MP Hughes to raise concerns with Mississagi Light in House

OTTAWA—While Carol Hughes, MP for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing (AMK), has an Adjournment Debate scheduled for this week focussing on the need for a new roof to be put on the Mississagi Lighthouse, a member of the LaCloche Manitoulin Lighthouse Association is perplexed as to why the federal government is not using some of the millions of dollars it is spending on the Museum of Civilization for lighthouses.

“The real trouble I have with the government is that they are renovating the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa and are spending millions and millions of dollars on this and this is needed, but some of this money could go into lighthouses,” said committee co-chair Bill Caesar.

Mr. Caesar noted Ms. Hughes will be making the presentation in the House of Commons this week on concerns with the Mississagi Light and the need for a new roof to be put on the building.

In a letter to Ms. Hughes, signed by Gail Shea of the Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans on November 6, she states in part, “I am writing on behalf of Minister (Keith) Ashfield further to the recent conversation regarding the Mississagi Straits Lighthouse property on Manitoulin Island.”

“As you are aware this property has been identified as surplus to the operational requirements of the department and has been petitioned for designation under the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act,” wrote Ms. Shea. “In accordance with the provisions of the Act for surplus lighthouses, departmental officials are working with local stakeholders in an effort to establish a mutually acceptable agreement to transfer ownership of the property.”

“Real property officials have been made aware of issues related to the current condition of the lighthouse. Although a long term investment would not be deemed prudent for a surplus structure, mitigation measures will be undertaken this year to prevent water infiltration and maintain the structural integrity of the lighthouse pending its eventual divestiture.”

“The department administers a Grants and Contributions program to facilitate the transfer of surplus lighthouses,” continued Ms. Shea. “Eligible recipients can apply for funding as a condition of transfer which could be used to restore structural building components in a manner that would preserve lighthouses over the long term. Although grant funding is limited and may not address all desired improvements, it can often be leveraged through in-kind contributions or other funding mechanisms to preserve historic lighthouse properties to an even greater extent.”

“We recognize the efforts that have been made by local stakeholders to transform the Mississagi Strait lighthouse site for the benefit of the regional tourism industry and have been supportive of this transition,” continued Ms. Shea. “My officials will continue to advance the divestiture process and will carefully consider requests for financial subsidies that are directly linked to the transfer of the property.”

“I trust this information will assist in your response to the concerns raised by your constituents,” added Ms. Shea.

“DFO seems to want us to buy the lighthouse and then maybe there would be grant funding to fix it up,” said Rick Nelson, co-chair of the Lacloche/Manitoulin Lighthouse Association. “Our position is that the grant funding has to be up front first and then maybe we will buy it. No other way is possible considering the lack of financial resources at this end. While we appreciate the band aid solution being offered by DFO (a tarp), that will not solve the long term problem for the lighthouse to ensure its survival.”

Mr. Caesar said in a letter to Ms. Hughes, “the Mississagi Lighthouse on Manitoulin Island, designated an official heritage site by the Federal Heritage Building Review Office, is an integral part of current efforts to foster a tourist industry centre on Manitoulin lighthouses. In an area with relatively few economic opportunities, Manitoulin lighthouses such as the Mississagi lighthouse light provides a unique attraction that local citizens hope to preserve, promote, and develop, and there is already strong interest on the part of both Canadian and American tour operators in developing a thematic tour centred on Manitoulin lighthouses generally and the Mississaga Light complex in particular.”

“While local municipalities and residents are willing to take on responsibility for area lighthouses such as the Mississaga Light as a result of federal divestiture, cash-strapped municipalities simply do not have the resources to bring these structures up to a reasonable standard of repair from their current state,” wrote Mr. Caesar. “We therefore feel it is imperative that the (DFO), as present owners of these structures, ensure the lighthouses are transferred to local municipalities in reasonable condition or with adequate financial resources to fund essential repairs, including leaking roofs and deteriorating foundations. The costs associated with repairing these aging structures are prohibitive for Manitoulin municipalities acting alone, without federal support.”

“As future caretakers of the historic and socio-economically significant Manitoulin lighthouses, we implore the federal government to do the right thing,” added Mr. Caesar. “As they have in the past, these lighthouses can guide us toward a bright future, provided we work together in good faith.”

Jamie Burgess, Ms. Hughes’ assistant, told the Recorder that during Question Period an MP has 30 seconds to bring forward an issue such as the Mississagi Light, as Ms. Hughes did earlier this summer. But once this has been done they can request an Order, which provides the MP four minutes to again bring the issue into focus in the House of Commons.

“The Misissagi Lighthouse is similar to the Peggy’s Cove lighthouse in that it is a viable tourist destination and supports business but requires a fair bit of upkeep and financial support to do this,” said Mr. Burgess.

 Tom Sasvari