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Historic lighthouse marks 150th anniversary

This historic granite stone lighthouse in Rose Blanche dates back to 1873. – © René J. Roy / Wreckhouse Press Inc.

By Jaymie L. White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

ROSE BLANCHE – HARBOUR LE COU — The Rose Blanche lighthouse is one of the most unique landmarks in Newfoundland and Labrador, and this year marks its 150th anniversary. According to the website ‘Lighthouse Friends’, a website created by Kraig Anderson, who used historical documents and articles to delve into the rich history of numerous lighthouses across North America, the Rose Blanche lighthouse was built in the summer of 1873 using granite that was quarried from the very location where it was built. This came as a delight to residents who petitioned the NL House of Assembly to have a lighthouse. “After several years of complaints, a petition to the government from P.H. Sorsoliel (the postmaster at the time) and residents of Rose Blanche, and advocacy for a lighthouse in Rose Blanche from J.T. Neville (Inspector of Lighthouses and Public Works), the Newfoundland government approved the project,” according to a Dec. 2020 Wreckhouse Weekly article. “Considerable care was taken in planning the project; Neville pushed for longevity in project planning during his career as Inspector, and the Rose Blanche lighthouse was no exception. In fact, he was the one who recommended a cast-iron light tower for Channel Head – a light that has been in operation since 1895.” The lighthouse was constructed for a total cost of $8,304.62 and consisted of a 12-metre tower on one corner of the keeper’s dwelling. Both the illuminating structure and the lantern room were provided by lighthouse engineers, David and Thomas Stevenson of Edinburgh, Scotland, and John A. Roberts was appointed as the first keeper, lighting the beacon for the first time on Jan. 1, 1894. Roberts remained as lightkeeper for two years before John Cook was appointed and served as keeper until 1909 when his son, Bruce Cook, assumed the position. Rose Blanche lighthouse was significantly damaged by a severe storm in Aug. 1939, causing the dwelling to become unstable, and it finally collapsed in Oct. 1957. An open-frame tower was built near the old lighthouse in the 1940’s before being replaced by a metal tower in the early 1960’s, which was used until the light was deactivated in the 1980’s and the lighthouse fell into disrepair. In 1988, the Southwest Coast Development Association, in tandem with their regional tourism plan, selected Rose Blanche lighthouse as a potential tourist attraction, and restoration work finally began in 1996. Blocks that came from the ruins made up 70 per cent of the reconstruction and the rest was taken once again from the quarry along the shoreline, around 200 metres from the structure. Reconstruction on the exterior was completed in 1997 and, after a decade long, $1.5 million project, the lighthouse reopened in 1999 and has been a popular historical attraction on the Southwest coast of the province ever since. In Sept. 2002 it even became the first lighthouse in the province to be recognized as a Registered Heritage Structure. As a testament to the true significance the lighthouse holds for the town and surrounding areas, an anniversary celebration will start on Saturday, Jul. 22 and last through until Tuesday Jul. 25. “It just seems like we just wanted to do that because it should let people know. I mean, it’s really iconic. It’s unusual. It’s the only granite lighthouse in Atlantic Canada, probably the only one in Canada, but we can’t verify that, but we did get it verified that it is the only one in Atlantic Canada, and that was done by DFO,” said Phyllis Horwood of the Rose Blanche Lighthouse Committee. “I think there’s more granite lighthouses, like, along the Atlantic Seaboard in the U.S., but there’s none in Canada.” The lighthouse may have changed over the years, but it’s importance never has. “When there was hardly anything left of the lighthouse, just the tower, the only thing that kept the tower there was that the staircase was built into the wall of the tower and it kept it from coming down. The lightkeeper’s living quarters is attached to the lighthouse itself. It’s part of the lighthouse, and that was all gone, everything, so it’s just a tower that was remaining,” said Horwood. “It’s really was rebuilt as a tourist attraction and that’s what it’s become. It means a lot to the people of Rose Blanche, I’m sure. It does mean a lot to me.” This year there are six workers to staff the attraction. “Maxine Edward, she’s the president and I’m secretary, and we’ve been on the board since it started. We started it with just students, JCP workers, no employees of our own, just depending on grants for jobs and stuff, and then the first employee that we got was our manager, Madonna Lawrence,” said Horwood. “Then after that we gradually added more workers and this year we have six paid workers. So that’s six people in the community that got a job, so that’s great. It’s a seasonal job, but it’s good and we still can’t run it though with six because it’s so big and it’s so spread out. I think it’s the problem. It’s not like one building, you could have a couple of people working, it’d be fine, but you got the light hours. People have to go out there and interpret. That’s about ten-minute walk at least, I guess, five minutes for sure, from the others. They do have walkie talkies but there’s no bathrooms out there, there’s no electricity or anything like that, so they can’t stay there for a long period. So we got different shifts over the years. It started out with just a lighthouse and a washroom comfort station, they called it, which was basically washroom, men’s and women’s washroom.” The lighthouse continues to bring in revenue in a number of ways, especially during the busier summer tourist season. “They built a little tiny building as an admission booth to charge people that went out there because you had to have some revenue from it to keep the site going. Even though we weren’t really paying any workers at that time, it still cost money to run it. There was a light bill. You had to keep the trail up. You had to pay for cleaning materials and toilet paper, everything in the washroom, so you still had to have some income,” explained Horwood. “So there was only just the admission and then shortly after we added the craft store. Consigners brought in crafts. People bring in their crafts every year and we put a mark up on it and then they get the bulk of it. We

sell souvenirs so that was added and then the next thing that we bought was the B&B because the B&B was at the site. It was on privately owned (land), but it was turning into an eyesore because it was closed, so we decided it would be a good investment just to buy it, to have control of it for one reason, and also as a source of money and now we own that.” When the town restaurant, the Friendly Fisherman Café, closed its doors and moved to Margaree, knowing that tourists would come to the lighthouse and have nowhere close by to go grab a bite, they opened a takeout kiosk called the Grub Box. “We’ve got a good menu there and now we’ve got four sources of revenue. We’ve got admissions. We’ve got the B&B, the craft store and the Grub Box. Some of them are out of necessity. They’re not really making a lot of money, but we need them if people are going to stay and stay for longer periods.” For the 150th anniversary celebrations, a schedule of events has been developed for each day, with events on Saturday taking place at the lighthouse site starting with a parade and the opening ceremonies, followed by live entertainment and fireworks at 10:00 p.m. On Sunday, other events will take place at the Town Hall, and include such items as 50/50 draw and games of chance, while on Monday attendees will experience a live dinner theatre, and to end things off, Christmas in July, a Mummer Parade and darts on Tuesday. “We do anticipate a big crowd on that day, July 22,” said Horwood. “Just hoping the weather will be good.” A full schedule of events can be found on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RoseBlancheLighthouse.

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