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A Symbol of Canada's Atlantic Coast

For the week of Monday April 19, 2004

On April 19, 1972, Canada Post opened a seasonal post office in a remarkable location – the tiny ground floor of a lighthouse in Peggys Cove, Nova Scotia. This modest outlet, selling stamps and handling letters, shows how a small fishing harbour has become one of the favourite symbols of Atlantic Canada.

Peggy's Point lighthouse, built in 1915
© Photo courtesy of Department of Fisheries and Oceans
West of Halifax, St. Margarets Bay makes a deep indentation of the Atlantic coast into mainland Nova Scotia. Peggys Cove is the first safe harbour at the eastern entrance to the Bay. It is quite exposed to the ocean, and in the 19th century was home only to a small population of impoverished families who worked the inshore fisheries. A small lighthouse was built here in 1868 to guide vessels into St. Margarets Bay. The present lighthouse replaced it in 1915. Rising out of the smooth granite of the point, Peggys Cove lighthouse is a tapered, octagonal reinforced concrete structure that comes to life through its balanced proportions, simple detailing and traditional lighthouse colours.

Gradually, the rocky headland at Peggys Cove became famous as a local beauty spot. After the First World War, the government improved the roads to attract new visitors. Peggys Cove was close enough to Halifax to be a favourite destination, yet far enough and scenic enough for a visit to feel like an adventure.

The village of Peggys Cove as viewed from the lighthouse
© Photo Courtesy of Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Popular among visitors, painters and photographers, it has also fascinated writers. Journalist J.F.B. Livesay made it famous in a nostalgic memoir published in 1945; cultural historian Ian MacKay has used it to explain how places like Peggys Cove became tourist icons. To protect the scenery and atmosphere, Nova Scotia in 1962 created the Peggys Cove Commission. It still controls development to ensure that, as much as possible, the services provided for hundreds of thousands of visitors a year do not spoil the impression of an early 20th-century fishing village.

Peggys Cove brings together in a small space many of the attractions that helped create prime tourist destinations in the 20th century. Here, visitors experience the power of the Atlantic Ocean, pounding on smooth pink granite rocks, while just metres away are the small simple village and its tiny harbour. The lighthouse at Peggys Point serves as a focal point and lasting symbol of all these attractions – both human and wild. In 2002, it was classified as a Federal Heritage Building

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