$11,000 Donation From Blue Heron Company Puts Big Tub Light Restoration Close To Target

By John Francis

The fundraising effort to save Big Tub Lighthouse got a huge boost on Dec 14 when the Blue Heron Company added $10,000 to the $1,000 they had already pledged. The lighthouse renovation is being run by the Friends of Bruce District Parks.

Speaking on behalf of the Friends, Bill Caulfeild-Browne said “I have long been an admirer of the way the Blue Heron Company maintains its properties in Tobermory — they are a credit to the community. Now, with this most generous donation, the Salen family has extended that caring to Big Tub Light. On behalf of the Friends of Bruce District Parks and of the community of Tobermory — even of our entire Municipality, I thank you. This will go a long way towards the restoration of of our icon.” Blue Heron’s Ashley Salen responded “The Blue Heron Company is happy to help preserve Tobermory’s Marine Heritage. Big Tub Lighthouse is one of the community’s most accessible and iconic features and this will help to ensure it remains that way for many years.”

The Friends’ effort was also bolstered by a recent $15,000 pledge from the Municipality of Northern Bruce Peninsula. The Friends have now raised $56,000 of the $67,000 they will need. The Municipality also provided a loan guarantee so that the work can begin first thing in spring, even if there is more fundraising to do.

Backgrounder: the Friends of Bruce District Parks’ Nov 25 presentation to MNBP Council

The Friends of Bruce District Parks made a presentation/appeal at MNBP Council’s Nov 25/2019 Meeting. Bill Caulfeild-Browne’s verbal presentation was brief and to the point. “Big Tub Light is an orphan,” he began. The Coast Guard would prefer to tear it down and put up a metal pole with a light on top. Parks Canada has shown no interest in being responsible for it. But it’s probably the oldest building in Tobermory. He asked that the municipality act as guarantor for the Friends’ fundraising efforts and contribute to the project. He suggested the parking revenues from Big Tub Road might make a good source for such funding. Councillors Smokey Golden and Megan Myles immediately agreed with this suggestion. Council voted unanimously to support the project.

Here is an excerpt from the Friends’ written brief to Council:

“Twelve years ago we appeared before this Council to secure the future of Big Tub Light. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans wanted to pull the building down or divest themselves of it as being surplus to their requirements. We felt that an icon of this municipality, and indeed of Bruce County, should be preserved. Council agreed that if divestiture to the Municipality could be achieved, Friends of the Parks would lease the structure for a nominal sum and take on responsibility for its preservation.

Big Tub Light was built in 1885. A very well constructed building, it survived for well over 100 years before falling into neglect.

Photo by Bill Caulfeild-Browne Photo: Despite being constantly battered by storms, Big Tub Light has required only occasional maintenance in its 134 year history.

Windows had been broken and were covered in plywood and maintenance was restricted to the Coast Guard painting it every so often. It appeared the structure was doomed until a group of citizens decided to take action. Working under the umbrella of the Friends, appeals were made to Parks Canada to take it over as it clearly belongs in Fathom Five National Marine Park. Unfortunately Parks had been besieged nationally to preserve dozens of lighthouses and, understandably, would not contemplate it. An attempt to have the light designated as a National Heritage Building went nowhere as divestiture needs to take place first. The current aboriginal land claim will likely delay that process for some time.

So a public campaign was launched to raise funds and it was successful, raising over $28,000, about $10,000 more than needed. A thorough scraping, priming and repainting took place while new windows were installed. The light once again looked as it should. The excess funds raised were banked by the Friends for future maintenance.

That ”future maintenance” commenced in September this year but it soon became apparent that serious deterioration to the cedar shakes had occurred, particularly on the NE side. This was caused by incorrect installation of the shakes sometime in the past — water was unable to drain from them properly and got behind them. The funds set aside would not be sufficient to replace the shakes, though the job was started. One side of the six-sided light has been done properly, with ice and moisture barriers and proper preparation.

But the cost has now risen.

We had originally estimated the cost at around $19,000 but two events have since conspired against us. First is the requirement to replace all the shakes, rather than simply repainting, and second is the recent storm damage. The total now stands at $67,000.  Still, it is worth noting that the replacement pre-painted shakes are warranted for 15 years. We do not anticipate anything but comparatively minor maintenance for the next decade-and-a- half. It’s a good investment in our heritage.”