Shine Bright Like A Lighthouse. A Love Affair With Maritime History.

Shine Bright Like A Lighthouse. A Love Affair With Maritime History.

John Sylvester, Country Magazine May 15, 2014

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Peggy’s Point Lighthouse (Photo: John Sylvester)

Having grown up in Nova Scotia, I have fond memories of scrambling over the curved granite whaleback rocks below my aunt’s cottage near the community of Peggy’s Cove.

Even though that’s the home of Nova Scotia’s most famous landmark, Peggy’s Point Lighthouse, I didn’t pay much attention to the lighthouse in those days. The tide pools and shallow caves of the whalebacks were more enticing. As an adult, however, I’ve grown to appreciate and cherish these beautiful beacons and the maritime tradition they represent. . . . more

See more photos and information under his story in Country Magazine called Lighthouse Preservation in Atlantic Coast Canada

Editor’s Note: Find additional information on Quebec, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island lighthouses, along with ideas for exploring the surrounding towns, right here on our blog!

And be sure to read John Sylvester’s new eBook: A Photographer’s Guide to Prince Edward Island, a downloadable PDF for mobile devices, available at: www.photographersguidetopei.com.

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As long as humans have sailed the oceans, we’ve needed navigational aids to warn of hidden shoals and dangerous headlands. The earliest warning lights were coastal bonfires. The first known lighthouse was built at Alexandria, Egypt, around 280 B.C. The British built North America’s first one at the entrance to Boston Harbor in 1716. The French ­followed 15 years later with Canada’s first lighthouse near their fortress at ­Louisbourg on what is now Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island.

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Peggy’s Point Lighthouse (Photo: John Sylvester)

In sailing’s golden age, from the 1700s to the mid-19th century, lighthouses proliferated along the Atlantic coast. In Atlantic Canada alone, nearly 500 still stand along 33,000 miles of mainland and island coastline. A few miles up the coast from Peggy’s Cove, North America’s oldest continuously operating light, Sambro Island Lighthouse, stands on a tiny granite outcrop at the entrance to Halifax Harbor. Built in 1758, its eye-catching 80-foot red-and-white tower has been the first sign of land seen by countless sailors, immigrants and ocean liner passengers—including the Titanic survivors—as they approached the safety of landfall.

During the heyday of maritime activity, lighthouse keepers and their families lived in homes either attached to or close by the lighthouse. They often had to fend for themselves in isolated circumstances, growing a garden and raising livestock in addition to their full-time duties tending the light. Every evening, in fair weather or foul, the light keeper climbed a narrow, winding staircase to the top of the tower to light the lamp, located behind a powerful Fresnel lens that magnified and ­transmitted the beam far out to sea.

Light keepers eventually lost their jobs to automation, and in recent years sophisticated GPS navigation systems have rendered lighthouses redundant. Some have fallen into disrepair, but many have been rescued by local preservation or historical societies and converted into museums or tourist attractions.

Thanks to broad grassroots support, the federal government passed an act encouraging lighthouse preservation. But Natalie Bull, executive director of Heritage Canada The National Trust, notes that the legislation ultimately says it’s up to communities to protect their lighthouses.

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Bay of Fundy Lighthouse (Photo: John Sylvester)

“It’s very challenging, but residents of the Maritime Provinces are resourceful,” she adds. “Community groups have long been willing to take on these preservation projects, even before the act passed. New Brunswick’s Cape Enrage Lighthouse is a great example.”

The Cape Enrage keepers house was slated to be torn down when, in 1993, a group of local high school kids and their physics teacher started renovating it. Two years later the Coast Guard transfered ownership to the province, and the site is now the hub of a thriving adventure tourism destination that includes kayaking, rock climbing and horseback riding.

The wonderful thing about lighthouses, of course, is that they’re invariably built on beautiful coastal stretches. Some have been converted into inns where you can rent a room overlooking the ocean, listen to the waves lapping the shore and imagine life in a bygone era. You can now find lighthouse inns in all five of the provinces on Canada’s Atlantic Coast.

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Quirpon Island Lighthouse (Photo: John Sylvester)

A few years ago I clambered into a small fishing boat that transported me to remote Quirpon Island off the north coast of Newfoundland, where I stayed in a cozy inn that was a former light keeper’s cottage. I spent two glorious days exploring the island, watching whales and sculpted icebergs drift by, and being pampered with Newfoundland’s renowned hospitality.

But even when I can’t spend the night, I rarely pass up a chance to visit one of these inviting beacons. On a recent trip to Nova Scotia, my wife and I drove out to Peggy’s Point Lighthouse on a beautiful autumn day. We joined tourists from all over the world wandering among the same whaleback rocks that fascinated me as a child.

We lingered through the afternoon, enjoying the timeless wonder of waves breaking on the rocks and sunlight sparkling off the ocean while one of Canada’s most beloved symbols of a proud seafaring tradition stood watch. And this time, I knew enough to appreciate it.

John Sylvester is an author and photographer based in Prince Edward Island, Canada. He specializes in photographing the people and places of Canada, and has published extensively on the Atlantic region, including the great lighthouses.

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Cape d’Or Lighthouse (Photo: John Sylvester)

 

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An ice flow off Newfoundland (Photo: John Sylvester)

 

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Sunset at Fortune Head Lighthouse (Photo: John Sylvester)

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Celebrating the Lighthouses of PEI

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Click the photo to go to the website.

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Dreams of Being a Lighthouse Keeper

For years past, adults and children of all ages had dreams of growing up to be an adventurous lighthouse keeper. That dream is slowly dimming as the world automates its lighthouses.

The following article from The Guardian  brings to our attention the dimming of the dream in the UK

The lure of the lighthouse for our islanded souls
With the last lights set to go out, many of us will miss these concrete symbols of our humanity

by Joe Moran The Guardian, Saturday 12 April 2014.

Lighthouse, County Durham

The tower lights, the ones that rise impossibly out of the sea and carry the most romantic connotations for landlubberly ignoramuses like me, were the most dreaded by the keepers.’ Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA

Growing up, I wanted to be a lighthouse keeper. Just like Moominpappa in Tove Jansson’s Moomin books, my ambition was to live on the loneliest lighthouse on the remotest skerry farthest from land. It didn’t end well for Moominpappa, the island he and the other Moomins settled on being barren and desolate, inhabited only by a silent fisherman who turned out to be the ex-lighthouse keeper driven mad by loneliness. It didn’t put me off.

I have since met many compatriots who have had the same dream, for there is something about lighthouses that seems to speak to our islanded souls. more . . .

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Now, to celebrate the quincentenary of Trinity House, the organisation responsible for the lighthouses of England and Wales, an exhibition is opening at the National Maritime Museum. Guiding Lights will display intricate models of lighthouses and lighthouse keepers’ personal effects. It is hard to imagine a similarly pulse-quickening exhibition about air-traffic controllers or road-safety officers, although our lives are similarly in their hands.

“I meant nothing by the lighthouse,” Virginia Woolf wrote of its role in her most celebrated novel, “but I trusted that people would make it the deposit for their own emotions.” Lighthouses, Woolf realised, are endlessly suggestive signifiers of both human isolation and our ultimate connectedness to each other. Artists, from John Constable to Eric Ravilious, have made them the focus of their paintings, which can’t simply be to do with their pleasingly vertical contrast with the horizon.

I suspect that lighthouses appeal especially to introverts like me, who need to make strategic withdrawals from the social world but also want to retain some basic link with humanity. A beam sweeping the horizon for the benefit of ships passing in the night is just that kind of minimal human connection. “Nothing must be allowed to silence our voices … We must call out to one another,” wrote Janet Frame, a shy New Zealand writer also fascinated by lighthouses, “across seas and deserts flashing words instead of mirrors and lights.”

I finally cured my lighthouse fantasy by reading Tony Parker’s oral history of lighthouse keepers. Looking after a light – no keeper ever called it a lighthouse – was, I learned, a tedious job, with little to do but linger over meals and make ships in bottles. One keeper was so lonely that in the middle of the night he switched on the transmitter and listened to the ships radioing each other, just to hear some other human voices. The tower lights, the ones that rise impossibly out of the sea and carry the most romantic connotations for landlubberly ignoramuses like me, were the most dreaded by the keepers. Without even a bit of rock to walk around on and escape from your housemates, they were the lighthouse-keeping equivalent of being posted to Siberia.

In any case, I was well out of it because lighthouse keeping was not a job with prospects.

The lighthouses began to be automated in the 1970s and the last keeper left the last occupied lighthouse in 1998. Now, in an age of radar and computerised navigation systems, working lighthouses are an endangered species. Their haunting fog signals are being switched off. Their black-and-red painted stripes, meant to stand out against the land and sky, are being left to peel off. And many lighthouses are being decommissioned, turned into holiday cottages or expensively renovated homes.

No doubt satnav will now do the job just as well, but it will be a shame when the last lighthouse turns off its light. In an age when we have to justify public projects with the consumerist language of stakeholders and end users, lighthouses still feel like an uncomplicated social good that belongs to us all. They are the concrete symbol of our common humanity, of the fact that people we may never meet – at whom we may do no more than flash our lights in the dark – are also our concern.

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One of my dad’s oldest friends was a lighthouse keeper for a few years. He was sometimes posted to those lights that stand alone on a rock. In a ‘big sea’ waves could be so high that water would come down the chimney and put the fire out. He also said that if your hearing went dull it meant that the level you were on was underwater because of a big swell – and a thick metal door was the only thing keeping the Atlantic out.

There are terrible stories. One was the lighthouse often had to eat the tallow candles when ships bringing supplies could not make it through the rough sea. Also the tradition of 2 keepers came into being when one single went out of his mind.
I’ve a slight problem with repeated ref to concrete. Most early lights were built with granite(or timber with plinth granite) interlocked water proof hydraulic cement. Smeaton’s Eddystone the prototype, and later Stephenson family business up north.

To be honest lighthouses are no longer necessary as the coastline is now starkly outlined by the amount of light pollution from our towns, cities and villages. You really can’t miss it when sailing down the coast. Also our new technologies are way in advance of anything we’ve had in the past and even a small yacht can now pinpoint its position to a matter of metres on the ocean. So if we do have any shipping catastrophes in the future they are likely to be down to human error.

“even a small yacht can now pinpoint its position to a matter of metres”

I too sail a small yacht in and around NW Scotland and, because I lack all but the most basic GPS, compasses and echo sounder, greatly value our lighthouses – albeit, unmanned. You will know that whenever NATO carry out exercises in the Minch, warships regularly cause GPS screens to go blank!!!  Serious accidents are not unknown.

You are referring to an exercise 2 years ago where warships blocked GPS for 20 miles. There were no accidents but due to complaints Warships in UK waters are now banned from blocking GPS. I’m not sure about other navies though.

Not every small boat has radar… not all coastlines are outlined by light pollution.

But most people now have mobile phones/iPads/Tablets with GPS.

Please, please, please do not go to sea relying on an iPad/phone etc for navigation! Road signs, and indeed ‘roads’ themselves are fairly limited at sea in my experience.

I can see one of our oldest lighthouses from here. It is on the top of St Catherine’s Down and known locally as the Pepperpot. It was built by local people as a punishment for buying smuggled wine. There was an oratory attached to it at one time to say prayers for the souls of the shipwrecked of whom there were many and the graves in the churchyard will attest. Although high up it wasn’t much use as the mist which frequently covers that part of the coast line blocked out the light when it was most needed and many ships went aground on the notorious Atherfield ledge. The new lighthouse built by the shore is a beautiful building and it would be a great shame if it were to become just another house, although coastal erosion and land slips might put off anyone but the most foolhardy from purchasing.

Foolish idea turning these off. Given potential failures of equipment these are very useful as a last backup. Oh well I’m sure it saves some middle managers budget some money somewhere.

This is a shame, lighthouses are exciting. I don’t think it’s possible to go on holidays to the coast without spending some time watching out for the distant lights and trying to identify them. I know we used to look forward to foggy days so we could hear their fog horns going off.

And at night, if you were staying in a house nearby, some of the beam would sweep around the bedroom from time to time.

Many years ago I recall reading an article in some sailing magazine. Title was The Antikythera Light. The author told of sailing through a storm in the Eastern Med. He had been at sea for days on end and the storm had bounced his small boat around quite a bit. This was long before GPS and he didn’t know exactly where he was. He knew he was approaching the Greek islands and some very dangerous and rocky shores. Then, flickering on the horizon in the far distance and through the storm…a flashing light. Lights flash in timed sequences and those are indicated on charts. He identified this one as the light on Antikythera, the island in the center of the passage through into the Aegean Sea.

Now he knew where he was. Now he was safe. He wrote of his grateful appreciation, not only for the light keeper whose job it was to help people the keeper would never see, but to the society that posted the man there and built the tower and light that led him to safety out of a storm, money spent for no special benefit to the community but only to the benefit of passing strangers in need of help.It was a wonderful essay on how humanity consists of people doing altruistic things, not only for strangers, but for strangers they would never know needed the help. Lighthouses are a symbol of what is best in all of us.

A good few years ago we did the soundtrack to this short documentary about the some of the last people to man the lighthouses, they tell their stories and explain how automation affected them, very sad some of it: http://vimeo.com/m/71760571

Bishop Rock lighthouse – the westernmost point of the Isles of Scilly – that’s the one I’d most like to go inside. And I’d pay good money to see the BBC documentary about it, by Tony Parker, first shown just over 40 years ago:  http://trinityhousehistory.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/on-this-day-in-trinity-house-history-6-february/

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Guess What!

Back in 1969 on my first lighthouse at Pulteney Point we had a third keeper on station. Wayne and Beth were a very friendly couple who lived the hippie lifestyle. One of the things Wayne used to do every morning at daybreak was wander down to the shoreline right in front of his house, bend over and look at the sunrise between his legs, and then scoop up a few handfuls of seawater and drink it. To each his own I guess!

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A Single Drop of Seawater, Magnified 25 Times

OK, you’ve seen the title of the photo above taken from the website This is Colossal. On there they state:

You know when you’re horsing around at the beach and accidentally swallow a nasty gulp of salt water? Well I hate to break it to you but that foul taste wasn’t just salt. Photographer David Littschwager captured this amazing shot of a single drop of seawater magnified 25 times to reveal an entire ecosystem of crab larva,diatoms, bacteria, fish eggs, zooplankton, and even worms. Read more about what you probably don’t want to know at Dive Shield. We do admit the little crab larva in the lower right-hand corner is pretty darned cute. (via Lost at E Minor) Prints of this photograph are available at Art.com.

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Under the microscope: Just a splash of seawater

Scoop up a bucket of seawater (or swallow a mouthful) and this is what you get: a bizarre menagerie of plants and animals, some of them known to us, others a complete mystery.

This extraordinary photograph shows a random splash of seawater, magnified 25 times. The Earth’s open seas are home to countless tiny animals and plants that are known collectively as plankton.

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Sealife Key

Sealife Key

Sealife Text   [/private]

Machias Seal Island – An Ongoing Border Dispute Between the United States and Canada

I have mentioned Machias Seal Island before in my articles here, here, here, and here.

Well writer John Farrier published on Neatorama on Tuesday, April 22, 2014 a great article about how MAJOR/insignificant this dispute really is!

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(Maps: Google Maps)

This is Machias Seal Island, a 20-acre island in the Bay of Fundy.

You can’t see it? Let’s zoom in.

And from there the story continues! Such an insignificant island for such a big debate. That is government for you. Naturally it belongs to Canada! . . . more

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Hmm. That doesn’t help much. Let’s zoom in some more.
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There it is! It’s a speck of land that barely appears on the map.

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(Photo: Albnd)

You can see the lighthouse in the photo above. The island is inhabited by 2 human lighthouse keepers, a few seals…

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(Photo: Thomas O’Neil)

…and lots and lots of puffins.

The ownership of Machias Seal Island is disputed by the United States and Canada. Canada is in physical possession of it, but the United States has not formally dropped its claim to the island.

I’ve previously written several posts about the development of the US-Canadian border, whichincludes weird exclaves. Ambiguity about the border even led to the creation of 2 short-lived nations.

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(Painting by Benjamin West of the American delegation at the Treaty of Paris)

Although the United States and Canada now maintain a long, peaceful border, the placement of that border has been in doubt since the Treaty of Paris (1783) in which Britain recognized the United States as an independent nation. That treaty attempted to draw borders over unexplored lands. The authors did the best that they could with their knowledge of geography. But, alas, one of the descriptions for the border between Maine and maritime Canada was problematic. The treaty says that US territory includes:

all Islands within twenty Leagues of any Part of the Shores of the United States, and lying between Lines to be drawn due East from the Points where the aforesaid Boundaries between Nova Scotia on the one Part and East Florida on the other shall, respectively, touch the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic Ocean, excepting such Islands as now are or heretofore have been within the limits of the said Province of Nova Scotia.

I’ve bolded the parts of the text that are the source for the Machias Seal Island dispute.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the eastern border of Maine was of great concern to the British. Some British officials coveted what Americans saw as their territory, and vice versa. Control of the Bay of Fundy was of great importance to British commissioners at the Treaty of Ghent (1814), which ended the War of 1812.

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(Photo: Thomas O’Neil)

Now back to Machias Seal Island. The American argument is that it lies within 20 leagues (approximately 69 miles) of the coast of the United States.

The Canadian argument is that a land grant that pre-exists the Treaty of Paris defines the island as part of Nova Scotia. It built and has operated a lighthouse on the island since 1832.

Occasionally fishermen from the 2 nations have gotten into scraps about its ownership. Some Canadian citizens have staked mining claims to the island as a means of asserting Canadian sovereignty. The State of Maine has included the island on its maps of electoral districts.

But if possession is indeed 9/10ths of the law, then Machias Seal Island is Canadian. The United States has chosen not to press the issue.

Sources:
Clark, Edie. “Barna Norton Invades Canada.” Yankee 62.6 (1998): 48. Biography Reference Bank (H.W. Wilson). Web. 22 Apr. 2014.

Guo, Rongxing. Territorial Disputes and Resource Management: A Sourcebook. New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2007. Web. Google Books. 22 Apr. 2014.

Kelly, Stephen R. “Good Neighbors, Bad Border.” New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast) ed. Nov 27 2012. ProQuest. Web. 22 Apr. 2014 .

RELATED NEATORAMA POSTS

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Light at the End of the World

Light at the End of the World
Three Months on Cape St. James, 1941

by Hallvard Dahlie (orig from Raincoast 18, 1998) with notes from Jim Derham-Reid (last keeper on Cape St. James before automation)

Image1A strange interlude in my brief seafaring life took place in the fall of 1941, when I signed on as assistant lighthouse keeper at Cape St. James, a light perched on top of a three-hundred-foot rock at the very southern tip of the Queen Charlotte Islands. I had quit school earlier that year, at the age of sixteen, and found a job on the CGS Alberni, a lighthouse tender operating out of Prince Rupert. But when she had to go into dry dock at the beginning of September for a new wartime grey paint job and a bit of refurbishing, I chose to take a stint out at the lighthouse rather than scrape barnacles and paint for three months. Continue reading

Wolf Trap Lighthouse For Sale

Back in February 2013 I posted the article below on my front page:

Wolf Trap Lighthouse for Sale The lighthouse is for sale for $249,500 by a private owner. It was first offered for nonprofit and historical properties under the Lighthouse Preservation Act, but it was auctioned when it received no offers in 2005. Laura Pierce of ERA Bay Real Estate explains, “You would have to restore it and update it, but someone could live there full time or part time.” . . . more

 

[private]The home measures about 1,500 sq. feet, according to Pierce, with five floors, including the top floor, which contains the light. As an added incentive, Pierce mentions that because the home is a historic property, it’s tax-exempt, and the state of Virginia will offer tax credits to the next owner who restores the home to its former glory.[/private]

Excerpted from NBC news, here. 

Editor’s Note: Want to read more about the trials and tribulations of owning a decommissioned Chesapeake lighthouse? You can read our full-length feature, Got A Light? online.

Mise Tales Thirty-Five

 

For an update on what a Mise Tale is then please see Mise Tales One.

Britain StormsJanuary 07, 2014 – People watch and photograph enormous waves as they break, on Porthcawl harbour, South Wales, Monday Jan. 6, 2014. (AP Photo/PA, Ben Birchall) . . . more

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LONDON — What used to be Winter Storm Hercules has moved across the Atlantic and is now hammering the United Kingdom with high winds and winter weather.. Britain’s western coast is being lashed by high winds and strong rains following a month of unusually frequent winter storms.

A steady procession of storms has battered the island nation over the past few weeks, making December the windiest since 1969. Monster waves up to 27 feet (8.3 meters) high washed across the British coast on Monday, prompting evacuations and rescues.

“This latest storm actually originated as Winter Storm Hercules in the U.S. just after the New Year’s holiday,” said weather.com Senior Meteorologist Jon Erdman.

(MORE: Dangerously Cold Temperatures Hit U.S.)

The nearly non-stop storms have crumbled long-standing sea cliffs and damaged waterfronts.

“It’s been one after the other with no break,” Nicola Maxey, a spokeswoman for Britain’s Meteorological Office, said Tuesday.

More than 100 flood warnings remain across England and Wales.

“This latest Atlantic storm will slowly wind down and weaken over the Norwegian Sea off Scandinavia through Tuesday, giving way to a well-deserve reprieve from the stormy barrage the rest of the work week,” said Erdman.

Heavy winds and rain have also battered the French coast, driving large waves into southwestern town of Biarritz on Tuesday. [/private]

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Reprint – Sentinels Encased in Ice

Sentinels Encased in Ice by Elinor DeWire

from WeatherWise November-December 2011 

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The ice was here, the ice was there
The ice was all around;
I t cracked and growled, and roared and howled
Like noise in a swound…
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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Caption: St. Joseph Pierhead in Michigan as it appeared on December 20, 2010. Continue reading

Lighthouses of Prince Edward Island

Prince Edward Island Lighthouse Society

 Click on the partial map for the website.

From the Prince Edward Island Lighthouse Society comes this beautiful descriptive map of ALL the lighthouses (manned and automated) on Prince Edward Island (aka PEI), the smallest of Canada’s provinces. It consists of the main island and 231 minor islands. Altogether the entire province has a land area of 5,685.73 km2 (2,195.27 sq mi). (Wiki) Continue reading