HALIFAX — Local and displaced Nova Scotians were shocked when they heard the news of the possible demolition of the Peggy’s Cove lighthouse. The iconic Canadian site — said to be the most photographed spot in the country — is one of nearly 500 lighthouses in Canada that the federal government is thinking of demolishing.
Times have changed and the government wants to replace the old lighthouses with metal or fibreglass light posts, which apparently are more efficient. This means that if citizens or other levels of government don’t step up and apply to have these old lighthouses designated as heritage sites, they run the risk of losing them forever.
According to the federal government, the Peggy’s Cove lighthouse is one of many that is no longer needed, and the government shows no interest in maintaining these old properties. This has many folks across Atlantic Canada demanding to know why our government doesn’t care about our heritage. But even Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society President Barry MacDonald laments the complacency of Nova Scotians when it comes to protecting their heritage, citing the common attitude of, “as long as the government will look after it, we don’t have to.”
Hearing about the possible demolition of one of my favourite spots in the country was more than a little disconcerting. But it actually isn’t the dire situation many of my wonderfully well-intentioned neighbours have made it out to be. We need not call on our government to save us from the the future. Rather, this is a wonderful opportunity for our communities to step up and get involved.
Rural communities across the region have been desperate for both community engagement and jobs. What better time than this to start up independently organized citizens groups that could take on the responsibility of maintaining these precious lighthouses? Groups could offer for-profit operations of the lighthouse, or apply for charitable status.
The government doesn’t want to maintain our heritage sites anymore? Good riddance. Peggy’s Cove, a site that has long been in desperate need of proper maintenance and a major face lift, is an all-too-perfect example of the tragedy of the commons. When we are quick to designate sites as public property and leave it up to the government to maintain them, no one directly benefits from their beautification.
Lighthouses do, however, provide an enormous benefit to Nova Scotia — attracting tourists and adding character to our communities. These sites would be far better looked after if people in those communities took responsibility for their maintenance by owning and operating these facilities. These lighthouses could generate more revenue for Nova Scotians if we simply take advantage of the opportunities available to us.
If the federal government wants to get out of the business of lighthouses, we should put on our warmest Maritime smiles and show them the door. This is a wonderful opportunity for Nova Scotian communities to take the initiative, maintain the beautiful heritage we are all so proud of, create jobs where they’re needed most and show our lighthouses some love.
Paige T. MacPherson is Communications Officer for the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a social and economic policy think tank based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.