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.
Britt is a special place for our family. Home. Mom and dad live there now and I’ve visited for every summer of my life, starting at two weeks old.
Lamondins have lived in Britt since the late 1860s. My great-grandfather, Louis Lamondin, was born there in 1877 and his brother George was born there in 1872. Louis Lamondin is verified as Métis. The family name was changed from Normandin to Lamondin in the early 1900s, although my grandfather, William, used both names. Normandin is an old voyageur name. They told everyone they were French, from Normandy. But they were a Métis family.
This is a selection from the Métis Nation of Ontario’s Root Ancestor project for the historic Georgian Bay Community. Christina (Scholastique) Berger and Joseph Lamorandiere are my great-x2-grandparents.
Grandpa William, Florence, Ernest, Nye (Alcide), and Bernice grew up at Gereaux Island Lighthouse. It marks the entrance to the communities from Georgian Bay. Great-Grandpa Louis Lamondin worked as the lighthouse keeper with his wife Cecelia Michaud. And, his father, Joseph Lamondin worked as the lighthouse keeper before Louis with his wife Christine (Scholastique) Berger. Sixty years of Lamondins living on an island. I am the first generation to grow up away from Georgian Bay.
Before working at the lighthouse, Louis was a Tug Captain for Graves Bigwood during the logging era. He also won a sail ship race and received a silver medal.
Here is a picture of Lamondin Point, named after Louis Lamondin:
My grandfather worked as a fishing guide at the Lorraine Club and the Duquesne Club taking groups of men out fishing. Here are some pictures shared with our family.
And the next two include a picture of Grandpa Bill Lamondin and Uncle Ernest Lamondin.
My grandfather had a team of dogs he raced. He loved his dogs.
We have a history of Family Picnics out in the Bay and continue to spend time among these islands each summer.
Nearly five thousand people lived in the Britt and Byng Inlet area because of the coal docks in the 1930s.
Grandma Laura Charron moved to Britt from the Sturgeon Falls area when her parents got jobs at the boarding house behind the post office. Her parents were Olivier Charron and Marie Délia Bellefeuille. They spoke French and their family history traces back to the mid-1700s in Quebec.
Mom says Grandma Laura and great-Aunt Blanche peeled 100 lbs of potatoes a day in the late 1930s for their dad, the chief cook, Olivier Charron.
Grandma Laura was a skilled seamstress. She could create anything. She even made mom’s wedding dress. When Grandpa lost his arm while helping to build a chimney, Grandma worked many jobs to help support the family. She worked as store clerk, decorated cakes, sewing and alterations, and managed the guest cabins in their backyard.
You couldn’t even hear
a dog walking down the street,
The silence engulfs her.
She hollers to sunken branches and solid trunks.
Grandma lived in the woods he stopped by—
She knows the cry of the sunshine as it disappears beyond the bay.
Passing snowflakes with cards and pies and lullabies—
Laura and William had four children: Bruce, Pat, Estelle, and Maureen.
In 1909, Great-Grandpa George Outram and his brother Joe came to Sudbury looking for work from England. They got jobs with the Canadian Pacific Railway and married sisters in 1915. Kate and Marie Rasicot from Wanapitei area trace their family story back to Quebec in the early 1800s and were French.
Up until 1960, trains needed water and coal about every fifty kilometres. CPR transferred George to a small station with a water tower in Pakesley in the early 1920s (one stop north of Britt). His responsibilities included track maintenance and cooling the train engines with water. His brother Joe was at the Byng Inlet CPR Station, responsible for filling the trains with coal.
George and Kate lived in a CPR-owned house. Dad said Pakesley had three CPR houses and a small CPR station with a water tower. Since Highway 69 hadn’t been built yet, the only way to get in and out of Pakesley was by train.
CPR transferred George again. This time George and Kate moved south to Dunlop. They lived in a house near the CPR station on the Still River at the North end of town. Since there was another Dunlop in Ontario, the town was renamed as Britt in 1929. (FYI: There was a large steam pump house that was coal-powered and pumped Still River water into the towers by the track).
Britt brought in coal from the United States by Great Lake Freighter style ships. The trains picked up the coal from the shipyards to bring it to Northern Ontario communities.
No one owned cars. Highway 69 wasn’t built until 1952. George and Kate could travel by water or rail. Tracks wound through the centre of town. (Coincidentally, Kate Outram and Laura Lamondin often rode the train together to get groceries.)
George and Kate had five children. Joe, Charlie, Frank, George Jr., and Emma grew up in Britt in a CPR house on the station side of the Still River. Charlie is my grandfather.
In 1939, Grandpa Charlie enlisted in the Royal Canadian Engineers. For about five years he built Bailey Bridges. In World War 2, his division rehearsed building and dismantling bridges in the dark. He missed D-Day because he spent most his time in Holland, Belgium, and Germany.
At the end of the war, Grandpa Charlie got an early trip back from Europe to Canada on the Queen Mary. His mother, Kate, was dying. She died a month after he arrived home.
Since he grew up with steam engines, becoming a Stationary Engineer was natural. He earned the ranking of second class Stationary Engineer.
Charlie worked in steam and heat distribution in large buildings in Toronto. Charlie met my grandma, Grace, at the bank. She worked as a teller. Grace Koster’s family has deep roots in Peterborough, Ontario.
Every summer, they would return to Britt. My dad remembers going to his Uncle George’s cabin which is two doors down from where dad lives today.
In 1961, Grandpa Charlie bought a cottage in Britt. You couldn’t drive to it then and dad remembers having to hike through the bush to get there.
In the late 1960s, they bought a trailer park near the highway on the Magnetewan River and opened Camp Magnetewan (now called River Haven Resort). The family moved from Scarborough and now lived in Britt full time. They sold the camp in the mid-1970s.
Mom and dad met riding the bus each day from Britt to Parry Sound High School. They have been married for 46 years.
Grandpa Charlie bought another cottage in Britt in 1977, two years after Grandma Grace died. He bought it from the estate of Margaret McDonald, a single school-teacher from Buffalo who would come to Britt each summer. Her family owned a property during the logging era. She bought Crown Land next to her family’s lot and built this cottage on the land in 1950.
Miss McDonald named the cottage Chez la Chat. Great-Aunt Bernice Lamondin knew her and they were friends. Miss McDonald would bring lots of books and movies to Britt. She would show movies outside in the town in the evenings. Dad met her when he was ten. She had nieces staying in the loft at the cottage. I have some of Miss McDonald’s books. When I was a child, I loved reading all her old school books.
In the early 1980s when Grandpa Charlie died, mom and dad inherited the cottage. We spent every summer there as a family. My parents live there now.
I feel such a deep connection to this area. Years ago I wrote this poem to capture how delightful it is to arrive each summer and how sad it is to say goodbye each fall.
Run to the river; I cleanse my soul
Dancing in the rolling wake—
Tenderly, kissing Rock.
Replenishing calm coolness beckons me:
Pine smells, granite slides, infinite skies—
Shining lights lead.
No posts: sun, moon, stars.
Run to the road, my universe.
A winding curvature of
Ease and Discomfort,
A gradual marking of picnics and goodbyes.