July 21, 2008, was an auspicious day for the lighthouse community in southern New Brunswick, Canada. While rain poured outside, guests gathered inside the Mary Olsen Theater in the New Brunswick Museum to witness the long awaited divestiture of two lighthouse properties from the Canadian DFO to local community groups. Representing DFO Minister Loyola Hearn from Ottawa was Darren Goudet while locally DFO was represented by Jim McKinnon who served as MC. Also on hand were local MP Greg Thompson and Provincial Tourism Minister Stuart Jamison. Jamison spoke of spending summers as a boy in Long Reach and helping Blanch Gorham to tend The Cedars light, the small river lighthouse by my house and the lighthouse that started my interest in preservation.
The two lighthouses at the center of the celebration were Musquash Head and Green’s Point. The two groups taking ownership are completely different and offer different approaches to lighthouse alternative use with preservation being their common bond.
The first lighthouse on the program was Mushquash Head and its new owners The Musquash Head Lightstation Inc. Project coordinator Patrick Donovan was unable to attend the ceremony but was aptly represented by member and life-long area resident Barbara Gilliland and her husband Gordon. Pat was instrumental in helping me to start the New Brunswick Lighthouse Society back in 2000 and both he and the Gillilands served as board members during its short existence so I know how much this day meant to them.
Musquash Head is a remote area in Lorneville just west of Saint John that is reached by a very rough dirt road followed by a 1 km hike out to the coast (this will change once the site is developed). The station was established in 1879 and once boasted a number of buildings including two keeper’s dwellings, a barn, fog alarm building and oil shed in addition to a rescue station. Today all that remains is the lighthouse, a concrete octagonal tower built in 1959 on 110 acres along the beautiful Bay of Fundy Coast.
In the message from Pat Donovan he states “We have not yet determined what our exact plans for the property are, but we are committed to protecting the natural beauty of the site. To that end, we will retain control of approximately 12 acres of land directly around the lighthouse and we have agreed to place the remaining 98 acres into the trust of the Nature Conservancy of Canada. There are many examples where magnificent lighthouse properties have been opened to the public with little forethought and the end result is often huge parking lots congested with cars and recreational vehicles, gift shops and all manner of tourist trappings. Partnering with NCC is the first step in ensuring that Musquash Head never falls prey to that type of development. We intend to take a slow, methodical and environmentally responsible approach to any future development. We will consult with other groups and we will take the time to get it right. It may take awhile but the end result will be something that the people of the Fundy Region will be able to take great pride in.”
The lighthouse property is adjacent to the Musquash Estuary, designated as Canada’s sixth marine protected area in March of 2007 and also under the stewardship of the Nature Conservancy of Canada. This project was possible in large part by a land donation made by Mable Fitz-Randolph, a vibrant nonagenarian who in 2000 clamoured to the top of the Musquash Head lighthouse to have her picture taken on the gallery deck during a NBLHS picnic. Also in the area is Black Beach, the only black sand beach in continental North America. All this makes eco-tourism a natural choice for the Musquash group looking at alternative uses for the lighthouse property.
The second lighthouse on the agenda was the L’Etete Passage or Green’s Point lightstation which was officially placed under the stewardship of the Green’s Point Light Association. This group was incorporated in 1996 under the visionary guidance of founding director Maria Buzeta whose husband Mike Strong serves as the current President and spoke on behalf of the organization. Also attending were board members Marylou and Harold Hanley as well as former keeper Ralph Eldridge who Mike praised for his photography skills over the years at the site. Mike was quick to acknowledge that the project would not be where it is today without the help and support of many individuals from the personnel at the Coast Guard with whom they dealt on an ongoing basis in leasing the station to the politicians who aided them in obtaining student help and funding.
“Of course, the miracle at Green’s Point could not have happened without our volunteers. We have many that have been involved with big projects like renovating the museum and the guest cottage, rebuilding the lighthouse foundation, building decks, wheelchair ramps and stairs, and establishing gardens and landscaping. Others have taken on the book keeping, managing students, taxes, bill payment, purchasing, grant applications and researching museum displays.” Singled out for their outstanding efforts were “Marylou and Harold Hanley for managing the site, the rental cottage and the students; Janet Hunt and Maria Buzeta for their beautiful gardens; Pat Matthews, Bunny Kinney and Janet Hunt for the cottage committee; Harold Hanley, Dave Nutter, Harry Bryan, Peter Wilson, Fred Little and Keith Andrews for building repairs and improvements; and Lloyd Leavitt former light keeper for the fantastic whistle house display!”
The Green’s Point lightstation was established in 1879 overlooking the beautiful Passamaquoddy Bay between the community of L’Etete on the mainland and Deer Island (a free provincial ferry runs between the two). The surrounding waters are home to whales and porpoises and eagles are a regular sight in the skies above thanks in part to Ralph Eldridge who used to feed them when he was the keeper from 1986 until destaffing in 1996. The station consists of the 1903 tower, one of the two 1964 keeper’s houses (the assistant keeper’s house was moved in 1979), the 1960’s era fog alarm building, a garage moved to the site from the Beaver Harbour lightstation when it was deconstructed in 1982, a 1982 monitoring station and the 1986 helipad. Not only is the Green’s Point lighthouse one of only 9 remaining octagonal wooden towers in New Brunswick but also the station is one of only five remaining in the province.
Today the keeper’s house serves as the Marine and Coastal Interpretive Center and Museum for lighthouse history, local geography, history and archaeological sites, marine biology and ecology, coastal flora and fauna, coastal aboriginal history and local marine industries. Since 2002 the monitoring building has served as a guest cottage that provides the much needed funds to help keep the project operational. The cottage sleeps 5 people and comes complete with everything except food. So popular has the cottage become that it is completely booked by the start of each season and no wonder, at only $500 for the week it is perfect for relaxation, recreation or for visiting Charlotte County’s many other mainland and island lighthouses.
For several years the garage served as an aquarium and touch tank, my personal favorite part of the Green’s Point experience. Here children and adults alike for a small fee could touch and hold a variety of sea creatures that were held in captivity for a short time before being released back into their environment. This was thanks to the expertise of Mike and Maria who both worked at DFO’s Biological Station in nearby St Andrews. Logistics forced them to discontinue the aquarium but as of this year the couple have both retired so they are revisiting the idea and I for one am hoping to see the aquarium reopened as it is certainly a unique concept at a lighthouse.
Until now the tower has been closed to visitors but the board is considering various possible uses including a gift shop. There is currently a small gift area in the museum with the usual sought after items, shirts, postcards, keychains, pins and they even have a stamp for those visitors traveling with a lighthouse passport.
I made a recent visit to the station to see what is new since my last visit two years ago. The keepers house has been painted and given a bright red new roof (very Canadian) and a lovely deck has been added overlooking the water and the lighthouse. The station is now completely wheelchair accessible. The Coast Guard has moved their monitoring equipment to a small building so a bit more space has been added to the rental cottage. The family renting when I was there was gracious enough to allow me inside to check it all out and it is even more charming and comfortable now with a convenient sliding glass door that leads out onto a small deck. The guests from New England couldn’t have been happier despite a week of less than stellar weather.
The lighthouse has received a new foundation and this year the group plans to replace the glass panes in the lantern, all of which are cracked. They are in the midst of bringing in top soil to level up the grounds to make everything look neat and tidy. The outer edges of the station are lined with massive wild rose bushes that seem to be in bloom whenever I’ve been there, filling the air with their scent.
Green’s Point seems to have something for everyone; an historic lighthouse, educational opportunities, a breathtaking location that lends itself to photography and begs the visitor to make use of the picnic tables and a cottage for those who need more than one day to soak it all in.
This story appeared in the
September 2008 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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