by Robin Burridge
MANITOULIN––The Manitoulin Lighthouse Committee (MLC) heard disappointing news at last week’s meeting in Kagawong.
“Due to land claims by First Nations, we have gathered that it will be well into next year before anything happens,” revealed MLC co-chair Rick Nelson.
Mr. Nelson explained that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) informed the group that they were in the process of addressing concerns from First Nation groups who were claiming land associated with the Manitoulin lighthouses.
For now, there is not much the group can do but wait for the outcome of the land claims, in addition to its applications for heritage designation through the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act as well as business proposals to the DFO.
The Federal government declared 900 lighthouses across the country as surplus to the Coast Guard’s needs in 2010, prompting the MLC to submit business proposals to the DFO in the hope of acquiring the 10 properties on behalf of the Island’s municipalities, ensuring their integrity and in order to market the lighthouses collectively as a regional tourist attraction.
Lighthouse negotiations the past year have been rocky at times, with obstacles arising long before the issue of land claims.
In the spring, the DFO indicated that they might sever land associated with some of the Manitoulin lighthouses, prompting Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes to bring the issue to the House of Commons on June 22.
“The land forms a natural buffer that insulates lighthouses from other development,” stated MLC co-chair Bill Caesar in a press release in June. “Land was originally provided to lighthouse keepers to use for their own economic benefit and we feel that it is similarly required by groups like ours in order to make the lighthouses financially viable well into the future.”
Though Keith Ashfield, Minster of the DFO and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway, responded, recognizing the importance of lighthouses as historically significant, his answer was vague.
The MLC reported it was pleased with the response and is anxiously awaiting the response of six more questions Ms. Hughes was able to pose to the minister through an ‘order paper.’
For the time being, the MLC insists that staying together is imperative to acquiring all the lighthouses. “It is important to work as a group and protect each other’s interests,” said Mr. Caesar.
The municipal councils of Assiginack, Killarney, Tehkummah and as of July 5, Kagawong, have all passed motions supporting the MLC and claiming that they will not sign agreements with the government until all of the area municipalities are granted possession of the lighthouses and surrounding land.
At this point the municipalities of Gordon and Northeast Manitoulin have not yet passed a motion that would include them in the ‘all for one and one for all’ proposal that the MLC is proposing.
Mr. Caesar warned members of MLC that deferring from the group could have grave financial ramifications, however, Arik Theijsmeijer, a representative from FedNor who attended the MLC meeting, stated that funding opportunities would still exist for the MLC provided that they were a cohesive organization once the lighthouses were acquired by the municipalities.