Friday, February 6, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters: Pushing Back the Black Night


Last May when Terry and I 
flew to Paris via Reykjavik
I was beyond excited.

Our plane's route took us 
over the heart of the northern landscape
I fell in love with as a young girl.

I could not tear my eyes from
the wilderness of lake and forest
that stretched in all directions
as far as I could see.




Northwestern Ontario
May, 2014
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved







It's not the vastness of the landscape
that struck me, but the emptiness.

I searched for the small communities
that are scattered across the lowlands 
west of Hudson Bay and James Bay,
but I found no sign of people anywhere.

The area is often described as remote,
but it's hard to grasp what that means
until you watch the empty landscape
slide by dreamlike
under a plane's wing
for a long time.




Donald MacBeath
Photo by Uno Manilla  October 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


I thought of my father
in his lonely room 
pushing back 
the black night 
of the northern bush
by typing his letters
to the rhythm
of Dixieland jazz 
spilling from his 
blue transistor radio.











Flying over the stark landscape
really drove home to me 
how isolated my father was
and why letters from home
were the highlight of his week.




Northwestern Ontario
May, 2014
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved



In a letter written on Friday, October 7, 1960
my father remarked to his mother:
I received four lovely letters 
from you in the mail today. ...
Don’t think that I mind getting so many letters 
or answering them either.  
I enjoy it very much.  
I don’t feel so lonesome 
when I am writing and receiving letters 
from the family, so keep them coming.








Myrtle MacBeath
(Dad's Mother)
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved






I have only a few of the letters
my Grandmother MacBeath wrote to my father, 
but from his letters to her
it is obvious that she peppered him
with questions as only a mother can.


In the same letter he wrote:
We eat very well at the Father’s, thank you.  
We have porridge or dry cereal every morning, 
and eggs and bacon, 
except on Friday when we just have eggs.  
We also have fruit juice or fresh fruit every morning 
and usually have fresh or canned fruit for dessert.  

For dinner and supper we have meat of assorted kinds, 
and lots of fresh vegetables, and potatoes, 
and quite frequently fresh greens.  
They get fresh fruit, eggs, milk, and butter every Friday. 

The only fault that I can find is 
that the milk sometimes gets kind of high 
before the next comes in, 
but I have learned to tolerate 
canned milk in tea and on cereal, 
though I would prefer fresh milk.  

I don’t drink milk with my meals now. 
I use tea at all meals 
and make coffee for myself in the evenings.  
It is just as well that I have stopped drinking milk, 
because it is fattening.  
Besides it is damned expensive – 65¢ a quart.  
The children are going to have to drink powdered milk next year,
but other than that, they will be able to eat as well as outside.

The only game I have had was moose meat, 
and I wasn’t overly impressed with that.  
The Father had a great potato crop this year, 
over a hundred bags off a small piece of ground.



Father Ouimet and Dad
in the Rectory Kitchen
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved
  



I really love it up here, Mother.  
I have never been so happy, or contented, 
or relaxed before in my life.  
My nerves are much better, 
and I am healthier in all respects.  
I was really in bad shape this spring and early summer, 
and this place is just what the doctor ordered. 

The only thing that bothers me is the loneliness.  
If I had my family up here with me, 
it would be heaven on earth.




My Father with a Kitty
Prince Edward Island, circa 1930
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved
  



If the new teacherage is large enough, 
you could even come up for a month or so at Christmas.  
The only rough part would be the night at Nakina 
and the trip in with the bush pilot, 
but I think you are sport enough to enjoy that.  
I might even be able to fly out to Nakina to meet you, 
though this would be quite expensive - 
$60.00 for the return trip.




  Nakina Hotel
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved




You would have to wear warm clothes for the trip in, 
because the planes aren’t too well heated.  
However we can worry about all this 
when the time comes if it ever does.  
There is no sense in planning over a year ahead.


Well, I must sign off now. ...  
Austin Airways is coming in here tomorrow 
if the weather holds out, 
and I should be able to get this out with the pilot.  
At least, it will be ready if he does come in.

Bye now, 
love Don.



© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved






Till next time ~
Fundy Blue




41 comments:

  1. Your dad' setters were his lifeline to the outside world. How hard it must have been to be away from his wife and children but he was a positive person and seems to have made the best of the situation. I like that he felt content and happy there and I am sure that he was an amazing teacher. The pictures that you share give me a sense of the times, his life and how things were then. I love Fridays and Lansdowne.

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    1. Thank you, Peggy! It means so much to me when I hear that you and others are enjoying Dad's letters.
      His letters were a lifeline to my mother and grandmother too, because they both missed and counted on my father very much. Nana was a widow, and Dad was her only child. And my mother had we five with me as the oldest at ten. It's amazing what parents will do to provide for their children and their future. They were determined from the beginning that all of us would go to university, and they worked hard and sacrificed to make that dream a reality. I hope you have a great weekend, Peggy!

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  2. You have a treasure of information on your dad. Wonderful.
    Letters are so important when they are good and do just do something wonderful to your mind. I love receiving them.

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    1. I love getting letters too, Peaches. Sadly not many people are writing them today. My father's letters are among my most precious belongings. Have a lovely weekend!

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  3. Thanks for another installment in your father's life in Northern Ontario. It is probably rare that you have so much of this precious historical information. In most families these items get lost or simply thrown out in a fit of cleaning up. How often have you heard the expression, "What am I keeping this for?" and into the trash it goes. I have done it myself!

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    1. Hi David! I've parted with many things over my lifetime, but never my letters (Well, except for ones from old boyfriends!). I hate to think of family stories disappearing. The people who came before us lived such rich and varied lives. I look at mystery photos from two or three generations ago, and I long to know who the people were and what their stories were. What I wish was that I had paid more attention to what my grandmothers and other elderly relatives told me when I was young. Have a great weekend, David!

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    2. You know, what you say is so true. We used to know an old fellow really well, so well in fact that my daughter called him "Grandpa Robinson." He used to tell us stories that HIS grandparents told him when he was young. He died about fifteen years ago at age ninety-three and I have always regretted that we did not tape him when he was talking to us. We would have had oral history going back to about 1860.

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    3. I have so many regrets like what you described above!!! We're all so busy in our lives, and I know I took for granted how long people would be with me and overestimated my memory! Well, at least I have lots of things to investigate in my retirement! Have a good week, David!

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  4. Your Dad's letters really capture a bygone era and an important one in Canada's past. People being able to survive in remote, isolated locations is what built this country.

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    1. I'm always amazed at how hardy people were and what they endured, Debra. I'm fortunate that I lived in some isolated places, like an outport in Newfoundland, tiny fishing villages in Nova Scotia, and fly-in communities in the North. I got to experience something of what it was like historically, but without all the discomfort and struggle. I wouldn't have missed that for anything! Many times I felt like I was living in history. Perhaps you experienced similar feelings growing up on the prairie. I hope your day is going well and that you are looking forward to a fun weekend.

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  5. Wow, 60 bucks seems like nothing now, couldn't even get on a plane for that haha sure had to be lonely indeed. But he always sounds like he made the best of it.

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    1. Hey, Pat! I was laughing at that too, and milk at 65¢. Fresh milk was an extravagance in the north because it came by bush plane. I think people who live in such small, isolated places have to make the most of it, or they don't make it. Some northern teachers literally went crazy with the isolation and had to be removed, sometimes not willingly. Fortunately not my dad.

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  6. I've been reading from the beginning and you're fortunate to have the letters in order to write about your father's experience. As Peggy has mentioned, letters must have been a lifeline. Indeed the best and often the only way of communication for folk far from one another even not so long ago. I've always enjoyed writing and receiving letters and I've kept all my daughter-in-law's because she's a great letter writer. I remember when we went to live in my husband's Italian village in 1969 we had to go to a cafe and arrange a time for my parents to ring into the public call box and no-one had the mod cons we take for granted today. I didn't join my husband there straight away, first in Rome before moving to the village, because I had just had our second child and the days apart seemed like a life-time. It must have been a lonely life for your father (and others such as the priest). One can sense the longing for family to be with him.

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    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Linda! I am so encouraged to learn you've been reading them all along. That keeps me going on this sometimes overwhelming journey. I often think of what it must have been like to wait for mail coming between Europe and North America on sailing vessels or by pony express or dogsled. It was hard enough for my father to wait a week or ten days. I think its wonderful how connected the whole world is today, but the downside is that people rarely exchange letters any more. I loved your anecdote about arranging for your parents to call you on a public call box. Things really are more convenient now, aren't they. I describe things like this to my nieces and nephews and they just shake their heads. It's hard for them to imagine what it was like. I often wonder how people like Father Ouimet and Brother Bernier lived as they did, devoting their lives to working among the Indians. It had to be so lonely. Thanks for following my blog, Linda. I appreciate it! Have a great weekend!

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    2. Thank you and I hope you're having a peaceful weekend too.

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  7. These letters are treasures, and the envelope. I am sure so many of us in later life realise how hard they toiled and how many sacrifices our parents made, for better education for their children, Your Dad writes so vividly, and that plane trip would have been so good for you, over that huge remote area. Your Mum and Gran, how they must have worried so much, and waited for every letter to arrive. Again, thank you so much for sharing with us.

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    1. Thank you, Nancy, for reading my father's letters! We do realize these things later in life ~ When we're children we take so much for granted; everything just is. That plane ride filled my heart, and I long to go back again via bush plane and canoe. My sister Barb and I are talking about going back to the north in the summer of 2016. Somehow I'm going to make it happen! It's probably Saturday morning in New Zealand right now ~ I hope that you are enjoying a wonderful, warm and summery day!

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  8. Your dad's mother was a lovely lady, and I really enjoy all the photos you are and everything about your father.

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    1. Thanks, Linda! You are always a sweetheart! Have a great weekend!

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  9. This is a wonderful letter from a son to his mother.....reassuring and respectful.
    No meat on Fridays.....the old RC tradition that I grew up with.
    I am impressed with the amount and quality of food back then in the north.
    Another treasure , Louise. You are on to something good here.

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    1. Thanks, Jim! It is surprising the amount of fresh food they had at the Catholic mission. Obviously Father Ouimet had a garden. Fresh fruit, greens, eggs, and milk would have to be flown in by bush plane. The freight charge was 10¢ a pound. The white people in the community had their canned and powdered goods, basically anything not perishable, hauled in once a year over the frozen muskeg by tractor train, along with a year's supply of fuel. Father Ouimet and possibly Brother Bernier also hunted, and the Indians fished and hunted and sold their game. Have a happy weekend, Jim!

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  10. Another great post Fundy! I love seeing Dad's hand writing on the envelop - very distinctive! Hugs Barb

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    1. Thanks, Barb! Nana saved all the envelopes, and I'm glad she did. I just wish Dad saved all the letters that everyone wrote him. I keep hoping an unknown pile will turn up somewhere. I haven't gotten too far with the photos yet ~ ~!@#$% cold! I'm hoping those warm Hawaiian breezes will clear my lungs, if I'm still hacking then. Terry has two weeks left to go, and then he joins the retired world ~ I'm excited about having more days with him! Donnie called me and she told me that you have been working so hard ~ the curse of the MacBeaths! I'll call you sometime this weekend! I could use a Big Barbie Hug!!!!! Hugs to you!

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  11. Amazing post, Louise, I can picture your dad sitting and writing these letters, reaching out to the people he loved and missed. I also have to give my head a shake, every now and then, at how different a period this is. Imagine when $60.00 for a return trip was expensive!

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    1. Wild isn't it, Martha ~ $60 to fly to and from Nakina on a bush plane! It was costing me $25 for an hour to rent a paddle board last March! Have a happy and relaxing weekend!

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  12. Wow, this is so amazing that you had those letters from your father! And what a sweet and kind letter to his mother it was. I enjoyed reading it so much. Thank you for sharing this with us! :)
    Have a wonderful weekend!

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    1. I hope you have a wonderful weekend too, Beate! I treasure my father's letters. When I read his words, it's like having him with me again. Take care!

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  13. Hello dear Louise,
    Sorry I am such a poor blogger but I find it difficult to to be "out there" and on the net at the same time! LOL!!!
    Yes your father must have felt very isolated but, considering how the human species invades the planet in all the wildest corners, maybe it is not a bad thing that such spaces remain human free... ;-)
    His adventures are quite amazing, and you have taken on a great and exiting task to write about them!!
    Great stuff, a pleasure to read :)
    Keep well and enjoy your coming day!
    huge hugs

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    1. Hi Noushka! I absolutely get what you are saying, my friend! I'm struggling to balance the net and life too. I always feel like I'm coming from behind. It's only going to get busier as we're leaving for Hawaii in a little over two weeks. I can't wait to soak in the ocean, sun, and tropical breezes! Maybe I'll get some cool bird photos to share! Have a great week capturing birds! XOXOXO!

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  14. I could have echoed Noushka's comment :) So very much revealed in those beautiful letters. The picture of your father comes a little clearer and a little more beautiful in my mind with each post. I wonder if his mother was ever able to make that trip to visit him.

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    1. Hi Carol! You are always so affirming! Thanks for your continued encouragement! Have a great week!

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  15. These letters are a snapshot in time :) I can't imagine how it must feel reading them. So awesome :)

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    1. Hey Keith! At first they made me feel very sad because I miss my parents so much; and as an adult, I understand so much more what sacrifices they made for us . Now I feel like my dad is with me when I work with them. Have a good one!

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  16. Oh wow, such a treasure. I almost felt a bit teary seeing the pic of your dad with the kitty. But then, I'm always a sucker for kitties ;)

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    1. I'm a sucker for kitties too, Trisha! It's hard for me to realize that my father was a small, vulnerable child who loved kitties, when he was such a big man and a monumental person in my life. Have a great evening!

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  17. That lake has a magnificent beauty. I might not be able to keep my eyes off it if I were you.

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  18. Haha! Hey, SuperLux! As someone who grew up on the Fundy shore with the world's highest tides, and as someone who was marooned on an island in a lake because of dangerous waves, I always know what the water is doing! Have a good one!

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  19. so interesting..what did your dad do? I am glad to have found you again..I lost so many of my blog address's on blog lines.

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  20. so interesting..what did your dad do? I am glad to have found you again..I lost so many of my blog address's on blog lines.

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    1. Hi Jackiesue! How lovely to see you! My dad was a teacher, and when I was a young girl, he went to northern Ontario to teach in a one room Indian school. I've been sharing some of the letters he wrote our family while he was up in isolation. Have a good evening!

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