moved that Bill C-588, An Act to amend the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act (Sambro Island Lighthouse), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, this past year, one day before Remembrance Day, November 10, 2014, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore and I held a press conference about a lighthouse and its link to Remembrance Day. With us was veteran Earl Corn. Mr. Corn is a retired sailor of 38 years, and he talked about how the light from the Sambro Island Lighthouse was so important to Canada's men and women serving in the military. As Mr. Corn stated, “This was the last thing we saw [leaving port], and the first thing we saw arriving home.... It's probably one of the most important pieces of real estate we have”.
Also at our press conference was George Zwaagstra, who immigrated to Canada in the 1950s. Mr. Zwaagstra told us a heartwarming story of immigrating to Canada by boat, crammed together with others who were seeking a new life in Canada, and how they spent a couple of weeks in rough seas. He told us about one passenger who suffered a horrible case of seasickness, and how after days and days of no relief this man begged his friends to help him. He said he did not think he could go on being on the ship. That is when someone saw a light on the horizon, a small pinprick of light. It would probably not be very interesting to us, but news of that light spread across the ship in an instant. Mr. Zwaagstra and others went below and found the poor man with seasickness who felt he could not go on, and they hauled him to the deck above to see that light. That light was the first that they saw of Canada, and that light was from the Sambro Island lighthouse.
People have called the Sambro Island lighthouse Canada's Statue of Liberty. It was the first light that newcomers arriving by boat could see. They saw that light before they even saw land. As we heard from Mr. Corn, that light was not only the first light that new immigrants saw, but it was the last light that Canadians saw when they went off to war. For those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and did not return, sometimes it was the last memory that they had of Canada.
Those stories demonstrate how important this lighthouse is. That light is a part of our history, yet it continues to shine today. The Sambro Island lighthouse is an iconic structure. In fact, at a recent funding announcement to repair the lighthouse, the Minister of Justice called this lighthouse one of the most iconic structures, not only in Nova Scotia but across the country.
This iconic lighthouse, Canada's Statue of Liberty, is at risk. A number of years ago, the government embarked on a community consultation to draft a new piece of legislation that would be called the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act. This was a very good consultation process. I have talked to people in Nova Scotia who were part of this process, and they were proud to be a part of it. After a period of robust consultation, the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act was written and it passed through Parliament. Those in the Nova Scotia lighthouse preservation community felt a real sense of accomplishment, that they were a part of something good that would preserve and protect our lighthouses.
Then, in 2010, in the old bait and switch, the federal government made an announcement. Conservatives announced that since lighthouses were not really used as navigational aids anymore, lighthouses across the country would be declared surplus. They were delisted. Essentially, government would not take care of them anymore.
In the lighthouse protection community, there was an incredible feeling of betrayal. There was all of this work to save our lighthouses, and then the government announced in 2010 that 976 lighthouses across Canada were surplus. In the words of Barry MacDonald, then president of the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society:
I'm very, very disappointed. Although the aid to navigation that's on that location is not declared surplus, what they're coming at here is the fact that they can maintain a steel tower on that site with a solar light a whole lot cheaper than they can maintain a heritage structure.
The 976 lighthouses across Canada were declared surplus, and Sambro Island lighthouse was on that list. Once a lighthouse is delisted, the community does have an option to take over that lighthouse.
However, under the new Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act, the public was given two years to petition and to nominate historic lighthouses. In order to qualify for this designation, the group or an individual had to submit a business plan for its upkeep. We have seen this happen in different communities across Canada where communities have applied to take over their local lighthouse.
Shortly after the announcement in 2010, I met with members of the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society to talk about options. We discussed this option: Could we rally the community to come together to take over this lighthouse?
A community group began the heritage designation process. However, it does not have the resources required to maintain this structure, not to mention the fact that trust has been lost. Why would they engage with a process when they had spent years in a process that only led to their community lighthouse being put at risk? Trust was lost.
Also, in the case of the Sambro Island lighthouse, which stands roughly 24 metres tall, the lighthouse is located on a granite island at the entrance to Halifax Harbour. It is not as easily accessed as if it were on land or located on the end of a pier.
Second, the financial cost associated with maintaining the structure is very high. For example, in 2008, when the Coast Guard repainted the lighthouse, it had to use a helicopter to ferry in supplies, including a large web of scaffolding. The total cost came in at about $80,000 for a simple repainting.
It is not possible for the community to take over this lighthouse. The Sambro Island lighthouse is not on a pier or a wharf. It is not on the shores of Sambro or on Crystal Crescent Beach. It is on an island: essentially a piece of rock in the ocean.
Sue Paul, secretary for the Sambro Island Lighthouse Heritage Society put it well:
This is on an island. It's not easy to get to. It's also an 80-foot tower. It's not something that you can just put painting scaffolding on to do a quick fix-up.... It requires more work than our community can give it safely.
The community is not able to take care of this lighthouse. It is dangerous. It is not easy to get to. Every summer, there is a community celebration called Sou' Wester Days. Boat tours are organized to the island, and I cannot tell members how many of those tours have been cancelled due to rain, fog, wind, big swells. It is not like it is a hop, skip, and jump.
When I met with the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society members in 2010, another thing was apparent. They were tired. They had put all of these resources into a consultation process and no one had any energy left. Eventually the two-year time for the community to register its intent to take over that lighthouse passed by.
In 2013, the local community in Sambro started to organize. It started as a meeting of friends, including Sue Paul, Stephanie Smith, and Brendan McGuire, who would later go on to represent this area as MLA. They came together and talked about one goal: to save the Sambro lighthouse. In October 2013, they established the not-for-profit organization called Sambro Island Lighthouse Heritage Society, and relied heavily upon Barry MacDonald for his expertise on lighthouses and working with government.
Barry mentored this group, and the group grew in size and determination. They put together a petition and asked people to sign if they supported saving the Sambro Island lighthouse. With 5,000 signatures from across Canada, they asked MPs to present those petitions in Parliament.
Working with this group of citizens, we came up with a solution. If Parks Canada took over responsibility for this park, actually took it away from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans or the Coast Guard, we could preserve this lighthouse and piece of our history.
That is what we did. Working with community and the wonderful legislative drafters at the House of Commons, I was able to put together Bill C-588, an act to amend the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act (Sambro Island lighthouse). With the passing of the act, we could save the Sambro Island lighthouse and this piece of our history.
Why should Parks Canada take over the lighthouse? Let me tell members some of the historical facts about the lighthouse.
It was built during the Seven Years' War, in 1758, by the first act passed in the Nova Scotia House of Assembly. That was the first bill passed in our legislature in Nova Scotia. It was about this lighthouse. It is the oldest operational lighthouse in the Americas, and the federal government has already recognized the historic significance of this structure.
In 1937, Sambro lighthouse was designated as a national historic site and a plaque was placed in the village of Sambro. The construction of this lighthouse was also commemorated as a national historic event in 1937.
In 1996, the lighthouse received federal heritage review board classified status, which is the highest-ranking status for Canadian government heritage buildings. The heritage character of the Sambro Island lighthouse was described in the Parks Canada website of federal heritage designations as the following:
One of the most historically important lighthouses in Canada due to its age and its association with Halifax Harbour's marine traffic for over 235 years, this stone and concrete tower is considered the oldest operating lighthouse in North America.
Recently I attended a funding announcement with the Minister of Justice and the member for South Shore—St. Margaret's, who announced $1.5 million to go toward the repair of this lighthouse. This is our chance to fix the lighthouse and restore it to its former glory, and then preserve and protect it for generations to come. Why spend $1.5 million to prevent this lighthouse from tumbling into the sea now, only to have it tumble into the sea 40 years from now? We need to act to protect this lighthouse.
In my last few minutes, I would like to thank some people. I do recognize that if one starts a list of thanks, one is bound to forget someone, but I will take that risk because there are people who deserve recognition in this House.
I thank Sue Paul and Stephanie Smith who spearheaded the community, bringing us all together as the Sambro Island Lighthouse Heritage Society. They credit their nanny, Minnie Gilkie Smith, because without her admiration for and stories of the lighthouse, which she passed down to them and the rest of their family, they may not have felt so deeply rooted to that island and lighthouse.
I thank Barry MacDonald for his support and mentoring of this group. I know he recently retired from the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society, and that is a well-deserved retirement, but I also know that lighthouses are in his heart and we are bound to see him at a meeting or two.
This lighthouse transcends party lines, and I would like to thank a few politicians across those party lines. Brendan Maguire, the Liberal MLA for Halifax Atlantic, has been steadfast in his commitment to this lighthouse. The member for Halifax West has also worked on this issue and brought attention to it in the House, as has my colleague, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore. Members of the community of Sambro have named the member for South Shore—St. Margaret's as a champion for lighthouses, and I agree with them. I thank Senators Munson and Cordy for also being lighthouse supporters, as well as local councillor Steve Adams.
I thank the schoolchildren and the school of Sambro who supported this cause by selling bracelets and having awareness projects at school. The entire school drew pictures of the lighthouse and made a video of the children singing the lighthouse song. They sent the video to the Prime Minister—I am sure he has it marked in his favourites list—and they have asked him to save their lighthouse.
I thank The Chebucto News, which always made space in its publication for another story on the Sambro Island lighthouse. I thank the community members of Sambro for throwing themselves wholeheartedly into this project and gathering so many names for the petition, including Mishoo's store in Sambro, and Now We're Cookin' in Herring Cove. They had plenty of signatures for the petitions. I thank each and every person who took the time to gather names for this petition.
I also want to thank lighthouse advocates Chris Mills and Rip Irwin. Rip was a founding member of the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society, which started after a trip to Sambro Island lighthouse.
As members can see, this is not just a lighthouse; this is part of our hearts, part of our community locally, but also part of the fabric of our history as Canadians. It is incredibly important to us. I agree with the Minister of Justice that this is an iconic structure for Canada. It is time to protect this lighthouse, and it is time for this lighthouse to shine on.