JUST AS MEDIEVAL CASTLES are monuments indicative of a particular cultural-historical period, lighthouses are monuments to our long-lived relationship to the oceans. While the technology is still in use, new lighthouses are modern, functional, and unappealing towers in comparison to the structures built in centuries past. Many of these icons face demolition or neglect, but passionate people all around the globe have formed groups to restore and save their history.
I was fortunate to visit two of the remaining staffed lighthouses in Canada, to see the beauty of the buildings and get an understanding of what it’s like to live as a lightkeeper. I was backpacking for a week on the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, a remote trail originally laid to aid in the rescue of shipwreck survivors. Just when I thought I was completely removed from the world, slogging through forests, bogs, and beaches, I walked right into the immaculately cut lawn of a lightkeeper’s home. It was a welcome spot to rest up, and the residents were happy to visit and tell us the history of their lighthouse.
This old lighthouse is set in the volcanic landscape of Iceland near Akranes, the country’s 9th most populous town. Almost all inhabitants of Iceland live on the coast, due the mountainous lava desert and glacial terrain of the interior.
Located at Peggy’s Cove, this is one of the busiest tourist attractions in Nova Scotia and one of the most recognizable lighthouses in the world. There are currently decisions being made about the protection of the lighthouse under the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act.
Guided visits to the top of the lighthouse are possible, and the reconstructed lightkeeper’s house has displays of artifacts from over the century. Once decommissioned, the lighthouse was dismantled and set up in the Old Port in Quebec City for 20 years until it was decided that it would be better back in its original location.
Australia’s most easterly lighthouse is supported by the Cape Byron Reserve Trust, which acquired and has maintained the buildings since 1998. The facility is currently being used as a base for whale watching.
You can find this tower near San Francisco Bay, but the lighthouse has been closed to tours since 2001 due to its state of disrepair. The renovated lightkeeper’s house has served as a youth hostel since the mid-1960s.
The original lighthouse here was built in 1790. The current structure is managed by the town on Cape Elizabeth, Maine, and is a tourist attraction with a museum, gift shop, and acres of parks and trails surrounding it.
The first lighthouse on this spot in Ottawa County, MI was a small, square wooden structure built in 1872. The present building, known as “Big Red,” was built in 1907, and citizens had to petition in order to rescue it from demolition in the 1970s. It’s now being preserved and restored by the Holland Harbor Lighthouse Historical Commission.