Government Documents Reveal What Happened To Our Beloved Foghorn



(Illustration: Will Maclachlan)

If you only moved to Lunenburg within the last several years, it’s possible you may have never heard the mournful Battery Point foghorn.

For as long as anyone in our community could remember – since the late 30s – when navigation was treacherous, the foghorn safely guided mariners in our harbour.

This ended in 2015, but the foghorn still blares on in the hearts and memories of so many of those who remember.

(This video featuring the foghorn sounding was published to YouTube by Danielle Donders in 2010. Source: Danielle Donders, YouTube)

An email from a local resident hit our editors’ inbox last year, asking: “What has happened to our beloved foghorn? Will it come back in operation?”

We sought an official answer.

Newly revealed documents obtained by The Lunenburg Barnacle through the Access to Information Act detail the chain of events that led to the end of the Battery Point foghorn.

The documents reveal the foghorn at the Battery Point lighthouse was switched to an RF Activation (marine radio) system in 2015 because of complaints from local residents about the automatic foghorn, which occasionally malfunctioned and sounded continuously for long periods when it did not need to.

A media relations officer with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) confirms this is the case.

Complaints motivated change in foghorn’s activation

Emails and reports from the DFO between 2012 to 2016 detail a seemingly endless series of noise complaints from residents who lived near the foghorn, which occasionally malfunctioned, until the decision by the DFO to turn off its automation and have it activated by marine radio in 2015.

Complaints occurred frequently from 2012-2015.

An email on January 21, 2014 from Stephen Bornais, Communications Manager with the DFO, details an incident where the foghorn was temporarily suspended because of complaints:

“In 2012, a Level of Service review was conducted on Battery Point Light. CCG [ed: Canadian Coast Guard] decided to leave the fog signal operational due to stakeholder concerns.

Since then, CCG has received numerous complaints from frustrated local residents that the fog signal is repeatedly sounding in clear weather.

Technicians from CCG’s MCI branch inspected and repaired (so they thought) the signal but complaints are still coming in about the signal sounding in clear weather.

CCG has spoken with local residents and asked them to report incidents.

In an effort to fix the problem – and alleviate the concerns of local residents – CCG has TEMPORAILY turned off the signal and will issue a Notice to Shipping later this afternoon.

Currently, there are no problems to permanently discontinue the signal.”

Helicopter operation was considered to resolve malfunctioning foghorn in dramatic incident, snowshoes selected instead

A major complaint spurred action on March 30, 2015.

Bill Towndrow, Harbour Master of Lunenburg, reported to the DFO the foghorn was sounding while the weather had been clear for more than 24 hours.

DFO official Tom Roberts wrote to colleagues about a complaint by a local resident about the foghorn’s blare, exploring all options to stop it, including a helicopter mission:

“[REDACTED] informed he was going to notify the Harbour Master and a couple other people if we did not shut it off. I expect the sun has melted the snow by now and the horn is off, but we cannot land a helicopter out close to the lighthouse and if the breakwater is covered in snow I cannot send anybody out there because there are holes hidden by the snow that could injure our staff. We will do the best we can but in the mean time I will call [REDACTED] I have his number.”

Harbour Master Towndrow offered to travel to the site himself, but Roberts sent his own team on snowshoes.

Roberts wrote to colleagues: “[…] I thanked him but told him I cannot put him in danger of getting hurt. He said snowshoes is the best way to get there in the winter as he has done so himself. Since I am responsible for the safety of my staff, I asked if they had any issues to going down there and they both have agreed to go down using snowshoes to access the building.”

Coast Guard official Andrea LeBlanc wrote a thank you to Tom, and noted she also got calls from the area.

Roberts replied: “You are welcome Andrea. I have passed along your kind comment and dealing with the people down in Lunenburg. They can be relentless but I can appreciate their frustration, those things are loud, even though we have reduced the intensity by 50% in this past year to please them somewhat.”

Foghorn switched to only be activated by marine radio – “Hopefully this will stop or at least reduce the complaints” 

After more similar incidents, an email that October shows Roberts sharing a message about the foghorn’s automation finally ending, with instructions for how to activate it manually by marine radio.

“Hopefully this will stop or at least reduce the complaints from those who want the aid shut off. The Harbour Master and the individual who has been strenuously complaining every time the horn sounds, are both very happy that we have taken this step and realize that when the horn sounds it will be because a mariner has called for it to be on,” wrote Roberts.

Their decision was informed by consultation with the Harbour Master and local mariners.

It ended a part of our culture the late David Dauphinee – longtime Lunenburg Council member and Deputy Mayor, instrumental in our UNESCO designation – fought to preserve when he had a motion passed to ask the DFO to restore the foghorn after they first turned it off in 2004.

Journalist Robert Hirtle of the Progress Enterprise quoted Dauphinee at the time:  “It’s been part of Lunenburg for longer than I can remember, back further than any one of us can remember. I guess what really bothers me [is], is this the start?”

See the documents for yourself

The Lunenburg Barnacle received internal DFO emails and documents regarding the foghorn based off an Access to Information request with this criteria: “I am seeking any records from between 2014-2016 including emails, reports, briefing notes and presentations regarding the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ decisions regarding electrical service to the Battery Point Lighthouse in Lunenburg, NS. I am specifically looking for any documents regarding decisions made between 2014-2016 regarding the decision to stop the foghorn at this lighthouse.”

See the documents yourself in the PDF file embedded below.

The Barnacle emailed the DFO Communications office in May with this request to fact check this story:

I am writing a story examining the status of the foghorn at the Battery Point lighthouse near Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. I would like to verify a fact with you.

Please let me know if you believe it is accurate to say this: ‘The foghorn at the Battery Point lighthouse was primarily switched to an RF Activation system in 2015 because of complaints from local residents about the automatic foghorn.’

If you do not believe this is accurate, I would much appreciate an explanation of the primary reason the foghorn’s automation was turned off.

In 2015, the foghorn at this site had an RF Activation system installed, so it would only activate when called by a marine radio, and not automatically using a fog detector.

Through ATIP release A-2023-01760, I received documents from the DFO detailing email exchanges regarding the foghorn from 2014-2016. These documents appear to indicate that the primary reason the decision was made to stop the foghorn from blowing automatically is because of prolonged complaints from residents near the foghorn.

(Some locals say the foghorn was deactivated because the automated foghorn was taken “off the grid” and supplied with wind-and-solar-based power through batteries, and the automated foghorn took up too much energy. I did not see any reference to this situation in my request for documents which had this scope: “I am seeking any records from between 2014-2016 including emails, reports, briefing notes and presentations regarding the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ decisions regarding electrical service to the Battery Point Lighthouse in Lunenburg, NS. I am specifically looking for any documents regarding decisions made between 2014-2016 regarding the decision to stop the foghorn at this lighthouse.”)

A media relations officer with the DFO replied with this message:

Yes, the information you’ve inquired about is accurate. The automatic foghorn was sounding continuously when it was not required. The RF Activation allowed the system to operate when the mariner required its use. 


Comments

2 responses to “Government Documents Reveal What Happened To Our Beloved Foghorn”

  1. Martha Keddy Smith

    martha keddy
    3:21 PM (0 minutes ago)
    to me

    notmar@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

    Dear Sirs,
    Is there a physical reason that the foghorn at Battery Point in Lunenburg , Nova Scotia only works when instigated manually by the following method ?

    Mariners requiring the operation of the fog signal will have to press the button of the VHF radio five (5) consecutive times at 1 second intervals on channel 65A (156,275 MHz). The signal will be in operation for 30 minutes. After this delay, the same operation must be repeated.
    Chart:4328
    Edn 02/14(F14-002)
    Edn 02/16(F15-033)
    Edn 07/16

    Is it physically possible to return it to its previous weather instigated state of functioning ?

    Sincerely
    Martha Keddy Smith

    From: Hubbard, Steven J
    Sent: Wednesday, January 11, 2023 12:08 PM
    To: Sampson, Darlene
    Cc: Sellers, Shannon T
    Subject: FW: Battery Point Lighthouse and Foghorn

    Public enquiry about the VHF activated fog horn

    Steve Hubbard

    (He, Him / il, lui)

    Supervisor, Operations Aids to Navigations and Waterways/ Superviseur, opérations aides à la navigation et voies navigables

    Canadian Coast Guard, Atlantic Region | Garde Côtière Canadienne la région de l’Atlantique

    175 McIlveen Drive, Saint John, NB, E2J 4Y6

    Steven.Hubbard@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

    Telephone | Téléphone 506-429-2087

    Government of Canada | Gouvernement du Canada

    From: Walker, Tyler
    Sent: Wednesday, January 11, 2023 12:01 PM
    To: Hubbard, Steven J
    Subject: FW: Battery Point Lighthouse and Foghorn

    Hi steve,

    Not sure what to do here.

    Thanks,

    Tyler

    Good Afternoon Ms. Keddy,

    With regards to the VHF activated fog horn at Battery Point, it was determined that this level of service was adequate for the existing traffic and has proven very effective.

    However, we are willing to listen to your concerns, is there a particular issue which you feel is not being addressed with the current installation? Also, please note that we are intending to do a functional review of the navigation system in that area in the near future. I can provide you contact information to the Design Review Officer assigned to this task if you would like to provide further input.

    Please feel free to contact me.

    Regards

    Darlene

    Darlene Sampson (she/her/elle)

    Superintendent, Aids to Navigation and Waterways Management

    Atlantic Region

    Canadian Coast Guard

    Dartmouth, NS

    902-802-3490

    martha keddy
    Wed, Jan 11, 2023, 1:48 PM

    to Darlene

    Good afternoon Darlene ,

    Thank you for your very timely reply .

    Our concerns re the foghorn are as follows .

    For generations Lunenburg’s foghorn guided mariners to a safe haven .
    It sounded in poor visibility and inclement weather warning those on the water and coming in from the sea away from danger.
    How many seafarers lived to see their families once again due to this precious signal?

    A few years ago the foghorn was silenced either because it was somehow annoying or because it came down to the dollars and cents to keep it running .
    It was argued that vessels are presently equipped with the newest navigational tools however GPS isn’t exact or useful for small craft caught out on a foggy / stormy day .

    Modern ships can have their radars and GPS fail as well .

    Lunenburg’s history is tied to the sea where sextants, leadlines , foghorns and such are still very much valued .
    It is fitting and necessary for this fishing and pleasure boating seaport to hear the foghorn’s melancholy voice guiding sailors safely into the harbour reminding us gently of our seafaring heritage.

    From Captain Dan Moreland of the Picton Castle ,
    ” If Lunenburg is a seaport then it is time to restore the fog horn at Battery Point to its historic job of guiding vessels into this port of refuge safely as the essential asset it has been for generations of seafarers.

    In the words of Captain Kim Smith
    ” Imagine, you are a Mariner, you have been fighting for your life for days, your vessel is crippled and foundering. All your efforts are directed to the survival of your ship and crew. Your electronics have been drenched with salt water and are useless. It is foggy, the approach to the harbour is lined with rocks, reefs and breaking waves. You are dependent on dead reckoning and a compass to get you to the approaches to Lunenburg Harbor. You are then dependent on the Battery point fog horn to guide you between the light and long shoal. If that fog horn is absent then we are all responsible for the shipwreck which will almost surely occur.”

    There is growing support for this , I sincerely hope our concerns will be considered when the navigation system is reviewed in the near future .

    Yours sincerely
    Martha Keddy Smith

    Sampson, Darlene
    Jan 11, 2023, 2:03 PM

    to me

    Thank you for your input.

    For my own context about your comments, are you a mariner? And, in what forum/timeframe were the quotes which you have attributed to Cap Moreland and Capt Smith delivered?

    Respectfully

    Darlene

    Darlene Sampson (she/her/elle)

    Superintendent, Aids to Navigation and Waterways Management

    Atlantic Region

    Canadian Coast Guard

    Dartmouth, NS

    902-802-3490

    martha keddy
    Wed, Jan 11, 2023, 2:24 PM

    to Darlene

    Hello Darlene ,

    I am a small craft sailor., 70 years old
    The quotes from Captains Moreland and Smith were delivered this morning . More will be forthcoming from those who use the harbour both for work and for pleasure .
    A number of us have been talking about getting the foghorn working properly for some time now if it is mechanically possible .
    We need to know if it is a matter of dollars or is it because of the complaints about the noise .
    Trying to set it off in a small sailboat with a tiller in one hand in a good breeze is ridiculous ,
    I’m happy to answer any other questions
    Yours,
    Martha

    Sampson, Darlene
    Jan 11, 2023, 2:27 PM

    to me

    Thank you for the additional information.

    As mentioned previously, we will be doing a review of the system in the near future. Part of that process is to consult with users. I will provide your contact information to the Review Officer and they will be in touch once they commence work on it.

    Repectfully

    Darlene

    Darlene Sampson (she/her/elle)

    Superintendent, Aids to Navigation and Waterways Management

    Atlantic Region

    Canadian Coast Guard

    Dartmouth, NS

    902-802-3490

  2. Martha Keddy Smith

    I will further comment that in conversation with one of the persons who complained about the foghorn sounding in “fine” weather , I was assured that there would be no objection to the foghorn working properly .

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