Friday, May 29, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters: Traffic Jam

Whenever I think of the North fifty years ago,
I think of bush planes, canoes, and dog teams.
I was fascinated by all of them; 
as was my father, despite his grumbling
about his trusty little Hudson Bay Company canoe. 

On Saturday, October 22, 1960
My father wrote:

Hi There Everyone:
Today was a lovely day, 
and I think that every plane in the North Country 
was in at Lansdowne House.  

I counted five planes in here at one time today:

three Cessnas,

a Bellanca,
wikimedia ~ in Norway

and a Norseman. 
Photo by Don MacBeath,  September 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

If they have much more traffic than they had today, 
they will have to build a control tower at Lansdowne House.

Well, I had a good mail again today, 
although not as good as last week; 
well, I won’t say not as good, 
but rather not so many letters. 

Well, that’s not exactly right either, 
because I believe I had just as many letters.  
I know for sure that I heard from more people.  
Oh, I know what was wrong.  
There were only magazines and very few newspapers.

The company has left, and so I can continue with the Letter.  
Oh yes, I suppose that you are interested in 
knowing who the company was.  
The company consisted of four or five little Indian children.  
They are always coming to visit Uno.  
I wished I lived nearer to my children on the mainland, 
so they could come to visit me.  

We have been having a real bang-up time here today again.  
The Brother is going after the rocks with the dynamite.  
He’s really a noisy character when he cuts loose with the pyrotechnics.

I don’t think that I have ever seen such a 
beautifully perfect day as today has been.  
There was hardly any breeze blowing, 
and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

And it was so warm!!!!!  
The temperature actually rose to 21 above zero.  

After the cold weather we have been having, 
this felt like you could go about in shirtsleeves.  
As it was, everyone was going about 
with their parkas open and their earlugs turned up.  

Uno and I even went on a canoe trip for pleasure.  
I never thought that I would establish enough rapport with 
that fiendish contraption to enjoy going on a pleasure trip in it.

A lot more Indian families left for the winter traplines today, 
but they must have been some of the better off Indians, 
because they all left by plane.

I never fail to be fascinated when I watch them loading 
an Indian and all his accouterments in and on a plane.  
Today I watched Harry Evans load up his Bellanca 
for a trip to Big Beaver House today.

Big Beaver House Area
Wunnummin Lake
You can see ice on the lakes.

When Harry took off he had two large canoes 
lashed to the pontoons outside, and inside he had 
the father, the mother, four children of assorted sizes, 
and all the winter supplies, cooking utensils, clothes etc., 
and oh yes, four dogs and the family cat.

Float Plane with Canoes Lashed to Pontoons

They use the dogs in the sleigh, and as I’ve said before, 
the cat enjoys special prestige among the Indians.  
They would never leave without pussycat.
The dogs may be mongrels, but they are quite valuable.  
A good team of four dogs is worth anywhere 
from 150 dollars to 200 dollars, depending upon 
the dogs and the demand at the particular time. 

The way they treat them in the summer though, 
when they aren’t earning their keep, 
you wouldn’t think that they were too valuable.

Credit:  Bud Glunz. National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque. Library and Archives Canada, e010962320 /

Even when the poor brutes are earning their keep, 
they aren’t exactly sufficiently fed, at least not by my standards.
Their daily diet (one meal) consists of one or two raw fish.  
Frozen yet!!!
No wonder the poor things are hungry all the time.  
As I said before, in the summer, 
they exist on what they can scrounge.

Brian was over tonight, and we had a couple of games of chess.  
He hasn’t beaten me yet, but he is getting better.  
got an awful trimming from the Brother at dinnertime today though.  
He is a very canny player.

Well, I guess that winds her up for tonight.  
Will be back again tomorrow.
By now,

My dad really enjoyed a good game of chess or cards.
My brother Roy and I spent many hours playing games with Dad.
Eventually, Roy became so good at chess
that he could trounce our father, 
much to Dad's chagrin and Roy's delight.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

1.  The Brother:

Brother Raoul Bernier, OMI,
Roman Catholic Mission, Lansdowne House

2.  Brian:

Brian Booth, clerk,
Hudson Bay Post, Lansdowne House

3.  21º F = -6.1º C

4.  Flying in a float plane.
     This is what it sounded like when you were a passenger!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Falling Further Behind!

Just want to update you:
Things don't always go according to plans!

I've been dodging monkey wrenches
for almost a week now.

Prisoner of Time

From an unexpected trip,
to unexpected
visits from friends,
to a contractor
ripping out carpet
and installing tile,
abruptly scheduled for today, 
life has been more than interesting this week.

So I'm falling behind with everything.
I did not visit blogs as I had hoped.
We're eating tomato soup
because I haven't gotten to the grocery store.
And our guest room looks like it's occupied by a hoarder,
since we stashed the contents of our master bathroom 
and walk-in closet in it (with 30 hours notice).

And I damn near stepped on a six foot long
bull snake when I took a breather in the park.
Good news:  I learned that I can jump backwards
from a starting point with my right foot stopped
about six inches above a coiling snake!

But the sun is shining,
and I'm off for a morning of pampering:
hair, manicure, and pedicure.
I'll let the Ever-Patient deal with
the arrival of the contractor.

I'm still determined to get my northern post finished
on schedule, and I will get around to visit
all your blogs that I'm missing!

I hope all is well with each of you!

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters: A School Party

My brother, and I were really curious about life 
iLansdowne House in Northern Ontario.
We knew at some point we would join our father there.
My younger sisters, aged six, four, and one
understood less or very little.

But to Roy and me, the thoughts
of flying Way-Up-North in a bush plane
and of going to school with real Indians
was terribly exciting and adventurous.

Flying  Over the Albany River
Photo by Don MacBeath,  October 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Whenever one of our father's letters arrived in the mail,
we couldn't wait to hear about his adventures
in a place so different from Nova Scotia;
but most of all, we wanted to hear about Indian children.

Ojibwe Children
Wild Rice Camp, Minnesota. circa 1940
©The Ojibwe People's Dictionary          

On Friday, October 21, 1960 
My father wrote:

Hi There Everyone:
There was no mail again this Friday.  
It was a real blizzard up here all day.  
There is quite a lot of snow on the ground, 
but the lake is still mostly open, although 
there is quite a bit of ice in some of the bays. 

I don’t expect that it will remain 
open much longer though. 

Albany River

Harry Evans, 
a pilot for Superior Airways 
out of Sioux Lookout, 
told Bill Mitchell 
that all the lakes 
north of the Albany River 
are frozen solid, 
except for Attawapiskat 
and one or two other larger ones. 

The Albany is a river halfway between 
Nakina and Lansdowne House.  
I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if you don’t read 
what I am typing now till the last week 
in November or the first week in December.

Albany and Attawapiskat Rivers
(to the left of James Bay)

Well, I wish you could have seen me with my Indians.  
I decided to give them a party this afternoon.  
I bought a whole lot of candy and fruit down at the Bay, 
and I took it to school for prizes.  

The party lasted all afternoon, 
and I had a hard time to get rid of them at four o’clock.  
We played Musical Chairs, Blind Man’s Bluff, 
Pin the Tail on the Donkey, 
and lots of other games of this nature.

My Father's Students Dunking for Apples
(Note:  stoves in the background that caused problems)
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario
Photo by Don MacBeath,  October 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

We cleared all the furniture out of the main part of the school 
and had races and other forms of entertainment.
Two of my boys even put on a boxing match for us.  
I am going to have to get a set of boxing gloves, 
and teach them how to box correctly 
as they are very interested in it.  

When the afternoon was over, I still had 
lots of prizes left over, so I had a drawing 
and a scramble to give them away. 
I took care to see that everyone won something. 

The children must have had a good time, 
because they were all after me to find out 
when I’m going to hold another one.  

I guess that I will have one on Halloween.  
I believe that I will start them making 
a paper mache pumpkin Monday.  
Also, I’m going to have them make 
masks and all that jazz.

I don’t relish operating that confounded canoe 
in this weather.  I will be awfully glad 
when I am able to walk over on the ice.  

That reminds me of a term 
that I have heard since I came up here.  
It isn’t the most delicate or respectable, 
but it is highly amusing. 

There was a character here last year 
who taught school in the school 
that Uno teaches in this year.

Uno's School
Roman Catholic Mission
Father's Island
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Whenever he was over visiting on the other side, 
and it came time for him to put on his overboots 
and head across to the island in the winter, 
he always said, “Well, I guess it’s time for me 
to put on my Jesus Boots and head across the water."
He referred to his overshoes like this 
because he could walk on water 
(albeit the water was frozen) with them.

There was quite a bit of ice along the shore again 
when I went down to launch my canoe this morning, 
and I had to break a path through it for the canoe.

If it keeps getting any thicker, I will have to carry 
a little hand axe and sit right in the prow of the canoe, 
and chop my way along through the ice.

That ties it up for today.  
Will be seeing you all again tomorrow.

Bye for now,

Eventually Roy and I did fly Way-Up-North
in a bush plane and go to school with real Indians,
and it was every bit as exciting 
and adventurous as we had imagined.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Bill Mitchell:  Hudson Bay Store Manager, Lansdowne House

It's hard to find images to illustrate my northern posts.
My father could only afford to take a few photos,
so I scour the internet looking for things I can use.

Sometimes I use pictures from a different area,
like the photo of the Ojibwe children in Minnesota,
because they illustrate similar people, culture, or landscapes.

In my searches for this post,
I came across two archival photographs
related to the Indians and the Albany River.

I think they are interesting because they illustrate
a way of life that was vanishing just as my father
arrived in Lansdowne House in 1960.

The National Archives UK/flickr
CO 1069-279-22
Indian Summer Camp, Albany River, 1913
This image is part of the Colonial Office photographic collection 
held at The National Archives. 
Feel free to share it within the spirit of the Commons.

The National Archives UK/flickr
CO 1069-279-21
Cree Indian, Albany River, with unfinished canoe 1913
This image is part of the Colonial Office photographic collection 
held at The National Archives. 
Feel free to share it within the spirit of the Commons.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters: Northern Teacher ~ Problem-Solving Skills Necessary

Fifty years ago, teaching in the northern wilds of Ontario required
solving problems that most teachers on the "Outside" never faced.  

When you taught in a tiny and remote fly-in community, 
you were on your own.  

Fortunately in communities such as Lansdowne House, 
people pulled together and helped each other when the need arose.

For my father and his friends, problem-solving 
often included drinking lots of strong, black, hot coffee.

Canoeing Through Thin Ice

On Thursday, October 20, 1960 
My father wrote:

Hi there:
It was very cold when we got up this morning.  
The Father’s thermometer registered five degrees 
above zero at eight o’clock when we went to breakfast, 
and it had begun to warm up by then.  

The confounded stove went out during the night, 
and the front door blew open, 
so it was just as cold in the house as it was outside.

Fortunately, for me that is, it was Uno’s turn 
to get up and get things going, 
so I didn’t have to suffer the full brunt of the cold – 
at least not until I started across in the canoe.  
Boy, but it was cold!!!!!

When I went down to the shore to launch the canoe this morning, 
there was ice about three quarters of an inch thick along the shore.  
This extended out for about four or five feet from shore.
I had to get a long pole and break a path for the canoe, 
because this type of craft is not the best type for ice breaking.  
Ice this thickness would just cut the canoe to ribbons. 

I was wondering how I was going to beach her 
on the mainland when I got across, 
but some of my children saw me coming 
and had a docking place all broken out for me when I arrived.
They are awfully nice children 
and are familiar enough with canoes to know 
that I couldn’t land unless I had a path broken out for me.  

However, I did have one bit of difficulty landing.  
The place they broke for me 
was ample for an Indian to beach a canoe, 
but as I have said on several occasions, I’m no Indian. 

A blind man wearing boxing gloves 
could have made a better job of threading a needle 
than I made of trying to get that darned canoe 
in that narrow break in the ice. 

Finally, one of the children 
who happened to be wearing hip rubber boots 
waded out and got the end of the canoe 
and pulled me through the ice to the shore.  
They laughed about this and teased me 
about it for the rest of the day.

Some more trouble awaited me when I got to school.  
Because the stoves weren’t working too well, 
I couldn’t leave them on all night, 
and so the school was very cold during the night.
The building is a Steelox building constructed of metal sections.  
It couldn’t have been put together too well, 
because when I entered the classroom, 
I discovered that several of the ceiling panels 
and some of the moulding had fallen from the ceiling 
and was lying on the floor.  
Apparently the metal had contracted with the cold, 
and the faulty joints had let go.  
Several more panels were just ready to fall.

  My Father's School
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario
Photo by Don MacBeath,  October 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

It was impossible to hear in school now, 
because the classroom was opened to the unheated attic, 
and besides, it wasn’t safe to have the children 
running around with the ceiling ready to fall in at any minute.  
I just sent them home for the morning.

Mike and Duncan happened to see me dismissing the children 
and came over to see what trouble I had gotten into today.  
They couldn’t believe their eyes 
when they saw the inside of the new school.  

Well, we went over to Mike’s, had a cup of coffee, 
rounded up all the wrenches and screwdrivers we could find, 
and went back and put the school together.  
We spent the morning crawling about in the attic 
tightening bolts and nuts and making sure 
that the ceiling wouldn’t fall in again.  

Duncan and Maureen's Home
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario
Photo by Don MacBeath,  October 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Every hour or so 
we went to Mike’s or Duncan’s 
for some coffee and to get warm. 

It was very cold up in the attic, and everything 
that we were sitting on, crawling on, or handling was metal, 
and you know how cold metal can get when the temperature 
is about five above zero.  (5º F = -15º C) 


I have started to wear my long underwear, 
and I was very thankful that I had it on
this morning up in the attic.  

How I wished that I had some of the heat 
that I suffered from this summer 
when I was insulating the attic of Mac’s house.

We got the school reassembled, the fires lit, 
and I was able to hold classes this afternoon, 
although it was about three o’clock before the school 
was really warm enough to be comfortable.  
It was later than that before I was warm enough to be comfortable.

This winds it up for the night and the week.  
Hope I can produce a more interesting edition next week.

Bye now,

I taught for twenty-five years, and guaranteed, 
I never had to crack my way through ice 
in a canoe to get to school;
although it would have been an adventure 
to experience once or twice!

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue


Father:     Father Maurice Ouimet, OMI, priest
                 Roman Catholic Mission, Lansdowne House

Mike:        Mike Flaherty, nurse at the nursing station

Duncan:   Duncan McRae, Department of Transport

Mac:         Dad's mother-in-law, Ella MacDonald,
                 whose house was in Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia
Steelox:    A Steelox building is constructed of lightweight, interlocking steel panels.
                 The building materials are prefabricated, shipped, and erected on site (floors, walls, roofs).

The building material was first used in Chicago, where its inventor James Swank used it to make concrete forms that were better, cheaper, and less labor-intensive.

The first Steelox building, a goat barn,
was exhibited during the 1933 Chicago World's Fair.

During World War II, the military used Steelox
combat hangers and storage warehouses,
and the potential for other uses was realized.

After the Korean War, Steelox built the first
rigid frame building and focused on simplifying production, erection, and adaptability of its buildings.

Such prefabricated buildings could be transported
into isolated places like Lansdowne House and assembled on site cheaper and easier than traditional buildings.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Spring Comes to Piney Creek

        What a difference thirty hours makes!

Bye bye, Blast of Winter.
Hello, Full On Spring!

Once the storm stopped, the sky cleared, and the sun returned,
it's amazing how fast the solar heat melted yesterday's snow.

Flood Water Pond

After our intense May snowstorm, I went for a walk along Piney Creek
to enjoy the cool spring weather and to look for signs of spring. 

What little remained of yesterday's snow
seemed to melt in front of my eyes.

Snow-Flattened Grass

Snow lingered on the north side of fallen trees
and tilted on the north side of clumps of grass.

I wasn't the only one enjoying
the warm sunshine.

Mallard ducks 
basked in the sun 
in an ephemeral pond
formed from recent rain
and melting snow. 

Leaves busted out on the cottonwoods everywhere, 
eagerly turning sunlight into chemical energy.

    Cottonwood Leaves

The Aurora City Park may look barren at first glance,
but you can find all kinds of interesting things when you look closer.

 Nature Paints in Duckweed and Foam

 A Rabbit Freezes, Hoping for Invisibility

Tiny flowers peak
through groundcover.

The park is filled with the sounds of running water and the chuck-trill of redwing blackbirds.

Cottonwoods Filled with Small Birds

A Fragile Home for New Life

You have to be careful when you step off the path.
You never know what might lurk underfoot.

Sharp Spines Protect New Growth

There are wonderful patterns and textures all around.

Shadows on Snow on Grass

Old Man Cottonwood

 Ants on Quartz

Lichen on Bark

Bright New Leaves

Cottonwood Through Cottonwood

 A Living Fossil ~ Equisetum (Horsetail)

I have walked through this long, skinny park hundreds of times, 
but I never tire of its changing seasons and moods,
nor its gentle beauty.

Water for Life

 Grasses and Plants Thrusting Through  
Reflection-Filled Flood Water

Snow Caught at the Base of a Cottonwood

It is a perfect spring day, a unique spring day,
never to be duplicated in our constantly changing world.