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Public invited to tour at-risk Point Petre lighthouse site

The original Point Petre Lighthouse, c.1965, before demolition by the federal government in 1970, despite local community objections. Demolitions are continuing at the Point Petre site in 2022. On the Point Petre Heritage Tour, participants will explore all the elements of the lighthouse complex – existing structures and lost structures. Photo by Lloyd Thompson. Courtesy Queen’s University Archives, V054-6-10

Prince Edward County’s six remaining lighthouses are a testament to the area’s past marine history. Once part of a series of 14 lighthouses built on County shores between 1828 and 1967 to safeguard sailors against the treacherous storms of Lake Ontario, the six surviving sites face an uncertain future.

On Saturday, Oct. 15, the Prince Edward County branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario is leading an exclusive behind-the-fence tour of one of these six sites – the Point Petre lighthouse property, which faces an immediate threat.

The Point Petre’s lighthouse keeper’s dwelling was recently demolished without warning, despite repeated assurances over the past decade from government officials that the site was eligible for protection under the federal Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act passed in 2008.

The first Point Petre lighthouse was constructed in 1832, and remained in service until 1967 when the current red-and-white-striped tower was built.

Three years later, the original limestone lighthouse was dynamited despite the protests of several County community groups. The recent demolition of the lightkeeper’s dwelling leaves only the light tower and the radio-beacon navigation building still intact at the site … for the moment.

The future of the six remaining iconic lighthouse properties is a key priority for ACO PEC, whose mission is to encourage the conservation and reuse of structures, districts and landscapes of architectural, historic and cultural significance, to inspire and benefit Ontarians.

It was ACO PEC executive member Marc Seguin, leader of the upcoming tour, who first observed that Point Petre’s lighthouse keeper’s dwelling had been demolished without notice, then contacted the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, only to learn that the radio-beacon navigation building is also slated for demolition.

In discussions with Parks Canada officials, ACO PEC learned that the Point Petre lighthouse is no longer eligible for heritage protection under the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act.

“The Point Petre lighthouse complex is of great cultural significance to the community and should be preserved for future public access and adaptive re-use,” said ACO President Liz Driver. “ACO PEC calls upon the federal government to stop further demolitions and conserve the site. Now is the time for protection. There is heightened public interest in the special qualities of the County’s South Shore. The provincial government is in the process of establishing a South Shore Conservation Reserve, and there is an initiative underway to establish a National Marine Conservation Area along the South Shore.”

Other County lighthouses are also endangered. The fates of the lighthouses at Scotch Bonnet (1856), Salmon Point (1871), Prince Edward Point (1881), Main Duck Island (1914), and False Duck Island (1965) are also unknown. While the Scotch Bonnet lighthouse actually has heritage designation, the Canadian Wildlife Service has refused to stabilize the ruin in contravention of the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act.

Part of the challenge in securing protection is the number of federal agencies involved in managing these properties including Environment and Climate Change Canada, Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans, the Canadian Wildlife Service, and the Canadian Coast Guard.

In 2016, Parks Canada spent $200,000 to stabilize the lighthouse at Prince Edward Point (also known locally as Point Traverse), but there are no further plans to conserve the site. Others – like the Salmon Point lighthouse – are privately owned, but Driver states its owners have steadfastly refused all offers to help restore the site, and they have actively opposed attempts by Prince Edward County Council to give the lighthouse a heritage designation. All of the County’s lighthouses have deteriorated badly through decades of neglect and will need substantial restoration if they are to be preserved.

“Lighthouses contributed directly to the development of Canada, along with the building of canals, harbours and roads in the 1800s,” says Seguin, the author of the book For Want of a Lighthouse, documenting the history of these unique historical sites. “By the early 20th century, a total of 48 lighthouses and light towers had been built along the northeast shores of Lake Ontario. Now in 2022, only nine of these heritage structures still survive in this area, six of them in Prince Edward County. These are the last vestiges of our quickly disappearing marine legacy. It is vital we ensure these heritage properties are preserved to tell this past history.”

Seguin’s tour of the Point Petre lighthouse property is set for Saturday, Oct. 15th from 2 – 4 pm. Tickets are $25/person and limited to 30 people.

The event includes an exclusive tour of the lighthouse site, a lighthouse guidebook, and refreshments at a nearby heritage barn. Click here to purchase tickets.

To learn more about the event and the work of ACO PEC, visit the website  or contact:

Marc Seguin
Email: lighthouses@ontariohistory.ca

Liz Driver, President, ACO PEC
Email: aco_pec@acontario.ca

 

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