which governmental body would exercise oversight and responsibility for any alternative use according to the criteria of the Lighthouse Alternative Use Programme.

8. Or, for instance, Lights which are non-operational from a DFO/CCG point of view would be placed under the trusteeship of Dept. of Canadian Heritage/Parks Canada which would have oversight and responsibility for any alternative use according to the criteria of the Lighthouse Alternative Use Programme. The Lighthouse Protection Act provides the legislative umbrella under which the Lighthouse Alternative Use Programme functions with respect to both operational and non-operational Lights: in the case of the former, principally through co-operation with DFO/CCG; in the case of the latter, principally through co-operation with the appropriate department, e.g., Dept. of Canadian Heritage/Parks Canada.

Contact NSLPS


C/O Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
1675 Lower Water Street
Halifax NS, Canada B3J 1S3