We recently received an email from Guy de Puyjalon regarding the Lighthouse Explorer Database on our website www.lhdepot.com/database/searchdatabase.cfm. He wrote to inform us that the first keeper of the Île aux Perroquets Lighthouse in Québec was his grandfather, Count Henry de Puyjalon. “My father Roger was born there,” Guy told us, “in the keeper’s residence on September 19, 1891.” Although he served as a lighthouse keeper for only three years, Henry de Puyjalon is remembered for some vital contributions to his adopted country.
Count Henry de Puyjalon (1841-1905), born in a castle in Brittany, left France in 1872 and became a Canadian citizen. He soon established himself on Québec’s North Shore (Côte-Nord in French), on the north side of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, a region then known as Labrador. In 1882 he married Marie Élizabeth Angélina Ouimet, daughter of a former Premier of the Province of Québec. Henry de Puyjalon became the provincial Inspector-General of hunting and fishing, and in 1888 his love of nature and adventure led him to become lighthouse keeper on Île aux Perroquets, in the western part of the Mingan archipelago (made up of 40 islands and more than a thousand islets and reefs) off the North Shore.
Explaining his love of wilderness, de Puyjalon once wrote, “What was I dreaming about? I do not know. Perhaps of that strange happiness that invades me when I am alone in the woods, far from the idiots and, more importantly, far from the intellectuals.” Count Henry de Puyjalon went on to write a number of books on the wildlife of northern Québec, and is regarded as one of Canada’s first conservationists and naturalists.
Upon returning to Canada after a voyage to France, de Puyjalon and his wife took up residence on Île à la Chasse, the easternmost of the Mingan archipelago, in a camp built by Henry. Guy de Puyjalon explains why Henry ended up living alone much of the time on the island: “The rigors of Canadian winters on an isolated Gulf island, added to the need to educate their two sons, caused their mother to spend the time required by school in Québec City and Montreal with the boys, and they all would rejoin my grandfather during the warmer season on the island. After grandmother’s death in 1901, grandfather continued to live on Île à la Chasse.”
Count Henry de Puyjalon died peacefully on Île à la Chasse during the night of August 15, 1905. His son Roger, 14 years old at the time, was with him. Roger rowed across to the mainland to summon assistance. Roger and a few men interred Count Henry as he had requested, close by his home facing the open sea. The grave is maintained as a historical site by Parks Canada, as the island is part of the Mingan Archipelago Canadian National Park Reserve. In 1955 a commemorative plaque was installed to tell visitors about this unique man. A TV program about Count Henry de Puyjalon was recently produced by White Pine Pictures as part of the series “A Scattering of Seeds.”
“In a particularly touching piece he published after establishing himself on Île à la Chasse,” writes Guy, “my grandfather recounts the circumstances of Dad’s birth at the lighthouse.” The piece follows here in its entirety, as translated by Guy de Puyjalon. It has never before been published in English.
LETTER FROM HENRY DE PUYJALON
I love her... because she is devotion personified; because she harbors no intentions other than mine.
I love her because she has followed me everywhere, because she would still follow me wherever I would choose to go. And believe me, having followed where I have gone, lived where I gave lived, was no sinecure with each day providing a harvest of spiritual and bodily comforts.
She suffered hunger with equanimity at my Riviére-å-Vachon encampment. She endured, without complaining, cold and storms, and the harsh anguish of childbirth on Île aux Perroquets.
It is on this desolate rock that she gave me my second son. I presided, alone, over his entry into this world; it was a cruel moment. The little gaffer took his time, and I was dying of fear while outwardly smiling. Finally, he appeared!
“Take care he doesn’t get cold,” she said barely audibly to me. “Everything is in the pink basket.” She had prepared everything in advance and had retired to her bed only at the last minute.
I obeyed, and once her eyes had observed him to be well-covered and placed upon a pillow alongside, her face lit up in peace and she closed her eyes.
I was then able to sit down. I needed desperately to do so, because my heart because my heart pounded at a great rate and my legs shook like a halyard under a gale.
We named him Raymond-Roger, because one of his ancestors, dreadful Albigensian, but a very brave knight if one is to believe Simon de Montfort, bore that name, popular in the land of olives.
This happened on Île aux Perroquets - I mentioned this earlier - and we would be there still, if Coco (her nickname) had so desired. She did not, this dearest lady, her heroism had weakened before the latest danger she had faced and, upon my soul, there was good reason, wouldn’t you agree?
Be that as it may, do not imagine that she had discussed her fears with me. She would have perished at the task without ever breathing a single word of complaint, had I not guessed at all of her fears (which I shared, anyway) and had I not taken the lead as regards her preferences.
“My dear little one,” I said to her - I deliberately employ a paternal tone, not always, it is true, with my wife, it seems to carry the day - “maybe at some time in the future we would sadly miss the rock you leave behind so happily on this day?”
“I don’t think so,” she replied upon hearing this sententious supposition; “nevertheless, if you want to stay, we can remain here.”
I could recount a thousand other instances. I will not. Those I have just revealed will have to satisfy the most informed of minds, the most persistent of doubters.
Later, after returning to Canada from a visit to France, she said to me, “Let’s go and flirt in Labrador, that is where your life has been, that is where mine will be.”
And so we went to live there, in the log camp I had built, on the most isolated point of land on the North Shore.
It is there, more than anywhere else, perhaps, that I learned to love her so profoundly.
Henry de Puyjalon
This story appeared in the
February 2003 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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