Where is Gereaux Island Lighthouse?
Gereaux Island Lighthouse was built in the late 1800s. It is on the northern tip of Gereaux Island marking the entrance to Byng Inlet from Georgian Bay, Ontario. My aunt shared the picture of the original lighthouse.
Two of the people from my family tree I hope to focus on are Joseph Normandin (Jr.) and Louis Normandin. Around the time that Joseph Normandin (Jr.) moved to the Byng Inlet area the family name was changed to Lamondin (more on this in a later post).
The Lighthouse Keepers
- 1885: Joseph Normandin was paid $250 per annum for keeping the light.
- 1901-1918: My great-grandfather Louis Lamondin was the lighthouse keeper (The History of Byng Inlet and its Shoreline Communities by Fred Holmes)
- 1918-1925: Charles Lamondin (Louis’ brother) was the lighthouse keeper (Northeastern Georgian Bay and Its People by William A. Campbell)
- April 1925-April 1946: Louis Lamondin returned to the post of lighthouse keeper. He lived and worked at the lighthouse until he retired.
Did the Lamondins choose to be lighthouse keepers?
Gereaux Island Lighthouse fascinated me as a child. It still fascinates me today. My family lived and worked on this island for over sixty years. Generations of Lamondins grew up playing on the rocks, swimming in the bay, boating into town. I can not imagine the isolation, the extreme weather conditions, the boaters in distress, fish for dinner every night. In winter, the family moved into the town of Britt. Thank goodness!
More than sixty years of life by the water, on the margins, outside of town, devoid of neighbours and comforts. How did they pass their days on a mound of rolling granite surrounded by deep, cool Georgian Bay waters?
To be a lighthouse keeper one needed to be strong. The large containers of oil for the lamp needed to be carried up a narrow staircase to the top look-out. A lighthouse keeper needed to be adaptable to conditions, emergencies, boredom. A lighthouse keeper needed to be independent and self-reliant.
I have heard stories about Louis Lamondin’s wife, my great-grandmother. She was a teenager when she married. Did she know that she would spend 30 years living on an island with four children in a small lighthouse?
The Tom Thomson Connection
In July 2010 Ross King emailed me asking questions about the lighthouse. His research focused on Tom Thomson. He was writing an article for The Walrus about the summer of 1914. In 1914, my grandfather would have been four years old. His father Louis Lamondin was the lighthouse keeper. Tom Thomson paddled to Gereaux Island, Byng Inlet in 1914. He painted Byng Inlet, Georgian Bay. This painting hangs in the McMichael Gallery. On the back of the painting, in Thomson’s writing, it says “Gereaux Island.” Our family was not familiar with the painting so we were grateful that King helped us to make the connection.
We asked my great-Aunt Bernice if she remembered painters visiting the lighthouse. Although she was not born until 1921 she said that painters stopped by the island all the time. It is probable that Thomson stayed with my great-grandfather. The island that cradled my family history for over sixty years inspired one of Canada’s most influential artists.
How did the landscape inspire my ancestors?