Digest>Archives> January 2001

Cape Enrage Lighthouse: An ongoing success story

By Jeremy D'Entremont


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A view of Cape Enrage and the light station from ...

The period from the 1970s into the 1990s was a dark age for Canada’s Atlantic coast lighthouses. Almost all the stations were automated, and many of the keeper’s houses and other buildings were razed. Some lighthouses were destroyed and replaced by utilitarian skeleton-tower lights. Many of the buildings that were left standing were abandoned and left as easy prey for vandals. Individuals and communities stepped forward to save the historic stations, but cumbersome red tape made it difficult to do anything. This is the story of a high school teacher and many dedicated students who didn’t give up. Their years of patience and hard work have resulted in a lighthouse station that has not only been saved for all to enjoy, but has become a model for successful alternative use.

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The Cape Enrage Lighthouse. Photographs courtesy ...

New Brunswick’s Cape Enrage is on Barn Marsh Island on Chignecto Bay, an arm of the Bay of Fundy. The Cape is reached by car via a roadway over a narrow beach. The extreme Fundy tides have carved out a place of great scenic beauty, with 200-foot cliffs that are home to abundant fossil deposits. Great blue herons nest in the area, and moose and other wildlife are frequently seen.

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The keeper’s house before restoration. ...

The cape gets its angry name because of rocks that extend from the southern end of the island near the lighthouse. The rocks cause the extreme current to become "enraged," and the turbulent waters once posed a great danger to navigation. There was a major shipping lane offshore, with vessels carrying stone, gravel, gypsum and oil. There is no longer heavy shipping traffic in the area, but there is still an active lobster fleet. Because of the shipping activity and the danger of the rocks and currents, a lighthouse was first established at Cape Enrage in 1840. The present lighthouse was built in 1870. The present keeper's house is a duplex built in 1952, during the period when two Coast Guard keepers and their families lived at the station.

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A student painting the keeper’s house during ...

By the 1980s only one keeper lived at Cape Enrage, and in 1988 the light was automated and the station was abandoned. The duplex house was soon vandalized and damaged by the elements. Two garages on the property were sold to individuals who removed the buildings from the property. The Canadian Coast Guard scheduled the keeper’s dwelling for demolition in 1992.

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The restored keeper’s house, now known as Cape ...

During this time a high school physics teacher named Dennison Tate was a frequent visitor to the light station. Tate was no stranger to lighthouses. His father had been a keeper at two New Brunswick light stations: Long Point on Grand Manan and Machias Seal Island. Tate began to wonder, he says, “what might be done to protect it and improve its appearance as well as ways to utilize it for the common good.” The removal of thes garages prompted Tate to take action. He began to develop plans to restore and develop Cape Enrage as a tourism, education and adventure center.

Tate approached Federal and Provincial agencies with his ideas but met with little encouragement. He then decided to approach the Canadian Coast Guard about the possibility of the light station being leased directly to the high school. There was interest, but much red tape in the way before any such arrangement could become reality.

In the meantime, Tate decided to push forward in the restoration of the light station. Grants were obtained from a Federal Student Summer Works Program and six students from Harrison Trimble High School were hired to work at the lighthouse for the summer of 1993. The Coast Guard granted permission for the group to access the property, but not enter the keeper’s house.

Two trailers were moved to Cape Enrage for the small band of six students and one teacher. Using equipment and supplies that were largely donated, the group painted the house, installed new shutters, built a stairway down to the beach, and cleared the lawn. While all this was going on, 10,000 visitors were welcomed to the site that summer. Much was accomplished, but the summer ended with the group $50,000 in debt. A $34,000 Provincial grant paid off most of this deficit.

Tate and the students had hoped that their initiative would yield dividends, but daily calls and letters to government agencies produced no results. Funding was nonexistent and the transfer of the station was still in limbo. Tate now calls this period the “Death Grip of 1994.” With only two grants to pay for student workers, a small group camped at Cape Enrage on weekends during the summer and did what they could. “Determination to stand our ground was the main attraction of the summer,” says Tate.

In August of 1994 the Province of New Brunswick called Tate with the news that they had agreed to purchase the Cape Enrage Light Station from the Canadian Coast Guard. Finally, on the day before Victoria Day weekend (Memorial Day weekend in the U.S.) in 1995, the Province granted permission for the group to occupy the property and develop programs for the public. This meant that they could enter the house for the first time. The group had hired eleven students in preparation for this opportunity. The staff arrived the following day and set to work cleaning, mowing, painting, papering and generally getting the place in presentable condition for visitors. An adventure program was started with canoeing, rappelling and caving offered. A lunchroom was opened to the public, and summer camps for children were planned. By the end of the summer the debts were paid and all involved felt bolstered by their success. Still, the future was uncertain.

In February 1996 the Board of Directors of the Cape Enrage group arranged a presentation for the Ministers of Economic Development and Tourism and Natural Resources and Energy. The board, which consisted of four people, planned a 15-minute presentation. The actual meeting ran over 90 minutes due to the enthusiastic interest of the Ministers. Soon the Province offered a 10-year open lease of Cape Enrage to the group. The Province agreed to fund some property improvements at the station. A business plan was developed, and Cape Enrage Interpretive Center Incorporated and Cape Enrage Adventures Incorporated were formalized. Nineteen students were hired for the 1996 season. The future looked more secure, but loans and grants were slow to be approved and financial stress remained constant.

The keeper’s duplex is now called Cape House and serves as housing for the student staff. A new building, Chignecto House, was nearly finished by the spring of 1997. A stairway to the lighthouse was built that year. At the same time, the student staff of 23 plus four others ran the adventure programs and the lunchroom. 1998 saw even more activity and about 47,000 visitors. Three senior students virtually took charge of all operations. Revenues grew from $90,000 in 1997 to almost $140,000 in the summer of 1998. The Board of Directors grew to six people, including Dennison Tate and his wife, Ann Tate.

The summers of 1999 and 2000 saw continued growth. The staff today consists of high school and college students from various schools. Students are paid between $6 and $7.60 per hour, and work four 10-hour days followed by two days off. Room and board is provided. The staff is divided into three groups, with two teams being on duty at all times in season. The staff is divided between adventure, restaurant and office duty.

Full services at Cape Enrage run from Victoria Day weekend in May to Labour Day in September, but limited activities are available all year. Guided canoeing and kayaking expeditions are offered, as well as climbing and rappelling with instruction. Visitors can also explore the area’s hiking trails on their own. The active lighthouse itself is still owned and maintained by the Canadian Coast Guard, but visitors can tour the tower. Free tours of the site and surroundings are available to school groups. Middle school and high school “adventure camps” are held each summer, described as “Five adventure-filled days including rappelling, kayaking, canoeing, climbing, initiative games, tenting and hiking the magnificent wilderness of the powerful Bay of Fundy.”

A gift shop called the Whistle House opened at the site in 1999. The shop offers crafts made by local artisans as well as souvenir t-shirts and other items. The Keeper’s Lunchroom offers such delicacies as Fundy Fish Chowder and “Cake Enrage,” described as a moist cake with pineapple, walnuts and cream cheese icing. A spacious outdoor deck was added to the lunchroom in 1996.

General admission has never been charged at Cape Enrage, although there is a donation box on the site. With about $200,000 in expenses each year and 50,000 visitors, there must be a profit of $4 per visitor for the group to break even. Every year so far they have fallen short of that goal, and it may be necessary to institute an admission fee even though the directors and staff would prefer to avoid it.

Cape Enrage Interpretive Centre Inc. is a non-profit company, and all donations and revenues are used for restoration, preservation, interpretation and education. Cape Enrage Adventures Inc. is a for-profit company, but all profits go into a scholarship fund for high school students entering post-secondary institutions.

The same Board of Directors, consisting of six persons, serves both the for-profit and non-profit companies. The Board is not paid for their services. In fact, it is the financial support of the Board members that has kept the organization out of debt. Ann and Dennison Tate devote their summers as volunteer helpers and trainers at Cape Enrage. Another member of the Board is a founding member of the Regional Advisory Council on Lighthouse Alternative Use and has worked closely with the Canadian Coast Guard to preserve lighthouse properties. The Board members are founding members of the Atlantic Lighthouse Council and helped to host the International Lighthouse Conference in Nova Scotia this past spring.

The group has also convinced the Provincial Government to buy properties surrounding the lighthouse station from foreign land owners. Four properties have been purchased and the group is working on four more.

If good intentions and positive feelings were currency, this group would no longer have financial worries. Says Tate, “From the beginning, the organization has been energized by students who take loving ownership of the project and show unusual dedication to professionalism. Over the seven years, the property has taken on an inviting atmosphere and the many current and former students are part of a very close family.”

Much more restoration of the buildings at Cape Enrage is needed to guarantee their future, and public support is vital to the continued programs of Cape Enrage Interpretive Centre Inc. and Cape Enrage Adventures Inc. If you’d like to donate or would like more information, contact:

Cape Enrage Interpretive Centre Inc.

12 Thompson Drive

Allison, NB, E1G 4G9, Canada

Phone: (506) 856-6081 (off season)

(506) 887-2273 (in season)

Email: dktate@nbnet.nb.ca

You can also visit the Cape Enrage Adventures website at http://www.capenrage.com

This story appeared in the January 2001 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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