Friday, May 19, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: A Surprise for Daddy

My A Surprise for Daddy tale will unfold in several posts
as the events happened in real time.
That means that my account will be interspersed
among a few other normal events posts
as I follow the chronology of my family's time 
in Lansdowne House in 1961.  

What happened forever changed my outlook
on life, my parents, and government,
and launched me from credulous childhood into adult reality.

Roy and I as Babies, Christmas 1951
Photographer Unknown
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


On Thursday, March 16, 1961
my father wrote to our extended family:

Hello There:
How’s everyone this week?  
Sorry that I didn’t get around to writing my weekly blurb last week.
I was out to Nakina on business connected with the department
and certain releases that have recently been appearing in the nation’s press.

The Nakina Hotel
(where my father always stayed)
Nakina, Northern Ontario, Fall 1960
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

And thereby hangs a tale for all to read, ponder, laugh about, 
and finally conduct one’s self accordingly.  
It really is a case of the tale (tail) wagging the dog,
only in this case the dog was The Department of Citizenship and Immigration, 
which is quite a sizable dog and very adverse to being wagged.

It all happened so innocently as to be laughable,
if it weren’t for its serious implications.
I just hope that it will all turn out to be laughable in retrospect.

In one of my earlier editions of the Letter, or perhaps in several of them,
I commented on the conditions of the Indians at Lansdowne House.

A Lansdowne Letter
Tales of the North
Photo by M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

This was strictly for family consumption, 
but thanks to my precocious energetic eldest daughter and her boundless initiative,
the contents got outside the family and hit the Canadian Press.

Poor Louise; 
she read about what I had written
about the need for clothes
and about the poor food
that the Indians have to eat sometimes,
so she decided to surprise Daddy.

School Photo, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


She was the president of her classroom Junior Red Cross group, 
so she gave a talk in class about the Indians of Lansdowne House.
This resulted in the group organizing a drive in Smith’s Cove
for clothes and other forms of relief for the Indians.

I don’t know what happened then, so I can only surmise,
but I imagine that one of two things happened.
Either a reporter for the Digby Courier got wind of the whole thing,
interviewed Louise’s teacher, and exaggerated his findings,
put it in the paper from where it was picked up by the Canadian press,
or Louise’s teacher reported the whole thing to Red Cross headquarters in Halifax, 
and they released it to the papers.  

Several articles, partially true, partially false, and wholly exaggerated, 
appeared in The Toronto Globe and Mail, in the Port Arthur Chronicle, and several Ottawa papers.

Naturally press releases of this nature can be very embarrassing to the government,
and they were quite disturbed about it.
They were frightened that the CCF would pick it up
and question the Minister on the floor of the house.
So far, thank God, nothing like this has happened.

Center Block, Parliament Hill
Ottawa, Canada

The day before the first article appeared, someone in the department got wind of it,
but only knew that it was written by a teacher from Lansdowne House.

Mr. Gowan, the Indian Agent in Nakina, chartered a plane and flew in to investigate
and to find out who had written the offending letter.
Naturally Uno denied all knowledge of the matter;
and so, embarrassingly for me, did I.  
Who’d ever think of a letter written to one’s wife and family
as being connected with an article in the Globe and Mail?

Two Teachers in Lansdowne House
Under Investigation
Uno and Dad with Baby Duncan
(the only photo I have of the two of them)
Photographer Unknown
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


Poor Gowan!!!
After a very tiresome and expensive trip,
he returned to Nakina no wiser than when he came in.
The first thing he did when he got home was read his paper,
and there was the objectionable article, big as life,
and my name mentioned in it several times.  

What could he think, except that I had told him an outright falsehood?  
He immediately dispatched a real snarly letter to me,
in which he accused me of being a liar and worse.

My initial reaction to this letter proved that I was a blood relation to my Uncle Chester.  
I immediately composed an equally snarly and far more sarcastic letter of reply to Gowan.  
However, upon reflection, I decided not to mail it, 
thus proving that I may have inherited some of my uncle’s good sense 
as well as his fiery temperament.

I talked the whole thing over
with Bill Mitchell at the Bay, 
and he advised me to go out to Nakina
and talk to Gowan personally.  
This is why I was out at Nakina last week
and was unable to write to you all.

Bill Mitchell, 
Hudson's Bay Manager
Lansdowne House, Fall 1960
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


Austin Airways flew me out for nothing and in for half price, 
so it only cost me $15.00 for traveling instead of $60.00.  
Sara taught school for me on Friday, so I won’t loose any pay.  
The only other expenses were for hotel and meals while I was out.

I succeeded in convincing Gowan that I didn’t intentionally deceive him, 
and we are good friends again.  
His last word on the subject was to assure my daughter 
that she surprised a lot more than Daddy 
(or rather to ask me to assure her).

I most likely haven’t heard the last of this yet.  
I fully expect to receive letters from Foss and from several department officials
blasting me for my indiscretions.  

In fact, I am looking forward to a very interesting mail this weekend
and fully expect to spend most of next week 
writing letters of explanation to various irate officials.

Now, for goodness sakes, don’t show any of my letters 
to anyone outside the family 
and caution everyone to keep quiet 
about whatever I have written to you 
about the Indians of Lansdowne House.  
I don’t think that either Gowan or I could stand
any more press releases of this nature.

Writing Letters Not for Public Consumption
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Fall 1960
Photo by Uno Manilla
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


Well, so much for my troubles, 
and now for a little news about the family.

Sara has put on about ten pounds since she arrived, most of it on the face and tail.  
Seriously though, she looks wonderful since she arrived.
The North must agree with her, 
for in spite of the fact that she is working harder here 
than in the Cove and is quite tired when night comes, as we all are.
She is gaining weight and is more relaxed.  
I guess the cod liver oil is helping her.  

If she continues to put weight on the latter of the aforementioned areas, 
we’ll have to get a girdle for her.  
I never thought I’d live to see that day.  
It is really wonderful though to see her looking so healthy and happy again.

A Rare Photo with Mom
Mom, Bertie, and Me (back)
Roy, Gretchen, Donnie and Barbie (front)
Sioux Lookout, Ontario, Christmas 1961
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


The children are all enjoying Lansdowne House immensely.  
They are outside all the time instead of watching TV, 
and their cheeks look so rosy that you’d suspect that they were wearing rouge.  

You should see Barbara; she is just plastered with freckles.  
She looks so cute with them.  
Louise and Roy are a great help to me carrying up water.

Poor Louise is rather down in the lip right now, 
because she won’t be able to have a large birthday party for her birthday this Saturday, 
but I guess she will get over it.  
We are just going to have a family celebration for her.  

Of course, being Louise, she had great plans 
for inviting all the Indians at school to a party, 
but I had to squelch that, for it could lead to complications.  

Up here, whenever you invite one member of an Indian family, 
you automatically invite the whole cotton picking family, 
from the grandparents to the newest baby.

I have to sign off and write a couple of official letters.  
Bye for now,
Love, Don.

An Even Rarer Photo with Dad (back)
Me, Bertie, Roy, Donnie and Barbie (front)
Sioux Lookout, Ontario, Christmas 1961
Photo by Sara MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


As my father anticipated he hadn't heard the last of it yet.
But that's for future posts.

My father came home from school late and visibly concerned 
after Mr. Gowan's hurried trip in and out.

In a small house it's hard to hide emotions and have a private conversation,
so like many parents of that time,
Dad hustled we five children outdoors "to play."
Since it was twilight and nearing suppertime,
I knew something was up.

While we were outside my father told my mother
about the Indian Agent's surprise visit
to track down the teacher who had reported
the dire living conditions of the Indians to the press.

My father told my mother that Gowan had first raked Uno over the coals,
but Uno had vehemently denied any knowledge of the matter.
Then Gowan had questioned him, but he was equally vehement in his denial.
A frustrated and confused Gowan had flown back to Nakina without an explanation.

Imagine Daddy's surprise when my mother raised
the possibility of my Red Cross project gone awry!

I remember my father coming to the backdoor
of our house and calling, "Louise, come here!"
His tone was not encouraging, and I went inside mystified
and worried that I was in trouble for what I had no clue.

My panicked parents, who had just realized that Dad could very well lose his job,
came down on me like a ton of bricks.
"What did you say?  What did you do?  Who did you tell?"

"I just raised clothes for the starving Indians,"
I cried, dissolving into frightened tears.

To be continued ... 

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue.

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

1.  The Department:
      My father visited the the Indian Agent, Mr. W. G. Gowan, in the Nakina Agency Office in Nakina, Ontario.
      The Indian affairs Branch of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration directed the agency office.

2.  Indian Agent:
     As the chief administrator for the Indian Affair Branch in Nakina, the Indian Agent managed
     most aspects of the lives of First Nations people in his jurisdiction which included the aboriginal people in
     Lansdowne House (mostly from the Fort Hope Band with a few from the Ogoki and Martin Falls bands).
     (My father's unpublished handbook:  The Northern School Teacher:  A Hand Book To Be Issued To All New
     Entrants To The Teaching Profession In The Indian Schools In The Sioux Lookout Indian Agency, 1966.)

     Mr. Gowan's power to regulate all the administrative, political, and economic business of the bands in
     Lansdowne House came from the amended Indian Act of 1876.
     ( p. 12)

3.  "Strictly for family consumption":
     My father entrusted his letters and northern papers to me with the understanding that I intended to write a
     memoir of his and our family's time in Lansdowne House, including the Red Cross Project fallout.  While I
     regret that he and my mother will not read my final draft, they both read an early draft called Human Refuse
     which I wrote for an advanced composition course at Cal State Fullerton in 1978.

4.  CCF:
     I think my father was referring to the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, a social democratic party
     founded in Canada in 1932.  In August 1961 the CCF joined forces with the Canadian Labour Congress
     to form the New Democratic Party (NDP).  Its purpose was to make social democracy more popular among
     Canadian voters.

5.  The Minister:
     My father was referring to The Right Honourable Ellen Fairclough, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.
     in 1961.  Fairclough served as a member of the Canadian House of Commons from 1950 to 1963, and she was
     the first woman to serve in the Canadian Cabinet.  She was also the only woman ever to serve as Acting Prime
     Minister of Canada (from February 19 to February 20, 1958).

6.  The Digby Courier:  
     I have had a difficult time trying to locate the original newspaper articles, although
     I do have a copy of the account that appeared in the Thursday, March 16, 1961 edition of The Digby Courier.
     My father wrote the letter in this post on the same day, but he did not know about the Courier article at that time.

7.  Mr. Gowan and Uno:
     Mr. Gowan questioned Uno first because he never thought that my father, a former officer of the Royal
     Canadian Air Force, would be guilty of such an indiscretion.
     (My father's unpublished handbook:  The Northern School Teacher.)

8.   Mr. F. Foss:  
      Mr. Foss was the Indian Schools Inspector who worked for the Education Division of the Indian Affairs Branch.
      Mr. Foss would visit each of his various schools, including in Lansdowne House, two or three times a year.
      ( p. 6)

9.  Accuracy:
     I am not a trained historical researcher, but I am doing my best to track down accurate and corroborating sources.
     If there are any mistakes in facts I've presented in this post, they are mine alone.

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Map of Canada
Highlighting Ontario

Location of Lansdowne House and Nakina
Wikimedia   edited

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: Imagination and Inventiveness Equal Barreling

Never underestimate the imagination and inventiveness of kids.
Set them loose in their environment and watch
what they come up with to entertain themselves.

I don't know who thought of the brilliant idea of barreling,
but surely it was the Ojibway boys;
for I, certainly, 
and Roy, unlikely, 
would not have conceived of such a thing.

Some of Dad's Ojibway Boys
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, 1960
Photo by Don MacBeath 
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Current thinking is that judgement is not fully developed
until twenty-five years old.
Well, I'm here to tell you that it is definitely not developed
by seventeen or eighteen years old.

Barreling was one of the most exciting and dangerous things
I have ever done and perhaps one of the stupidest.


Quoting my twelve-year-old self:
"As the mud disappeared we turned to other amusements.
Looking around we saw only the dried up slope
between the nursing station and the playground,
the grassy spot at the bottom,
and several hundred empty oil drums.

Oil Drums:  Hauled in and Out by Tractor Trains
An early cat train in Alaska.   
A tractor pulling sleds of fuel drums, somewhere between Anchorage and Fairbanks. 
It appears there is a second tractor following. 
Credit: Mr. Floyd Risvold, USC&GS, 1923

We looked no further.
Seizing ten drums apiece, 
we lined them up several feet apart
at the top of the slope.

Then with a whoop,
we flung ourselves unto the barrels
and rolled down the slope.
We looked like logs bumping down a conveyer belt.

Logs on a Conveyer Belt
Painting:  Lumber Industry, 1934, oil on canvas by William Arthur Cooper

We did not sound like them, however.
We shrieked, screamed, laughed, and groaned.
What fun as the end of the ride approached!

We did a very unloggish thing.
Gathering our nerve,
we somersaulted off the drums
and rolled to the side
as ten, heavy, huge drums lumbered quickly by. 

What a thrilling game! 
Needless to say, our mothers soon put an end to this!"

Rolling Over Barrels

Can you imagine?
I remember the thrill, the taste of death,
as I flung myself face down and straight out on the first oil drum,
and the rush as I flew from barrel to barrel.

As I hit each oil drum, it began rolling down the hill,
gathering speed as it went,
closely followed by the oil drums I had already rolled over.

Those steel drums were hard and unyielding,
and I can still feel my chest and hipbones banging from drum to drum
and see the purple-blue bruises the drums raised.

We flew so fast!
Before we knew it we were shooting off the last barrel
and rolling to the side,
completely aware of what ten 45 gallon oil drums rolling over us
could do if we did not get out of the way.

And did we go down the hill one by one?

It was much more exciting to have two or three of us
lined up side-by-side at the top of the slope
and throwing ourselves on the oil drums at once!

That meant twenty or thirty oil drums barreling down the slope
between the nursing station and the school,
and two or three of us splayed out on the ground,
gasping for air, and congratulating each other on being alive.

Our undoing in this exhilarating drum sport was the nurse, Mike O'Flaherty.
We managed to enjoy ourselves for several recesses before we were caught.

I'm sure we only got away with barreling as long as we did
because it took so long to round up the 45 gallon drums,
roll them up the slope, and line them up at the top just so.
We couldn't get many runs in during our short recesses.

Rolling Oil Drums
Ground crew rolling drums of petrol to Hawker Hurricane Mark IVs of No. 6 Squadron RAF,
during refuelling operations at Araxos, Greece.
Date:  between circa 1944 and circa 1945

At some point Mike happened to glance out a nursing station window
and saw what was going on.

He was likely pausing in his work for a quick cup of coffee
like my father, blissfully ignorant, inside the school.

Mike came flying out of the nursing station
and brought barreling to a screeching halt.

He marched us all into the school
and told my father that this dangerous activity must stop immediately.
He made it graphically clear what could happen if one of us got injured
and just how ill-equipped he was to deal with it.

And for good measure he paid a visit to my mother
and the mothers of the Ojibway students
and repeated his graphic tale of broken bones and crushed heads.

And that was that!
No more barreling in the spring of 1961.


Roy and Me ~ No Fear!
School Photos, Fall 1960

When I look back on my childhood and remember
some of the escapades my brother, sisters, and I got into,
I wonder that we ever made it out alive.

But we did and, dangerous or not, I wouldn't have missed
the excitement and wild joy of barreling for anything!

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

On the Shore of the Annapolis Basin
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada
July 24, 2016
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Location of Lansdowne House
Known Today as Neskantaga

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: Puss, Puss, Puss!

Ask any elementary student what his or her favorite part of the school day is,
and chances are that he or she will exclaim "Recess!"
The Ojibway children in Landsdowne House a half century ago
were no different from children everywhere.

White or Ojibway, we loved our recess breaks
at my father's Church of England Indian Day School.
We had a fifteen minute recess in the morning and another in the afternoon,
as well as an hour break at lunch,
and we children crammed every bit of energy, movement, and noise
we could into those precious minutes of freedom.

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

Our activities varied with the weather and season.
We had little in the way of playground equipment,
just a small swing set and a ball or two;
but like children the world over,
we had plenty of inventiveness and imagination.

The younger children, especially the girls,
liked to take turns swinging and pushing each other on the swings,
even in the coldest subzero temperatures.
But many of us opted for more energetic pursuits.

Swing Set at the Roman Catholic School
Father's Island, Lansdowne House, 1960
Photo by Don MacBeath 
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

As I wrote at twelve, a year after I left Lansdowne House:
"Recess and noon hour were times we loved.
In the subzero weather we raced about laughing and shouting.

The Indians had no organized games of their own,
but they enthusiastically joined in ours with a vital interest
unparalleled by white children.  

Even boys eighteen and nineteen lapped up Hide and Go Seek.
They plunged vigorously into Red Lights and Green Lights
and went wild over our Giant Steps and Hospital Tag.
But of all games, their favorite was undoubtedly Puss in the Corner.

Puss in the Corner
The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Traditional Games of England, Scotland,
and Ireland (Vol II of II), by Alice Bertha Gomme

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

Each day we arranged ten to fifteen empty, navy-blue oil drums in a large circle.
We needed a "multi-cornered" space, one drum for each child playing,
except for the person who was "It."
The number who wanted to play was amazing! 

The child who was "It" would step into the center,
pause while carefully considering the best corner to run to,
then screech "Puss, puss, puss," and the race was on!

There was a mad scramble as everyone changed drums.
The boys were a blur of black leather jackets, blue jeans, and caps,
the girls a maze of multi-colored cotton skirts, blue and red jackets, and flying black hair.  
Shrieks and laughter filled the air.  
The child who ended up without a drum became the new "It."  

Again and again we repeated the cycle,
and the empty oil drums rocked from the noise and banging they took.

A scourge for some, but not for children with an imagination!
Oil Barrels or Drums in the North

Oil drums were very useful in a number of games.  
One winter "drum sport" in particular stands out in my mind.
Eight or nine of us would each select a sturdy looking drum, turn it on end, and mount it.  
Carefullying balancing ourselves, we would begin to rock the drum back and forth.  
Shortly we would be furiously rocking the drums around and around.  
Inevitably the drums would tip, and we would tumble off.  
The object of the game was to see who could rock the drum the longest."

Dad's Ojibway Girls at Play (Inside)
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, 1960
Photo by Don MacBeath 
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Dad's Ojibway Boys in Their Jackets and Caps
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, 1960
Photo by Don MacBeath 
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I look back on these happy times with my Ojibway friends with great fondness.
It was some of the best fun I ever had!
Dad was not out supervising us as we ran and played.
He was probably enjoying a quiet cup of coffee and a quick smoke at his desk
before we all tromped in to resume our lessons.

My Father, Just Before Leaving to Start the School Day
Father's Island, Lansdowne House, 1960
Photo likely by Uno Manilla
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I think school would be much improved today
if teachers pushed back against the cutting and eliminating of recess
in the pursuit of improving high stakes test scores.

Children need to run and play outside every day.
In my opinion children learn better when they do.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Crossing Petite Passage
Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia
Photo Copy by Roy MacBeath 
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Map of Canada
Highlighting Ontario

Location of Lansdowne House
Wikimedia   edited

Lansdowne House
Sketch by M. Louise Barbour
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Rough Sketch of Lansdowne House
by Donald MacBeath, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

This sketch shows the Father's Island and the tip of the "Mainland" peninsula
that contained the community of Lansdowne House.         
                                                                    #23 My Father's Church of England Indian Day School
                                                                    #15 Forestry Shack (Our Home)
                 Black Dots ~ Indian Homes