85-year-old Teresa Babineau reflects on her now unconventional childhood growing up in Souris lighthouse
© Guardian photo by Mitch MacDonald
Teresa Babineau, 85, looks over a picture of the Souris lighthouse in her Charlottetown apartment. Babineau was born and raised in the lighthouse.
SOURIS — Teresa Babineau gets a little heartbroken whenever she hears about lighthouses and range lights being decommissioned by the federal government.
The 85-year-old still has vivid memories of the now unconventional childhood growing up in the Souris lighthouse.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she said. “Not too many people know anything about lighthouses anymore. They were very important for guiding ships.”
Her father had been the keeper while Babineau, her mother and 10 other children lived in the structure while she was growing up.
“I remember my father had to wind the light by hand every two hours and it would go around and flash,” she said. “Of course, he had to stay up all night to look after it.”
The keeper’s responsibilities also included lighting a signal at the breakwater and cleaning the lamps every day, a responsibility he made sure only he would do.
While her father felt the girls in the family were “too delicate” to help with the lighthouse, Babineau recalls helping her brother, John, watch over the structure one night.
“He was glad to have the company,” she said. “I would have been five or six at the time and I stayed up until it was getting daylight.
“We played cards and he showed me card tricks, we had some lunch. We had fun.”
While Babineau now lives in Charlottetown, the chance to return to her home community earlier this month for a reunion of about 100 descendants of her parents, Frank and Christina McIntosh, re-ignited some of those childhood memories.
Margaret MacIntyre, Babineau’s niece and an organizer for the event, said her aunt lived in Souris for years and was thrilled to be back up in the community with her family.
“I looked at her a couple times and tears were coming down, just from the memories,” said MacIntyre.
Babineau grew up in a house that was built onto the lighthouse, which has since been moved and turned into a cottage in the town. She later married Alonzo “Al” Babineau and moved to New Brunswick.
Holding on to her Island roots, when Babineau’s oldest son was born in Souris Hospital, Al had come over and began talking to local fishermen about buying smelts and trucking them into New Brunswick.
That small venture led to Babineau Fisheries, which eventually opened up a plant in Souris.
With the community still being close to her heart, Babineau said she feels sorry for those in the town who lost employment when the plant shut down.
The plant was sold to Polar Fish and then bought by Newfoundland-based company Ocean Choice.
The company made headlines when it delivered a serious economic blow to the town by closing the plant in 2011.
It’s something that would never have happened if her husband was still alive, said Babineau.
“He would have gone bankrupt before he would close it,” she said, adding she was proud of her late husband. “That’s the type of person he was.”
In regards to lighthouses and range lights being closed and possibly demolished, Babineau said she would rather see those structures preserved, much like the one she grew up in.
While it’s been decades since she lived in the lighthouse, it is still close to her heart.
“It’s kind of showcased, like a souvenir,” she said with a smile. “My father’s picture is still in there.”