A local historian is asking council to designate a local landmark — with or without the owner’s approval.
Save Our Lighthouses executive director Marc Seguin urged councillors during their May 24 committee-of-the-whole meeting to move forward with the designation of the Salmon Point lighthouse under the Ontario Heritage Act.
Following Seguin’s presentation, councillors supported a motion that will see a recommendation from the Prince Edward Heritage Advisory Committee (PEHAC) to designate the property brought to the next committee-of-the-whole meeting on June 14.
Save Our Lighthouses has been advocating for the preservation of lighthouses in the county and across Canada since 2010. Many of the local lighthouses, including the Salmon Point structure, have been left to deteriorate over time. Seguin said there are two ways council can help preserve the building — either council can designate it under the heritage act, or council can allow the province to designate it which would require a declaration that the municipality will not designate the lighthouse.
“Your heritage advisory committee is advising that you designate the Salmon Point lighthouse as a property of heritage value in accordance with the Ontario Heritage Act,” said Seguin. “I think people in Prince Edward County would prefer that to handing the issue over to the province to deal with.”
Seguin said the reason he decided to bring the issue forward to councillors at this time is that the property will likely have to be designated without the consent of its owner. While it’s desirable to have consent, the act allows municipalities to designate heritage properties regardless of the owner’s wishes.
“Save Our Lighthouses has tried numerous times to contact the owner by email, by telephone, by mail,” he said. “Other local organizations have tried to contact them, the municipality has tried to contact the owners — the owners have never responded.”
Seguin said the lighthouse is of such cultural and historical significance that it warrants such an action.
“It deserves to be protected by a heritage designation with or without the owner’s consent,” he said.
Throughout the 19th century and into the 20th century, Prince Edward County was not only a destination for many ships and mariners, it was a place where many ships were built. Ships were essential in transporting goods to the county and beyond. Seguin said by 1970, seven major lighthouses had been constructed along the shores of Lake Ontario between Presqu’ile and Kingston. Four of them were along the shores of Prince Edward County. One significant gap was a shoal that extended from what is known today as Salmon Point.
“Between 1860 and 1870 alone, it has been estimated that as many as nine ships and 30 lives were lost in that area of the lake,” said Seguin.
It wasn’t until 1870 when the nine-member crew of the schooner Jessie were lost, that action was taken.
“The public outcry that followed led to the construction of the Salmon Point lighthouse to warn mariners away from this dangerous shore,” he said, noting the tragedy also led to the establishment of the first life-saving station on the great lakes.
The lighthouse was completed by 1871. In 1917, the Salmon Point lighthouse was decommissioned and has been owned privately since.
Seguin noted the building’s unique heritage architecture. It’s one of the earliest surviving examples of the Canadian style of pyramidal lighthouse, also known as the pepperbox style. The building has value as a landmark and link to the county’s marine heritage, he said.
Councillor Steve Ferguson tabled the motion to have PEHAC’s recommendation brought forward at the next committee-of-the-whole meeting for discussion. Ferguson said PEHAC has been looking at this file for some time and reiterated that there have been numerous attempts to contact the owner.
“There has been no response,” he said. “The structure is of considerable architectural and social value.”
Acting mayor Dianne O’Brien said she couldn’t support moving forward with a heritage designation without the owner’s consent.
“I recognize the heritage and the importance of it, but I just don’t know if we’re setting a precedent,” she said. “We got into this a few years ago and we backed out, we said ‘we need the owner’s consent.’”
Councillor Janice Maynard questioned whether there is any mechanism that would compel the owner to maintain the building even if it were designated.
Seguin said the only means to enforce maintenance would be through the municipal property standards bylaw.
“If county council were to designate this lighthouse, it would send a strong signal to the owners that there is community support for the protection and restoration of this lighthouse,” he said.