“L’Île Rouge” (White Head Island) is well-known in our corner of the county. It is an island that is located a few miles west of Abbott’s Harbour, a central fishing location on the western side of the village. We still call this place “Quagueniche”, an Indian name, and it will always be a special place for the people in our community, mainly because one of them, Charles Amand Amirault, was the keeper of the light for many years.
In his book Histoire du compté de Yarmouth, published in 1876, Campbell tells us that before the year 1830 there were no lighthouses in existence in our county. The “Grand Île,” also known as Seal Island, was granted the first one that exact year. Yarmouth Harbour had its light in 1839; the one that is at the entrance of Pubnico Harbour dates back to 1854; the one on “Île à Morue”, not far from Wedgeport, was installed in 1864; and the one on “l’Île Rouge” in 1874.
According to information received from Ottawa, the first guardian for “L’Île Rouge” was Isaac Montague, who served but one year as its keeper. Herman Hamilton replaced him until November 1877. After this date, the names for the guardians are unknown, i.e. it is difficult to find sources that would know. However, we know that Charles Amand Amirault was named guardian in 1896 and with his family they were to spend 24 years there – from 1896 to 1920.
Front: Charles Amand Amirault; Back (from left to right): Hubert d’Entremont; Marie Mabel Amirault; Delbée d’Entremont.Charles Amand was a brother to Pierre à Georges Amirault and had married Malvina d’Entremont, daughter of Anathanase d’Entremont, i.e. a sister to Fidèle d’Entremont, the father of Georgie, Louis, Edgard and the others. They had six children: Cornelius, Mabel, Willie, Rufus, Georges, and Ida. There are none left of this family. Cornelius moved to the United States where he spent the rest of his life. Mabel passed away in 1969. A car killed Willie in 1951. Rufus died at a young age, it was said of colic. Georges drowned at about the same time, very close to the island. Little Ida was sick since birth and passed away when she was just two years old. Mr. Amirault himself passed away in 1935 and Mrs. Amirault in 1948. They had returned to their home in the village by this time.
Georgie, son of Fidèle, was a cousin of the family. He said that when he was young he would go visit “l’Île Rouge”. He remembers the burial of his cousin Rufus when he passed away. He also remembers when Georges drowned, a very sad event for the family. Here’s how this incident happened.
The young Georges and his friend from Argyle, Harry Fletcher, were playing in a small boat close to the island. They then decided to go around the island. It was a bit windy that day and Malvina and Mabel supervised them from time to time. When they arrived to the west of the island the boat capsized. Malvina and Mabel alerted Willie, who was on the shore. He immediately jumped into his boat and hurried towards the two boys who were struggling in the water but he could not arrive in time to rescue his brother. However, his friend was saved. Little Georges’s body was never found.
Life on the island was isolated and monotonous for a family acting as guardians of the light in those days, especially since there were no luxuries such as radio, television, or telephone. The only method of communication was by commuting to the mainland by way of a boat, a very difficult task in the winter. One winter, for example, they went six weeks without leaving the island because there was so much ice in the bay. It is probably during this same winter that Willie suddenly ran out of tobacco and ended up smoking all the tea in the house! Moreover, this same winter, Malvina had to make a calendar because no one had been able to go to the village to find her one.
Even in the summer, Malvina and Mabel wouldn’t leave the island very often. They always tried to go to church on Sunday when they could. Sometimes, to pass the time, they gazed out the window towards the village. In certain places the road was elevated and they could see the cars drive on the road. When there were more cars than usual, they supposed it was a funeral.
A certain evening in November 1918, they were surprised to see the village completely illuminated. During the war (First World War) the authorities had asked the people to leave the blinds down during the evening. Malvina and Mabel correctly concluded that the war was over.
The lighthouse of l’Île Rouge.The light, guarded by Charles Amand, no longer exists. It was engulfed in flames during a lightning storm around 1945. The new light is more elevated than the other and it was built with a gap between the two houses that sheltered the two families, because after this there were two guardians.
We often spoke about the large well that was on “l’Île Rouge”. It was indeed a well of great depth, but not 80 feet deep (as some seemed to believe). According to Abel Surette, son of Charles Armand Surette, it did not exceed 48 feet. Abel should know because he measured it himself. It is marvelous that they could dig a well of this depth on an island, where all the work had to be done by hand.
N.B. in English “l’Île Rouge” is called White Head, though loosely translated it would read “Red Island”.
Perhaps it would be interesting to mention that the first light installed in Nova Scotia was the one in Sambro (near Halifax). This dates back to 1758. See the book Sea Road to Halifax published by Hugh F. Pullen.