For nearly 140 years the Entrance Island Lighthouse has been a beacon shining across the waters of Georgia Strait to guide seafarers and aviators safely to their destination.
The lighthouse, which has been manned since its construction in the mid-1870s, is located off the northeast tip of Gabriola Island.
It’s one of 28 B.C. lighthouses currently nominated for designation under the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act, intended to protect the heritage character of lighthouses. Lighthouses are nominated for protection under the act through a public petition process, which comes to a close May 29.
In the spring of 2010, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans declared nearly 1,000 active and inactive Canadian lighthouses surplus and indicated plans to divest itself of the properties.
Ivan Bulic, a director or the Canadian Lightkeepers Association – a non-profit society created in 2010 by the late Steve Burgh, a Chatham Point keeper and Lightkeeper’s Union president – said Entrance Island isn’t in immediate threat of being abandoned because it is an active station.
“Designation is kind of irrelevant because the federal government is going to maintain it,” he said.
Inactive lighthouses, such as the Race Rocks, are more of a problem because they are being left to crumble and public groups who want them preserved don’t have the money to ensure they are restored, he said.
The ideal situation would be for the federal government to maintain lighthouses as public property, he added.
The loss of lighthouses out of the public domain is a far greater problem in eastern Canada than in B.C., said Bulic.
“In the east it’s a much bigger problem. They are seeing the imminent demise of their lighthouses,” he said.
Deciding which lighthouses will be accepted under the heritage designation is up Environment Minister Peter Kent, who is responsible for Parks Canada. He will consult with an advisory committee and has until May 2015 to make the decision.
Lighthouses designated under the act must meet three criteria: historic value, architectural value and community value.
Once a lighthouse is accepted and protected under the act, it requires the lighthouse be reasonably maintained and alterations are consistent with national and international conservation standards.
The act would require any sale of the lighthouse to have stipulations, whether a covenant, legal agreement or other, that the new owner would protect its heritage character and that the public be given notice prior to any sale or transfer of a heritage lighthouse out of federal control. It also requires public notice and meetings to be held if demolition of a heritage lighthouse is proposed, unless it is a response to an emergency situation.
For more information about the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act, please go to www.pc.gc.ca/lighthouses.