Lighthouse keeper remembered during ceremony in Wedgeport

Published on April 11, 2017

From left: Loretta Saulnier, Joseph Surette, Lisa Courtenay and Regina LeBlanc at the Wedgeport tuna museum following the unveiling of a plaque honouring the late Jean Leo Surette.

©Eric Bourque

YARMOUTH -- As the light keeper for the Pease Island lighthouse, Jean Leo Surette spent three decades helping keep mariners safe. Now the Canadian government has officially recognized him for his service.

A ceremony honouring Surette – who served as the Pease Island light keeper from 1921 until his death in 1952 –was held April 8 at the Wedgeport tuna museum, where a plaque was unveiled in appreciation of his service.

The plaque will be housed in the tuna museum until it can be placed on Pease Island, one of the Tusket Islands.

A native of West Pubnico, Jean Leo Surette was a veteran of the First World War, having served in Siberia as a member of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

It was through serving his country in the Great War that Surette received his permanent position as lighthouse keeper on Pease Island, said Yarmouth MLA Zach Churchill, guest speaker for the ceremony where Surette was recognized. Churchill was speaking on behalf of Dominic LeBlanc, federal minister of fisheries and oceans and the coast guard.

Churchill noted that life on Pease Island – an isolated and desolate place – was not easy.

“Jean Leo never lost sight of the larger picture, serving his country with honour in harsh conditions that included having no electricity and a limited quantity of supplies for months at a time,” Churchill said.

“Up until his death in 1952, he never wavered from his responsibilities to keep our fishermen out of harm’s way and guide them along their way.”

The effort to have Surette formally recognized was initiated over seven years ago by his granddaughter Lisa Courtenay, another of the speakers for the Wedgeport ceremony where her late grandfather was honoured.

She did research, contacted government officials etc. Her work culminated with the well-attended community event at the tuna museum.

“It’s a little overwhelming, actually,” she said afterwards. “It’s very emotional.”

Jean Leo Surette had nine children, and three of the four surviving ones were on hand for the plaque-unveiling ceremony: Loretta Saulnier, Joseph Surette (Courtenay’s father) and Regina LeBlanc. Their sister, Vina Pothier, was not present for the event.

Courtenay, who lives in the Boston area, said it was a pretty busy time getting everything organized for the ceremony, but she said it was worth it, given that her grandfather now will have the recognition he deserves.