A mock-up photo of what a lighthouse would look like at the land’s end of the breakwater on provincial land in Winnipeg Beach. Sandy HooK resident Gord Driscoll is proposing this as a legacy project for Winnipeg Beach’s centennial in 2014.
Just over 10 years ago, Sandy Hook resident and artist Gord Driscoll sailed down the eastern seaboard of the United States, and it was then that he became interested in lighthouses.
This year, he approached the Town of Winnipeg Beach council with an idea for a legacy project as the small lakeside community began preparing for its 2014 centennial celebrations, which will culminate in a weekend of official festivities in the middle of August of that year.
Now retired, Driscoll came up with the idea of a lighthouse which he believes could become the iconic symbol that would cause people to immediately associate it with the town of Winnipeg Beach.
“I first got the idea as I sailed from Chesapeake Bay down past Cape Fear in the Carolinas, then Florida and right down to the Bahamas,” said Driscoll, who worked for most of his life as a commercial artist and designer as well as in the sign business.
“I saw dozens of lighthouses on the way down to the islands, and at one point I got held up trying to help another sailor off a sand bar, just as I was about to cross the Gulf stream,” he said. There was a leeward drift to the north so I had to shoot for the upstream to get across to Cat Key.”
Looking at his chart, he saw that he had about 15 miles to go in order to get there and also that his map indicated a lighthouse at the exact spot he was aiming his boat for, but that it was no longer in use.
In any event, what happened next is like one of those “amazing tales from the sea” as a flashing light did guide him in and, according to Driscoll, “There are not many lights that have that kind of power, save for the ones in lighthouses.” When he reached his destination, he saw that the lighthouse was a wreck.
From that point on, Driscoll became captivated by the mystique associated with these beacons from another era, as one by one they are being shut down across the world in favor of simple metallic towers to guide seafarers in.
“Winnipeg Beach needs a new icon,” said Driscoll, who added that the water tower just doesn’t do it for him, that it’s too industrial, too utilitarian, although it is widely regarded to be a magnificent holdover from the town’s golden era of the Moonlight Specials and dance pavilion.
“In my opinion, from the point of view of tourism and photography, there is nothing that identifies Winnipeg Beach as a distinctive place. Petersfield has its duck, Selkirk a catfish and Komarno that big mosquito,” he added.
“A lighthouse could be a monumental landmark, so to speak, and everybody I have talked to about this idea supports my idea,” according to Driscoll.
Driscoll said in all likelihood the lighthouse could be located on provincial land at the north end of the breakwater, because he thinks there would be too much red tape in getting the federal government to agree having it built at the end of the breakwater that juts out into the lake.
“I am proposing a lighthouse very similar to the one at Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia,” said Driscoll. “About 50 feet high, made of concrete to withstand the elements.
The lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove attracts approximately 500,000 visitors per year but is in danger of being shut down since the governments are no longer interested in funding its operation, despite it being one of the most iconic and most photographed lighthouses in the entire world.
Nevertheless, Driscoll believes in his idea, and the Town of Winnipeg Beach is also on board for now, as it prepares to meet with representatives of the province at its next regular council meeting on Oct. 10 to discuss the possibility and potential viability of such a project.