Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act

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An Act To Protect Heritage Lighthouses, officially known as Bill S-215, is a federal act to designate and preserve historically significant Canadian lighthouses. It was passed by the Canadian Parliament in May 2008. The act set up a public nomination process and sets heritage building conservation standards for lighthouses which are officially designated. First introduced in 2000 as Bill S-21 in the Senate of Canada the bill enjoyed consistent multi-party support despite the unpredictable legislative agendas of minority Parliaments and was repeatedly re-introduced. The final vote of approval was made by the Canadian Senate in 2008 and the bill received Royal Assent on May 29, 2008. The Act came into effect on May 29, 2010 and has established a deadline of May 29, 2012 to nominate lighthouses for heritage designation.[1] However an announcement in June 2010 to declare almost all Canadian lighthouses as surplus has caused critics to accuse the Canadian Coast Guard of emasculating the bill.


Chebucto Head Lighthouse, at left where the Lighthouse Protection act campaign was launched

With the world's largest coastline, Canada built a large network of lighthouses and developed a unique Canadian style of lighthouses following Confederation in 1867. Advances in navigational technology have lessened the critical navigational role of lighthouses while at the same time their cultural role and potential for tourism development has grown. Lighthouse groups seeking to preserve lighthouses soon found that in Canada, the landmark buildings fell into a heritage Catch-22. As federal buildings, they are exempt from municipal or provincial laws, but they are not protected by any federal heritage laws. Lighthouses are instead merely subject to a property management program called the Federal Heritage Building Review Office (FHBRO). A survey of lighthouses across Canada in 1998 by the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society showed that fewer than 4 per cent of Canadian lighthouses have been protected from demolition under FHBRO, while in the United States, 70 percent of lighthouses over 50 years old have heritage protection by the National Register of Historic Places. The FHBRO process has also been criticized for lack of public consultation with most communities having no idea when local lighthouses were evaluated and for the fact that when lighthouses are sold privately or transferred to other levels of government, even the minimal FHBRO protection evaporates.[2]

This lack of protection for heritage lighthouses was first felt in Nova Scotia, the Canadian province with the largest number of lighthouses. So many were facing demolition and neglect, that a campaign for federal legislation to protect lighthouses was launched by the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society at the Chebucto Head lighthouse near Halifax on March 11, 1999.[3] A committee of the society soon networked with other lighthouse groups in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia, organizing a letter campaign to the Canadian Heritage Minister and every Member of Parliament and Senator to ask for legislation creating a "Lighthouse Protection Act".[4] Many politicians responded positively but the leadership for the bill emerged from a fitting East Coast/West Coast partnership of two Canadian Senators, Mike Forrestall from Nova Scotia and Pat Carney from British Columbia. Forrestall first introduced the Bill in 2000, noting that lighthouses were neglected national symbols, "The government was hell-bent on tearing them down or abandoning them."[5]


The bill is modeled on the successful Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act passed by Parliament in 1988 which has proven a success in preserving railway heritage buildings.[6]


Under the bill the Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency would set criteria to designate a heritage lighthouse. Individual lighthouses would be considered for designation when nominated by a petition of at least 25 Canadians within two years of the act coming into force. The Minister would establish an advisory committee to assist in evaluating applications before deciding which lighthouses would be designated. Designation must occur within five years of the act coming into force when a list of the lights considered and those that have been designated would be published in the Canada Gazette.


Renovations at a designated lighthouse must meet heritage building criteria established by the minister based on national and international standards for the conservation of heritage properties. An exception is made for renovations in emergency circumstance or for urgent operational requirements for the lighthouse's navigational role. The heritage character of the lighthouse must still be protected even if a lighthouse is sold or transferred to another level of government. A heritage lighthouse my not be demolished unless "there is no reasonable alternative". An exception is made for demolitions in emergency circumstance or for urgent operational requirements. Both the sale and demolition of a designated lighthouse would require public consultation. The procedures and criteria to designate and maintain a heritage lighthouse as well as it advisory committee are expected to be drawn from existing criteria and procedures used by the Canadian Historic Sites and Monuments Board in administering the Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act[7] Designated heritage lighthouses must be maintained to standards established by the minister keeping with national and international standards for the conservation of heritage properties.[8] However the Act only applies only to lighthouses owned by the federal government. Lighthouses owned by provinces, municipalities or individuals will not be affected by the Act.[9]

History of the Bill in Parliament[edit]

An Act To Protect Heritage Lighthouses was first introduced by the late Senator Mike Forrestall of Nova Scotia as a Private Member's Bill (S-21) in 2000. It was brought it forward three more times, as S-7, then as S-14, then as S-41 which was given Third Reading by the Senate on March 23, 2005. The House of Commons debated the bill in June 2005 in Second Reading and referred it to the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development for clause-by-clause review. The bill died on the Order Paper when the federal election of January 2006 was called. Following the death of Senator Forrestall in June 2006, the bill was re-introduced as Bill-S220 in October 2006 by Senator Pat Carney of British Columbia. The Bill was given Third Reading and passed by the Senate on December 14, 2006. The bill was first sponsored in the House of Commons by Conservative Member of Parliament Gerald Keddy. It passed Second Reading on June 13, 2007 and was scheduled to be reviewed by the House of Commons Fisheries Committee in October 2007 before Third and Final Reading. However, the announcement on September 4 that Parliament would be prorogued in October put the bill back to the Senate where on October 30 Pat Carney re-introduced it as Bill S-215.[10] The Bill passed Third Reading in the Senate on December 13, 2007 and was re-introduced in the House of Commons by Conservative Member of Parliament Larry Miller where it passed 2nd Reading on March 11, 2008. The bill was referred to committee where an amendment were made to define lighthouse structures and limit the act to federally owned lighthouses. The Third and final Commons vote was made on May 1, 2008 followed by a Senate vote to approve the amendment which the bill passed on May 8. Royal Assent was given on May 29, 2008.[11] The Act came into effect on May 29, 2010, two years after Royal Assent.[12]


The bill enjoyed consistent multi-party support from its Conservative sponsors but also Liberals such as Newfoundland MP Scott Simms and New Democratic Party MP Peter Stoffer who withdrew his own private members bill to protect lighthouses in support of S-220.[13] Other MPs such as Catherine Bell from British Columbia welcomed an initiative to preserving a national landmark as a healthy alternative to contentious partisan issues of a minority Parliament.[14] The only formal opposition was voiced by a Bloc Quebecois MP Raynald Blais who said he could not support the bill because it might mask federal neglect of other DFO responsibilities.[15] In addition to regional lighthouse advocates such as the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Society, the Heritage Canada Foundation was a consistent supporter noting that lighthouses need special protection because of the lack of federal legislation for any federal buildings.[16] Despite the broad public support for the bill, some federal departmental staff initially opposed the bill suggesting it could cost up to $384 million to upgrade all of Canada's lighthouses to heritage standards.[17] Supporters of the bill called these numbers inflated, pointing out that it assumes that every pieces of navigational equipment in the country, including hundreds of steel towers and floating buoys, would be designated whereas even the strongest proponents only anticipate the nomination of a select number of landmark lighthouses. They also noted that the bill leaves control of the number of designations, and any associated, costs, with the minister.[18]

Implementation and controversy[edit]

Chantry Island Lighthouse, Ontario, one of the first lights to be nominated under the act

Parks Canada assigned staff and set up a program for heritage lighthouses following the passage of the act. Beginning in May 2010 communities became eligible to nominate lighthouses for designation. Communities have two years to nominate lighthouses as nominations will close on June 29, 2012.[19] By the fall of 2010, 22 lighthouses had been nominated, mostly in Ontario including Chantry Island Lightstation Tower, one of the first to be nominated.[20] However a move by the Canadian Coast Guard in June 2010 to dispose of almost all lighthouses in Canada, even operational lighthouses, has caused controversy. The surplus announcement requires that any group that nominates a lighthouses must buy or take ownership of it.[21] Critics have noted that as non federal lighthouse are not covered by the act, the move to disposal proposal essentially "emasculates" the act.[22] Other groups have pointed out that the act is being used as a disposal mechanism for lighthouses when that was not its original intent.[23] Critics have included the Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. Committee chair Bill Rompkey of Newfoundland and Labrador said the sell-off defeats the purpose of the act and called for the nomination process to be extended.[24]


  1. ^ http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/progs/lhn-nhs/pp-hl/index.aspx
  2. ^ CANADA NEEDS A LIGHTHOUSE PROTECTION ACT http://www.nslps.com/r&p_lighthouse_protection_act.asp
  3. ^ Graeme Hamilton "Lighthouse Yard Sale Coming, Group Fears" National Post March 12, 1999
  4. ^ Chris Mills 'Saving Our Lights' Heritage: The Magazine of the Heritage Canada Foundation Autumn 1999, page 9.
  5. ^ Pamela Cook "Sending an SOS for Canada's Lighthouses" Capital News Online November 14, 2003 http://www.carleton.ca/jmc/cnews/14112003/n3.shtml
  6. ^ Parks Canada State of Protected Areas http://www.pc.gc.ca/docs/pc/rpts/etat-state-2001/sec6/histor6_E.asp
  7. ^ Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada - Heritage Railway Stations
  8. ^ Bill s-220, Text of Bill
  9. ^ "Heritage Lighthouses of Canada" Parks Canada
  10. ^ LEGISINFO - The Library of Parliament's research tool for finding information on legislation
  11. ^ LEGISINFO - The Library of Parliament's research tool for finding information on legislation
  12. ^ Steven Chase "Bill A Beacon of Hope for Decaying Lighthouses", Globe and Mail May 9, 2008, p. A11
  13. ^ The Heritage Canada Foundation - Featured Heritage Buildings
  14. ^ Press release: Budget “No”, Preserving Heritage Lighthouses “Yes” Says MP Catherine Bell | NDP
  15. ^ Hansard Vol. 141 No. 129 1st Session 39th Parliament March 27, 2007 http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Pub=Hansard&Doc=129&Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=39&Ses=1&DocId=2805041&File=0#Int-1986764
  16. ^ http://www.heritagecanada.org/eng/news/pdf/HeritageReportCardforCanada_2007.pdf
  17. ^ Federal bill to protect lighthouses running out of time in Parliament, Macleans" June 9, 2007 Hannah Zitner Canadian press http://www.macleans.ca/canada/wire/article.jsp?content=n060908A
  18. ^ Lighthouse Bill Protecting Our Lighthouses - The Icons of Canada's Maritime Heritage by Douglas Franklin http://www.heritagecanada.org/eng/featured/current.html
  19. ^ "Heritage Lighthouses of Canada" Parks Canada
  20. ^ Linda Mondoux, "Always Wanted to Own Your Own Lighthouse", My Waterfront Home.Com
  21. ^ "976 Lighthouses Declared Surplus", CBC News, June 9, 2010
  22. ^ "DFO Declares All Lighthouse Surplus Undermining Intention of Act", Canadian Heritage Foundation June 10, 2010
  23. ^ "DFO Declares ALL Lighthouses Surplus" BC Heritage Blog July 29, 2010
  24. ^ Amy Minsky, "Feds Lighthouse Sell-Off Program Hits Dark Patch", Montreal Gazette, Dec. 23, 2010

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