Georgian Bay

More About Gereaux Island Lighthouse

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.

My great-Aunt Bernice with the replica my Uncle Bob commissioned. She grew up in the real Gereaux Island Lighthouse.
Plan of the First Floor
Plan of the Second Floor
Plan of the Third Floor

Connecting to My Family History

According to great-Aunt Bernice, her father, Joseph Normandin was the first keeper of Gereaux Island Lighthouse in 1875. Lighthouse Friends notes that the sawmill company operated the light until May 1, 1875 when the Department of Marine took over.

The Department’s annual report for 1876 provides the following information on the lighthouse:

Byng Inlet (Joseph Lamondet, Keeper),

Who has been in charge for the last three years. There are four base-burner fountain lamps, and four 16-inch reflectors on their stands. The lantern is of iron, four and one-half feet in diameter. The glass is 13 x 21 inches. The tower consists of a trellis work, 73 feet high, braced with iron wire rope, bolted into the rock. The lantern requires to be raised three or four inches, and the platform to be boarded over and then covered with canvas, and painted. The top of the lantern requires puttying and painting. The position is a very exposed one, and the light is one of the most difficult ones on the lakes to keep, as in stormy weather there is no shelter for man or boat at the lighthouse.

A small room is much required at the base of the tower to shelter the keeper in stormy weather, when he cannot get on shore. He requires a new boat, which I ordered him to get, as he has an opportunity of getting it very cheap.

I think this is what the Lighthouse looked like when it was first built in 1880. Family photo of Gereaux Island Lighthouse.

In 1880, the new lighthouse was built. I often wondered why two lighthouses were built within such a close period of time. The first lighthouse was funded by and built by the sawmill company. It was in poor condition due to poor construction. The second lighthouse was funded by and built by the Department of Marine. You can read more about this history at Lighthouse Friends.

In an article I found in Uncle Bob’s lighthouse package titled “Gereaux Island,” the writer notes: “One of the earliest recorded visits, of an 1898 group of Americans, appears in James Barry’s The Sixth Great Lake.”

At the house, we were directed to inquire at a boathouse near at hand, by a stout, barefooted Frenchwoman. Upon opening the door we found the keeper, a most picturesque old child of the seas, reclining in a wonderful home-made hammock, smoking a short-stemmed pipe, and recounting early adventures to a black-eyed grandson. He acknowledged our arrival with easy unconcern, and in a few words of broken English made us feel quite at home.

Article: Gereaux Island.

And then the article goes on to say: “It must have seemed a place out of time, literally. Apparently when the Americans arrived at 8:30 am the keeper had already eaten lunch–his only clock was running four hours fast! He graciously toured the group around the grounds, showed them his dog team, and answered their many questions. It was a routine that would be followed by all the lightkeepers who came after him.”

It turns out I have Barry’s book Georgian Bay: The Sixth Great Lake. My brother gave it to me for Christmas a couple years ago. Here is the passage:

Georgian Bay: The Sixth Great Lake

In 1898, Joseph Lamondin was the keeper. His son Louis Lamondin (my great-grandfather) would become keeper in three years. I’m not sure which grandchild they are referring to in this passage. Joseph and Scholastique (Christina) had five children between 1861 and 1877. Louis was their youngest. Both Louis and my grandfather would also have dog teams.

Joseph descends from the Solomon family Métis line on his mother’s side and Christina is a ‘Root Métis Ancestor,’ meaning that she is the first in the Berger-Beaudoin Métis line. Both families (Solomon and Berger) were part of the voyageur migration from Drummond Island to Penetanguishene. Joseph and Christina moved from Penetanguishene to Britt/Byng Inlet after they were married. Joseph Normandin’s father’s line is from Montreal: voyageurs.

MNO Root Ancestors Project
The rocks in the foreground is the location of the original lighthouse tower. The lighthouse that stands today was built in 1880. Photo by Jessica Outram, August 2019.

The Lighthouse Today

In 2015, Parks Canada did not designate Gereaux Island Lighthouse as a heritage site.

It’s still on my bucket list to go there for a tour. Since I spend so much time up north, we often say ‘next time the Coast Guard is home, we’ll stop in.” Then we continue to say, ‘next time.’

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