By Cavelle Layes
She rescued three Canadian soldiers from the Germans at great risk to herself, created beautiful wedding gowns for many, and raised a lively family, but those are only some of her accomplishments. Chase resident Georgette Landault is enjoying life and family at the young age of 101.
Georgette Landault celebrated her 101st birthday in January — a landmark birthday that brought with it a lifetime of adventure and wisdom.
Landault grew up on a farm in Forten, a small area in Noir Valley, France, about 200 km from Paris. Her life was quiet and simple, the way Landault enjoyed it. She recalls often spending hours with her grandmother learning to sew or receiving simple life advice.
“Time with [my] grandmother is some of my favorite memories,” Landault said in her native language of French, her daughter Nadege Lachapelle interpreting, adding that many of these memories remain dear to her heart.
At the age of 18, Landault married her husband and the two took over his family’s vineyard.
Together they produced delicious red and white wines, maintained a small farm of cattle and other animals, and began a family of their own.
Soon after their new adventure began, so did the Second World War.
Landault described this time as frightening and tough.
Her husband was forced to go to war as a solider, leaving her to look after the children and the vineyard.
“He didn’t want to be a solider,” Landault said, noting the threat German soldiers had on them upon their France invasion. Many had feared for their lives.
Over the next few years Landault’s life would not be the same. Her happy and love-filled adventure on her beloved vineyard was replaced with fear and devastation. The area that had once been the setting for many lasting family memories, the homes of friends, the familiar walking paths around her home, became roaming grounds for the German armies.
Soldiers frequented the area, camping on land surrounding their community and often raiding the houses of locals, taking whatever they wanted.
Landault recalls German soldiers taking items such as horses and grain from them. She had wished her husband had been around, but it had been up to her to ensure the safety of her family during this horrible time, a fearful task. They were not able to argue with the soldiers, out of fear for their lives, instead they would simply give up whatever was requested.
“We were luckier than most,” Landault said. “We had a farm and so we could grow much of our food. Times were very tough, but because we had the option of growing, we were a lot better off than many. We were lucky.”
The role the Germans had in their lives did not stop there.
“[I] had to cook the soldiers hot meals,” Landault said through her daughter. “Before [I] was to serve it to them, they made [me] taste it [myself] to ensure it was not poisoned.”
Landault recalls being scared and unsure what to do from day to day. It got to a point where she loaded up a horse with supplies and the two children she had at the time and began to ride off, leaving her home behind. She didn’t get far when she was reminded of the heavy German presence that occupied the land, and realized she would not get far without first being killed. Instead of escaping the place she once considered to be a home, she returned to it, hoping an end would soon come to the war.
One day Landault happened upon three Canadian soldiers on her land.
“They were in horrible shape,” Landault said.
Despite knowing the repercussions of such an act, Landault helped the three men into an attic space in her home before removing the ladder that lead to it, eliminating suspicion of a hiding place should any Germans arrive. Knowing that simply having the Canadians in her home could result in death if the Germans were made aware, she helped the soldiers regain some of their health before they continued on their way.
One year after her husband was forced into life as a solider, he was allowed to return home. The Germans saw the family’s farm as a value to their war efforts, and released him to cultivate the land and produce food to feed the soldiers.
The couple did what they could to survive and both hoped for an end to the war that had tainted their family home.
Thankfully, the end wasn’t too far away.
“If it were not for the Canadians, [we] would not be alive,” Landault said confidently. “The Americans came in later, but it was the Canadians who were first there to help us. It was them who saved us. If it were not for them, the Germans would have killed us.”
Landault remains grateful for Canada’s role in the war and, in the end, in their lives.
Life became enjoyable again following the war, despite the horrible memories. The couple established many fond family memories on their farm, creating a connection to the area that her daughter Lachapelle still feels even today. Landault had a total of five children and continued to run the vineyard with her husband until 1955.
It was at this time when he had a surgery that prevented him from doing the labouring work the vineyard required. So they made the difficult decision to sell the family business to a man who had worked for the family for many years. The family then packed up and moved to Montreal, Canada, where one of their children, now grown, had moved earlier.
“We were told Canada could offer us a wonderful life,” Landault said.
The family left behind everything they were familiar with for a country with new food, new climate and even different French.
Landault said she noticed many differences in her new home. Her husband was particularly not fond of the Montreal winters.
“He thought winter would never end during the first year,” Landault laughed. With her vineyard days behind her, Landault put the sewing skills taught by her to good use. She worked as a seamstress for many years, sewing beautiful wedding gowns and other items.
Canada also provided many other new experiences to the family, who had before then never owned a television or telephone, and had never eaten food such as cereal and hotdogs.
After almost 30 years in Quebec, the family moved to British Columbia, originally making a new home in Kimberley. All of their children had now grown up and moved away, and the couple were left to enjoy retirement — golf during the summer and snowshoeing during winter.
Landault said she liked the people in B.C., noting that while she could then speak English, it was still a work in progress and she found the people here to be much more understanding.
“They accepted us,” Landault said.
The couple were also very big fans of the warmer winters, she laughed. Eventually they moved to Enderby, where they stayed for many years. While her husband passed in 1997, she continued to live there with her daughter close by.
Landault was happily married for 65 years, and while she doesn’t believe there is a magic rule that can promise a lifetime of happiness, she did have one suggestion to pay forward.
“You need to respect one another,” she said, noting that it is important to show politeness to each other.
Last year Landault made the move to Parkside in Chase after her daughter moved to the area, and has been enjoying it since.
After a lifetime of excitement Landault is perfectly happy to be spending her days in a very low-key manner. She enjoys her quiet time and takes in the news on TV each day.
She notes many things have changed over her 101 years, however, the biggest change she has noticed is transportation. As a child there weren’t any cars, and even while working on their vineyard Landault would need to ride a bicycle into the city 10 km away for supplies or hire a horse and buggy to make deliveries.
Landault herself did not get her first drivers licence until she was 65 years old.
Since moving from France, Landault and her children have all been back many times. In fact, they have even stayed at their beloved vineyard, which is still owned and operated by the man they sold it to. While they now live across the world, the vineyard still holds a special place in all their hearts.
With a lifetime of wisdom stored away, it was hard for Landault to come up with just one piece of advice she thought deserving to pass along.
Landault decided she would like to stress that today’s generation needs to have patience.
She explained, in order to achieve anything, you need to have patience and remember the way you think is unique to you; your ideas are different than anyone else’s, so it may take others more time to understand your them the way you do.
Those who see Landault daily said most people would never guess her age. Landault remains a lively character, with wit and enthusiasm that would put most of us to shame. She has achieved what she wanted out of life, and is content spending her days with the love of her family, and a good game of triominos.