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New signs for an old lighthouse


These new signs were installed last August and are designed to promote the lighthouse’s heritage and allow visitors a glimpse into its past. – © Scott Strickland

By RENE J. ROY

PORT AUX BASQUES – “It’s amazing how many local people haven’t been there,” says Scott Strickland. ‘There’ is Channel Head, a large outcropping of rock at the mouth of the Port aux Basques harbour and home to the town’s historic lighthouse.

Strickland is one of four active members on the Channel Head Heritage Lighthouse Committee and manages its Facebook page.

The lighthouse has overlooked the harbour for well over 100 years, greeting ferry passengers or bidding them farewell, and guiding all watercraft in and out of the Southwest Coast. The fully automated white clad lighthouse and outbuildings remains accessible only via boat.

Last summer, the Lighthouse Committee installed a series of storyboards on the island itself and rebuilt the boardwalk up to the lighttower, but there weren’t many tourists or even locals around to notice.

The boards are weatherproofed and are designed to be left out year round. They highlight the history and the daily life on the island, and Strickland hopes they will last a few years.

“We had other plans in development as well, but covid has certainly hampered things,” admits Strickland.

Since 2020 was supposed to be Come Home Year the committee came up with a few other plans as well, but thanks to the pandemic that all got canceled.

“We were hoping to do at least one major day/event on the island, plus promotional items as well.”

Not among the committee’s plans was a zipline, a rumour that made the rounds around the community at one point and even got a brief mention during at least one Town council meeting.

“Not sure where the whole zipline thing came from. It was not our idea and would have been turned down by our committee. Glad that one didn’t pass.”

Strickland says that any future plans for the lighthouse are a bit more reserved.

“We’re looking at more of a historical preservation standpoint with staffless tourism features, just so people can get a sense of the history of the island when they visit.”

Built in 1874 and 1875, the lighthouse has been recognized as a Federal Heritage structure by Parks Canada.

According to the Parks Directory, “The Lighttower is associated with the importance of the fishery and maritime trade to Newfoundland. The Lighttower was part of a larger effort to ensure safe trans-Atlantic travel through the Straits of Belle Isle, as well as a marker for local traffic using the harbour at Port aux Basques. Its construction marked the beginning of the evolution of local communities from small isolated outposts to their eventual status as an integrated settlement serving as a rail and ferry terminus as well as a fishing post. It remains a major light on this coast.”

Strickland is among those disappointed by the unavoidable postponement of Come Home Year.

“We were hoping to do at least one major day/event on the island, plus promotional items as well.”

Strickland expects that once the proverbial COVID dust settles down, the committee will actively recruit new members to help forge new plans and ideas to help preserve the town’s historic site. In the meantime, the Channel Head page offers a glimpse into its history, including pictures, artwork and details about the lighthouse keepers who ensured friends and neighbours made it home safely.

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