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Image de Elijah Hail

SOS Santa Claus and the Popes

The twists and turns of life as a lighthouse keeper

The way of life of lighthouse keepers differs depending on the geographical location of their station. For example, in Anticosti, Captain Thibault, from Bic, aboard the rowboat Ma Sonia, delivers mail around the island during the summer. In winter, trunk bags arrive from the air. A plane passes once a month.

Thus at the Pointe Sud-Ouest lighthouse, on December 24, 1958, the lighthouse keeper, Évariste Ferguson, and his assistant, Owen Gleeton, received their mail. After picking it up, a happy Owen opens his letters before supper time. Évariste is busy around the stove. He is cooking a turkey. A good pot of soup is simmering. It's Christmas dinner. Suddenly, a fire starts in the fireplace and spreads very quickly in the kitchen. The two men barely have time to go out, one with the radiotelephone and the battery, the other with the turkey and the soup. But in his agitation, Évariste brings the soup and the turkey back to the burning house. There is nothing left to eat.


It is very cold that evening. A large shed serves as their shelter. But there are three centimeters of frost on the ceiling and on the walls. It's freezing. With pain and misery, the men managed to put the radiotelephone on. They hope to capture Robert Kavanagh from Île aux Perroquets. Every evening, he plays Santa Claus on the 1792 kHz frequency.

Around 7:30 p.m., as usual, and for the last evening this year, Robert speaks to the little children of the phase guardians. Before finishing his transmission, he wishes a happy new year to all the goalkeepers. Robert then hears a weak signal and understands that it is an S.O.S. It was time! In this makeshift shelter at Pointe Sud-Ouest, the batteries quickly lose their energy. He suggests to the two guards in distress to leave the tractor running to charge the batteries. He then hastens to send a message to the Ministry of Transport.

In the shed, Évariste and Owen start the tractor and plug in an oil furnace which provides some heat. Sitting on a bench, glued to the furnace, the men have only one hope. And this hope rests on Robert, the only one who was able to capture them.

The Labrador, anchored in Halifax, receives the order from Quebec to rescue the two men. The boat cannot approach the shore because of the ice. The sailors therefore put a rowboat in the sea. After walking on the pack ice, they come to the rescue of the victims. These two men are exhausted from fatigue, cold and hunger. For three days, they wait for this help with, for their only food, a bag of dry capelin.

Finally on board the boat, in the joy of being saved, Évariste loses consciousness. The two men are transported to a hospital in Quebec. Recovered, they then rejoin their family on December 29. Subsequently, Évariste and Owen tell anyone who will listen: “It is thanks to Robert that we are alive today.” Évariste Ferguson and Owen Gleeton, originally from Cap-des-Rosiers, are first cousins ​​of Robert.


Story taken from The author thanks Mrs. Yvonne Ferguson, with whom he spoke in August 1995, for having helped him to reconstruct this account.

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