Thursday, November 29, 2012

Commemorative Bench

John MacKenzie was a vibrant young man from Grand Manan who lived life to the fullest. He died accidentally in 1989 cutting short a life that was full of promise. His 25th high school reunion was celebrated this year and the class got together to make a lasting tribute to John. They chose Swallow Tail as the location and had a log bench constructed with a plaque:


In loving memory of John MacKenzie 1969-1989

The Class of ‘87

We moved one of our lobster trap style benches to another location so this bench would have the best view of the Swallow Tail peninsula. Many visitors had the pleasure of using the bench this summer and in turn, contemplated who John MacKenzie was.

John's parents, Jack and Verna, live on Grand Manan and his brother, Chris, lives in Saint John.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Returning the Storm Windows to the Keepers House

Keepers house as it looked in the spring of 2008 with boarded windows and peeling paint.
We were very pleased to have 21 custom-built wooden storm windows constructed and installed in the keepers house this September. We had salvaged a few storms that had not been discarded in the past but were still short most of the storms.

One of the original storm windows for the keepers house that was stored in the boathouse.
On the upper storey, the storm windows had been replaced with aluminum storms in the 1970s but these storm windows had been removed after the light station was destaffed and the house was operated as a Bed and Breakfast. This caused all sorts of water damage in the house over the years because of the extreme weather on the Swallow Tail peninsula which is unforgiving, and without storm windows, the original wooden windows could not be kept waterproof. Re-glazing these windows certainly helped but the storm windows were really necessary. Taking down the plywood for the last time, knowing that this would not compromise the interior of the house was a real pleasure.

New wooden storm windows being painted.
Wooden windows are not easy to purchase anymore with most people preferring vinyl. However, vinyl window inserts are not part of the history of the buildings and in keeping with the age of the structure, we had the storm windows constructed by Schell Lumber in Ontario. They still have all the equipment to make wooden windows and do a great job. The fellow who makes the windows is 83 and can turn them out very quickly.  Tom Murison, who is a restoration architect in Ontario, delivered the windows and craftfully installed them.
Tom Murison fitting new wooden storm windows with Michael Anderson looking on.
Each window had to be painted before installation. Although all the windows are of similar dimensions, slight variations occur and each window had to be fitted. Hinges were attached at the top so they could be pushed open to allow air flow in the summer but still protect the inner windows. We sealed them for the winter just to be on the safe side. 

Tom Murison installing hinges on new wooden storm windows.
The last windows that need to be addressed are the two sliding patio doors installed when the house operated as a Bed and Breakfast and gave access to the deck. We hope to install French doors that look like the original windows but still allow that access.

Keepers house as it looked in 1986, just after the lightstation was destaffed.

Rescued Bench and Fog Bell Clapper

We were very disappointed when one of the wooden lobster trap style benches went missing this spring. It was situated to the east of the lighthouse and was a favourite for many people. We had looked from above and from the water but couldn’t find it.

Wooden lobster trap style bench.  Each one has a unique, spectacular view.
This August, a family from Holland were exploring below the lighthouse on the rocks and found the bench lodged in a crevice. We were able to recover the bench and on the climb back up, the clapper mechanism for the fog bell was also discovered in the rocks. It is a bit bent but should be fixable. This was the last clapper mechanism for the bell and stood to the side of the bell and hit the bell on the outside. A chip developed in the bell because of it.

Fog bell and external clapper mechanism.  Photograph taken by Mary Catherine Edwards in the mid-1960s.
Divots in the rim of the fog bell caused by external clapper.
Earlier clapper that hung inside the fog bell.  Photograph provided by Jodie Graham.
An earlier clapper that hung under the bell was also recovered in 2009 when the soil was removed from around the lighthouse as part of the soil mediation project to remove lead and bismuth, components of paint prior to 1970. The clapper had been left on the ground and gradually disappeared as the grass grew over it.

Ken Ingersoll putting the final touches on the wooden lobster trap style bench where it was located near the lighthouse.
The bench survived with only minor damage to some of the boards. It is now sitting on the keepers house deck. Another bench was built to replace this one when we didn’t realize the bench was just in hiding!

People using the replacement bench near the lighthouse, which is bolted to the rocks.
Rescued wooden lobster trap style bench now located on the keepers house deck.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Summer Students 2012

We were fortunate to receive funding from the province of New Brunswick through S.E.E.D. for eight weeks and the federal Summer Placement Program, also for eight weeks. Courtney Guptill managed the Welcome Centre and Gift Shop with Jesse Gagné filling in on her days off. Courtney and Jesse greeted visitors, maintained a daily log of visitors and handled the sales in the gift shop.

Courtney accepting an order of Eric Allaby's posters.
Jesse also helped with various tasks on the property including mowing, weeding, and painting. He also helped our volunteers to install the interpretative signs and helped our Artist in Residence, Shoshannah White move in for a three month stay.

We are very thankful to have these summer students who greeted 6159 (3124 people in July and 3035 in August). This compares with 5886 in 2011 (315 for eight days in June, 2577 for July and 2994 for August).

We did manage to have the Welcome Centre open on occasion in September (541 visitors) and the beginning of October (199 visitors) through the gracious volunteering of Frances Hodge, Linda L’Aventure, Mary McLintock, Carol Green, Alexis Phillips, and Ken Ingersoll. This compares with 398 and 110 visitors under similar circumstances in 2011 for September and early October.

Linda L'Aventure helping set up the gift shop.
We are slowly trying to increase our inventory and had some great new items this summer, including a custom designed pewter pin. We still have t-shirts and the very popular heavy canvas tote bags. Proceeds from the sales go back into the restoration of the property.

Floating Herring Weir

There were many questions this summer about the floating herring weir which was installed in the Sawpit. Most people who visit the lower Bay of Fundy are familiar with the traditional herring weir built with wooden stakes and wrapped in two layers of netting, one above the other. These passive traps rely on the fish swimming to the trap and have worked very well in years when the herring came to the surface and headed inshore at night, particularly moonless, dark nights. The design was first used by the First Nations on mud flats and was an ingenious way to capture fish.

Seining the Intruder weir, a traditional herring weir which can be seen from Swallow Tail.
The advent of floating fish pens for aquaculture of Atlantic salmon stimulated interest in developing a herring weir that would also float up and down with the tide. The netting would always be underwater and there would be moorings and anchoring lines to keep the trap in place but otherwise the principal behind how the trap fishes would be similar – heart shaped trap with the entrance indented making the fish always swim away from the entrance once inside, and a fence or leader directing fish into the trap. There have been a number of attempts using PVC pipe filled with Styrofoam and the Sawpit weir is the latest of these.
Floating herring weir in the Sawpit made from PVC piping filled with Styrofoam, anchored in several places to keep it in place.  The fence or lead extends from the shore to the mouth or entrance of the weir.
Unfortunately, this summer was yet another year when few herring came inshore at night and most of the traditional weirs were not even fitted with their nets, remaining idle. There are many theories why the herring are staying in deep water, some of which have to do with much warmer ocean temperatures. Herring prefer cooler water temperatures if the surface temperatures exceed the preference of the herring, they will retreat to deeper water where the temperature is cooler. 

Floating herring weir seen at sunrise.
Instead of herring, squid and mackerel were common inshore this summer and this resulted in multitudes of people fishing at the wharves. Not desired by the weir operator but delighting many of the visitors, many seals (harbour and grey) swam in and out of the Sawpit Weir when a school of mackerel were caught.
Grey seal.
Harbour Seal.

Self-Guided Tours Using Interpretative Panels

We are pleased to have a wide range of interpretation panels now installed at Swallow Tail for our visitors. Through funding from the Canadian Heritage Building Communities Through Arts and Heritage Legacy Fund, we were able to add outdoor interpretive panels for self-guided tours year round. We also have some wonderful hand painted signs for directions and other information. A memorial plaque was installed in 2011 to mark the 75th anniversary of the tragic death of one of the light keepers, Elodie Ingalls Foster.

New sign welcoming visitors to Swallow Tail.  The Welcome Centre is also a gift shop.  The deck affords lovely views and has one of several picnic tables in this area.
The new signs include a Welcome to Swallow Tail and site map. The spelling of Swallow Tail has varied over the years and we have opted for the older spelling in our signs, where the name more accurately refers to the origins of the name referring to the shape of the peninsula, reminiscent of a swallow’s tail with the curve of the wings in the surrounding coves. The site map positions Swallow Tail in relationship to Grand Manan and the Bay of Fundy and local points of interest. A sign post near the boat house also compliments this information, pointing to various areas, including distance in some cases, that can be seen from Swallow Tail.

Site sign for Swallow Tail located near the stairs.  The new safety railing can be seen in the background which defines another picnic area and seating.
All of the buildings have a sign that includes a brief history of the structure. In addition, there is information about the fog bell. Various types of fishing can be seen at different times of the year from Swallow Tail and a panel describes some of these. The new floating weir has been a topic of conversation and there is a separate post about it. Many types of marine life can be seen as well and these are illustrated on another panel. Geology of the area is also described including the large mafic dike that the footbridge straddles. Grand Manan has the great opportunity for people to have one foot on rock over 200 million years of age (MYA) and also one foot on rock over 500 MYA. Finally there is a bit of a discussion about the weather conditions, what it does to the vegetation and why it is more evident at Swallow Tail.

Many of the signs are clustered around the keepers buildings where people pause and take in the information.  Each building also has a short description of its history.
The fog bell has its own interpretative sign giving its history.
The geology panel is near the footbridge, appropriately attached to one of the large rock outcrops.

Memorial panel and the history of the lighthouse are located near the entrance to the tower.
People enjoying the view sitting beside the sign post near the boat house.

While the site is beautiful and extremely awe-inspiring, there are a few hazards and with the number of visitors it is also necessary to point out some courtesies that would make everyone’s visit pleasant. These are summed in a sign by the stairs and are worth repeating here:
  • The wind is always stronger on the peninsula – the loss of several hats in the Sawpit last summer can attest to that.
  • The trails can be icy in the winter and may not be passable after a heavy snowfall.
  • Footpath after February snow storm and 2.5 hours of shovelling.
  • It is always best to carry out any garbage because items left lying outside can be blown into the ocean. In the summer there is a garbage can in the parking area which is emptied regularly. 
  • To respect others and for the safety of your pet, it is always best to have dogs on a leash. Not everyone picks up after their dogs which makes it unpleasant for others using the trails, particularly when it is left in the middle of the footpath.
  • Caution sign at stairs.
  • There are a few sharp drop offs and if you venture beyond the marked paths, you should be aware of this and take necessary precautions. It is a long walk back with an injury.
We hope that everyone enjoys the information and the panels help answer some frequently asked questions.

Part of a double rainbow that formed in October 2012

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Swallowtail, Swallow Tail, Swallow's Tail

Which is correct - Swallowtail, Swallow Tail, Swallow's Tail?  I guess it depends on what time frame you consider.

Early on, the peninsula was called Swallow's Tail, referring to the shape of the peninsula in relationship to the coves flanking it on either side.  The peninsula looked like the long tail of a swallow, birds that were plentiful on the island, but unfortunately today are getting more and more difficult to find.

Illustration of a swallow superimposed on the peninsula to show the similarities.  The curve of Pettes Cove, called Sprague's Cove in the 1850s, closely mimics the curve of a swallow's wing.
From the NB Lighthouse Publishing article Swallowtail Lightstation History. Update Posted 03.03.2007:

In a Dec. 15th, 1859 report I. Woodward of the Commission of Lighthouses said (p. 317 Board of Public Works Appendix, April 1860):

Sir, I have to report that in accordance with your request to me in the month of June last that I would proceed to Grand Manan taking with me John P. McKay and select a site for a lighthouse at the "Swallow's Tail" which he had contracted to build. We left Saint John on the 27th of June by steamer from Eastport, where, joined by Captain Robinson, R.N.Commissioner of Lighthouses, we proceeded to Grand Manan, whereon the 28th and 29th, we selected a spot on the Point known as the "Swallow's Tail", for the contemplated lighthouse and keepers house. Made an arrangement with the owner of the land, Mr. James Small, residing at Sprague's Cove...   The apostrophe "s" was dropped at some point and became Swallow Tail, only to be further modified to Swallowtail.  We have opted for the Swallow Tail spelling in our recent work but Swallowtail is still used extensively.

Swallow Tail Lighthouse Enters the WiFi Age

The new Grand Manan Adventure ferry was built with modern communications in mind. Few people these days are without a computer, tablet or cell phone so the access to WiFi during the ferry ride was a desirable feature. A company called ProData have been installing the necessary equipment to give continuous service during the ferry ride. The location of the Swallow Tail peninsula is ideal to bridge the gap between the ferry terminal on Grand Manan and the ferry during its run. Small relays have been installed on the boathouse and now give anyone in the area free Public WiFi.
Grand Manan Adventure ferry coming around Swallow Tail heading to Blacks Harbour.
This is a great perk for us, not to have that monthly bill, but to be able to promote free internet access to visitors, to those staying at the keepers house and to our summer staff. We hope this will also allow us to have a webcam installed in the future, similar to the one at the Long Eddy Lighthouse through Alpha Security Services, a local security company:

Small WiFi relay antennae on the boat house at Swallow Tail.

1958 Compared to 2012

The present keepers house was built in 1958 by Joseph McDowell & Son, a local contractor. Fortunately, Elmer Wilcox documented the construction and took this photograph when the keepers house was finished and the original keepers house was still standing. The photograph was taken from the top of the light house.

Original and new keepers houses taken from the lighthouse in 1958.  Photograph taken by Elmer Wilcox
The original keepers house and small outbuildings were torn down and the site levelled. The keepers house did have an ell on it early on but it was removed probably because of wind damage and other difficulties in keeping buildings tight. leading to its deterioration. Soil remediation for lead and bismuth removed much of the soil where the original house was located and left the site more uneven. Some of the brick and concrete foundations still exist but otherwise it is only in photographs and people’s memories, but as you can see little else has changed with the building footprint, other than decks and paths. The door in the north porch (right side of the photograph) was changed soon after the keepers house was built because of the difficulty of opening it during north east gales.

Keepers House and Boat House as seen from the lighthouse in September 2012.  Photograph taken by Ken Ingersoll.
While some new trees have sprouted, the small clump in the background doesn’t look like it has changed in 52 years.  The herring weir has been moved further away from the peninsula and, of course, the fog bell now sits by the keepers house instead of the lighthouse.