“We do not know the past in chronological sequence. It may be convenient to lay it out anesthetized on the table with dates pasted on here and there, but what we know we know by ripples and spirals eddying out from us and from our own time.” Ezra Pound
I wanted to stand next to Gereaux Island Lighthouse, my feet on the rock my ancestors stood upon for so many years. I dreamed to see Georgian Bay from their perspective. What did Grandpa notice here growing up as a child? How can I see through his eyes? How can I learn about living on an island?
This summer everything aligned beautifully. We finally docked our boat and took a self-directed tour of Gereaux Island. For over 60 years my ancestors lived on this land, fed from these waters. My Grandfather grew up living here. Today, my parents live about 1 km away.
Vibrant energy. Time disappeared. The sun, breeze, and waves all sang the same song: welcome home. How can a place hold so much?
The island felt bigger on shore than looking at it from the water. It was hot when I thought it would be cool. My feet ached to memorize each step, each crevice in the granite. My eyes squished to gaze through the walls of the house and tower to imagine life inside. Unfortunately, the building was closed. The Coast Guards told us everything has been stripped inside and it’s unsafe for people to enter.
I took home a piece a granite to remember this visit, to hold onto the energy. We will visit again. This island has more lessons and stories for me to learn.
Here are some pictures from the visit:
June is Indigenous History Month in Canada. To acknowledge and celebrate with my students this year, I created a video to share my family’s story.
Even though we knew this project was happening, it caught us by surprise this summer to see the new wind farm at Henvey Inlet First Nation. I’ve spent my summers among these islands my whole life. Our family picnics were in this area. The photo at the top of this post is taken just across the water from the lighthouse where my grandfather lived as a child.
About the Building
In 1996, my Uncle Bob wrote to the government requesting information about Gereaux Island Lighthouse. He knew this was a meaningful place for my Aunt Pat: her father grew up in this lighthouse and her grandfather was keeper. The government sent him the plans for Great Duck Island Lighthouse on Lake Huron (built in 1876) stating it was very similar in construction. They also sent a few other spec sheets and an article. Uncle Bob used this information to have a replica built for her as a gift. Fast forward many years later and Aunt Pat and Uncle Bob have shared that gift with me. I have the replica in a special place among family photos in my home.
According to an informal building report from the Federal Heritage Building Review Office, published in December 1990, Gereaux Island Lighthouse is a square tapered wooden lighttower with attached dwelling. This form had living space in both the attached dwelling and in the tower. This model was used especially in remote locations.
I wish I lived with a view of the water. When I am at the cottage I spend each morning and each evening watching the colours change. In the mornings, the stillness spreads across smooth waters, birds break the silence with their songs, and misty fog rises up and then rolls out from the river into the bay. By 9:00 am the bay is alive, trees dance in the sparkling wind, and voices crowd out the birds.
My cousin and I started smudging together in the 1990s. Aunt Pat gave us our first sage and abalone shell bowls. We learned about ceremony. We learned about the value of sacred time together.
Last summer I bought a beautiful smudging feather with a pink quartz handle that stands proudly in an oak base. It was created by First Nations artist LinDaLou. The staff told us that the artist visits the Centre, setting up a table by the fire for a few days to assemble them. We loved that it was created in a space that means so much to us.
Our family history in Britt, Ontario, is rich and goes back to before the town had its name. Britt stretches down one road off Highway 69 along Still River to Lake Magnetewan and out to the mouth of Georgian Bay.
Mom worked on a population study when she was in high school (in the late 60s) and reported five hundred people lived there then. Approximately, three hundred people live in Britt now.