Vic Douse Interviewing Doreen Huestis
Vic Douse interviews Doreen Huestis regarding her continued work over the years with the Point Prim Lighthouse
Vic: So Doreen, I’d like to talk today about your experience with the Point Prim lighthouse and the Point Prim Lighthouse Society and let’s go back to the beginning of when you became involved, or how you became aware of the lighthouse.
Doreen: We moved here in April of 2007 from Calgary. My husband was an Islander, and they always come home. And one of our neighbours was Sandra MacPhail, who conscripted me to be the treasurer of the local WI, that summer even before their first board meeting in September.
I didn’t realize then that also involved managing the lighthouse because at that time the WI had for many years overseen the lighthouse.
Vic: the Women’s Institute?
Doreen: Sorry, the Women’s Institute yes, and at the time Barbara MacRae was a real driving force. All the staff were all hired, well we had funding to hire them through the government,
no supervision, we received donations only, it was very different then than it is today.
At the time the lighthouse did have its own bank account, it actually had $17,000 in it which at the time was a lot of money, especially compared to the small little account the WI had.
Vic: What year is this again?
Doreen: This is 2007 and at the time, like I said, I basically managed the records, the finances for the WI as well of course, the lighthouse. I think it was about 2009-2010 that we set up a separate committee to run the lighthouse. I know Peter Southward was a part of that, Goldie, I think you were, Goldie I think was a little bit later. But it was originally just a very small group. Barbara MacRae, Peter Southward, that’s all that comes to mind.
Vic: And these people, and that would grow in to become the Point Prim Lighthouse Society.
Doreen: That’s right, at first it was just a committee, actually Audrey Shilabeer was a big part of that too and Malia McAuliffe. So the first step we did was to become an incorporated entity. I know Audrey did a lot of work with a local lawyer in Montague setting up the bylaws and so on and then applying for a nonprofit status. Before that there was no corporation, no business, the lease, at that point we leased the property from the DFO and the lease actually went through the Belfast Area Development Corp.
Vic: You weren’t an entity
Doreen: We weren’t an entity, to even manage it.
Vic: and the DFO is the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Doreen: that s right, that s right, they were the ones that managed the lighthouse for, since 1845.
Vic: it would be after Confederation, 1873.
Doreen: Ok, well you’re right, they ve been involved with the lighthouse for a long long time. So, I’m just trying to remember now, it was probably around that time as well that the government started talking about divesting themselves of all of their lighthouses. Here on PEI West Point had been divested decades earlier, Wood Islands had been divested, East Point
Vic: I had my honeymoon at West Point in 1992.
Doreen: Point Prim was next on the list. But one of the big issues with Point Prim was that part of the access road to the lighthouse was not government owned. It was owned by a seasonal, well someone who didn’t even live on the Island and it took, I would say at least two years for the government to purchase that little bit of property
Vic: And that’s right up by the corner, up by the current Chowder House?
Doreen: That s right, right where the end of Point Prim Rd where it veers off to the access road, that little triangle for some reason was never part of the lighthouse property.
Vic: I wonder if the original road washed away and that crept up to that property I wonder.
Doreen: Hard to say, yeah, hard to say. I imagine survey records may not have been completely accurate back in the day either. So I recall many emails with the DFO in Ottawa. There was an Andrew Anderson who was a director or something at that point who was very helpful. There was another guy from public works, I don t recall his name anymore who handled the actual purchase of that property and yeah, it was I would say at least a two year process.
Vic: So when do you think, what year would we have gotten the laneway sorted out and owned, or put on to that to the lighthouse property?
Doreen: It was, well 2016 we took over the lighthouse, January 2016 that the lighthouse society formally took over ownership, so it would have been 2015.
Vic: 2015 that we got the title sorted out for the access road
Doreen: Yeah, like I said it wasn’t until January 2016 that we actually took possession ownership of the lighthouse
Vic: But we had been in the day to day running for many years
Doreen: Many years, definitely. And in that time, and it’s funny how looking back dates kind of run together, but we went from people visiting just by donation only to hiring a supervisor to requesting, charging admission.
For many years it was still, originally it was the old outhouse, we never had washrooms. The lighthouse itself is very small so we have very limited merchandise selection for visitors. The parking lot was far too small, buses could not even turn around in the parking lot. The grounds were quite unkept, there was a period, and I’m sure Barbara could tell more about that, it was before my time, where the government had removed a lot of soil around the lighthouse. When we took possession our goals then were to, and looking back, we had spent years beforehand in fact there was decades before where, Stewart MacRae and Gilbert Gillis were in plans for the gift cottage, this whole divestiture process went on for decades. Long before I arrived. I just happened to be there at the end when it finally all came together. One of our biggest goals was to enlarge the parking lot too, at the time I think we were given funds for, actually we went ahead and painted the lighthouse before we took ownership because it really needed it so desperately. We did get some funding later from the DFO for that. And then we hired an engineer to design a gift cottage for us and also to do the shore line protection work.
Vic: Now the, the new keepers cottage which we have which we man, which we staff for the administration of the lighthouse plus as a gift shop plus and washrooms, as I recall we modeled it to be very similar to the original keepers cottage. The L shape, and it’s a little more modern roof line, we still wanted to keep it in keeping with the local setting and it doesn’t stand out as garish. It blends into the original look of the property.
Doreen: Exactly, at one point I recall Gilbert and Terry and I going over to the original keepers cottage, which was at that point located by an old house on Point Prim and there just really was no architecture features to it, it was in bad shape, and we decided no it really wasn’t worth trying to move that back off site. Also when we took over, there was at that point just a concrete wall around the point and it was actually in 2010 that the DFO did add another bearm to that concrete wall because the original one, the rebar was showing it was in really bad shape.
Vic: I think it went in in 82, the original wall, and again not very aesthetically pleasing, the concrete barrier, very cold war looking, and then yes, in 2010 they refurbed it.
Doreen: Yes, that’s right, and that took a lot of effort on our part to get them to do that, but it really needed to be done. So that at least held the bank in place, but by 2016 there was already cracks showing in that concrete work and it was really time to do something that was more aesthetically pleasing. Now a lot of people might disagree that the armored rock is necessarily aesthetically pleasing, however
Vic: Yes, some people don’t like that it’s not Island red stone but Island red stone I think we’ve lost ten acres on that property over the 150-175 years, so red stone doesn’ t cut it in tides in the forces in the gale winds. So we went with Nova Scotia.
Doreen: Actually, it s New Brunswick armored rock in this case. So as you were saying, that property was originally over 9 acres in 1845. It’s down now to just over 3 acres. So we had no choice but to protect what was there.
Vic: And people might not know, the Point Prim lighthouse is a brick lighthouse so lots of the other lighthouses in Prince Edward Island which are wooden lighthouses, they’re able to pull them back from the bank. You cannot pull a stone, brick building back. So we need to, if we want to maintain the property, which is the goal of the Point Prim Lighthouse Society is to keep the property open to the public to be enjoyed in perpetuity and most of the people the board are descendants of lightkeepers or people involved in it so they find it as a family obligation to maintain this for the area.
Doreen: Exactly, so yeah so, in 2016 we enlarged the parking lot, built the gift cottage, did the shoreline protection work with some very generous funding from ACOA from the province.
Vic: So Doreen your role is, I think you are the first and only treasurer of the Point Prim Lighthouse Society and you have an extraordinary ability of finding government funding and has a great report with all the professionals, and has a great skillset in able to get those funding applications in and done to the letter and it’s done so well that big players like ACOA like to deal with us, which means you, because you do it so professionally and you do it correctly and when we actually use the money the way it’s intended to and we restored the lighthouse property and increased traffic in the area for tourism and we employ local people, and so, but you re a very big part of that. Your skill set being able to find that money, and it’s funny that everybody in life, there’s a flow in life, and where you end up.
Your goal when you moved to Prince Edward Island wasn’t to restore the Point Prim Lighthouse, but you were identified as a capable person, and once you get volunteering and that grows and morphs.
Doreen: Yeah, I saw a need and was happy to do what I could. It’s wonderful to see the changes there. We’re very proud of the local gift shop. Our gift shop sells only from local artisans, meaning all the merchandise we sell is from PEI, and I think we have a very good name for ourselves for what we have to offer to the public.
Vic: And it’s funny because I recall when I first became involved in the society and we were down there, and we were selling pop and chips out of the lighthouse. And we’ve come a long way from that in 2013 perhaps, 2014 when I became involved. Yeah, it’s become an artisan retreat almost and we actually host days for artisans to come in and we do demonstrations of people making art and making crafts and poetry and book readings. It’s become a wonderful cultural centre for the area and for Prince Edward Island.
Doreen: And we’ve been very fortunate too, as we’ve grown the Point Prim Chowder House had changed ownership and has really become a destination place the last few years, so there’s been a lovely synergy between the two organizations.
Vic: Yes, we draw together.
Is there anything else Doreen you’d like to, so a little recap, you became involved with the WI at the time the WI, the Women’s Institute, is it the Women’s Institute of Belfast, is that their…?
Doreen: Point Prim Mount Buchanan or Mount Buchanan Point Prim, one way or the other
Vic: So you joined that group because you lived just up the road at the time. And then from that you became into the lighthouse, and then the lighthouse became its own sub committee and that sub committee would become the Point Prim Lighthouse Society and you helped organize all the legality of that.
Doreen: Yep, yeah there were three of us with that, and I remember signing the documents making that happen, yeah.
Vic: Well thank you Doreen for telling us about how we got there, I learned some stuff myself. I didn’t realize you, I knew about the subcommittee, I didn’t realize it came through the Women’s Institute so that’s wonderful. That organization had a lot to do with the, bringing the lighthouse and the grounds back after some neglect.
Thank you Doreen, thank you very much for coming today.
Doreen: Thank you