Today I found a wonderful story about my great-grandfather, Louis Lamondin. He was the lighthouse keeper of Gereaux Island Lighthouse on Georgian Bay from 1910-1918 and from 1925-1946. He was responsible for the light for 29 years! My family lived there for over fifty years.
It isn’t easy finding stories from that time. Louis’ daughter, my great-aunt Bernice, lived there as a child. I always asked her lots of questions about living at the lighthouse. She talked about fun things like going to dances on a nearby island or playing on the rocks with her siblings. If we asked a very specific question, Aunt Bea always answered. But I always wanted more. I still do. My grandfather, William Lamondin didn’t talk about the lighthouse much, but I wonder if it’s because we didn’t ask. My grandfather passed away when I was a young child. The lighthouse was so much a part of our family nobody thought to document life there, probably much like I haven’t taken the time to document my father’s career at General Motors.
Now, I treasure any stories I find about my family and the lighthouse.
Today I found a truly incredible story about August 1945. In an elders list serve chat from August 1995 at St. John’s University, Carol Tyndale writes about VJ Day and how she learned the war was over from my great-grandfather. Here is her account:
I shall never forget it as long as I live. I was 7 years
old, spending the summer with my grandparents on their \
island in the Goergian Bay, which is part of Lake Huron.
The nearest village was Brit — a French/Indian settlement
whose main reason for existence was being a port for the
huge steamers that brought coal to fuel the Canadian
National Railway trains that stopped there to take on
more coal. The nearest town of any size was Parry Sound,
which was about 20 miles from our island, as the crow flies.
I was, as many children are, very difficult to waken once
I had fallen asleep, but that night I was wakened by a
lurid red light that flooded the sky and was so bright that
I could see into the far corner of the large room in which
we slept. I was very, very aware of the war, and the light
terrified me. I screamed and screamed, waking the entire
family, all of whom had been sleeping peacefully. As they
always did when something unusual was happening (earthquake,
meteor showers, whatever), my grandparents took us outside
the better to see the phenomenon. I could not be soothed —
I don’t think I’ve ever known such terror. Grandaddy tried
to calm me by saying that perhaps it was northern lights.
Oddly, that did the trick — I looked to where the light
was most intense, got my bearings, and said, “Grandaddy!
That’s east!” We finally all settled down, and I cried
myself to sleep.
Next morning brought a new horror — Louis Lamondin, the
lighthouse keeper — came up the bay *standing up in his
boat!* No metis ever stood upright in a moving boat, because
few of the people of the village at that time had learned to swim,
and none of them ever wore a life jacket. Although we
always wore life jackets, we had been trained never to stand
up in a boat — and Louis was one of the people who had trained
us. Now I was sure that the world was coming to an end! As
he got closer I could hear that he was shouting, and I ran down
to our dock to get closer so I could hear him. Then “The war
is over! The war is over! La guerre est finis! La guerre est finis!”
I raced back up to the house, shouting his message through sobs.
When we had all gathered around the kitchen table, Louis told
us all he could remember from the short-wave broadcast on
which he had heard the news, and I worked up courage to ask
if he knew what that awful red light had been (I was afraid he
wouldn’t know!) “Oh,” he said, “the people in Parry Sound
heard the news last night and they were shooting off fireworks
to celebrate, and a rocket landed in the ammunition plant and
blew it up! Big fire!”
The odd thing is that I don’t know whether anyone was injured
or killed in that explosion and fire. I’m sure he would have told
us, but it is just not in my memory. Some day perhaps I will go
back to Parry Sound and ask, or look up old newspaper files,
but right then I didn’t want to know. I hope no one was.
VJ Day was August 14, 1945. It was the day this iconic photo was taken in New York.
My parents are visiting so I shared this story with them. My dad pointed out that it was the Canadian Pacific Railway (not Canadian National). Dad said that his father often pointed out the spot where the ammunition factory used to be in Nobel. Louis Lamondin was right, the plant blew up. In fact, the fire not only destroyed the plant but turned nearby Depot Harbour into a ghost town.