Beyond the Headlines

Troubled waters

Posted: Mar 16, 2012 10:27 AM ET Last Updated: Mar 16, 2012 10:27 AM ET

For dozens of Nova Scotia communities the local lighthouse has been more than just a beacon guiding their men and women to safe harbour.

They were a symbol of the life and vitality of a community. Now, Nova Scotia lighthouses are an endangered species.

In 2008, the federal government declared more than 500 lighthouses across the country surplus. 60 of them are in Nova Scotia.

Communities can petition the government to save their lighthouse. But there is a catch. The community has to submit a business plan to show it has the funds, resources and volunteers to maintain and protect the lighthouse for the longterm

The deadline is May 29, 2012 and so far petitions have been submitted for only 14 of the 60 lighthouses on the endangered list. The number, while low, is not surprising.

Natalie Bull, Executive Director of the Heritage Canada Foundation admits it may be "daunting" for community organizations to think about taking this on.

Preserving an aging lighthouse is a major --  and expensive --  undertaking for any community. It takes a lot of dedicated and energetic volunteers to make it happen.

Sadly, in many Nova Scotia communities the volunteer pool is shrinking. The last census confirmed what most rural Nova Scotians already knew: young people and families are moving out, heading to Halifax, or out west to find work.

Volunteer fire departments, minor sports organizations and festivals, are all finding it increasingly difficult to enlist enough volunteers to keep those organizations, all vital to the health of a community, operating.

The prospect of finding enough people to attend board meetings and hold the fundraisers needed to raise thousands of dollars to preserve the local lighthouse is indeed "daunting". And the commitment isn't just for a few months - it is for years.

It's not that people in those 40-odd other communities don't care about their lighthouses. They simply don't have the resources to do anything about it.

In the prairies, grain elevators were the beacons that stood watch over rural communities. As they disappeared from the landscape, so did family farms and entire towns.

In Nova Scotia, the dismantling of so many of our lighthouses may be yet another sign of the troubled waters facing our rural communities.
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About the Author

Brian DuBreuil is a veteran journalist with CBC News. He has won two Gemini awards for his work, and neither involved dancing or singing on a reality show.

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