Standing staunchly on a craggy outcrop at the entrance to Yarmouth Harbour, the Cape Forchu Lightstation is a favorite icon for residents and visitors alike. Known as the Beacon to Canada, it has been guiding vessels into Yarmouth Harbour since it was erected and lit in 1840.
By 1870, Yarmouth had become the second largest port of registry in Canada and maintaining the light was a priority. At one time the beam depended on a kerosene-fueled vapour system which had to be fed regularly. Herbert Cunningham, a lightkeeper for 30 years, estimates he made 47,000 trips up the stairs during his time of service.
In 1961 the old lighthouse was torn down to be replaced by a new applecore-style lighthouse, the first of its kind in Canada. By the mid-1990's lighthouses were being decommissioned and the Friends of the Yarmouth Light Society was formed to save the structure. On June 1, the lighthouse was transferred to the care of the Municipality of Yarmouth.
Since that time the facility has received close to $3 million in funding for much needed renovations. It now boasts a new parking lot, driveway, buried lines, a retaining wall, interpretive signage, a Mug Up Tea Room, a museum, gift shop, vegetable garden and 19 acres of beautifully-groomed grounds and the Leif Erikson park.
This year, the tea room is able to offer wine and beer for the first time. A giant chair in front of a webcam that broadcasts the image worldwide, provides fun for both children and adults. You can check your visit online up to 24 hours later.
2012 has proven to be an awesome one for the lighthouse, even before its opening date of May 25.
The facility beat out 90 other submissions, with over 200,000 e-ballots cast, to place first in the Great Public Space category in the Canadian Institute of Planners Great Places in Canada contest. It will also be filmed for a segment of Rediscovering Canada that will air in 2013.
Each year, on the last Monday of November, residents gather at the lighthouse before dawn to cheer and wave lights at the Yarmouth fleet as vessels depart piled high with traps on the first day of lobster fishing.
Part of the charm of visiting the Cape Forchu Lightstation is the 10-minute journey there from Yarmouth. You'll slow down as you pass a picturesque, working wharf - The Yarmouth Bar. Your tires will hum over a short metal bridge announcing your arrival on Cape Forchu (Cap Forchu), named by Samuel de Champlain, for forked tongue of land. False Harbour, on your right, was often mistaken for Yarmouth Harbour, with disastrous results for ships. You'll catch a glimpse of John's Cove Beach as you round the corner. Be sure to stop for a short stroll on the way back. Breathe deeply of the blooming rugosa roses lining the road and be careful of the deer that are often seen here.
Want a tip? Try the bread pudding with caramel sauce. It's a favorite treat for many!