New life for lighthouse residence

Bell Island tourism group turns keeper’s house into visitor centre

Published on June 30, 2014
The former lighthouse residence on Bell Island, left vacant for several years, will soon be open to the public as a visitor information centre. — Submitted photo

For years, the former residence of the lighthouse keeper on Bell Island was left vacant. Now thanks to a local tourism group, the 70-year-old building will once again be put to good use.

With help from both the provincial and federal governments, Tourism Bell Island Inc. was able to refurbish the house and turn it into a new visitor information and interpretation centre.

“It’s like having a new baby,” said Tourism Bell Island chairman Henry Crane when asked how it feels to see the spruced-up building. “It is absolutely fantastic.”

It has been more than a year since the group first put together a new proposal concerning the lighthouse keeper residence, which was at one point acquired by the Town of Wabana. The lighthouse residence was always located on the northern tip of the island, but it was physically moved back from the cliff several years ago due to coastal erosion concerns.

“When they actually moved it, there was no lighthouse keeper in the residence,” said Crane. “The last lighthouse keeper was Bill Clarke — he passed away some time ago.”

According to Crane, the town council did not have the resources to repurpose the building. Tourism Bell Island, which came into existence six years ago, later agreed to take it over.

With a $223,750 government investment, the house was stripped down to its bare boards and rebuilt. Tourism Bell Island operated a small kiosk by the ferry terminal and has office space in the community, but the new visitor centre will serve a greater purpose.

“We know lots of walkers pass by there and lots of residents come down and take pictures of the lighthouse. It’s a focal point on the island, so we figured what better place to be the focal point for tourism than to have this lighthouse keeper’s residence opened.”

 

Mostly undeveloped

The area surrounding the lighthouse and the keeper’s residence is mostly undeveloped.

“There’s a beautiful paved road that goes down there, but there are no residents in the area, and the view from three sides is spectacular,” according to Crane.

“You’ve got one view going out towards that open area up around Baccalieu Island, and you’re looking over the bay towards Harbour Grace and Carbonear, and the other way you’re looking up to the far end of the island, so it’s a view that’s unparalleled.”

Tourism Bell Island expects the visitor information centre will open during the second week of July. Crane said its septic and sewer system is still a work in progress but close to completion.

With the lighthouse keeper’s residence revived, Crane hopes an opportunity will present itself down the road to make use of the lighthouse if the federal government decommissions it.