Meet the Litter Ladies of Cape Forchu

Over the past year, Gert Sweeney, Molly Riddell and Jayne LeBlanc have collected 500 bags of garbage between the Yarmouth Regional Hospital and the Cape Forchu lighthouse.

This article was first published on May 22, 2018  on the Vanguard website

Drivers en route to one of the region’s most notable icons might notice something missing that’s on practically every other road in the tri-counties: garbage.

The absence of litter is due in great part to a small but mighty threesome – the Litter Ladies of Cape Forchu.

Over the past year, Gert Sweeney, Molly Riddell and Jayne LeBlanc have collected 500 bags of garbage between the Yarmouth Regional Hospital and the Cape Forchu lighthouse.

The women are not paid for the hundreds of hours they spend patrolling the shoreline and ditches for wash-ups and throwaways.

Sweeney says other family members also help them with the cleanups. She’s been collecting garbage here for 30 years.

She points to the bottom half of a sign on a post at Yarmouth Bar. The words “$250 fine” remain, but the “No Littering” part has been ripped off the top and tossed.

“Even though we’ve asked to have it replaced, it’s not the number-one priority,” she says.

She also draws attention to the Yarmouth Bar dumpsters opposite the wharves. Some of them are overflowing.

“Visitors look at the dumpster and say fishermen are dirty. Fishermen do cause some of the problems, but the majority of the problem here at the Bar is people who come from town bringing their garbage and dumping it. There’s abuse of the system,” she said.

LeBlanc says she feels blessed by the guys (fishermen) at the Yarmouth Bar.

“They’re amazing. They’ll see me walking with a garbage bag and ask if they can put a cup in it,” she says.

She’s noticed a change in attitude at the wharves over the past few years.

“Fishermen say they like coming to work now because it looks good and gives them a sense of pride. There was so much garbage. I know that overwhelming feeling… so if I felt that way, why wouldn’t they feel that way? They were raised to do what they were doing and no one ever showed them differently,” she says.

“I still hope to be doing this when I’m 80. I had a little old couple in their 80s, 90s, stop to talk to me. And they said thank you. The lady said, ‘You know, we used to come here when we were young, but then we stopped because it got dirty.’ Now we’re coming back,” LeBlanc says. “When you get things like that, it gives you a boost.”

“I treat every single day like Earth Day. And every time I pick up a bag, I say, ‘You’re not going in the ocean tonight.’ That’s what keeps me going.”

“We had found all kinds of meth pipes and drug paraphernalia. It was just a druggie hangout. They’d eat and leave the bags there. We cleaned it all out and Waste Check put a camera there. We haven’t had any garbage there in eight months,” says LeBlanc.

One of her pet peeves is what she refers to as the “glass grubbers.”

“They’ll rape the beach for what they want but they’ll pick up a piece of garbage and toss it aside instead of putting it in a bag.”

She believes the answer to littering may be leading by example and adds that it helps that she’s stubborn.

In one area where littering was particularly bad – the Tom & Jerry cul-de-sac – a camera was mounted.

“We had found all kinds of meth pipes and drug paraphernalia. It was just a druggie hangout. They’d eat and leave the bags there. We cleaned it all out and Waste Check put a camera there. We haven’t had any garbage there in eight months,” says LeBlanc.

One of her pet peeves is what she refers to as the “glass grubbers.”

“They’ll rape the beach for what they want but they’ll pick up a piece of garbage and toss it aside instead of putting it in a bag.”

She believes the answer to littering may be leading by example and adds that it helps that she’s stubborn.

“I still hope to be doing this when I’m 80. I had a little old couple in their 80s, 90s, stop to talk to me. And they said thank you. The lady said, ‘You know, we used to come here when we were young, but then we stopped because it got dirty.’ Now we’re coming back,” LeBlanc says. “When you get things like that, it gives you a boost.”

“I treat every single day like Earth Day. And every time I pick up a bag, I say, ‘You’re not going in the ocean tonight.’ That’s what keeps me going.”

CCGS Alfred Needler


A beautiful warm spring-like day after a night of thunderstorms meant a trip to the Cape was called for. The waves were churning and there was a surfer bobbing like a seal out past the breaks when I arrived.

When I went up to the cottage all of the snow was gone from the south deck. The bench in the sun-baked area beckoned invitingly. Looking out at the lighthouse I could see the superstructure of a large vessel moving past Cat Rock.

I heard the deep thrumming of its engines and watched the bow rising and falling in slow motion. The vessel had a distinctive vertical white band beneath the wheelhouse and predominant  superstructure in the bow (black) and stern (yellow.)


I decided to check it out on the Marine Traffic website when I got home. It was an easy find: the Canadian Coast Guard research ship Alfred Needler, heading toward Shelburne.

DFO Photo

Although typically tasked to conduct surveys that involve bottom trawling for multiple species and environment data collection, in July 2016, Alfred Needler discovered the wreck of a ship while trawling the waters off Nova Scotia. Several large wooden fragments of a vessel, believed to date back to the 19th century, were pulled from the ocean floor.

Tales from the sea and sky


Originally published in March 2013 in The Vanguard

He hasn’t strayed far from his childhood home. John Cunningham can see the Cape Forchu lighthouse where he worked as assistant lightkeeper for seven years and the coves where he pulled lobsters for thirty cents a pound.

Born at the Yarmouth Hospital on Oct. 10, 1919, Cunningham can tell you a thing or two about his life, well-seasoned with saltwater.

His father Herbert operated a streetcar in Yarmouth before moving to the lighthouse with his wife Grace Elizabeth Ayres and (eventually six) children to become its keeper.

Cunningham was only three or four-years-old at the time.

He trekked a mile-and-a-half with his brothers and sisters to a one-room schoolhouse at the Yarmouth Bar causeway, where grades primary to 10 were taught.

“One thing I do remember about that time,” he said.

“There weren’t any kids smoking cigarettes.”

Some winters there were “terrible” snowstorms and the children had to detour around snow banks by walking the beach.

A road overseer would call up brigades of young married men and pay them $1/hour to shovel the road so the few cars on the peninsula could make it out.

Cunningham recalls a memorable spring day when he was around 12. The children went outdoors after breakfast and found several exotic-looking birds at the base of the lighthouse.

“The old Yarmouth Light was very powerful. If you were close to where the flash went out, it would almost blind you,” he said.

The birds were returning from the south, alighting all around the cape and Overton.

The youngsters circled the tower and found 105 dead birds, their necks broken from colliding with the glass.


“They were some of the most beautiful birds you could ever see,” said Cunningham.

When he was 14, he watched the tugboat, Tussle, towing a scow past the lighthouse. As the tug rounded Spruce Point, the stern of the scow began to sink.

The scowman kept walking towards the bow of the scow but when it began to go under as well, he was pulled down by the suction.

“The last I saw of him was his arms waving around in the air,” said Cunningham.

Another tragedy, the worst shipwreck in the vicinity, happened on Dec. 2, 1930. The freighter Linton went down with eight crewmembers on a stormy night.

A local resident found the body of one seaman on the shore while walking his dog. A few days later a man’s heart was found in False Harbour. Two weeks after, the lower part of a man’s body was discovered on the other side of the causeway.

Cunningham didn’t graduate Grade 10. He says it was one of the first mistakes he made in his life. Halfway through Grade 9 he was snagged by the sea. Jobs were scarce and times were tough. Young men his age, all they could think about was getting into a fishing boat, he says.

He started out in a row dory with another young man, working 30 traps. It took them all day to row around the harbour.

At 19, he became assistant lightkeeper to his father. The job required constant monitoring of the kerosene light in the tower. Large weights suspended from a winch slowly descended over two-and-a-half hours to rotate the lens.

“Coming on dark we’d have to go up six flights of stairs and 72 steps to light the light,” he said. He worked the 1-7 a.m. shift.

“If you fell asleep and those weights landed on the floor the light would stop turning,” he said.

When he turned 20 he joined the air force. He married during the war, served five years in the marine division and then worked five more years for his father as assistant lightkeeper.

He resumed lobster fishing with a new boat, called the Herbert L. after his father. He obtained his second mate certification at a Halifax navigation school and signed on with the Bluenose ferry as a deckhand.

In 1958 he began working aboard the PEI ferry, working summers and returning home to fish.

Eventually he began shipping lobster overseas. In 1982 he founded John’s Cove Fisheries, buying ground fish, herring and roe, and adding wharfage over the years. He and his sons operated the business until 1996.

In addition to sea tales, Cunningham shared stories about the First and Second World Wars.

He and his brother discovered the end of an underground submarine warning cable that was connected to bells in a room attached to the fog alarm building. The cable ran across the harbour entrance and was devised to sound an alarm should a submarine enter.

U-boats were a big concern in the Bay of Fundy during both wars. Cunningham was aboard an American patrol torpedo boat when it responded to a call from the lightboat Lurcher to assist a large French freighter several miles off Yarmouth.

A submarine had surfaced and shot down the freighter’s wireless with machine guns so it couldn’t message for help. It then shot a hole as big as a baseball, just above the waterline, into the engine room, where it exploded.

“When that shell exploded it tore one seaman’s stomach out. They lowered his body down over the side of the ship to us,” said Cunningham.

Planes from the Yarmouth airport were sent daily to patrol the Digby ferry crossing.

Cunningham remembers seeing a plane crash while taking off. It was loaded with torpedos and wing-mounted machine guns.

“One of her wings was hanging out over the pavement. When she crashed those torpedos exploded. There was a plume of smoke about as big round as my arm and that went about 200-feet straight up in the air,” he said.

The driver of the fire truck was killed when he responded to the crash and the machine guns discharged from the heat.

Cunningham knows what he wants to happen when he passes. He’s had six Little River Duck Dogs in his past, the last being Oliver.

“When I die I’m going to have his ashes put into the coffin with me and we’ll be buried together,” he said.

He reflects on his draw to the sea and the fishing life.

“There’s a lot of money made in fishing. Fish is very popular on the table today. It always has been and always will be,” he said.

He expressed concern about the sustainability of the lobster fishing industry however.

In his day, fishermen went out 10-12 miles and would seldom catch lobsters over six or seven pounds.

“Now they have those great big $300,000-$400,000 boats. They’re off 30 and 40 miles, catching lobsters 18-20 pounds. That’s a lot of the breeding stock.”

He’d like to see 10 miles taken away from the inshore and offshore fishers to establish a 20-mile conservation area.

Living by the sea is a never-ending source of change and happenings. Boats come and go, there’s the savage beauty of storms, clam-digging excursions, picnics on the beach and fishing for flounder with the kids.

“What’s any more popular?” he asks.

Blue-eyed beauty

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Imagine my delight to see several colonies of a favourite wildflower from my childhood growing on the land we’d just purchased in Cape Forchu.
It makes sense that they’d be growing in this area as they belong to the Iris family and there are lots of those on this land.

These pretty little bloomers grow in clumps and can be dug up and divided in early spring. Check out the back patio behind the cottage as some will be transplanted there in Spring 2019!

About our neighbour…

Screen Shot 2019-03-09 at 3.14.08 PMTHEN AND NOW: Tiny house, big view in Cape Forchu, Yarmouth County

This article was originally published in the Tri-County Vanguard October, 2018.

A century-old building that once rang with the sounds of music, laughter and dancing has been reborn as a tiny house in Cape Forchu, Yarmouth County.

Known locally as the “old schoolhouse,” the deserted landmark was often photographed for its picturesque beauty next to Outer False Harbour Beach with the Cape Forchu lighthouse in the background.

The past

The old schoolhouse building was constructed in 1908 with lumber from the old Yarmouth Yacht Club on the Yarmouth waterfront.

It was built by Walter Sweeney. The family later moved to town and the building was eventually purchased by the community.

In the early 1940s the building was used as a schoolhouse after an RCF airplane crashed near an old schoolhouse by the Yarmouth Bar, killing all of its crewmembers and causing some smoke and fire damage to the schoolhouse there.

As the years went by, the children were eventually bussed to a school in town and the building reverted back to the community.

Cape Forchu resident Margaret Sweeney says her late husband Clifton would help maintain the building and that baby and wedding showers were held there.

Former resident Noel Ragsdale remembers the summer dances.

“I recall the schoolhouse room being really packed – it seemed as though everyone on the Cape was there,” Ragsdale says. There were fiddle players and other musicians, as well as a square-dance caller.  “The dancing was for the grownups and they were really complex and really good. The kids (like me) were at the dances, but we were spectators and also spent a lot of time playing outside.”

Every now and then a parent would partner with a child in the dance set, which was an honour and also a real challenge ­– to keep up with all the calls and not “mess up” the set.

Sometimes the dances included a dessert contest/auction. The pies, cakes, brownies, etc. would come up for bidding and the highest bidder would get the dessert.

“A lot of the desserts were really elaborate and impressive. I remember my sister and I baking something for the auction – bob which was probably really pathetic – and being terrified that no one would bid. We were saved by our father who bought it,” says Ragsdale.

Helen Beveridge discovered Cape Forchu in 1935 when she arrived to begin her teaching career. She spent well over 70 years loving the Cape. She bought the Old Schoolhouse in 1967 from Gladys and Ed Sweeney, who helped put up inside walls to divide the one large room into two bedrooms, a great room and kitchen area.


One of the first things Beveridge did was put in a new window in her bedroom so that she could look at the lighthouse from her bed. After a powerful storm the cottage shifted and when she returned the following summer the view of the lighthouse was gone. A family reunion was held there in 1983. Beveridge remained the sole owner until very late in her 80’s when it became too difficult to travel from her home in Truro to her beloved Cape. She died in 2009 at the age of 93.

Flooding over the nearby berm into the surrounding salt marsh was becoming an increasing problem and the building began rotting and buckling.

Vandals began to attack the structure.

Two years ago

When the old schoolhouse was put up for sale, it drew interest despite its postage-stamp-sized lot and flooding issues. Its spectacular location near the beach was hard to beat.

Carolyn Campbell bought the place sight unseen. Her son Shane Campbell has been fascinated by architecture since childhood. His first co-op work term through Dalhousie University was with Mackay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects Ltd. from September to December 2012.

Shane worked at measuring another old schoolhouse, the Chebogue schoolhouse in Yarmouth County built in 1914, and prepared drawings of it before it was dismantled and reconstructed on Brian MacKay-Lyons’ Shobac property in Kingsburg. He graduated with his Master of Architecture in October 2016.

He says he could see the vision connected with the Cape Forchu property.

“A lot of people saw the price tag and thought it was too much for the property, but I saw the lumber… there was value inherent in the old building and that kind of led and drove the whole project,” he says.

For months, Shane and Carolyn struggled with the idea of preserving the old building.

“I had done full-drawing detail specs for it and thought about putting it up on stilts,” says Shane.

Eventually, financial and environmental considerations helped them to decide to construct a tiny house incorporating lumber from the old structure. Because the tiny house would be on a trailer, it could be wheeled out before a big storm.

To begin, 20 tandem truckloads of fill were dumped and spread to raise the building site above the area prone to flooding.

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The container

Tearing down the schoolhouse was an enormous task that took months, but Shane was game. He’d just spent four-plus years behind a desk and found the physical work liberating.

A container (from CTS in Burnside) became a 300-square-foot secure job shack, a central pillar to the project as it was something to work out of.

As he dismantled and tore down the old schoolhouse building, he made lumber racks inside the container for the old wood.

The container also became a mechanical space for the hot water heater, water pump, electrical entrance and 100-amp panel – everything that supplies the tiny house.

Pipes and cables are underground, fed into a trench laid with ABS pipe and snaked up beneath the tiny house.

“Everything’s hidden, clean. The idea is you unplug it and wheel it out,” says Shane.

The container is wired with plugs and lights and part of it will become a bunkhouse in the future.

Saving the old

In the fall of 2016, Shane went on the family woodlot with his uncle, Frank Campbell, and they started cutting pine and red spruce for framing countertops and other elements for the tiny house.

The wood was stacked, stickered and left to dry naturally for the better part of a year or more, depending on the wood type, thickness and final use. The design process coincided with and paralleled the demolition of the old building.

A crowbar and sledgehammer were Shane’s main tools for dismantling. When he got out the chainsaw and started cutting the roof trusses, some of his friends helped out.

But there came a point when he realized he couldn’t keep it all, and so rotting floorboards and other undesirable wood was stacked in a 20-foot-tall pile and burned. He says the bonfire served as a celebration and a farewell to the old building.

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Very little debris went to the landfill.

“The second I had it all torn down and a million nails pulled out and the wood stacked all nice in the container, everybody wanted it,” Shane says, smiling.

Building the new

Tiny houses have been a growing trend. Shane watched hundreds of tiny house episodes and researched online. His plan was designed in 3D using SketchUp.

A 24-by-eight-foot galvanized steel trailer built at Skipper’s Welding Shop in West Pubnico serves as the foundation for the structure.

Because the view is important, eight custom-made, tempered windows were installed, including a patio door beachside. Hunter-Douglas semi-transparent blinds provide shade and privacy.

His favourite window is the one you experience upon entering – the clerestory window provides flooding light from above.

The interior design provides a feeling of being in a larger space, with a 10.5-foot ceiling in the southern “sitting area” and huge expanses of glass drawing visitors towards a vista of ocean, beach, sky and salt marsh.

There’s a two-foot-by-three-foot entrance closet, three-piece bath and additional storage in the loft above. The single loft is a fun place for grandkids, or one adult.“We’ve got a lot squeezed in here for the square footage,” says Shane.

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With the main loft, single loft and the couch, the place sleeps five adults. Shane has one brother, two sisters, and six nieces and nephews.

Just recently, he constructed a 14-foot table to set on pavers outside for larger gatherings. He plans on making a couple of benches next year.

The galley kitchen has a full-sized fridge, pantry and eight-foot countertop with a large sink.

For cooking, there are two induction cooktops, plus a toaster oven.

“With this property, a lot of it is about eating outdoors, with an outdoor kitchen eventually mirroring the one inside,” says Shane. “We did a lot of cooking in the container during the building process.”

He advised his mother to have a main-level bedroom in the tiny house, in consideration of aging.

“But she was really gung-ho on the loft. If ever she needs to, this is a fold-out bed here,” he says, pointing to the futon.

There’s a 1,000-gallon underground cistern on the south supplying water. A septic tank and field bed are on the north. The bathroom features a composting toilet.

Building details

The exterior of the tiny house is an open joint rain screen cladding system with a special UV stable building wrap, which allowed the use of the old wood to be repurposed and re-milled as a protective outer layer.

Unlike most cladding systems, this makes a space and a black reveal between each board, creating a “unique, clean contemporary façade that holistically complements and integrates the black-framed windows,” says Shane.

All the framing of the structure was from red spruce cut and milled from the family woodlot in Kempt. The floors, kitchen and table were all made of pine, cut and milled from the woodlot. The shiplap interior is made from the old building walls and ceilings. It was originally tongue and groove bead board.

Shane had to cut off the tongue and groove, plane off the paint and re-mill the boards into shiplap.

The feature walls consist of the sheathing boards from the old building, “with all their glory and character gained over the past century,” he says.

There was virtually no purchased lumber used. Everything was either cut and milled from the woodlot or reclaimed wood salvaged from the old schoolhouse building.

A notable feature of the building is the exposed framing and shiplap throughout the building interior. This design intent required the building to be insulated, he says, and on the outside “outsulated.”

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Shane’s thoughts

“Given that it is built primarily of wood from the old schoolhouse building, the new building is contextually better suited and more rooted to the site than initial impressions and or visual cues would suggest,” says Shane. “The new building is a re-manifestation of the neglected and forgotten 100-year-old building, and through its recent morphology, has the potential to live 100 years longer.”

He says this was really a project of making the most with what was there.

“Dismantling the old building and re-using the old lumber seemed natural and just right in a time when things are becoming abundant, cheap and easily accessible,” he says, explaining this was a project about taking time and doing the right thing, while “appreciating the hard work, the time and effort it took our ancestors to make something, back when oxen and cattle were used to harvest lumber.”

He says the process was about connecting, appreciating, reflecting and understanding.

“In the end the outcome was a fraction of the time and effort of our predecessors and in doing so it has given the old building a new life and has reduced the strain on the environment,” he says.

He says the building basically designed itself. All he had to do was read the site and be resilient with what was there.

“I like to say that the building is a new building but one with an old soul.”

How to reach the builder

Shane Campbell can be emailed


Cape Forchu bound

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For hundreds of years the headland of Cape Forchu has been a destination point for making happy memories. With its mixture of craggy coastlines and curved beaches, abundant and sometimes rare birdlife, as well as deep sea fishing, it’s an irresistable connection to nature that many are seeking.

The Markland Hotel, built in 1904, once stood on the highest point of land and provided spectacular views. The Dominion Atlantic line of steamers departed from Boston, bringing guests from New England to Yarmouth on overnight voyages.

Cost for a week at the resort was $8-$15.

Once they arrived, visitors were transported with their steamer trunks, aboard the inn’s boat across Yarmouth harbour to avoid the “long” road trip around.  The boat docked at a 650-metre long pier at Cape Forchu. Some of these posts can still be seen jutting from Inner False Harbour today.

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Check out this Markland brochure from Wilfred Allan’s collection. Images in this post are used with his kind permission.

Excerpt: Nature has been very kind to Markland. She has strewn her beauties with a lavish hand. Woodlands, meadows, gorgeous wildflowers, rocky shores and mossy dells, and wild ferns that are dreams of loveliness.

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Bathing in the bracing waters of Crescent Beach (now known as False Harbour), was recommended for “vibrant good health.”

The Markland Resort grew to include an old and new hotel as well as cottages. Unfortunately business declined during World War I and finally the new Markland Hotel closed in 1925. The cottages are owned privately now and in some cases have been passed down through several generations. The Cape remains a magnet for oceanside fun and draws thousands each year to experience the sea on wild as well as calm days.