Friday, January 20, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: Adapting to Changes

In my last Lansdowne Letters post, I shared part of a letter
my father wrote to our extended family describing our early days together
in the remote northern community on Lake Attawapiskat.

My parents were really happy to have us together as a family again;
but even more so, I think, they were delighted to be a couple once more.

Sometimes in the busyness of our lives, we make the mistake
of taking ordinary life and its comforting rhythms for granted.
Much of life is everyday moments, and we should remember
that it is these small moments with our loved ones that come to mean the most.

Path to Our Water Hole
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada 
Winter 1961
Painting by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, March 2, 1961 ~ Continued...
My father wrote to our extended family:

Sara is looking, and I think feeling, a whole lot better since she arrived in the North.
She is not so jumpy, and in spite of all our entertaining, she is more rested.

She has adopted about two or three of the Indian dogs and feeds them every day!
How those dogs love Sara.
They really recognize a sucker when they run across one.
Seriously though, they are starved,
and we only feed them what we would otherwise throw away.

Canadian Inuit Dogs:  by fgiamma  (can share on social media)

The children are a great help to me
carrying up the water every day, especially Louise.

Roy has begun to find the whole procedure something of a bind.
The ingenuity he displays in inventing excuses
to get out of carrying water amazes me.
I have never seen anyone who can dig up more aches and pains
than he can at water hauling time.

I make him do his share though, for I don't think it hurts
for children to have certain chores at home.

I never allow the children to go to the water hole alone,
and I always fill the buckets for them.
I wouldn't let them near it alone, for it is quite big,
and I am afraid that they could fall in.
They are forbidden to go near it except when I am with them.

A Strategic Roy
Notice how he has pulled the blanket to bring his toys closer.
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada, Summer 1952
Photo by Sara MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

A Different Approach to Life
I, on the other hand, had to be constantly tied down with my ubiquitous harness and rope.
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada, Summer 1952
Photo by Sara MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Thursday night is regular weigh-in time for the MacBeaths.
Sara has gained between two and three pounds since she came up here.
We are stuffing food into her just about every time she turns around,
and in addition, I have her taking Cod Live Oil twice a day.

My weight shot up seven pounds the first week Sara was here.
I couldn’t resist Sara’s home cooking I guess,
especially her lovely homemade bread.

However, the intensity has worn off such temptations now,
and I have gone back on my diet.
In the last two days, I have managed to shed
over a pound of what I had gained back.
I am going to loose it all, for I feel so good when I am light
that I don’t want to ever be heavy again.

Honeymoon Days
My father always struggled to take weight off,
while my mother struggled to keep it on.
Sandy Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada, Early September 1948
Photos by Don and Sara MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

For the benefit of my Island subscribers, I should mention
that Sara has become an aunt again.
Louise gave birth to a baby girl the last of January.
Most likely Sara has written everyone about it,
but just in case she hasn’t, I thought I would let you know.
At the same time, I want to send
belated congratulations to the proud mother and father.

It has been snowing quite heavily for the last two or three days.
The damned stuff is just cascading down.

Going to school today I was plowing knee deep in the snow,
and this is on a beaten path yet.  
If I strayed off the path, I would sink almost to my waist.
I know, I made this blunder once today when I was going for water.

You should see poor Gretchen in the snow.
She literally swims through it.
Even Gretchen seems to like the North and
is looking better since she arrived up here.

Bark Post

Louise has bought some beads at the Bay, and she is getting
Anne O’Flaherty to show her how to do Indian beadwork.
She is all excited about the whole thing.
Poor Louise, she gets so excited about things like this, doesn’t she?

We have really been isolated since Sara arrived.
I sent for some aerial wire, but it hasn’t arrived yet.
I haven’t the foggiest idea what is going on in the world.
For all I know, there could be a war in progress.
Even when I do get the papers and magazines, the news is a week old.
I will be glad when we get the radio functioning again.

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Chicago Black Hawks 
Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, circa 1961

Amphibious Assault Ship USS Boxer (LPH-4) 
at Norfolk, Virginia (USA), in 1961

Two things have happened simultaneously.
I have run out of things to say,
and I have remembered that I have to put oil in the stove,
so I’ll just let the distaff side of the team take over from me.

Bye now,
Love, Don. 

In defense of Roy,  I feel I should set the record straight regarding hauling water.
At first Dad did accompany us to our water hole,
clambering down the hill on the snow-packed path to the frozen lake below.

He would grab the ice pick
stashed upright by our water hole
and chop up the inch or so of ice
that had frozen over it
since the day before.

Then he would fill our metal buckets
and send us on our way
back up the hill
to the forestry shack.

Flickr:  Thirteen of Clubs   License 

This did not last very long.  
Hauling water for a family of seven is a time-consuming task,
as well as physically challenging.
My father soon developed a bad back.

Dad fortuitously realized that Roy and I were
responsible enough and capable of hauling water on our own,
and we two very different people soon inherited the task.

Roy, from his earliest days, had demonstrated
an aptitude for accomplishing tasks
by expending the least amount of energy possible.
One of our family stories is how Mom first realized that Roy was very smart
by observing him pulling his blanket toward him so he could reach his toys.
For him, hauling water was a chore and there were better ways to spend his time.

I, from my earliest days,
had demonstrated an aptitude for
covering a lot of territory very fast.

It was Roy, just a few years ago,
who pointed out to me
that almost every photo of me as a child
has me harnessed to a rope
trailing out of the photograph.

Me in My Harness Carrying My Coiled Rope
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada, Summer 1952
Photo by Sara MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

For me, hauling water was an adventure, and I loved the thrill
of chopping the ice hole open and filling the buckets.

At first Roy tried to wiggle out of the chore, 
but soon he had a legitimate reason for avoiding the task.
He developed serious ear infections and tonsillitis
after arriving in Lansdowne House,
so he was frequently too sick to haul water.

These bouts worsened and resulted in an operation to treat his mastoiditis
and remove his tonsils in the Sioux Lookout Hospital about a year later.

Meanwhile I carried on hauling the family water,
sometimes with the help of my younger sisters Donnie and Barbie.
Barbie, like me, had a lot of fun hauling her tiny buckets up from the lake.

Every bucket had to be strained through cheesecloth
draped over the water drum near the door in our kitchen.
Then my mother would purify it
with a few drops of Javex liquid bleach.
Soon I took over the purification job too.

I would haul every drop of that water again,
if I could go back
and relive those days with my family.
They were the best of times;
but then, being with my family is always wonderful.

Together at Christmas
Donnie and Roy, Louise (me) and Barb, with Bertie in front.
Calgary, Alberta, Canada, 12/25/2016
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Bay of Fundy out of Westport, Brier Island
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

1.   Louise's Baby:  
      My mother's sister Louise and her husband Carl Lindholm
      added daughter Julie to their growing family at the end of January, 1961.

2.   Isolation:  
      As I recall there were several short wave radios in Lansdowne House at the time, at
      the Hudson's Bay post, the Roman Catholic Mission, the Nursing Station, and the Department of
      Transport weather station.  These short wave radios were the only means of communication
      with the Outside between bush plane flights.  The white people all had transistor radios, and
      as soon as Dad's aerial wire arrived, our transistor radio provided us with current news and music.
      I might as well have been on the dark side of the moon, for my world had shrunk to the visible
      horizons of white ice and black spruce against the sky.  I didn't pay much attention to the
      transistor radio until I became a fan of WLS Chicago and it's Hit Parade a few months later.

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Lansdowne House
The Hudson's Bay Post and Department of Transport Buildings and Houses, 1960
Photo by Sara MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

A Quick Sketch of Lansdowne House by My Father
It shows the location of the Hudson's Bay, the Department of Transport, 
and the Roman Catholic Mission on the Father's Island.
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Lansdowne House, Ontario

Map of Canada

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Oopsies! Big Mistake!!!!!

Yikes, somehow I accidentally published the draft I was working on!
I'll have the finished edition of my Lansdowne Letter post up before I go to bed tonight!

The Lansdowne Letters: Big God, Little God, and Our New Life

Within days of arriving in Lansdowne House in late February, 1961,
my family was comfortably settling into life in the bush;
in fact, we were thriving,
and it was wonderful to be together under one roof again!

Each day was a blend of the familiar and novel,
and our parents and we children were embracing our new life.

The Only Image I Have of Our Home 
The Forestry House, Lansdowne House, 1961
Drawing by Donalda MacBeath
Text:  Dear Nana, This is a picture of our home.
Note:  Indian "Gods,"  Buckets of Meat Hung from the Eaves, 
a Box of Groceries on the Roof,
and the Weather Vane on the Chimney
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The Artist and Letter Writer
Donalda, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, March 2, 1961 
My father wrote to our extended family:

Hello There Everyone:
I am afraid that I will have to change the name of this publication
from The Lansdowne Letter to The Lansdowne Memorandum,
as I find that I don't have the time to write a daily edition anymore.  

My time is fully taken up with my daily chores,
chores such as hauling up the daily water supply,
hauling in the oil for the stove, filling the lamps, carrying out the garbage, etc.
However, it is so wonderful to have my family with me,
that I would gladly do twice the amount of work and not complain.

No, I am afraid that the daily letter is a thing of the past.
You will have to consider yourselves lucky to receive a weekly letter.

We have been having a wonderful time since Sara came up here.
We are entertaining like crazy.  
Last night we had two tables of bridge at our house.
We had the Mitchells, the McRaes, and the MacMahons
over for the night, or rather for the evening.

The night before, we had the Father and the Brother
over for the evening and had another rip snorting bridge session.
The Father and I beat Sara and the Brother,
though not by too much, only about 700 points.

Father Ouimet with My Father
The Roman Catholic Mission Kitchen
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Brother Bernier with My Father
The Roman Catholic Mission Kitchen
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The Father and I won the event on the last hand of the evening,
for we got over 800 points on this one hand.
The Father bid and made five hearts doubled,
and by doing so clinched a fast rubber to boot.

The children are settling down to school,
and life in the bush is most in a most satisfactory manner.
They are also getting along just fine with the Indian children.

I find it a unique and very rewarding experience
to be teaching my own children in school.
Most parents are never lucky enough to be able to get to know
their children as well as I am getting to know mine.
It is very interesting to see just how they get along with other children. 
It is also a rather strange experience to see them through the eyes
of a teacher, instead of through the eyes of a parent.

My Father's School
Church of England Day School
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I don’t want to brag too much, but Louise is a very intelligent child.
Not the most intelligent that I have ever taught,
but I would certainly rate her among the four or five
most intelligent that I have ever had as pupils.
She is a thinker, and that is a rare product
of today’s rather insipid educational system.

Roy is smart too, but very careless in his work.
He is also just like his father, in that he can’t spell worth a damn.
His writing also bears a remarkable resemblance to mine in its illegibility.
I think that mine is a bit more readable than his though,
so that doesn’t speak too highly for his, does it?

Roy and I, Often Together
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia, 1953
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Barbara and Donnie are a great help to me
in reaching my pupils in kindergarten and grade one.
I have made more progress with this group
since they joined them than I usually make in a month.

Barbara is a great favorite with all the older Indian children.
I guess it is because she is so fair, so young, and so cute.
They are always helping her to get dressed at recess
and undressed when she comes in after recess.

A couple of times, I have had to take Barbara to task for something,
and all the Indians rallied around her and comforted her
and glared at me most reproachfully.  

Once, when I had to shake her, I just about had a mutiny on my hands.
I just hope all the attention and near adulation she is receiving don’t spoil her.

I think that in the long run, both my children
and the Indians are going to benefit from the arrangement.
The Indians are going to see just how 
curious white children from outside react to school.
Already I have noticed that the Indians are becoming more responsive
in class and are showing more interest in their work.  

My children are also going to get a lot of benefit from associating with the Indians.
The Indians do much neater work than white children and are more artistic.
They are also better behaved and more kind to each other than white children.
They are also more self reliant and honest than white children.
Perhaps some of these qualities will rub off on mine.

To Be Continued…

My Father's Newest Students
Barbie, Roy, Me with Gretchen, and Barbie
Margaretsville, Nova Scotia, 1958
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Sometimes sharing my father's words are uncomfortable for me.
However, I promised myself when I started this journey that I would be honest, 
and while I might edit my father's spelling and punctuation,
I will not edit his words.

The protective daughter and teacher in me come out
when I see my father's struggle with dyslexia;
and I think of him, my sister Barb, and one of my nieces,
all brilliant people, but bedeviled by the dyslexia
that clings to our family tree like lichen on a black spruce.

So, yes, I'll edit the mechanics of Dad's writing, but not the content.
And yes, it was difficult to type Dad's assessment of my intelligence
because I don't like to blow my own horn any more that my father did.  
My four siblings are every bit as intelligent, driven, and accomplished as I am.
Even more so, truth be known.

And yes, it was difficult to type about Dad shaking Barbie in school.
A half century ago parents shook children sometimes
to get get their attention or worse.
Hopefully it happens much less now,
because now we understand the dangers of shaking children.

Of the five of us, Barbie was the one who stood up to our father the most,
and some of their standoffs are legendary.

Barbie was also the one most like our father in personality.
It's one thing to see your strengths and positive traits reflected in a family member,
but it's quite another to see your challenges and weaknesses mirrored in your child.

Dad may have been  Kitche Shemaganish
or Big Soldier around the village,
but sometimes his fair, young, cute daughter 
would give him a run for his money. 

A rare photo of Dad and Barbie: 
Dad was usually the photographer
and not the subject.
Alymer, Ontario, 1958
Photo by Sara MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Bay of Fundy out of Westport, Brier Island
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

1.   Indian "Gods," Buckets of Meat Hung from the Eaves,
      a Box of Groceries on the Roof, and the Weather Vane on the Chimney:  
      My sister Donnie recorded the Indian dogs that hung around our door step and our unusual
      food storage system.  Because it was so cold, Dad stored all our frozen meat in buckets hung
      from the roof.  Sometimes groceries that could be frozen went up on the roof in a box.

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Aerial Photograph of Lansdowne House
The Mainland and The Father's Island (Couture Island), 1935
You can clearly see the Father's beach where Dad's luggage was offloaded from a canoe.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of Indian Affairs and Northern Development / Library and Archives Canada / PA-094992

A Quick Sketch of Lansdowne House by My Father
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Lansdowne House, Ontario

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: Prejudice

When you were growing up did you ever have to move far away
in the middle of the year and go to a new school? 

My family moved a lot during my childhood,
so I was familiar with having to start anew in another school
at the beginning, in the middle, and sometimes toward the end of a school year.

On the Move Again
Me (left) with Roy and Donnie
This was the year I attended three schools in three provinces as a second grader.
We were visiting relatives in New York State on the way to School #3 in Nova Scotia.
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Moving never became easy for me.
It was always difficult.  
The trauma of leaving my friends and starting over always hurt.

But sometimes the experience was intimidating, even scary.
That was the case when my family moved to Lansdowne House
in late February, 1961.
I approached my strange new school with trepidation,
because I knew it would be unlike any school I had ever attended.

Church of England Indian Day School
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada, fall 1960
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The fact that it was a one room school with multiple grades didn't bother me a bit.
I had been to all kinds of schools in my young life.

The fact that I would be the only fifth grade student didn't bother me either.
I'd been one of two third graders in my one room school in Margaretsville, Nova Scotia, and that had worked out just fine.

The fact that I would have to share a card table with my brother wasn't intimidating.
Rather it raised every territorial and competitive hackle I possessed,
because it was Roy, my brother The Instigator, whom I had to share it with.

However, the thought of my father as my teacher and principal was intimidating.
I remember peeking into his junior high classroom when I was five or six,
overawed by those huge seventh grade boys near the door
and my father's towering, authoritative presence at the front of the room.

Dad hadn't demonstrated a lot of patience in the past
when helping my brother and me with school work,
and my Nana MacBeath wasn't the only person worried about him roaring at us.
We two could bring out our father's inner Military Parade Marshal lickety-split,
but even this didn't scare me.

 Big Soldier ~ Kitche Shemaganish
(The Nickname the Ojibwa People Gave My Father in Lansdowne House)
Most Likely Prince Edward Island, Circa:  1952
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved 

What scared me was the thought of being one of four white children
in a school full of Ojibwa children who spoke hardly any English.
I had never experienced being a minority, 
but I already was familiar with prejudice
and with how children could cruelly target those who were different.
I was about to be the one who was different. 

Some of my Father's Ojibwa Students
Lansdowne House on Lake Attawapiskat in Northern Ontario
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

We were late getting to school that first time in Lansdowne House.
My father had left early to make sure the cantankerous stoves
had heated the school without burning it down during the night
and to haul the day's water supply for the school up from the DOT waterhole.

Mom fell behind the schedule to get us off on time,
surely hampered by the novel task of readying four children
for school with no running water or electricity;
and, it didn't help to have an excited four-year-old Barbie
going off to school for the first time.

We Five Shortly Before Moving North
Roy (left), Donnie, Louise (Me) with Bertie, Barbie
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada
Photo by Sara MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Anxiety preyed on me as we headed across the squeaky snow
and followed the narrow path through the bush to the other side of the peninsula.
We had experienced a warm welcome from Fanny and Nellie Kitchejohn the previous day,
but I worried about what going to a school filled with Ojibwa classmates would be like.

My fear of experiencing prejudice was visceral.  The irony escaped me at the time.
As I trudged up the steps to my new school, I was the living definition of prejudice,
burdened with a "preconceived opinion not based on reason or experience" 
that the Ojibwa children would greet me with prejudice.
(Definition: Google)

I tried to express the strong emotions I had experienced that morning
in an essay I wrote eighteen months later: 

"I felt the ugly fear and uneasiness of prejudice most powerfully 
as I crossed the threshold of my father’s school,
and a sea of coppery faces and coal-black eyes stared at the four of us. 

I could sense the atmosphere of curiosity mingled with fear and shyness.  
My brother, my two sisters, and I could not return an equal feeling
for we were four small white children lost in the midst of thirty some Ojibwa children. 

Never will I forget the feeling in the pit of my stomach, 
my shaking knees, aching throat, and pounding heart.  
I know now what it is like to be on the receiving end of prejudice."

I didn't get much school work accomplished that morning;
instead I tried to blend in and mimic the Ojibwa children's
responses to their familiar school routines.

A chirpy "Here, teacher!" from me during roll call 
earned me a glare from my father and his admonition 
that I should reply with "Present, Mr. MacBeath."

Our father expected we four to model proper school behavior and English
for the benefit of the Ojibwa students, not to mimic them,
even little Barbie on her first day of school ever.

While my younger sisters Donnie and Barbie sat among the younger Ojibwa girls,
Roy and I sat at our card table at the back of the room.
We pushed our papers and books around and observed.

Some of My Father's Ojibwa Girls
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The Ojibwa girls quickly
took our younger sisters
under their collective wings,
guiding them through
the unfamiliar school activities
of brushing teeth
and washing hands.

They comforted and sympathized with Donnie and Barbie
when they had to eat and drink 
the dreadful, government-issued bannock and powdered milk
that targeted Indian hunger and poor nutrition.

They even jumped up to help my sisters sharpen their pencils,
gathering around them in a colorful giggling group at the pencil sharpener.
No one jumped up to help me with mine.

I can still remember that first long walk to and from the pencil sharpener
and feeling all those dark eyes staring at me as I moved across the room.

Our Ojibwa classmates largely ignored Roy and me,
but I caught them sneaking furtive glances at us,
glances they quickly averted if my eyes met theirs.

The minutes to morning recess crawled by, 
and I glumly anticipated standing by myself
behind a corner of the school out of the wind.
Recess and acceptance loom large in the minds of children,
and I was no different from countless others.

The dreaded recess time came, 
and Dad drove us all outside to play.
I suspect he had a quick cigarette and a cup of thermos coffee
to settle his nerves at having the four of us in his classroom.
In fact, we may have had an extra long recess ~ 
one of the benefits of Dad's having his immediate supervisor
located an hour and a half away by bush plane.

I walked over to stand stoically by the swings
where the Ojibwa girls were pushing my sisters
higher and higher into the cold air.
I watched my brother attempting to chat
with a bunch of boys gathered by the steps,
thinking it was going to be a very long and lonely recess.

What happened next I recorded in my long ago essay:
"At recess, a very big Indian boy approached and hailed me. 'Hello, Nouise!'
I rallied round, managed a faint 'Hello,' and our problems were solved.  
Within minutes we were running, jumping, laughing, and shouting with them all."

That was George Jacobs, and he and Simon Atlookan
became two of my best friends among the Ojibwa children.
I am forever grateful for his reaching out
to this suddenly shy and awkward white girl.

George (left) and Simon (right)
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada, Winter 1960
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Bay of Fundy out of Westport, Brier Island
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

For Map Lovers Like Me:

Lansdowne House, Ontario, Canada