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Path to the Channel Head Lighthouse under repair

Work is ongoing to repair the wharf and walkway at Channel Head in Port aux Basques.
Work is ongoing to repair the wharf and walkway at Channel Head in Port aux Basques.

PORT AUX BASQUES, N.L. — East end residents of Port aux Basques have likely noticed the loud noises of heavy equipment and excavation going on across the water from the town’s iconic lighthouse.

It’s likely to continue at least until spring, as the Channel Head wharf and walkway are being completely rebuilt.

The Channel Head Heritage Lighthouse Society is working with the federal government to restore a key part of the town’s history. Established last fall and despite its name the society is not currently focused on the lighthouse.

“The lighthouse itself was restored two years ago by the federal government,” said Scott Strickland, the society’s director. “They did an almost half million dollar renovation on that light. The wharf and walkway, however, became redundant.”

Since the Department of Fisheries and Oceans accesses the lighthouse by helicopter now instead of boats, they decided to entirely demolish the wharf and walkway at channel head, citing liability concerns. Entirely by chance Strickland caught wind of the DFO’s plans and immediately filed a motion to try to save it.

Without the wharf and walkway, locals would have nowhere to tie up their boat and reach the lighthouse. A popular spot for picnics and sightseers with residents who have access to a boat, Strickland didn’t want to see the townsfolk and tourists cut off.

While he originally tried to save the wharf, the DFO wouldn’t consider it, nor even consider leaving it to the town in such a state of disrepair. Strickland didn’t quit, however, turning to the community and social media for support, and getting attention from the media.

Eventually the society entered into negotiations with the federal government, who have now agreed to put back a wharf similar to the original and an even bigger walkway.

“It will lead from that wharf almost right up to the light,” says Strickland. “This is not just a little floating dock. It’s a big undertaking.”

To further facilitate access, a local tourism business will run regular trips across the channel for those wanting to visit the lighthouse.

The Society is also planning to put in storyboards and other elements to draw in tourists and locals alike to the area.

“We’re still in such early stages,” says Strickland, who hopes to eventually see a booming tourist attraction, a place for local small operators to set up shop, and eventually even an area to stage weddings.

In addition to the society’s five volunteers, the town is also pitching in to help out, trying to find grant money for summer staff. Strickland is also working hard at building a website to help publicize the ongoing restoration and get more feedback and perhaps even some folklore and stories from the community. He’s hoping to launch it around Easter.

“So many people drive down around there,” says Strickland of summer tourists, “and there’s not even a sign that says Channel Head Lighthouse.”

For Strickland it isn’t only about residents or tourists. He has a strong personal connection to the lighthouse and is passionate about keeping it open to the public.

“My grandfather was the last lighthouse keeper over there. His father was a keeper, and his father before him was the first keeper over there,” Strickland recalls. “I grew up over there because my father was ill at the time, so I spent the first seven or eight years of my life on that island.”

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