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Seal Island Lighthouse

Seal Island, Nova Scotia

Dating from 1831, Seal Island is the oldest wooden lighthouse in Nova Scotia but is quickly falling into ruin. Managed by the Canadian Coast Guard, the lighthouse is suffering severe neglect, with leaks, rotten shingles and peeling paint, even though it has been given “Recognized” heritage status by the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office.

The lighthouse provides a vivid, even textbook, example of the inadequacy of the federal government’s heritage building protection policies. Only 3 percent of Canadian lighthouses have genuine heritage protection, and only 12 percent have even partial protection. That compares poorly to the United States, where over 70 percent of lighthouses over 50 years old are protected by the National Register of Historic Places. 

Seal Island lies off the southwest tip of Nova Scotia at "the elbow of the Bay of Fundy.” For more than three centuries storms, fog and powerful tides have conspired to wreck at least 160 ships, making the island one of Atlantic Canada's most dangerous areas for shipping. Erected at the urging of local residents, the large wood structure was built of massive squared timbers 14 metres long, and the lantern floor was reinforced with heavy wood knees. The light was automated and the station de-staffed in 1990.

A local community group and the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Protection Society are anxious to preserve the lighthouse and contribute to its maintenance, but are blocked by Treasury Board policies. The Seal Island Lighthouse Museum in Barrington, on the Nova Scotia mainland, is an 11-metre-high replica of the top half of the original Seal Island Lighthouse. Ironically, it is in excellent condition.

Bill S-220, an Act to Protect Heritage Lighthouses, passed first reading in the House of Commons in early February. It is designed to protect federally-owned lighthouses from unilateral alteration, sale, and demolition.