For many years our coastal lighthouses were a beacon of safety for passing vessels, steering them clear of rocks and dangerous conditions. More recently, they have become tourist destinations attracting visitors to Nova Scotia, who have come to see and take photographs of spectacular vistas such as the rocks at Peggy's Cove and the historic lighthouses at Sambro and Louisbourg.
In some cases, those lighthouses have helped create spinoff businesses in nearby communities. There's money to be made in tourism and entrepreneurs have benefitted greatly from locating their shops, restaurants and accommodations near these attractions.
That all appears to be in jeopardy as the federal government continues to divest many of these landmarks, and in some cases there is a very real concern they could be lost if allowed to fall into private hands, be demolished or abandoned.
It was just two years ago when the Coast Guard deemed Peggy's Cove and other lighthouses across the country as surplus and started the move to have them removed from the federal inventory. There are numerous options, including selling them, turning them over to local communities and organizations or demolishing them.
It's understandable why the Department of Fisheries and Oceans wants to get out of the lighthouse business. These old buildings, some of which are more than a century old (Peggy's Cove lighthouse opened in 1868), are expensive to maintain and are for the most part obsolete - a victim of technological advances and the increased use of GPS tracking systems, state of the art radar systems and better mapping.
The fact is DFO is not in the tourism business, nor should it be. However, these historic lighthouses should not be cast off, demolished or abandoned without some sort of thorough investigation that would examine how they can be saved and maintained so future generations of Nova Scotians and visitors can continue to have a greater appreciation of what it was like to live by the sea in a bygone era when there was no such thing as instant messaging, global positioning systems or smart phones.
These buildings are an integral part of who we are, they tell the coastal history of our country when the sea was our Trans-Canada Highway and the lighthouses our signposts keeping us out of danger.
While we should not expect Ottawa to throw money at these structures without a plan on maintaining them, it would be equally cold for the federal government to ignore the wishes of nearby communities and walk away from the lighthouses simply because they want to save money.