New museum springs from disagreement about Cape Forchu lighthouse

The people behind a new museum on the waterfront in Yarmouth, N.S., are excited that it's ready to open, even if they might wish there wasn't a need for it.

Located on the top floor of one of the town's historic Water Street buildings, the Harbourfront Museum aims to tell the story of how people arrived to the community in the late 1800s and early 1900s and what was there to greet them.

It also features many artifacts from the Cape Forchu lighthouse museum, which was run by the Friends of the Yarmouth Light Society. Members started the new site after a falling out with officials from the Municipality of the District of Yarmouth.

The society was started in 1996 at a time when the Canadian Coast Guard was getting out of the lighthouse business. The group's aim was to preserve the distinctive-looking lighthouse, which is about 10 kilometres from Yarmouth's downtown. Eventually, the municipality bought the property and the society operated the site, which includes a museum, gift shop and more recently a restaurant.

But society president Janet Emin said they were contacted by the municipality's CAO earlier this year and informed the municipality would not be renewing the group's yearly lease and would instead be taking over the property.

'That was not for us'

Emin said they were told they could stay to help with the museum, but it was a "transitional year" and there was no other information about future intentions for the site. That left them uneasy about the future of the artifacts entrusted through the years to the society.

"Since we couldn't get a definite answer, we just could kind of see the writing on the wall, I guess, and thought that was not for us," said Emin.

Municipal Warden Leland Anthony said the change stems from strategic planning council did more than a year ago, part of which focused on the lighthouse property.

Anthony said council wanted to move in a new direction for tourism, one that included much more extensive marketing and promotion to make the site "globally known." They're hoping to capitalize on the upcoming release of a movie filmed at the site, as well as the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent in recent years to upgrade the property.

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While they didn't want to cut anyone out, Anthony said council decided it needed to become more hands on.

"We the landlords said, 'OK, as the landlords, what can we do to promote it even more?'" said Anthony.

Council has turned to the Yarmouth and Acadian Shores Tourism Association to capitalize on its marketing abilities and connections through other regional agencies and Tourism Nova Scotia, said Anthony.

"The Friends of the Light, they're an organization that, yes, they may know tourism and the organization, but they don't have the inroads," he said.

While he praised the society's work, Anthony said council believes marketing and operation of the site need to be "joined at the hip." Still, he admits to being surprised the society decided to leave, saying he'd hoped the volunteers could have continued focusing on the museum while others worked on the marketing.

Lighthouse museum will continue

Emin said her group would have been fine with that plan, had it been shared with them. Instead, she said the municipality met with her group, the operators of the restaurant and the tourism agency separately, and answers were few and far between.

"To me, if you're going to work together, I would assume you would get everybody in a room and discuss it," she said.

Society members were left with the impression that their access to the property would be reduced and their involvement diminished, said Emin, adding that after 23 years of running the site, that wasn't good enough.

While they were disappointed to leave Cape Forchu, Emin said she and society members are excited about the possibility of their new location.

As for the lighthouse museum, Anthony said the municipality is working with the Yarmouth County Museum to outfit the location, although he said it would likely be a few years before it is returned to a similar state as when it was run by the society.

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