Guidelines For Construction At Historic Lighthouse Sites

Replica and New Construction

Passed at Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society meeting at the BEACON Lighthouse Conference, October 29, 1999


Under existing laws, there are almost no heritage standards for Canadian lighthouses. As decommissioning and commercial pressure increases, their historic value and the value of their natural environment will be threatened. Until new federal rules, such as a Lighthouse Protection Act, are introduced, these guidelines should be considered.

Replica Lighthouses Background

No one has counted how many replica lighthouses there are in Nova Scotia but there are over a dozen. They range from relatively faithful replicas such as Burntcoat Head to outright fantasy lighthouses such as at Newport Landing; to superficially authentic imitations such the Nova Scotia Tourism gateway at Amherst.


This pressure to build fake and replica lighthouses brings certain dangers:

  1. They can divert money and resources from preserving real lighthouses. (At one location in Nova Scotia, a replica light stands only a few miles from a historic light which stands empty for lack of money to open it to visitors.)
  2. They can blur the line between real lighthouses and fake ones, undermining their authenticity as heritage attractions and endangering the long-term sustainability of that attraction. This danger is especially acute in Nova Scotia. One of the strengths of our lighthouse inventory is the large number of small, well-preserved harbour lights. The scale and location of these lighthouses make them tempting targets for imitation. Some tourists will be satisfactorily fooled for a time, but it is entirely possible that Nova Scotia may gain a reputation as the land of the fake lighthouses and our real harbour lights will come to be dismissed as artificial tourist props.
  3. They are disrespectful of the cultural significance of real lighthouses. The powerful role lighthouses play as community and spiritual symbols should not be dismissed or underestimated. Fake lighthouses are the most blatant way of reducing them to commercial attractions or props which is disrespectful to many people.
  4. They communicate false and misleading historical messages. Fake lighthouses suggest lighthouses were present in places they never were, had luxuries they never offered, offering misleading lessons in lighthouse function, regional styles and the lives of lightkeepers.

With this in mind NSLPS endorses these guidelines for replica lighthouses:

  1. The first choice should be, whenever possible, to steer resources into preserving genuine historical lighthouse structures, instead of building replicas.
  2. If there is no other choice but building a replica at lightstation location, it should be historically accurate replica of an actual structure associated with its site, built to original plans and comprehensive historical documentation.
  3. An option worth considering instead of replica light towers, in cases where additional service buildings are required, are faithful replicas of light stations structures such as dwellings, fog alarm buildings, barns and sheds. These would make a heritage contribution to a site by communicating the look and feel of a light station and making up for past demolitions of attractive and historic ancillary light station structures.
  4. If a replica cannot be made historically accurate, it should not be constructed at all. Instead, an unobtrusive and site-sensitive modern building should be constructed that does not pretend to be historic. (See guidelines for new structures).
  5. As a last resort, if a fake lighthouse cannot be resisted, its disruptive effect should be minimized by keeping it as far away as possible from authentic lighthouse structures and limiting its scale, style and colours, so as not to detract from the genuine lighthouse.
  6. Any replica or imitation should be prominently identified as a replica with year round exterior signage. Any advertising should make clear that these structures are replicas or imitations. To do otherwise is false advertising.
  7. Public support and funding should not be provided to replica lighthouses built as part of commercial attractions such as fake seaside villages, motels, housing developments, amusement parks or shopping malls.

New Buildings

If required, new modern buildings should:

  1. Be located as far away from historic lighthouse sites or as unobtrusively sited and screened as possible.
  2. Embody scale, colour and design that are sensitive to their surroundings and which do not overwhelm historic structures. They should blend in, but not pass themselves off as historic buildings.
  3. They should not interfere with archeological remains such as historic building foundations.

Alterations of Existing Lighthouse Buildings:

  1. Should faithfully conform to any heritage standards which apply. (Such as they are!)
  2. Even where standards do not exist, alterations should faithfully respect the heritage architecture of the building and make as little alteration as possible.
  3. Retain existing door and window style, and decorative elements.
  4. Retain paint colours.
  5. Use traditional materials or, where this is not possible, a very close approximation to traditional materials.
  6. Any new functions should be sensitive to the site and character of the building. For example, washroom doors, electrical utilities and signs should be discretely located.
  7. Any changes to the original fabric of lighthouse structures should be carefully documented so that the changes could conceivably be "undone" and the knowledge embodied in older construction can be preserved.
  8. The amount of new construction affecting the original building should be limited to retain as much original fabric as possible and ease possible future restoration. For example, modern decks should not be directly built into original lighthouse walls.
  9. Where there is a desire to rebuild an original lighthouse feature which was removed in the past, such as a porch or lantern, the restored feature should only be constructed if there is adequate research (plans and photo documentation) to ensure authenticity and where there are adequate resources to ensure that the restoration is faithful and sound.


For all these standards, the period character of lighthouse structures should be respected, even if the period is comparatively recent. Buildings of the 50s and 60s retain unique styles which, although familiar at present, grow more valuable and recognizable as time goes by, representing the last era of lightkeeping before the era of automation.

Contact NSLPS

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