Back in 1988, Rita Anderson, executive director of the South West Coast Development Association (SWCDA), went for a walk along the coast of her native Newfoundland. She came upon a ghostly sight – the crumbled remains of the Rose Blanche Lighthouse. The 1873 lighthouse, decommissioned in the 1940s, had been assaulted by harsh weather and vandalism to the point that the dwelling was reduced to a pile of rubble. The attached tower still stood tenuously.
Rita, who grew up in Port aux Basques, remembers her thoughts at the time. “We as a society had abandoned this structure that had served the country so well by saving countless lives. I felt that she had to be restored and I felt that I had to do it.” She became a woman on a mission.
The SWCDA took the lead and in 1996 restoration began. It took three years and 1.5 million Canadian dollars to complete. Some of the original granite blocks were salvaged, and new ones were cut from the same local quarry that had been used in 1871-73. “I enjoy when I see the look on peoples’ faces when they see a picture of the ruins, then see a picture of the finished product,” says Rita.
On August 3, 2002, Rita threw the switch to relight Rose Blanche Lighthouse after it had been dark for over half a century. “Having the lighthouse relighted was a high,” she beams. “We made Canadian history as this lighthouse was decommissioned prior to us joining Canada.” The lighthouse was designated a Registered Heritage Structure in September 2002.
The Rose Blanche Lighthouse is open to the public seasonally, and this year the Cape Ray Lighthouse is also open to visitors. “There are actual lightkeepers on staff,” says Rita, “and they have so much knowledge of how a station operates. The Canadian Coast Guard has been a wonderful supporter of our work. We couldn’t do what we do without them.”
Lighthouses are not the only work of the SWCDA, a nonprofit group of volunteers. They’ve done an archaeological excavation of a prehistoric site in Cape Ray and built the Harvey Trail in Isle aux Morts. They also restored a nine-car train and created the Port aux Basques Railway Heritage Centre. “There are no more trains in Newfoundland so we saved another piece of our history,” explains Rita.
The work is hard but satisfying. “Every year we grow just a little bit more,” says Rita. “It is fun, and frustrating at the same time. We just take it one step at a time and go forward.”
There’s no doubt that Rita has the “lighthouse bug.” “My husband, Wayne, supports me in my interest,” she says. “We sleep in a lighthouse bed and have matching dressers with lighthouses in our bedroom. Wayne is a carpenter and does wonderful finish work and furniture work.” But make no mistake, to Rita Anderson there’s no lighthouse like Rose Blanche. “It is the prettiest spot on the face of this earth. A must see for all lighthouse lovers. You will not see another one like it anywhere.”
To learn more, visit the Rose Blanche Lighthouse web site at www.geocities.com/rblighthouse or call 709-695-7411.
This story appeared in the
July 2003 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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