There’s a local group campaigning to save a tower after a lightning strike rendered it inoperable and severely damaged.
It’s sort of like one of the plot lines of Back to the Future, but with less Michael J. Fox.
This tower has no clock, but it did have a light. The subject of this volunteer-led campaign is the Nottawasaga Lighthouse - an imperial tower lighthouse built in 1856.
The Nottawasaga Lighthouse Preservation Society (NLPS) – a registered charity – has been diligently working to preserve the crumbling facade of the lighthouse. After a lightning strike in 2004, the limestone bricks have been falling off the outside of the lighthouse, giving it a rather decrepit appearance. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and NLPS wants nothing more than to own and care for the 160-year-old tower.
They are closer than ever to ownership now. The Canadian government has sent notice to NLPS that it will allow the charity and the various government departments to move forward with a transfer of ownership. NLPS will buy the lighthouse for $1 and will then be responsible for fixing it up and maintaining the site.
Rick Crouch is a local Realtor and the chairperson of the NLPS.
“It’s a fun project,” he said. “It’s probably the most interesting real estate transaction I’ve ever been involved in.”
Technically the lighthouse is property of the Queen. There are several government agencies involved including the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.
This transfer of ownership has been years in the making, and NLPS has been working hard to prove itself along the way.
In the fall of 2016, the NLPS had raised enough money to essentially shrink-wrap the lighthouse tower in order to protect the exterior from the elements and further degradation.
The shrink wrap went on in November, and lasted just a few days before it pulled away from the tower and shredded. Discouraged but not dissuaded from their goal, the NLPS found another way – reinforced tarpaulin material used to wrap loads carried by transport trucks. The tarpaulin was attached to wood strapping on the lighthouse and has stayed in tact protecting the lighthouse for two winters.
“The fact that we didn’t give up established a higher degree of credibility [with the government],” said Crouch. Covering the lighthouse not only helped their case when they applied for a transfer of ownership, but it helped the group pursue the idea with more fervor. Instead of a wish, it became a goal.
The tarp is a band-aid solution, and the vision of the NLPS is much bigger than a lighthouse standing as a shadow of its former glory.
“I see this as a significant part of Collingwood’s history,” said Crouch, referring not only to the shipyards, but also to the busy harbour where ships docked to load grain headed for Western Canada.
“It can certainly play a key role in tourism.”
The history of the lighthouse is significant for the area. The lighthouse was built as one of six imperial towers between 1855 and 1858. The project was undertaken by the federal government because of the ever-increasing number of shipping disasters on Canadian shores. The project was grossly over budget (mostly due to shipwrecks and difficulty accessing the build sites) and ended early with six lighthouses instead of the intended 11. Initially the lighthouse keeper had to live on the island and fill a kerosine tank up several times a night to power the light. The circular motion of the lamp worked on a weighted pulley system (think cuckoo clock) so the weights had to be reset a few times per night as well. Eventually a power line run underwater reached the island and made the lighthouse self-sufficient. The lighthouse keeper’s house – built at the same time as the tower – burned down in 1959.
Crouch said he could foresee the site becoming a non-profit eco-park once the group rebuilds the lighthouse keeper’s house.
The restoration of the lighthouse and rebuilding of the keeper’s house is a five-year project with an estimated cost near $2 million.
Firstly, the NLPS will have to undertake some environmental clean up on site. There’s mercury in the soil from an old system meant to reduce friction as the gears turned the signal at the top of the tower. There’s also bird droppings in the tower to be cleaned up. The cost of clean up will be about $250,000.
There are hundreds of birds nesting on the islands including herons, egrets, seagulls and cormorants. Crouch said the society will be conscious of the local eco-system that has developed on the island.
“Everything we do, we want to do with a lot of respect to the environment,” said Crouch.
Next on the to-do list is to rebuild the small dock and harbour at the island to improve access for boats and allow the work crews to get supplies unloaded more efficiently.
Later, the society will remove the outer layer of limestone bricks from the lighthouse and replace them. The structure inside is solid - built from three-to-six-foot thick concrete walls.
Eventually, the group will have the lighthouse keeper’s house rebuilt and make a plan for the island, lighthouse and keeper’s house to allow access by visitors.
Perhaps one day, the light at the top of the tower will shine again on stormy nights.
Fundraising efforts are once again underway as the goal of owning the site slowly becomes reality and the $2 million project begins.
The next benefit event is a concert by Canadian band lighthouse, which takes place Aug. 18 at the Eddie Bush Arena. The event is presented by Collingwood’s Century of Classics. Some proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the NLPS for the restoration of the lighthouse. The show starts at 6 p.m. (doors at 5p.m.) and tickets are available online here.
Membership in the society is free. Learn more by visiting the NLPS website.