Gannet Rock Lighthouse, the third oldest wooden lighthouse in Canada and one of the country’s only truly “wave-swept” lights, will be left to die a slow death at the hands of an often cruel Mother Nature.
In late November of 2010, personnel from the Canadian Coast Guard visited Gannet Rock to assess its rapidly deteriorating status and the resulting decision was that the isolated station is no longer safe for maintenance crews to visit, which means that if there is an equipment failure, the Coast Guard will not respond. Gannet Rock has stood guard for almost 180 years, but the next time the lamp fails this lone sentinel will go dark forever.
“It’s extremely sad, extremely discouraging,” said one Coast Guard employee of the recent decision, “but we have no choice.” What people don’t realize is that while the Canadian Coast Guard is responsible for the equipment, they are no longer responsible for the site itself; that falls under the jurisdiction of Real Property Asset Management (RPAM), a branch of the Canadian government that has no connection to or interest in historic lighthouses. The Coast Guard is currently looking at alternatives should a failure occur at Gannet Rock. “We would need at least 4 floating aids to replace Gannet,” said personnel working on the plan.
Gannet Rock was first lit on Christmas Eve, 1831 to warn mariners off the treacherous Murr Ledges approximately eight miles south of Grand Manan in the Bay of Fundy. Over the years, maintenance of the remote station has always been a challenge, first by boat and later by helicopter. One keeper, E.G. Miller, drowned in 1937 while returning with fresh drinking water for the station.
But the seawall is crumbling as is the twelve foot high foundation that has supported the wooden tower since 1905. Gaping holes in the concrete decking reveal 6 to 8 foot deep caverns that once housed the station’s fuel tanks, perhaps the greatest hazard to any unwary visitor. Shingles are missing and in a number of places daylight can be seen streaming into the tower through exposed openings in its wooden sides. So much paint has worn off that it is hard to distinguish the vertical black and white daymark that has identified Gannet Rock since the beginning. Once pristine stairs inside the tower are now littered with peeled paint, and the inside of the concrete foundation is covered in black mold. In 2002, the attached 1931 dwelling was completely gutted due to hazardous mold and crumbling concrete, and it has continued to deteriorate since.
“I can’t imagine Gannet not being there,” said Chris Mills of the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society and former keeper at the station (1991-93). “Although I understand that the Coast Guard has limited money to spend on aging and mostly obsolete infrastructure, it is scandalous the way our traditional navigational aids have been neglected.”
There is no doubt that this news is a devastating blow to the preservation of lighthouses in New Brunswick and the built heritage of Canada in general, as well as heartbreaking to those of us who have come to love the iconic black and white beacon that is Gannet Rock.
This story appeared in the
Mar/Apr 2011 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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