Point Prim is slowly looking more and more like a destination.
In the past, tourists who found their way out to the point knew it was a beautiful spot, but they had no way of knowing where they were or if they were really allowed to be there.
This weekend the Friends of Point Prim made it all clear when they erected an 8’-wide sign with the words: Welcome to Point Prim.
The background of the sign, sponsored by Ellis GM, is a photograph of the lighthouse silhouetted in front of a glowing orange and red sunset over the Bay of Fundy. Randy Farrell took that photograph.
He and another sixty people went out the point Saturday, Sept. 17 for the unveiling of the welcome sign and to see other improvements including new interpretation panels. The unveiling took place during the province-wide festivities for Lights along the Shore, a celebration of lighthouses all around the province.
The celebration, which included speeches and a barbecue, was also a chance to show off two new interpretation panels at the site.
The Digby Area Tourism Association installed the panels, one abut the history of the site and the other about the geology and ecology of the area.
On Saturday Greg Turner offered ecological tours of the seashore and Rob Hersey, heritage advisor for the municipality, took visitors on historical tours, indicating the sites of earlier structures and telling some of the history.
The first “light” at the point dates to about 1804 and was just a beacon or elevated fire to guide ships towards the Gut. By 1817 merchant traffic between Saint John and Digby had grown to the point where a permanent light was required; a tower and whale oil lamp were installed. Kerosene came sometime in the 1850s or 60s.
Hersey talked about Capt. William Ellis, who was the lightkeeper starting in 1875. He invented and had a patent for an ‘automatic time steam whistle’. He also discovered and had a comet named for him.
Hersey pointed out the many bits of brick that litter the shore and related them to the wreck of the Agnes Donahue in 1913.
Hersey didn’t have time to take the visitors to the site but was able to point out where the Princess Louise went aground in December 1883, about 1 km southwest of Point Prim. Only two crew members survived and there is a monument out on the shore to the nine who died.
Hersey also offered two theories about the origins of the point’s name. One is that a sailor with the last name Prim washed ashore from a shipwreck. The other possibility is that “Prim” is short for prime which was often used in navigation to mean southern – referring perhaps to the point’s position at the southern end of the crossing between Saint John and Nova Scotia.
The site is still owned by the Canadian Coast Guard but the Friends of Point Prim are licensed under agreement to maintain and develop the site.
Hersey says they expect the Coast Guard to put the property up for divestiture eventually. It would be offered to the province and municipality first and then to the Friends of Point Prim.