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Valley Lives - Gunda Lambton

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the January 22, 2014 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Respected Wakefield historian and artist dies at 99

by Joel Balsam

"The Gatineau, the Coulonge and the other wild rivers that flow into the Ottawa from the north, have their sources in lonely, forest clad heights that for centuries remained unchartered." And with this detailed and descriptive language, Gunda Lambton began her 1996 book 'The Wildest Rivers - the Oldest Hills: Tales of the Gatineau and Pontiac', which delves into the history and folklore of her beloved Wakefield region.

Valley Lives
Gunda Lambton was known not only for her achievements, but "her personality and her attitude to life". Photo courtesy H Jocelyn.

Lambton spent the last 40 years of her life living in Wakefield, writing, painting, and being active in the Gatineau Hills until she died peacefully at the Wakefield Hospital with family by her side only eight months shy of her 100th birthday.

Born in 1914, Lambton's life story could be read as a novel. Fittingly, she wrote several memoirs of her exploits in dramatic and intriguing form. In the 2000 memoir 'The Frankenstein Room', Lambton explains what life was like growing up in Germany between the two wars. "And then, if you looked closely - with a cold eye - Hitler's speeches in the Völkische Beobachter, you could not help but notice that they contradicted each other almost daily", reads an excerpt from the memoir.

Lambton's disapproval and fear of the Nazis led her away from Germany at the height of the war to study in Spain, which she wrote about in a recent unpublished memoir. While there, Lambton studied in the library and at the vocational college and became fluent in Spanish, which made her fluent in four languages (she also spoke German, English, and French). When she returned to Germany to work as a translator for a wine company, Lambton met her first husband, Garth Williams, who would famously go on to illustrate the Stuart Little books and 'Charlotte's Web'. Their first daughter, Fiona, is actually the inspiration for the character Fern in 'Charlotte's Web'.

When World War II broke out, Lambton and her family moved to London, England, but they again had to flee for their own safety. They moved to Toronto in 1942. Her arrival in Canada came with considerable culture shock, as described in her 2003 memoir 'Sun in Winter'. In Toronto, Lambton and Williams parted ways and Lambton (born Gunda Davidson) met Bill Lambton, with whom she stayed married for 65 years. Bill Lambton was also a journalist and writer, and after bouncing around a bit between Europe and Canada, the two moved to Ottawa in 1966 and finally to Wakefield in 1974.

Valley Lives
In 2004, Lambton received a Heritage Toronto Award for her book Sun In Winter, which features her evocative descriptions of the city during the 1940s. File photo.

Shortly after her arrival in Wakefield, Lambton helped start a small artist co-op with local friend and writer Norma Geggie. "Gunda did all kinds of crafts: glue, silk scarves, designs, paintings, and, of course, writing," explained Geggie.

Lambton was eager to keep learning and improve her writing, so she enrolled in an undergraduate degree at the University of Ottawa, which she completed at the ripe age of 69. She went on to obtain a Canadian Studies MA from Carleton. At 80, she wrote her first book, 'The Wildest Rivers,' and was still working on memoirs into her mid- to late-90s, until her sight finally gave out.

"What was notable about Gunda was not only her achievements, but her personality and her attitude to life," said her daughter-in-law Hilary Jocelyn. "She was a very positive person, and even when age took most of her sight and affected her mobility, she was full of energy and would focus on the things she could do, and did not complain too much about the things that she was no longer able to manage."

After giving up their heritage home, whose history Lambton explains in a prize-winning essay in the Historical Society publication 'Up the Gatineau', Gunda and her husband moved to the Sully Gardens retirement home. The caregiver at Sully Gardens, Gerard Morris, recalled how she would still strap on her cleats and go out for walks in the snow despite being technically blind and well into her 90s. "Even though these treks almost gave us a heart attack, she seemed surprised by our concern and lack of faith; she seemed to be always protected somehow by her innocence," he said.

In her last days, when Morris asked her about any final thoughts she might have, Lambton paused and said: "Well, I think that...I love you all."

Lambton is survived by her husband Bill, four children, numerous grandchildren, brother Erik, nieces, nephews, and many friends. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, Jan. 25 at the Wakefield Community Centre from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

living in Cascades at an "informal commune-type area." The two went into the candle-making business and founded Starlight Candles.

Lalonde also had a sprout business. He grew them in his Vorlage Heights yard and delivered to most of Wakefield's restaurants and some homes. He always enjoyed sitting and chatting with people while making his deliveries.

Lalonde died May 5 after a brief illness. He was 54. He is survived by his father Maurice and his siblings Marc, Jean, André, Louise, Michelle, and Suzanne. He was predeceased by his brother Bob and his mother Dauphine.

"He was a very deep person. He wasn't very garrulous," says Phil Cohen. "And he was very close to his brother, André."

The two brothers started a stone company - Kaleidoscope - designing stone sculptures and inlaid work. Pierre's signature artwork was his colourful mandalas. He will also be remembered through several village monuments such as the library mailbox and the mural at the General Store.

"He was a bit of a hermit to most people in the area," says Rompré. "He was more nature-oriented."

Rompré laughs as he remembers "coffee sessions" with Pierre and André. He'd make cappuccinos, they'd roll a joint, and talk for hours. Then they'd play hacky sack, which Rompré credits them as having brought to the village.

"Why is Wakefield the way it is?" he muses. "It's because of artwork was his colourful man-people like Pierre."


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