05/19/2012 08:56 EDT | Updated 07/19/2012 05:12 EDT

Future Dim For Lighthouses Across Canada

Flickr: tsaiproject

Community groups across the country are scrambling to save some 500 lighthouses the federal government has recently declared surplus.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is looking to replace the structures with beacons that would sit atop metal poles.

The plan is causing waves in affected communities, including Gull Harbour a small fishing town on Hecla Island in Lake Winnipeg.

The original Hecla Island lighthouse was built in 1898. A second, taller, lighthouse was added 30 years later.

Ivan Grimolfson, 69, is the fourth generation of a family that has made a living as commercial fishermen on Lake Winnipeg.

He said the Hecla Island lighthouses should be maintained, insisting they are more than just a point of light in the dark.

"I feel they should be here forever as a monument, not demolished or taken away or changed," Grimolfson told CBC News.

He said he raised the issue with his MP, who assured him the beacon would remain, although it could become a blinking light on top of a six-metre high pole.

Grimolfson started a petition asking the federal government to save the two lighthouses at Gull Harbour.

He says that beyond the safety provided by the lighthouses, he has a strong personal connection to the buildings.

His uncle, Oli Grimolfson, was a lighthouse keeper for many years.

"It's heritage of not only my family but a lot of people out here," he said.

Maxine Ingalls is working with Grimolfson to save the Gull Harbour lighthouses. Her family has been living on Hecla Island since 1885 when a second wave of settlers arrived in the area from Iceland.

"We felt it was necessary to Icelandic culture and heritage to maintain it," Ingalls said. "We don't want to let it go."

The buildings have also become a tourist attraction, she noted.

"If they took the lighthouse from here, it would be like shutting down the fish shed that has been here for eons. Because all of this is unique to us, to Hecla, to the Icelandic community," she said.

Across Canada, communities are worried about the future of local lighthouses.

Part of Canada's heritage

Barry MacDonald heads the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Preservation Association, which is petitioning to save the world-famous lighthouse at Peggy's Cove.

MacDonald says the government's plan to replace traditional lighthouses with maintenance-free beacons is good for navigation, but hard on heritage.

"The country was founded on the waterways and these were the road signs of that time period when the country was being settled," MacDonald said.

The future of the Gull Harbour lighthouses has also caught the attention of the Manitoba government.

Gull Harbour is inside the Hecla-Grindstone Provincial Park and officials told CBC News that Manitoba has asked about acquiring the sites the lighthouses sit on.

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