Vic Douse Interviewing Barbara MacRae

Vic Douse interviews Barbara MacRae regarding her continued work over the years with the Point Prim Lighthouse

Vic: Welcome back everybody, we’re going to interview Barb MacRae now and talk about her lifelong involvement at the Point Prim Lighthouse. And Barb, welcome.

Barbara: Thank you.

Vic: So Barb, how did your interest and support of the lighthouse begin?

Barbara: Well, it started some time ago when I moved to Point Prim in 1972 with my husband Stewart MacRae, and that was in the fall of ’72 but then I joined a local Women’s Institute in the spring of ’74. As a Women’s Institute, if you know, as soon as someone new moves in, they jump at the chance. Anyway so in 1975 I think it was, our Women’s Institute decided we should look into developing the Point Prim Lighthouse grounds into a picnic site.

Vic: Ok so, in 1975 what is it like down at the lighthouse?

Barbara: Oh it’s pretty drab, you know, long grass, no fence, you know and roadway was poorly, you know, just maintained enough to get in.

Vic: I don’t recall, but is it 1969 when they run the power in and we don’t have a keeper anymore?

Barbara: Right.

Vic: So now it’s been six years where it’s automated but because it’s automated, the property has deteriorated.

Barbara: Like the grounds, itself, there’s nothing done to them so. So ee approached the Department of Transport it was called then, but they weren’t interested in our proposition so they thought maybe the Department of Tourism would go along with it.

Vic: So in 1975, the Women’s Institute, you, are you, what’s your role?

Barbara: I was the president at the time, but it wasn’t me that approached the group, but I guess I wrote the letter, but it was some of the older members that went and met with at that time our community council, Belfast CIC it was called and then from there they talked to different departments of government. Then in 1976 we received our first cheque of $500 to help with the maintenance that we had already started, we knew we could do it.

Vic: So Transport Canada was in charge of the lighthouse at that time?

Barbara: Right, the Coast Guard

Vic: The Coast Guard. So in 1975 they gave you permissions to use the grounds?

Barbara: They gave us, actually they the grounds were leased to the Belfast Community Improvement Committee because, and so through them, the grounds were leased from them to us.

Vic: So the Belfast Community was leasing the thing and then they let the WI take care of the grounds.

Barbara: Take care of the grounds, right.

Vic: And then you said you just got some funding from the province?

Barbara: No we got funding from the Belfast Community Improvement Committee, each month for the upkeep, like cutting the grass, and whatever we needed to do, picnic tables and garbage cans and such like that.

Vic: It is my understanding to this day, the Belfast Community whatever the name of the entity is right now continues to support that by, they transfer money to the lighthouse society that cut the grass.

Barbara: And maintenace yes, or whatever we need it for, yes.

Vic: So for almost 50 years they’ve been maintaining that, helped to maintain and beautify the site. That’s wonderful.

Barbara: And then, so we were involved, as a member of the Women’s Institute we were involved, every year we looked after you know, the picnic tables and overseen the grounds, planting flowers and then I think it was in 1983 maybe that Goldie approached us to talk about having tour guides in the lighthouse. We agreed yes, that was a good idea, so Goldie had supervised the tour guides for quite a many years, and we were still involved in the maintenance you know, the grass and things like that. We had different activities too, we used to have a, first we started off with a senior’s day. So we invited all the seniors in the community in the summer, and then it was a meet your neighbour, then a general, you know, things like that. Then in 1993 the Women’s Institute took over supervising the tour guides and the tour guides were funded through the province so

Vic: Summer student program, or something like that?

Barbara: Summer student program, and so this went on for quite some time. I wasn’t a supervisor then, but as a member of the Women’s institute we were all involved in different things, well there was always work to be done, cleaning the lighthouse, getting artifacts, you know and lot of different things I guess. And I guess it was in 2000 and, actually it was in 1998 I think I took over the job of supervisor for the tour guides so, little more work for me, but still the other members were still involved with the other, looking after the flowers and things like that, getting artifacts and pictures for the lighthouse.

Vic: So then at some point the Women’s Institute gets a separate sub committee for the lighthouse?

Barbara: Yes, actually in 2000 there was an issue at the lighthouse where we weren’t allowed to open, then the next year the Belfast Community Development Corporation signed a lease for us so we continued on and at that time we tried to, that’s when my husband Stewart, he got involved with the

Vic: The divestiture? Trying to get ownership of the lighthouse?

Barbara: Yeah, right. Well trying to get, to develop the grounds, like we wanted always to build a keeper’s cottage because we needed the washroom facilities, that was the biggest thing. But we had everything, everything was in place, a lot of, development plans were in place but we
didn’t own the lighthouse grounds so we couldn’t do anything so that fell out the wayside again. Because at one point the province was going to take over the lighthouses and lease them to different groups, but that didn’t happen. So anyway, things went on as usual, tour guides and then I guess it was around 2010 then we got more involved in another committee and the lighthouses were then going, you know, it was getting closer to the government divestiture program and then another member, Doreen came on then and some other members on the committee and then after that the society, the Point Prim Lighthouse Society was formed. And then I continued on as a board member, to be involved in the community and without Women’s Institute, and Women’s Institute always were quite interested in the ongoing activities of the lighthouse. And then it just, I guess, as board member I do whatever I can to help

Vic: Well you’re a valued board member, you have a wonderful history from 1975 on to now,
almost 50 years of involvement in the lighthouse, that’s fantastic.
Your daughter has done stuff over the years.

Barbara: Actually three of our children were tour guides, and one of them made this, our son Darcy made it for a presentation for his daughter at a heritage fair.
She did a presentation on Point Prim Lighthouse so he made this for her and he was a tour guide at one time. Yep, he took great pride in it, and they all did. Everyone was always good to help when we needed things at the lighthouse.

Vic: It’s fabulous, it’s fabulous. So again, I like to go back a little, so from ’69 to ’75 the grounds are left, so we’re still getting some traffic because it’s the end of the road, it’s a beautiful site, but it’s just been left so the Women’s Institute sees a need to clean this up and use it for the community. Now was the thought it would be just a community thing, did you see it growing into the huge draw it is now or did you think more of just for your own area?

Barbara: Well at that point, yes we knew it would because it’s the oldest lighthouse on PEI so we

Vic: And a stunning vista

Barbara: Right, so, and it was always special, I guess we didn’t think it would become what it is today but it is a perfect destination right now. Everything is just perfect, just like I always envisioned, a fence and the keeper’s cottage and so that’s the way it is now.

Vic: It’s fabulous. Now, so you must remember when the concrete wall went in.

Barbara: I think that was in ’81.

Vic: ’81-’82 I think.

Barbara: ’82 yes, I remember that.

Vic: So that goes in, you guys are already maintaining the property at that time, so did you guys, who requested that?

Barbara: Over the years we were always lobbying the government for erosion control.

Vic: Because you watched it

Barbara: We watched it shrink, and the community, and the Women’s Institute, we wrote many letters to the government. As I was going through the history, every year was, we were sending letters to different governments, departments to ask, and I suppose with the Department of Transport too at the time knew the way the erosion was that it would soon be too late.

Vic: And for the people who don’t know, the Point Prim lighthouse is a brick lighthouse. It’s shrouded in shingles and wood, but it’s a brick lighthouse. So we cannot move it back, it will break, so we have to support the shoreline and you and the WI realized that because you could see it shrink. Did you see it shrink in your life?

Barbara: Oh yes I did, because I remember when I came here first in 1972 like, where the Chowder House there was I’m sure about 200 feet more out into the water because you could drive around with your car, and people used to park and gather moss. And even going into the lighthouse, people used to park their vehicles along the road on the right, on the waterside, like campers. So we’ve had, it was quite a thing to watch the erosion and it really looks good now.

Vic: So you must have been thrilled when that we got all the armoured stone in.

Barbara: Oh yes, it was really nice to see it.
But even through the years too, lot of people as when the tours started people just came in, we didn’t charge admission or anything, but after awhile we started taking donations, so that’s how the donation money built up and then we had a separate account so that money went into the lighthouse account. And different times there’d be people calling, wanting to come for a tour so there’s always, you could always plan on something. During the summertime people calling looking for a tour of the lighthouse or wanting to propose a marriage, engagements,

Vic: So you don’t live very far from the lighthouse, so do you see an increase in traffic, do you, when you’re down there do you see it’s much more busy than it ever was or

Barbara: Oh yes, much more, I mean when I came to Point Prim first you could, I wouldn’t mind children on the road, you know. But it’s quite busy now.
And it’s, well, we have a lot of, it’s good for the economy, it’s good for the area.

Vic: I think it feeds ten businesses on the road now, and they all support each other now , all the traffic and the interest

Barbara: and it provides work for occupations and jobs for different people so that’s good too.

Vic:  As you know Barb, I’m very proud of the society, during these couple years of Covid 19 that
we were able to be open and keep the, it was very important to me for young people to have
their jobs there in the summertime, because it’s so important for young people to have those jobs while they’re in school. You learn so much, and it’s not even the job, you learn responsibility and you learn going and being there and working with people and bank account and getting paid. There’s just so much to that early employment and I’m so happy that we can provide that and you’re down there helping out, training people and taking shifts in the off seasons and doing stuff. You’re always cleaning and planting flowers and still after 50 years of doing it, thank you very much.

Barbara: Pretty soon I won’t be able to get on the knees to plant the flowers but it’s been a lot of fun, and it’s great to see it come to what it is today. That’s the special part.

Vic: That’s what this series is about, I’m getting those first hand stories of all the people like yourself who were there for the ground work that again, take it from ’75 when it’s been left derelict, not that the light wasn’t functioning but that the grace of the building was let go and you were there to advocate for it, bring it forward to what it is today, to me must be the best it’s ever looked since it was new.

Barbara: Oh yes, it was the grounds that, the area around that really needed the upkeep, because the light itself, the fixture always looked painted, they kept that painted. It was very nice. And like all of the members of our Women’s Institute were really all involved, past present, everyone

Vic: I explained to everybody who ever asked me about it, it’s a family and a community obligation, but not even an obligation, you just want to take care of it, it’s so awe inspiring when you’re there, and when you make it better for even everybody else. You even feel better about being there to see it in its glory.

Barbara: I know I always, well we tried year after year, but there’s only so much you can do when you don’t own it, you know, we couldn’t. I mean we had different outhouses, and some of them were ok, they served a purpose, but really in this day and age you need something a little nicer. And now it just looks, wow, perfect to me.

Vic: Well, that’s wonderful, wonderful. Thank you Barb for your time, and agreeing to be interviewed today.

Barbara: You’re welcome.