P.E.I. lighthouse finalist in Canadian historical place restoration competition

MURRAY HARBOUR, P.E.I. — Cape Bear Lighthouse and Marconi Station in Murray Harbour are among the 12 finalists for the National Trust for Canada’s 2024 the Next Great Save competition.

The National Trust for Canada, a registered charity dedicated to the protection of historic places across the country, is hosting the competition with prizes sponsored by Ecclesiastical Insurance. The winner will receive $50,000, with runners-up receiving prizes worth $10,000 and $5,000 to help with projects for the heritage places.

The only finalist from P.E.I. and one of only three entries from the Atlantic provinces, Cape Bear Lighthouse and Marconi Station functions as an unofficial navigation light between Beach Point and Guernsey Cove. The official navigation light is maintained by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, about 100 feet from Cape Bear Lighthouse.

Shay Darrach, vice-president of operations at Cape Bear Lighthouse and Marconi Station Incorporated, told SaltWire they were excited the lighthouse and station received a finalist spot and hope to put any prize money received into renovating the property.

“We’re gonna redevelop it with an eye to sharing it with the larger community,” Darrach said in an interview on April 16.

Tourists travel to the site because of its historic connection to the Titanic, with the Marconi station being the first to receive the Morse code SOS call from the sinking ship in 1912. The non-profit board intends to capitalize on this connection to attract more tourists to Murray Harbour.

If it wins, the non-profit board aims to use the prize money to help fund a five-year improvement plan for the lighthouse and Marconi station building.

The plan was put in motion in 2023, with the first step being lifting and moving the Marconi station across the property to be reunited with the lighthouse. When the lighthouse was moved in 2015 due to concerns about coastal erosion, the Marconi station was separated from the lighthouse and currently sits on the opposite side of the property.

“We know that (the) shoreline is coming in’ it’s hard to say how much we’ll lose. We didn’t expect that much to come down, but Fiona took the trees down that were holding the edge together,” Darrach said.

The current Marconi station building is a replica of the original building, which was sold and removed from the property several years ago.

The non-profit board plans to renovate the station building after it is moved, turning it into a Morse code learning centre and a historic display space featuring the lighthouse’s connection to the Titanic.

“We have an eight-foot model of the Titanic we want to put on display,” Darrach said.

A complete renovation of the landscape surrounding the lighthouse is also a part of the non-profit’s five-year plan. This plan includes construction of three look-out points, a gravel walking path, large picnic tables, ramps and decking for improved accessibility and washroom facilities.

The lighthouse will also be receiving an exterior repaint, white for the siding and red for the window frames and doorway, Darrach said.

“We’ve got a lot of plans, we’ve just gotta get them going,” Darrach said.

Finalists can benefit from the publicity of the competition in addition to the prize money, by raising awareness and drawing attention to their activities and the location.

Patricia Kell, executive director for the National Trust for Canada, told SaltWire the second year of the Next Great Save competition has been extremely successful.

“(We) hope that by participating, these 12 sites will be able to advance their project and have a more sustainable future,” Kell said on April 22.

The first Next Great Save competition was held in October 2022 and concluded in February 2023. Ten finalists were selected to be voted upon, with locations ranging from British Columbia to Nova Scotia.

“They’re all sites that are integral to their community, have these dedicated community groups that support them, so they’re competing to be able to care for their place and ensure that it has a future,” Kell said.

Caitlin Coombes is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government. She can be reached by email at caitlin.coombes@saltwire.com and followed on X @caitlin_coombes.

Caitlin Coombes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Guardian