Many events have been held across Canada this year to commemorate the country's 150th birthday. Some have been huge, drawing thousands of visitors; countless others may have been quiet personal acknowledgements of the milestone. One of those personal activities became a little bigger than its participants expected, with a finale at Grand Manan's Swallowtail Light on August 26. Norma Neves and her daughter Jennifer completed their 150th trip to the lighthouse accompanied by about 50 family and friends.
It all began in April as a way for Neves to get some more exercise. She was working on improving her health following a heart attack last year and bowel surgery in February. She and Jennifer decided to go for a walk to Swallowtail once a week, "because we like it out there," she says. "My dad was a lighthouse keeper, and it's special to me." While she didn't live at the lighthouse, her brother did, and she spent the 1958 and 1959 Christmases there and remembers when the current house was built. "We went the next week, and Jennifer said, 'You know what, we should do this 150 times for Canada's birthday.'"
Realizing how many times they'd have to go might have been a little daunting, but they set out to complete the trips around Jennifer's working hours and on weekends. At first they planned to be done by Thanksgiving, then by Labour Day. If the weather was bad, they would have to catch up, going several times on some days -- down the steps, out to the light and back up. "There are 54 steps down; I think it's 108 back up," she says. "It's always windy," and with the chilly early summer, they needed hoodies well into July. On July 1, Canada Day, they made their 100th trip, taking a photo at the lighthouse and singing "O Canada."
They've been joined by family and friends; one friend has made 60 trips. There have been picnics and whale‑watching, sitting on the bench by the light tower. All of her family have been on the walk, with 21 of them on one day. They have met lots of tourists. "I've gone more than 150 times," Neves says, "but we don't count if it's not both of us."
Word spread, in part because of the family's float in the Rotary Festival parade, and on August 26 the crowd joining mother and daughter for their 150th trip out to the point was well beyond their expectations. "I thought maybe 25 people" would come, Neves said as she made her way up the path surrounded by red-and-white apparel and flags. They gathered on a platform for group photos and sang "O Canada" again, and then a smaller group went to the bench beside the light "to make it official." Back at the top of the hill, they enjoyed a family picnic with a "150th" cake.
"I'm a great fan of Canada," Neves says, although "I'm a little tired of [making the trips] now."
All that stair‑climbing has given her "buns of steel," she laughs, adding that they will still go out to Swallowtail -- maybe one day in October for a sunrise -- just not every day.
The trips may be counted and done, but they may never know how many people they inspired with their dedication to exercise and their appreciation for Canada.