Restoration of the Panmure Head Lighthouse

In December of 2015 the Panmure Island Lighthouse Association (PILA), a community volunteer non-profit group, acquired ownership of the lighthouse from the Federal Government, with the express intention of restoring and maintaining it and keeping it open for visitors to enjoy.  In the months before the transfer of ownership took place, the Board of Directors developed and prioritized a plan for its restoration.  The goal of the volunteers at PILA was to return the structure to the pre-modern era of the lighthouse, in so far as it was possible, given that the lighthouse is still a working light and the main floor now houses a gift shop with electricity, internet and phone.   New storage areas were also a consideration, given the function of the first floor as a gift shop

The Association was fortunate to inherit a structure that was in reasonably good shape due to quality of the original building materials, the craftsmanship of the builders and their knowledge of ship building techniques.  Over the more than 160 years of it’s history, the lighthouse was well cared for by a series of lightkeepers and their assistants.  Repairs over the years included not only routine painting and maintenance, but also replacement of the original copper clad wooden lantern with a cast iron lantern in 1883.

The 1950’s was the time of greatest change for the lighthouse structure.   With the coming of electricity to the lighthouse, a weight shaft was added when a kerosene vapour light was introduced.  A generator room was constructed on the first floor, requiring a portion of the wooden floor to be removed and replaced with a concrete pad to support the weight of the generator, and a ventilator was placed in the lower window of the tower.  The generator room (floor, walls and ceiling) was insulated with asbestos due to the very real fire hazard, and the exterior sustained damage as a result of retrofitting the building to accommodate these modern amenities.

When the Federal Government began the process of divesting lighthouses in the 1990’s, maintenance  of the structure stopped.  By 2015 when  PILA took ownership, the lighthouse exterior was in rough shape, with peeling paint, holes in the fascia and soffits, missing brackets, rotted window sashes and sills and corroded iron railings on the lantern deck.  The front steps were rotted out and railings were  unsafe and too narrow for comfortable entry into the building.

Almost as soon as the ink was dry on the ownership documents, the interior partitions, walls,  floor and dropped ceiling were torn down, and all asbestos removed and disposed of by an Island abatement company.  Once the lighthouse was returned to its original shell, PILA consulted with Heritage PEI to discuss the restoration phase.  Under the guidance of Heritage PEI, original windows were kept, with new sills and sashes, the iron railings in the lantern room were replaced, a volunteer carpenter carved the replacement corbels, the fascia and soffits were repaired sealing the building from weather and errant birds, and missing shingles were repaired.    The narrow front entrance was made safer and more welcoming with a wider deck and sturdy railing.

Inside, the mandate of the association was to “do no harm” which meant that  damage done to the structure during the modernization era was camouflaged until such time as PILA can find the historically-appropriate materials and expertise to repair the damage in a sympathetic way.  Necessary storage areas to house the electrical panel and gift shop requirements, were constructed around existing beams but not attached – which means that they can be removed without damage to the original beams.  The original steep stairs were kept but a more substantial wooden railing was added as a safety requirement.  The concrete pad which had supported a generator, was removed and the missing wooden floorboards replaced with custom boards milled to the same depth and width as the original flooring.  Staining caused by water damage was cleaned and the interior walls primed and painted white.  The floor paint colour was matched to a floorboard uncovered under the asbestos tile floor.

The exterior of the lighthouse now gleams with its fresh white paint, and bright red trim and lantern.  PILA volunteers removed the DFO era chain link gate and fence and constructed a more welcoming and appropriate wood and rope fence.   Work has begun on new flower gardens, in keeping with the tradition of past lightkeepers maintaining vegetable gardens.

Inside, the lighthouse is very  welcoming; it is  a bright and open space, with its original heavy timber beams , wooden floors and steep marine stairs which lead visitors up to the lantern room and the beautiful views of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Panmure Island beach and surrounding lands.

Interior Restoration work highlights:
  • Asbestos was removed from the walls, floor and ceiling in first floor area
  • Interior walls were torn down and stripped back to the original 1853 timbers.
  • Missing and rotting floor boards were replaced with boards custom milled to the original width and thickness of the original boards.
  • The staircase from ground floor to the first floor restored and  improved to better meet safety considerations;
  • New storage areas were incorporated under the refashioned stairwell and shelving and front counter office areas for the giftshop was completed.
  • All electrical work was updated and extended to allow for better lighting and use of our second and third floors.
  • New window sills and sashes were constructed to replace rotten ones and the windows were readied for painting.
Exterior Restoration:
  • Fascia and Soffits were repaired, a missing corebel was replaced.
  • New iron railings to fabricated to replace the original corroded railings.
  • A new front entrance deck and stairway were constructed to allow easier access to the building
  • A new parking lot was constructed on site along with a Berm to better demark the lighthouse property and ensure our visitors had adequate parking.
  • Our volunteer grounds crew wasted no time in tackling the installation of new fencing as well as additional landscaping for the site.
  • The exterior repair of shingles and final paint job was a big hit with all our visitors as they watched the “makeover” take place