Caribou Island lighthouse undergoing repairs

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CARIBOU ISLAND — Stakeholders who want the Caribou Island lighthouse preserved were encouraged recently to learn that Fisheries and Oceans Canada personnel are repainting it.

Laurie Poirier and Scott Fisher arrived on July 9 for a scheduled two-week project to repair and repaint the cement building’s exterior.

Darla MacKeil, who represents District 3 that includes Caribou Island on Pictou County Municipal Council, has been working with Pictou West MLA Karla MacFarlane and Central Nova MP Sean Fraser to help the Facebook group Friends of Caribou Island’s efforts to ensure the lighthouse’s future. The group was formed after a one-storey portion of the lighthouse was demolished. That followed a decision by the Canadian Coast Guard in 2012 to divest several lighthouses, including the one at Caribou Island. At the time, no group expressed interest in it.

“It’s important to the people here to preserve the lighthouse,” MacKeil said. “It’s nice to have people who want to preserve our heritage. There’s so much pride in that lighthouse. It’s what people see first when they’re approaching Nova Scotia by ferry and it’s the last thing they see when they’re leaving.”

Corey Matheson and Dane Grant, who own properties near the lighthouse, formed the group that has added Facebook friends over time.

Matheson said he was surprised when he learned about the recent repairs. “It was quite a shock that they were starting repairs,” he said. “It wasn’t looking like it would happen.”

Matheson said the repair work is timely. It’s the 150th anniversary of the first lighthouse’s construction in 1868. The second lighthouse was built in 1916, and a two-thirds scale model of it was built in 2007 at the end of the pier where the Northumberland Fisheries Museum and adjacent lobster hatchery are located along Pictou’s waterfront.

Matheson said he’s relieved officials have not demolished the building, which has an operating lighthouse and weather station that he said could have easily been relocated on skeleton towers.

“There’s no timeline on it,” Matheson said regarding when the lighthouse might be handed over to the group. “We’re still very much interested in taking control of it, and it’s better to have it handed over to us in good condition.”

Dane Grant added, “The process differs with each federal light property. The Caribou Island Light Station also has an active federal weather station, this makes the process for the Caribou light a bit more complicated. Once Environment Canada is consulted and agreements are made, the next step in the process, we are told, is to have First Nations agree/sign off on divestment of the property.”

Matheson said he appreciates how MacKeil, MacFarlane and Fraser have co-operated to help the group through the hoops required for authorities to hand over the lighthouse building.

“They were always helping us to do the work,” he said. “It’s nice to see something like this come together.”

Grant said he sees the work started last week as “great news and very much part of why we have started the group.”

The well being and up keep of the property is the group’s primary goal, he said. “We live in a unique place in this world, we have in our neighborhood what people travel thousands of miles to see in person; it is a symbol of who we are as a culture, we need it to look its best. Already I have received word from people on board the ferry telling us they see an improved difference as they sailed by. We would encourage everyone who may visit the station while Canadian Coast Guard carries out the maintenance to say “thank you” in support of their efforts.”