Mr. Tate grew up on tiny White Head Island, two ferry rides from the New Brunswick mainland, and watched as the federal government automated each lighthouse and, ultimately, tore down the historic buildings that once housed lightkeepers and their equipment. "These were cultural icons," he says. "It was watching part of our history be destroyed."
He attended the one-room island school and, later became a physics teacher at a Moncton high school. He began churning out a staggering number of finalists at Canada-wide physics competitions.
"You usually get from people exactly what you expect from them, so it's important to expect a lot and to give them the tools and opportunities to do it," Tate says of his teaching philosophy, which earned him a 1993 Canadian Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence. "I always give students a lot of responsibilities and a lot of authority."
Teaching and historic preservation suddenly came together during a 1992 visit to Cape Enrage. Tate and his wife, Ann, had long enjoyed hiking in the area, and they were shocked to see how quickly the complex had decayed in the three years since automation. Vandals had sacked the buildings, and the Coast Guard planned to raze the 60-year old lightkeeper's house.
The Tates and their teenage daughters drew up a plan: hire motivated students, rescue the buildings from the elements, then try to secure permission from provincial and federal authorities to create a seasonal youth-operated adventure center on the site. Admission fees would be voluntary – so nobody would be denied access for lack of money.