Le Petit Lievre, a sleek 12-passenger powerboat, has all the mandatory deep-sea sounding and directional equipment required to navigate the heavy-duty weather at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. At the helm is its skipper, Jean Bedard, a grizzled, 70-something former biology professor. The boat is on its way to the lighthouse on the Isle de Pot (Brandy Pot), one of an archipelago of small islands about 30 minutes by fast boat from the city of Riviere de Loup on the south side of the St. Lawrence River.
Bedard’s roots run deep in this part of Quebec. His ancestors settled in the area back in 1661, just 35 years after the arrival of the famous explorer, Samuel de Champlain. Over his lifetime, he developed a passion for waterbirds, lighthouses, and the islands.
Bedard explains that the boat and the management of the lighthouse are only some of the enterprises owned or managed by the Societee Devetnor, a non-profit organization that he and fellow biologists organized 25 years ago. Adding that it all started when he became concerned that trespassers were destroying the delicate ecosystem of the windswept islands and squatters were lighting fires in the lighthouse, which was vacated by the last light keeper in 1969.
Over the first few years, the Society’s members developed a long-range plan
· Restoring the historic lighthouse on the Brandy Pot Island and converting the light keeper’s house into a bed and breakfast
· Building a dock that would withstand the winter storms to bring tourists to the island
· Raising funds to pay for the improve-ments by collecting down from the eider ducks that nest on the island
· Marketing the down in Denmark
· Purchasing L’Isle des Lievres (Rabbit Island) and L’Isle des Pelerines (Pilgrims Island)
Today, the organization has over $5 million in assets, a summer staff of 26, three tour boats, a fleet of smaller boats, two islands, camprounds complete with simply-furnished chalets, lookout shelters and naturalist guides. Volunteers have restored the lighthouse according to the original plans of 1851. The Government of Canada now classifies it as a federal heritage building, and the light keeper’s house is a bed and breakfast inn.
Perched on the side of a rugged cliff, the lighthouse and the light keeper’s house is a unique design, with the massive tower emerging from the center of the keeper’s house. The three bedrooms of the bed and breakfast have been authentically furnished in a Victorian style and the living room includes a fireplace and rocking chair. On a warm summer evening, guests are served a gourmet dinner on the outside deck with its 180-degree view of the St. Lawrence River. Compare that to when the lighthouse was first commissioned, rations for a week included 3/4 lb. of pork, 1 lb. of flour and 1/2 pint of peas per person.
To pay the bills for these improvements, the Society is partially assisted by various Canadian government-funding agencies in recognition for its contribution to sustainable tourist development. Currently, most of the funds come from the hard work of skilled volunteers who annually undertake the backbreaking job of harvesting down from the colonies of eider ducks that return each year to nest on the islands. The down is exported only to reappear in luxury sleeping bags and high-end outerwear. More funds come from ornithological and scientific surveys requisitioned by government and naturalist organizations, boat tours and the profits from the lighthouse bed and breakfast. But according to Bedard, it is eco-tourism that he envisions will pay future bills.
The Society is targeting this market. During the summer, their boats ply the river daily to take tourists to the lighthouse for a visit, for a 24-hour overnighter to the other islands to hike around the 25 miles of trails, or on a two-hour sunset cruise. Naturalists come to site double-crested cormorants, great blue herons, razor-billed auks, guillemots, seals basking on the island’s shores, and pods of spouting whales.
Then in October the lighthouse is closed down, the docks are reinforced, and the campsites are tidied. The islands become, once again, deserted windswept strips of land at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River.
This story appeared in the
Jan/Feb 2005 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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