Tensions over public access to a pathway leading to a designated heritage lighthouse are dividing the small community of Terence Bay, N.S.

The Terence Bay lighthouse was built in 1903, and declared surplus by the federal government in 2010. Parks Canada granted the lighthouse designated heritage status in 2015.

But the years have taken a toll on the wooden structure. The foundation is eroding, the paint is peeling and a piece of plywood covers a section of the wall where a boulder smashed through during a storm.  

The lighthouse's ramshackle condition hasn't affected its appeal for locals or visitors, and it remains a popular destination.

Its greatest challenge is not, however, with the structure itself, but rather with the path between the lighthouse and the road. 

Path over private land

Part of the path to the lighthouse goes over land owned by 82-year-old widow Moira Cottam. Her family has owned the property for three decades, and during that time she's seen a steady increase in the number of people crossing her land to get to the lighthouse. 

Cottam said the volume of people trespassing on her property has her concerned that if an accident were to occur on the path, or at the lighthouse site (if people had crossed her property to get there), she would be liable. 

Cottam's daughter, Danielle Aubertin, said the situation is stressful for the family. Aubertin alleges some people using the path have threatened her family. 

Terence Bay lighthouse

The Terence Bay lighthouse is in need of repairs, including fixing a hole in the wall where a boulder smashed through during a storm (CBC)

"For the most part when we say, 'I'm sorry, you're on private property,' people are pretty good and they say, 'Oh I'm sorry, I didn't know.' But then there are others who are aggressive or threatening, or swear at us or give us the finger, and it's really disheartening because we're not bad people."

The RCMP say in the past six and a half years, they've been called out to the area of the lighthouse 11 times.

Cottam said the path leading across her land should only be used by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to maintain the lighthouse. 

Public access 'vital'

But the Terence Bay Lighthouse Committee said the path to the structure is public. 

The committee formed in 1999, in large part to secure public access to the lighthouse through Cottam's land. 

Part of the path to the structure also crosses the property of William Grant, a member of the Terence Bay Lighthouse Committee. Grant said public use of the path on Cottam's land predates her family's purchase of the property.

Private path

The path to the lighthouse runs partially over Moira Cottam's land. (CBC)

"This path has been here for as long as I remember," he said. "And for as long as I've known about it, which is 60-odd years, people have used this path to access the lighthouse."

Grant said securing access to the lighthouse is essential to the survival of the structure.

"The lighthouse really is one of the key things that defines Terence Bay. For us to be able to maintain it, we're going to need community support over the years — you know, to fundraise and so forth. So if the community is cut off, it becomes very difficult," he said.

"It's really vital to us that there be public access."

Attempted sale

Cottam said she wants to see the lighthouse preserved. At one point, she wanted to sell the right-of-way to DFO, with conditions that included a hedge for a fence, limited hours when the path is open to the public and the prohibition of vehicles.

She was also unsuccessful trying to work out an agreement for the Halifax Regional Municipality to take over the path.

Cottam said she's now so frustrated she doesn't want to sell the right-of-way to anyone.

Path to Terence Bay lighthouse

The Terence Bay Lighthouse Committee says the path has been used since the lighthouse was built (CBC)

Unanswered questions remain

Grant said the Terence Bay Lighthouse Committee would like the DFO to step in and ensure that the public has access to the lighthouse.

DFO spokesman Stephen Bornais said it's up to the two parties to reach an agreement.

In the meantime, Cottam is trying to sell her property, but with the right-of-way question still unsettled, it's been difficult to find a buyer. 

With files from CBC's Information Morning