Before moving from India to Halifax, I visited several times; one of my first experiences here was a visit to Peggy’s Cove.
It was one of the most fabulous experiences I have ever had. The beauty of the place awed me, as did the majestic red and white lighthouse silhouetted against the clear blue sky on that sunny day.
The picture was permanently etched in my mind. The blue sea met the far horizon, the waves constantly crashed against the boulders on the shore, scattering their fury and starting all over again.
This is eternity, I thought. Time stood still and I was enthralled by the vastness of the landscape and its magical effect on me. I bowed my head to honour the creator of such magnificent space, the peace that surrounded it, and the songs of the sea.
What did my being there tell me? That I was surrounded by mysteries I might never be able to unravel? That we were all enveloped in a circle of life that bound the opposites together: the stillness of the sea and the rage of the waves which were parts of the same ocean? Love and loss, abundance and scarcity, the sacred silence and the roar, happiness and sorrow—all seemed to coexist in that very moment.
I climbed up the rocks, stood close to the lighthouse and admired the enormousness of the structure. It reminded me of the little lighthouse on Ross Island in Port Blair, India, where I used to live. I woke at dawn to see the beams of the lighthouse still shining and the last thing I saw every night was the beams again. I said good night to the lighthouse just before I went to bed. The lighthouse was a constant in my everyday life. Hundreds of memories of my home came flooding to me.
But I didn’t dwell on them.
I gazed at the imposing lighthouse in front of me again. I could visualize the many ships and sailors that the beacon helped to find their way home through stormy, dark, and foggy nights. The lighthouse dates back to 1915 and today Peggy’s Cove is an active fishing village of 35 residents. In 2010 the Government of Canada declared the lighthouse to be “surplus.” Although community groups have taken responsibility for other discarded lighthouses, this one’s future is still uncertain. Yet it remains a monument to safety, and as such, should be cherished for ever.
After wandering around admiring some of the rough inukshuks visitors often build on the rocks, I headed towards the Peggy of the Cove Museum, owned by the local artist and storyteller Ivan Fraser. His childhood family home is now a museum and gallery, showcasing his beautiful photographs and artwork.
I also made a brief visit the deGarthe Gallery (which is now closed for renovations). It celebrates the work of acclaimed Finnish artist William E. deGarthe, who lived and worked in the village for decades. The 33-metre unfinished granite carving in the yard of deGarthe’s former home is a great tribute to the local fishermen. I studied its details; although he died before finishing the work, deGarthe did capture the essence of the local fishing community.
It was lunchtime by then. The Sou’wester Restaurant and Gift Shop offered all manner of seafood. I settled for the creamy seafood chowder and gingerbread with soft vanilla ice cream. Everything was delicious. I wondered why the food tasted so good. Was it because it was made in the vicinity of a world-famous lighthouse? Sheer joy? Salt-air induced hunger?
On the way back I stopped to visit the memorial to the victims of Swissair Flight 111, which crashed one kilometer north of Peggy’s Cove. On Sept. 2, 1998, 215 passengers and 14 crew members died. Two hundred and twenty-nine lives were snuffed out in a moment, for no fault of theirs. As I stood there, I heard their silent cries of anguish. The fatal realization that their lives were to end in the next few minutes must have been devastating.
The memorial stood in silence. There was an atmosphere of sadness and desolation, and the rugged rocks and the sparse vegetation complemented the feeling. I stood still for a few moments and paid tribute to the departed before I took leave of them.
I had momentarily forgotten the elation and the excitement I felt while watching the lighthouse. I thought of the contrast. The lighthouse stood as a monument to life and safety, the memorial represented the transience of life. I wondered about those victims. Did some part of them remain here? Or were they gone for ever? That was another mystery I might never be able to solve.