Following a Letter To The Editor received on August 15, 2016 regarding missing history on the original Sylvan Lake Lighthouse, Sylvan Lake News reached out to the builders, Al and Miriam Carruthers. The Sylvan Lake Newswishes to thank the Carruthers family, Susan Samson, the Sylvan Lake Sailing Club, the Sylvan Lake & District Archives and Pat Ammeter for their involvement in this article. If you would like to read our story on Al and Miriam Carruthers it is available here http://www.sylvanlakenews.com/news/391306251.html
They remember the day well. It was August 8, 1988 when the grand opening of the original lighthouse took place.
For Al and Miriam Carruthers, this was a proud day and the culmination of much hard work on not only their part but that of their family, the Town of Sylvan Lake and the many local groups who had supported them while building the original lighthouse.
“The mayor, Ted Iverson at the time, did a countdown. 10, 9, 8 – he hit 1 and he said, ‘Let there be light!’ My son Perry was in the marina and he hit the switch and the light came on,” recalls Al Carruthers of the opening ceremony of the original lighthouse. “Then a plane flew over and three parachutes came out. They came down and landed beside the lighthouse – one, two, three just perfectly.”
According to Carruthers, the lighthouse cost a total of $104,000, of which he and his family paid for $81,000 not including the cost of the land which he had donated or the cost of him and his three son’s labour.
“[The $81,000 included] materials and such, as well as wages to the employees,” explained Miriam.
The remaining $23,000 came in part from a $16,250 grant provided by the Provincial Government to the Town of Sylvan Lake, which was to be spent on a legacy project for the 75th Anniversary of the Town.
Groups such as the Sylvan Lake Sailing Club had been heavily involved in fundraising efforts through their ‘Keeper’s of the Light’ letter campaign which implored residents to make a donation and in turn have their name hung ona plaque on the lighthouse.
“Your name will go on the ‘Keepers of the Light’ plaque on the only lighthouse between the Pacific Coast and Lake Winnipeg. Thousands will visit this romantic symbol of the ‘sea’ in the years to come.” read the sponsorshipletter. “Like the lonely sentinels that guided mariners for hundreds of years, it is hoped this unique light be a guide for all to the safe harbor of Sylvan.”
Steven Johnson, long time sailor and member of the Sylvan Lake Sailing Club was in charge of this campaign and said the Club felt it made sense for them to be involved, adding their was talk at the time of a clubhouse forsailors also being added onto the waterfront.
“The lighthouse made a lot of newspaper and magazines, it was a neat thing for Sylvan and of course it’s associated with sailing so we were pretty proud to have been involved with it,” said Johnson, a resident of the summervillage of Birchcliff.
The Carruthers recall the day their telephone rang to find Al’s brother on the other end of the line.
“Just shortly after we had completed it and turned the light on, the phone rang at home. It was my brother in Ottawa. He said, “Hey, did you just build a lighthouse?’ and I replied I had,” Carruthers recalled. “’It was just on thenews’ he said. All the way out in Ottawa it was on the news.”
Miriam added, “It was country wide. The only inland lighthouse that was working.”
Although Al and Miriam together with their three sons – Tim, Perry and Darcy built the original lighthouse, when asked whose idea it was to bring the lighthouse to the Lake’s shore initially, Al refers back to Susan Samson and anentity known at the time as the Tourist Action Committee.
Samson, who was chair of the Tourist Action Committee at the time, as well as a Town councillor, explained the organization was charged with finding ways to attract more tourists.
Carruthers had been invited to sit on the Committee alongside Samson.
“When I sat on this Tourist Action Committee, I’m sure it was Susan’s idea – she had the idea and it was a good one but no one really seemed to be stepping forward and offering to help,” recalled Carruthers. “I listened to hermeeting after meeting rallying people, ‘We can do it! We can do it!’”
Samson, although flattered that Carruthers credits her with the idea of bringing the lighthouse to Sylvan Lake stated the original idea was not hers.
“I wouldn’t want to take the full credit for the original idea. It must have been something that came up at the committee level,” said Samson. “For sure I would have been the chair of the Tourist Action Committee and I do tendto have that type of personality where if it’s a great idea, let’s see how far we can take this and we saw a lot of that with the second lighthouse.”
Johnson added, “We may never know who spoke the words first or where the idea of the lighthouse came from, but we do know that Susan [Samson] was instrumental in firing the lighthouse as a project up,”
The Town had offered a piece of land for the lighthouse to be built alongside the railroad tracks between the grain elevators, but members of the Committee, including Carruthers himself felt it would be pointless to build alighthouse off the waterfront and feared limited visibility.
“There was no way I could sit and do nothing when the only piece of land they had was by the elevator,” said Carruthers, who had purchased Lakewood Golf Course in 1987 and the Sylvan Lake Marina in 1986. “So that was ourfirst move. We said we would donate the piece of land. Still nothing happened for construction.”
At the time of the Committee meetings and the agreement to donate the land, it was the spring of 1988. By this time, each of the Carruther’s sons had their own businesses to run with Tim having owned A&W by this point andDarcy taking over at Lakewood.
“It was maybe around April the boys finally agreed,” recalls Al. “They each had their own business, but they did agree they would help as much as they could. So that’s when I went back and I said ‘Yes, we will build it’ and theyaccepted. It was completed August 5th of that year.”
Modeled after the famous lighthouse in Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia the original lighthouse was the exact same height as its’ Eastern counterpart.
The Carruthers would own, operate and maintain the lighthouse for the next 18 years until they sold the marina in 2006.
“We had constant maintenance on it with painting and fixing. We didn’t really get any help on that stuff from any one else. It was a lot of work,” recalls Miriam. “It was high maintenance to keep it looking new and we wanted todo that. There were a lot of evenings and holidays spent working on it.”
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges the Carruthers faced while owning the lighthouse was that of vandalism.
“We had a tremendous problem with vandalism. Almost every weekend some one would kick the door in and break the lock off. They’d get inside to go up and take a look,” said Al with Miriam adding, “People would take therocks away from around the bottom and some would climb underneath. We even built a little building on the side of it like they have at Peggy’s Cove but somebody burnt that down after we had sold it.”
The original lighthouse was demolished in 2011 after being condemned by the Town’s Fire Department.
“When it was torn down, the first instinct was anger,” said Al, with Miriam adding “Then we realized – no, we did our part. For all those years, for 24 years, it affected people. So we decided to just leave it.”
“Everybody else caught onto it and wanted it [the lighthouse]. That was rather neat. It was something, their motto, their symbol,” Miriam said. “Some people were more upset than we were in fact, but that’s just part of theTown, so that’s why they fought to get the new one.”
The new lighthouse was constructed over the course of 2015 by Falcon Homes with framing being undertaken by Pardy Contracting and the design/architectural work being done by Bob Samson.
The Rotary Club of Sylvan Lake had the idea to return the lighthouse to Sylvan Lake after noticing how many residents identified with the previous lighthouse.
“When I first started diving into it, I wasn’t sure how much the old lighthouse was really missed, but I was overwhelmed by the support and feedback showing just how much it really was,” said Trevor Sigfusson, projectcommittee chair for the Rotary Club of Sylvan Lake Lighthouse Project. “It became obvious once we got going that it was something the people of Sylvan Lake really wanted to have back.
“They identified with it and people were heartbroken when the old one had to be knocked down.”
On July 1, 2016, Mayor of Sylvan Lake, Sean McIntyre along with many officials from the Town of Sylvan Lake and the Rotary Club of Sylvan Lake gathered to cut the ribbon to officially open Rotary Lighthouse Park, marking thecompletion of the Lighthouse project.
The Carruthers are pleased to have a lighthouse back in Sylvan Lake to continue the legacy and continue to light the lives of Lakers.
“It’s so nice to drive past and there’s the lighthouse, we’re happy it’s there and back in the same spot,” said Al with Miriam adding, “It really is the perfect spot for a lighthouse. Where else but by the marina?”