Standing on the headland of the most southwestern tip of Nova Scotia, the structure stands almost 23 metres high and 37.5 metres above sea level at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy. Nova Scotia's only intact lighthouse open to the public, the light station was the first 'applecore' style lighthouse. The original light, lit in 1840, consisted of ten carefully placed oil lamps which was later changed to kerosene. Later, a mathematically precise globe, built in France by physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel, refracted and reflected light to send rays visible up to 32 kilometers. The lanterns were eventually replaced when electricity finally came to the Cape, in 1940. From 1840, to 1972, there were no less than twelve lightkeepers. The last three were not lightkeepers in the traditional sense but monitored the Coast Guard equipment. With computerization and modern technology the station was no longer required and was decommissioned in 1994.
In much the same way as Western Canada's prairie sentinels, the grain elevators, in the mid 1990's, lighthouses were being decommissioned and still remain today in grave danger of being demolished as societies scramble to raise funds for restoration. In 1996, spearheaded by resident volunteer Craig Harding, the Friends of the Yarmouth Light Society was formed and in June 2000, it became the first operating lightstation in Canadian history to be transferred to a municipality and entrusted to the care of the Society. In 2003 Cape Forchu Lightstation was designated a Provincial Heritage site.
Along with the countless hours of volunteers and gifts of corporate sponsorship, private donations play a vital role in funding required for maintainance and operations. The keeper's house, built prior to 1940, has been transformed into a museum and cafe. A second house is now a gift shop while the grounds have been developed to form Leif Ericsson Park, with walking paths, picnic sites and benches, not to mention fascinating geology. Here's an interesting tidbit: The rocks that form the Cape were originally part of what is presently North Africa, joining Nova Scotia through the processes of continental drift! They were, in fact, already 200,000,000 years old when dinosaurs began roaming our planet!
While you might be tempted to explore these rocks, beware the power of the mighty Atlantic. On clear days, rogue waves have been known to crash over the rocks to the right of the lightstation and spill into the parking lot below. That may mean nothing to you now but when you get there, you will see that the parking lot is a significant distance from the water's edge!
While the Lightstation may be the attraction, getting there is not only scenic but a reminder of Nova Scotia's coastal heritage, as one meanders through the charming and active fishing village of Cape Forchu. The Cape may not have received the same level of fame as Peggy's Cove, on Nova Scotia's South Shore, but it is not without it's charm. Home to the largest and most diverse fishery in Atlantic Canada, Cape Forchu, is culturally and historically tied to fishing and its related industries. In the 1930s and '40's about 30 families lived on the bar. While most of the homes are gone, the Cape still remains active.
The stunning seaward vistas is what first catches the eye, however, if you take some time to meander along the docks, and chat up a few of the locals you will find a vibrant community of hard working and friendly fishermen willing to take a break from their chores and share a bit about their lives and their community. It is their kindness, their stories, that captured my heart.
Incidentally Cape Forchu, along with the Yarmouth, Digby, Annapolis, Shelburne and Queens Counties form the UNESCO designated Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve. One of only 18 biospheres in all of Canada, there is a plethora of information on the website (link below).
If you are in the area, plan to spend a few hours on this seaside adventure.