Group that saved Gabarus lighthouse wants municipality to take it over

Fisheries and Oceans Canada wants to divest itself of the lighthouse and the Gabarus Lightkeepers Society wants the Cape Breton Regional Municipality to take ownership.

Gabarus Lightkeepers Society says it is isn't able to agree with DFO on ownership terms

Janet McGillen, president of the Gabarus Lightkeepers Society, at the Gabarus lighthouse. (George Mortimer/CBC)

A group that saved the Gabarus lighthouse from being demolished wants the Cape Breton Regional Municipality to take over ownership from the federal government.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada wants to divest itself of the lighthouse and once considered tearing it down, according to the Gabarus Lightkeepers Society. The group fears that day could still come.

"It would just be the arrival of heavy equipment one day and it would be gone," said Janet McGillen, the society's president.

The society took over maintenance of the 125-year-old lighthouse two years ago and even won $50,000 last year in a contest put on by the National Trust of Canada. The society used that money to move the lighthouse away from a cliff.

DFO terms difficult for society

McGillen said the society is not able to agree to the terms of ownership being asked by DFO.

"We have been negotiating with DFO, who own the lighthouse, for a number of years," she said. "The document they want us to sign taking over the lighthouse is very onerous, very difficult.

"So we're asking CBRM to take ownership and we will continue to maintain the lighthouse, keep the grounds clean and tidy, meet with visitors, conduct informal tours and such."

CBRM council voted for a staff report on the Gabarus lighthouse that is expected to be presented at its June meeting. (George Mortimer/CBC)

McGillen said the ownership issues with DFO involve serious liability on the society's part, and some requirements around responsibility "are way beyond our capacity."

"Once we agree to take the lighthouse, then we are responsible for any injuries or whatever at sea as the result of the operation of the lighthouse," she said.

"However, we will not be operating the light, it will remain the responsibility of the coast guard."

The Gabarus lighthouse is 125 years old. (George Mortimer/CBC)

McGillen said she thinks the municipality would make better owners.

"I suspect that the requirements of CBRM to take ownership will be considerably less onerous than they would be on our community," she said.

CBRM council voted Tuesday to ask staff for a report on the ownership issue.

Report coming in June

Mayor Cecil Clarke said council may have options that would benefit everyone.

"There's times where we may be able to enter into a licence arrangement with DFO for a dollar a year or something and be the conduit of a longer term presence of the lighthouse," Clarke said.

"So I want to take a hard look at all the options that there are to be as supportative as we can to this very engaged group of citizens."

Clarke said before the municipality could take on the lighthouse, it "has to do it the right way" and "be in a position where we are not assuming any liability or financial expectation associated with that."

The report is expected to be presented at council's June meeting, when the current agreement between DFO and the society ends. McGillen said the society will request an extension.

DFO has not yet responded to a CBC News request for comment.

About the Author

George Mortimer


George Mortimer is a longtime reporter in Cape Breton.