Digest>Archives> October 2007

Coffin Island Tower Celebrates First Year - But Past Legacy Not Forgotten

By Jeremy D'Entremont


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The first Coffin Island Lighthouse was a ...

Despite a mighty struggle to save it, Nova Scotia's 1914 Coffin Island Lighthouse was replaced by a modern fiberglass tower last year. The villain in this case was the rampant erosion of the island, east of the entrance to the harbor of Liverpool.

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Ken Wilkinson, seen here at a lighthouse ...
Photo by: Jeremy D'Entremont

The first lighthouse at the southern point of Coffin Island, commissioned in 1811 and completed in 1816 according to literature from the Coffin Island Lighthouse Heritage Society, was Nova Scotia's fifth light station. Liverpool in those days was the second busiest port in the province. The island, by the way, was named for an early settler of Liverpool, Peleg Coffin. Earlier, it had been known as Bare (or Bear) Island and Williams Island.

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The 1914 Coffin Island Lighthouse in 2000.
Photo by: Jeremy D'Entremont

Many keepers and their families came and went, with few incidents of note until 1871. On October 7 of that year, Keeper Thomas Eaton drowned while heading to Liverpool for supplies. Eaton's widow cared for the light for a few months, until a replacement keeper, William Firth, arrived.

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The new fiberglass lighthouse, installed in ...

The first lighthouse, a 75-foot octagonal wooden tower built 90 feet from the sea, was destroyed by a fire caused by lightning on June 19, 1913. The keeper's house and outbuildings were also destroyed. The station was completely rebuilt during the following year. The new 52-foot octagonal concrete tower was erected 150 feet from the island's edge. In the early 1960s, the station was automated and unmanned, and the keeper's house was demolished.

The sea steadily eroded the shore of the island until, by the early 1990s, it had encroached within about seven feet of the lighthouse's foundation. The Canadian Coast Guard announced plans to demolish the structure. With demolition scheduled for July 1999, a group of local citizens under the leadership of Ken Wilkinson formed the Coffin Island Lighthouse Heritage Society. Since then, Wilkinson and other Society volunteers have worked to maintain a clear path across the island so that visitors could enjoy the lighthouse.

The Society hired a contractor to construct a protective stone wall around the shore near the lighthouse. The project was paid for by $49,000 in donations and $20,000 from the Coast Guard. This staved off the inevitable, but storms and shifting currents continued to take their toll. Society representatives met with the Coast Guard to discuss the possibility of moving the lighthouse, but cost concerns won out.

A new concrete base, flown in by helicopter, was positioned about 1,000 feet inland from the old lighthouse. A second helicopter flew in the 2,000-pound fiberglass tower. After the tower was placed on the foundation and a lantern was installed on top, the optic was moved from the old tower to the new one. The 1914 tower was demolished in October of last year.

The new tower at least looks somewhat like a traditional white lighthouse, with a red lantern. The Coast Guard could have installed a nondescript skeleton tower, but went with the more expensive fiberglass option in a nod to local concerns.

This story appeared in the October 2007 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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