Saturday, October 31, 2009

Stormy October Swallowtail

Fall brings with it lots of wind when you live on an island in the mouth of the Bay of Fundy. In one storm this October, one third of the Canadian flag disappeared. The wind at Swallowtail is always a bit worse because the peninsula sticks out into the bay and there are no trees or buildings to block or slow the wind.

Flags at the ferry ticket office, a short ditance away were not affected by this wind storm and always last much longer than any flying at Swallowtail. A flag that I have that is brought in each night lasts for years but has to be replaced, not from wear but because of fading.

The extreme wind was another reason for the board walks that used to connect the keepers house to the lighthouse, something to hold onto when moving between the two buildings but even those were at risk and were sometimes blown out of place and damaged in severe gales.

Here are a couple of shots of a windy October day. Northeast wind whips up seas quickly. With some wind storms, the spray can actually go over the lighthouse, hence the cables that hold the tower from toppling over.

Before and After: Buildings at the top of the hill

I was looking through my photos of the two buildings at the top of the hill, including the former Ross Island Boat House moved to Swallowtail in the 1960s. I thought I would share some before and after photos of this amazing transformation with new roofs on both buildings (including the little pump house), new deck and paint. Before pictures were taken in April 2008, after photos in September 2009.

Eastern side of the old boathouse from Ross Island:

Southern side of the old boathouse from Ross Island:

Northern side of the old boathouse from Ross Island:

Thanks everyone who helped with labour or donation of materials to turn these little buildings into gems!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Helicopter lifts in September

The lead paint remediation around Swallowtail lighthouse and the old light keepers house foundation is now complete. The last of the contaminated soil was removed September 14 and 15. We had asked our contact at Fisheries and Oceans in charge of the cleanup if it would be possible to remove some of the larger items from the property while the Canadian Coast Guard helicopter was on site. We were pleasantly surprised when the answer was yes. We were able to coordinate the removal through CleanEarth Technologies, the company contracted to do the soil cleanup and had sent two of their staff to the site during this latest soil removal. These were the large white bags that were sitting beside the light house. Most of the bags had been removed earlier in the summer but these hadn't been removed until September because the CCG helicopter was unavailable for the work.

Helicopter sitting on helicopter pad next to the lighthouse:

Helicopter over the lighthouse during a lift:

A number of us went out to organize what was to be lifted off, including the old oil tanks, furnaces, a water heater and other items from the basement of the keepers house, the demolition debris from the southern end of the boat house and the scaffolding used during painting the keepers house. The old furnaces hadn't been used since the lightstation was destaffed in 1985 and had originally been coal burning and were convert to oil. Electric heat had been installed when the keepers house was used as a bed and breakfast.

Staging and bags with building debris ready to go. Cargo net has yet to be filled:

CleanEarth Technologies brought 2 large bags, similar in size to the ones used for the soil and the helicopter crew had 2 cargo nets. We filled the bags the first day and moved all the scaffolding to one location. During this time, one of our volunteers organized getting the large items out of the basement which was fully accomplished the second day and everything loaded into cargo nets or hooked together with straps.

Moving the oil tank out of the basement:

The helicopter arrived in the afternoon of Sept. 14 and moved a number of soil bags to the staging area at the old airport at Hole-in-the-Wall park. The following day, the rest of the bags were removed and then it was time to lift our stuff. The soil will be removed from the island and decontaminated.

Hooking up a bag filled with contaminated soil to be lifted by helicopter to the old airport at Hole-in-the-Wall Park:

Contaminated soil bag in the air. Some of these bags weighed over a ton:

The two bags were lifted first at the end of a 100' cable, then the scaffolding and one of the cargo nets, then the tanks and furnaces and then the last cargo net. It took only 6 minutes from the time the bags or nets were attached to the cable until the helicopter was back for the next load so we had to work quickly and it was why we had to have everything prepared. We also had two people at the old airport to help the CleanEarth technologist unhook and remove the items from the cargo nets. It was amazing how smoothly everything went.
Scaffolding and cargo net attached to helicopter hook ready to be lifted, the helicopter engineer is overseeing the lifting:

Hooking up second cargo net to be lifted by helicopter:
Here is a video of getting one of the cargo bags ready to be lifted by the helicopter:
Material at the old airport after being lifted off the peninsula by helicopter:

We would like to thank all our volunteers, the Canadian Coast Guard helicopter crew and CleanEarth Technologies and their crew. Trying to get this material up the stairs manually would have taken a lot more effort, people and time than with the helicopter.

Summary for Trails and Island Times articles

Parts of the following were included in the Grand Manan Trails Newsletter 2009 and also in the November issue of Island Times. Slight editing was done for each publication. Thanks Martha for getting this started!

This year has been a busy one for the Swallowtail Keepers Society (SKS) in its efforts to preserve and maintain the keepers house and other outbuildings at Swallowtail. While some of their work revolved around further clarification of the property status, much of their time was spent in visible projects that began in April and are ongoing.

For the second year in a row, a flag-raising ceremony took place on a foggy July 1, 2009, with several community members and the RCMP in attendance. The ceremony recognized the Foster family for its contribution to Swallowtail’s history and memorialized the tragic death of Elodie Foster in 1936, wife of Thomas Foster, while she was lighting the alcohol lamp in the lighthouse.

A new event on the third weekend in August was the International Lighthouse/Lightship Weekend. Two ham-radio operators from the Fredericton area set up their equipment in the former Ross Island boat house to talk to other operators around the world also broadcasting from lighthouses or lightships. While the atmospheric conditions were not always the best, it was a fun weekend with over 170 people stopping by to learn about ham radios and celebrate lighthouses. We hope to make this an annual event.

Perhaps the most visible improvement has been the erection of a sturdy deck and replacement of the roof shingles at the former Ross Island boathouse at the head of the stairs by the parking lot. Many, many hours of volunteer labour went into this project and is part of our goals to make at least part of the property accessible to everyone. This area will become the greeting centre for anyone visiting the light station in years to come.

Thanks to donated paint and the local Rotary Club and members of the Rotary Club from Seminole Lake, Florida, the buildings at the top of the hill and the keepers house have been painted in a joint project. A bit more work is needed on the keepers house but the buildings now glow as they did when there were fulltime keepers who did the maintenance. SKS is grateful for all such help, and recognizes the great cooperation and assistance from such community groups as Rotary as well as local businesses and individuals.

You may have also noticed that the southern wall of the boathouse beside the keepers house is being rebuilt. Many years of neglect and extreme elements (wind, rain and snow) had taken its toll and through volunteer effort and donated lumber, the building is in much better shape for the upcoming winter. This work will continue next spring.

Some work was also done on the railings. The chain link fencing on one side of the hand rail of the concrete steps was replaced with much softer netting so the railing was more “hand-friendly”. The railing on the foot bridge was also reinforced with long bolts to strengthen it against the stiff winds through the Sawpit. The netting and stainless steel bolts, nuts and washers were donated and this, often tedious, work was done by volunteers.

Together this work has helped to have the property shining for the 150th anniversary on July 7, 2010. Various plans for that celebration include the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the event, installing a time capsule, and possibly returning the fog bell to the property. A gala public reception and slide show of people's favourite Swallowtail photos are in the planning stages. A boat parade/sail past and a Fishermen's Ball are planned for the weekend following. Please let us know if there are special events you would like included or would like to help with any of the planning or events to make this a fun time for all.

While not directly related to SKS’ mandate, many of you have likely noted the presence of a large-scale clean-up of lead paint by CleanEarth Technologies at the Swallowtail property which started in the fall of 2008. This was part of a Federal Government programme to remediate properties that are contaminated. The clean-up was necessary if the lighthouse is ever to be transferred from federal hands. They graciously arranged to have removed large items (oil tanks, old furnaces, construction debris) from the property recently by Coast Guard helicopter. This was possible during the removal of the last bags of contaminated soil from beside the lighthouse.

The federal historic lighthouse bill is to come into effect next year and the community will need to petition to have the lighthouse deemed “historic”. It is already recognized as “significant”. Lack of funding to the Coast Guard remains an issue regarding maintenance of the lighthouse and can be seen in the crumbling rock foundation, missing roof shingles and peeling paint. Additionally, the Village is in the process of setting up an historic places registry of non-federal properties, and has selected the keepers property as one of the possible sites.

None of this could be accomplished without the dedication of volunteers and interested individuals, countless volunteer hours, donation of materials and gracious monetary donations. A successful lobster dinner and musical evening, hamburger and hotdog sales, and sale of buttons and maple taffy have also helped raise necessary funds to let us continue our work. If you are interested, donations can be sent to Swallowtail Keepers Society, 50 Lighthouse Road, Grand Manan, NB E5G 2A2. We also have a blog,, a Facebook group, Save our Swallowtail, and always welcome anyone interested in helping out with work or organizational meetings. Contact: Laurie Murison (506 662 8316 or