Cape Breton lighthouses put contest winnings to good use

One year after winning a national contest, two Cape Breton groups are continuing efforts to promote their lighthouses as tourist attractions and one is even considering creating a wedding venue.

Low Point society plans tourist attraction, Gabarus readies for community's 300th anniversary

Lawrence MacSween and Rob Murphy say the Low Point Lighthouse Society is planning big things for the entire site. (George Mortimer/CBC)

One year after winning the national contest This Lighthouse Matters, two Cape Breton groups are continuing efforts to promote their lighthouses as tourist attractions and one is even considering creating a wedding venue.

The National Trust for Canada and the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society held an online crowd-funding competition in 2015.

Among the winners were the Low Point Lighthouse Society, which placed first in the High Tide category with a prize of $75,000, and the Gabarus Lightkeepers Society, which placed second and won $50,000.

Rob Murphy, chair of the Low Point Society, says the group is currently working on a business plan to submit to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in order to get a work permit for the site.

Major tourism site

He expects the contest money will become available in early January.

It will be used for studies to determine how to turn the entire property into a major tourism site.

The first lighthouse at Low Point, or Flat Point as it is also known, was built in 1832. The one that stands today was  built in 1938.

The location is on the coast between Whitney Pier and New Waterford.

Lighthouse weddings?

"The lighthouse is actually in very good shape," Murphy said. "If you see any cracks on the outside,  it really doesn't have anything to do with the engineering of the lighthouse.

A lighthouse has stood at Low Point since 1832. (George Mortimer/CBC)

"It's more of the stucco on the outside. As far as inside, it's in great shape. The potential is there for a tourist destination."

Murphy says the lighthouse could, for example, serve as a venue for weddings.

"You could actually get married on top of the lighthouse. There are other lighthouses in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. where you can actually go into the lantern room."

Motorhome park under consideration

Murphy says the society is planning fundraising for the next 10 years, and has set a goal of raising about $2.5 million over that time to turn the nine-hectare site into "something big" for the surrounding communities.

"There's more then just the lighthouse," Murphy explained. "We're looking at a motorhome park. It's something that's missing for tourists here. When they come in, they basically have to go to the other side of the island if they're just coming in with their motor homes to visit.

"As well, we're looking at walking trails, a boardwalk that would take you down to the beach, a small restaurant, maybe a little gift shop that uses product from our local fisheries from the New Waterford and South Bar side."

Janet McGillen of the Gabarus Lightkeepers Society is shown with the lighthouse under repair. (George Mortimer/CBC)

In Gabarus, Janet McGillen, president of the Gabarus Lightkeepers Society, says the group has spent $50,000 to move the community's historic lighthouse back from the edge of the cliff where it is located and also on maintenance work, including new windows.

"The windows are replicas of the windows that were in the original lighthouse," she said. "At some point, the Coast Guard and DFO just came in and boarded the windows over. We were able to find a 1923 picture of the lighthouse and there were the windows, so we've put windows back in.

Other additions planned

"It also helped to stabilize it because the walls were kind of shaky, having holes where windows used to be and there was a lot of wood rot and such over the years. So that's all been replaced."

McGillen says her group is also fundraising for other additions to the site.

"The lighthouse is good for another hundred years, we've been told. It's on a strong foundation away from the eroding shore. Our money's all gone so we're doing fundraising through the tea, coffee and crafts sale that's held in Gabarus on Saturdays."

The group is also holding a raffle and planning an auction on Aug. 19 to "completely finish the job."

Gabarus marks its 300th anniversary this summer and the lighthouse will play a big part in the celebrations, McGillen said.

With files from Information Morning Cape Breton