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DURING A SUMMER OF TEENAGE CRUSHES, YOUNG EMMALINE MADIGAN FOUND THE REAL THING.

She was a pretty 17-year-old with dark wavy hair who worked in the laundry of the Ojibway Hotel in the summer of 1954. The laundry was behind the hotel’s main building. The six laundry girls lived in quarters above the large room with its big washtubs, four ironing boards and an enormous mangle, the metal roller that pressed the sheets dry.

  Seagulls were a constant at the Ojibway. They were attracted by the ongoing fish-cleaning operations. When, in the summer of 1954, an errant gull found its way into the laundry one afternoon, 17-year-old Emmaline (left) was in on the fun.

Seagulls were a constant at the Ojibway. They were attracted by the ongoing fish-cleaning operations. When, in the summer of 1954, an errant gull found its way into the laundry one afternoon, 17-year-old Emmaline (left) was in on the fun.

     Work always began promptly after breakfast. “We did hotel laundry first and the next day we did cottage laundry,” Emmaline recalls. “I think sheets were 25 cents, the pillowcases were 10 cents and blouses were 35. Most everybody had an account. We had shelves all over with numbers and then once it was all done, we’d put the laundry back in the wicker baskets for the cottagers. People would come to the door to pick it up.”

     It was hard, hot work. But it was also great fun. Emmaline enjoyed the shenanigans and the camaraderie of the staff – “We weren’t allowed to mingle with the guests” – and as much as any young person, she enjoyed the inevitable summer flirtations and romances. But then something unusual happened. It was not what anyone, least of all Emmaline, could have expected.

Emmaline Madigan (left) remembers playing hide-and-seek in the empty, enormous laundry tubs. There were also boys, of course, to add to the pleasures of a summer job, and Emmaline was as young and carefree as anyone. But everything changed in 1954 when she met the handsome lighthouse keeper, Carl Madigan (far left).

  It was love at first sight, and Emmaline and Carl raised their family at the Pointe au Baril lighthouse.  

It was love at first sight, and Emmaline and Carl raised their family at the Pointe au Baril lighthouse.  

     Suddenly, someone appeared in her life who was not part of the young, happy-go-lucky gang of the hotel staff. He was not one of the boys who, in their khaki shirts, shorts and bow ties, worked as dock hands and bellhops at the Ojibway. Carl Madigan was the lighthouse keeper at Pointe au Baril. He was married when he first met Emmaline but was soon to be divorced. He was the father of three small children. His wife, a Dutch war bride, had returned to Holland with no intention of coming back to live on a wind-blown, rocky point on Georgian Bay. “One day, he asked me if I wanted to go for a boat ride,” Emmaline remembers. “So I went. And that was it. We talked for hours in the boat, just floating around in the water. It was love at first sight.”

  The Ojibway Hotel’s laundry room (below) was often hot and the hours long, but the girls managed to find time for fun.

The Ojibway Hotel’s laundry room (below) was often hot and the hours long, but the girls managed to find time for fun.

     In 1954, it wasn’t easy for a 17-year-old girl to tell her mother and stepfather that she had decided to go live with a man and his three young children – in a lighthouse. But Emmaline was not to be dissuaded. Somehow, she was certain that this was the real thing. And, as time would eventually prove, she was right. 

     They married as soon as they could. She looked after his children for three years, and then she and Carl had three of their own. She developed a small business, taking in laundry (her training at the Ojibway Hotel would prove to come in handy) and baking. Together, they raised six children and she helped Carl run the lighthouse.

     Contrary to the popular image of the lonely lighthouse keeper, theirs was a happy life. The anchor that still sits out at the lighthouse is one that two of her young children spotted, looking down into the clear water from their boat on one of the many family fishing expeditions that the Madigans made to the Black Bill shoals in the open. 

     After Carl’s death in 1977, Emmaline became the first woman to “man” the Pointe au Baril lighthouse. Strong and independent, she continued to take in laundry and to bake. Her pies and butter tarts became justly renowned throughout Pointe au Baril. In the days when her customers used to go out to the Turning Buoy to watch the sunset and, on their return, stop in at Emmaline’s to pick up their laundry or a home-baked dessert, she made gingerbread lighthouse cookies to give to the children. The red-icing roofs were a Pointe au Baril tradition – one that had its origins in a romantic summer long ago when a pretty girl with wavy dark hair took a job in the laundry of the Ojibway Hotel. 

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