Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Human Refuse 1

Another journey begins today.
A long journey that I have carried in my heart for over fifty years.

I am going to tell my story of my sojourn in the North.
It changed my life forever.

It is not just my story, but the story of my family.
I have been the keeper of my father's letters for 35 or 40 years.
It was always understood
that I would be the writer who told the story.

I've done scribbles and scratches of writing about this time over the years.
I've even done bits of research.
I have a lot to uncover and process.

On the third day of my retirement,
I decided that I would walk to St. Anthony, Newfoundland - on a map.
I promised myself I'd walk the last ten miles for real.
Yesterday I passed the 289 mile mark, which puts me just a few miles west of WaKeeney, Kansas.
I have been walking every day for 171 days, through sickness and in health,
and I know that I can do it, one step at a time.

I also know that somehow I will tell this northern story.
I have faith that I can do it,
one word at a time.

This is the cast of  family characters:
My mother, Sara Margaret MacDonald MacBeath
My father, Donald Blair MacBeath
The photo is probably taken at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia circa fall, 1947 or 1948.

We five in the fall of 1960 just a few months before we went north.
Louise (me) with Bertie, 
Roy, holding his science project bean plant, 
and Donnie with our dachshund Gretchen

So, I'll start here, with me, 
at the beginning of February, 1961,  
but I'll make no promises to stick to a strict chronology.
I will be going back and forth in time.

Human Refuse 1

     Our flight from Nakina to Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, was a corridor through which I passed from the safe, secure world of my childhood into an alien world; a world of starvation, sickness, and hopelessness; a harsh world of discrimination and exploitation.  I sat next to Chicago Bill, the pilot of the Norseman, watching the shadow of our tiny bush plane skim over the ground below.  The trees and lakes were locked in ice; no sign of life could I see in the frozen wilderness which stretched to every horizon.  The winter had drained all color from the land leaving only the stark black of the brittle trees and the dazzling white of the deep snow.  The sky glowed an electric blue. It assaulted my eyes with its clear brilliance.  My breath hung in the frigid air like smoke on a still day.  My fingers and toes tingled in spite of my thermal underwear, woollen socks and mittens, warm clothes and parka.  Gretchen, our dachshund, huddled on my lap, shivering in the subzero temperatures; her tiny boots and coat, sewn out of a cast-off jacket, were useless against the bitter cold.

     When Lansdowne House appeared on the horizon, a tiny cluster of buildings at the end of a long peninsula reaching out into an ice-bound lake, we were both relieved and appalled; relieved that the long cold flight was over, appalled at the immensity of the wilderness surrounding the frozen village.  I didn't realize it at the time, but this tiny village alone in a vast wilderness of ice and snow would have a profound effect on the rest of my life.

Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
Hudson Bay Post and Dock   
Winter 1961

     My experiences in this community and in Lac Suel and Sioux Lookout during the next three years would radically change my outlook on life.  Before coming to Lansdowne House I was a typical Nova Scotian girl, ten years old and secure.  I came from a happy family and had never lacked anything I needed.  After Lansdowne House I could never again capture the carefree innocence of my earlier childhood.  Starvation, disease, and death had become harsh realities.       


  1. You have me.....just like that Louise.....I want to hear you tell your story....


  2. Me too, please! I have a feeling this won't be easy for you Louise. Rest assured we will be with along the way. You are very courageous to re-visit a difficult time in your life, by sharing it I am sure you will feel better and more appreciate where and who you are today.
    Great old photos Louise. The men (your Dad) were so dapper back then!

  3. Thanks for the encouragement, Jim. It won't be easy, but it may very well be surprising! Men were more dapper then. My dad wouldn't look the same in ratty blue jeans, a t-shirt, and a baseball cap turned backwards like a lot of guys in my neighborhood!

  4. Hey Aunt Louise,
    Love the bolg, mom told me about it and I have been catching up. I'm so happy your doing it, I'm jealous. I've played around with the idea of bloging (or "vloging") for a long time, I just never seem to have enough time! I'm so excited in particular that you are telling this story about the time you spent in ontario, I've always been mystified by your upbringing (and that of the rest of the fam) and this period is definitely on of the strangest and intriguing.
    Now all my thoughts about what I've read so far at once:
    - I love seeing you post pictures of Acadia, comment on the niceness of gneisses and talk about geology. Every once and a while I have to stop to think about you and Aunt Barb here at Acadia. I just signed on to do an honors project with Dr.Barr (comparing the Meguma with rocks in Wales!) it's scary, but it's in our blood, right?
    - In one of your posts you linked to a video with "The Once" in it, I don't know how familiar you are with their music, but they are wonderful. I picked up their first album on my last trip to Fred's (the best record store in the world, St.John's, NL), you should have a listen if you haven't. I LOVE her voice.
    - There is a band I love called Lake of Stew, they're a jug band, they make the weirdest, most joyous music, but one of their more sober tunes is called "The Sioux" (link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Ek1mEwMo7o) it's a haunting song about life on the reserves. It never ceases to make me feel all sorts of things at once. I thought you might like to hear it.
    - Since your getting all internet savvy I think I'll share with you some of my favorit things:
    The Vlog Brothers, you very well may have heard of John Green, he's a highly acclaimed young adults novelist. Well he and his science oriented brother (hank) started "vloging" back and forth to one another a couple years ago and it has developed into something truly wonderful, and imposible to explain. They make videos about everything from current events, to poetry, to cute animals, to Harry Potter, but they are always interesting, informative and often touching. Here's a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4UT9iBdQDI&feature=plcp. The most recent one is a perfect introduction for you (it's about giving books as christmas presents)! These boys have lead me into an amazing world of educational youtube, there are so meny amazing people out there making amazing stuff on the web (AND NOW YOUR ONE OF THEM!) and I've got alot more links for you if your interested.
    Sorry about how gigantic this was. Love the bolg, love you.
    (Love) Lisa

  5. Lisa, you blew me out of the water with your comment. To say that I was thrilled is an understatement!
    Thank you for all the links. I am going to check out each one.
    I love blogging, even though learning as I go can be challenging and frustrating!
    I will definitely pick your brain in future days.
    I take my inspiration from the hundreds of kiddos I have taught - Just go for it!

    I am so proud of you for doing the Honors project with Dr. Barr. I never had Dr. Barr as a professor because she came just after I left. Barb did, though, and she can give you tips and encouragement! I am excited about your project with the Meguma and rocks in Wales! I once did a paper on the Ardnamurchan volcanics in Scotland. It was so fun! I have no idea where it is, maybe buried in this house somewhere! Just go for it, and trust that you will get through the project successfully. You are a smart, thoughtful, amazing, and passionate young woman! You can do it!

    I do hope to get home for Christmas, maybe in 2014. I plan to come to Nova Scotia this summer, and hopefully I can get up to Calgary soon! Barb and I spent a lot of time talking about this. We also talked about your being in the geo. dept. The stories we could tell!

    I plan to tell a lot of stories because I will be writing for the rest of my life in one format or another. I especially love blogging because I can work with words, pictures, and video. On a blog I can write my stories my way. Maybe one day I'll publish a book, but right now I just want to tell stories - the truth of our lives.

    I can see you writing an awesome blog! You have so much voice and talent as a writer. I get what you are saying about lacking time. You have a lot on your plate right now that will fascinate you and absorb you. I just hope you won't wait most of a lifetime to start writing/creating. Like Barb and I, you are passionate and interested in so many things - and, like us, you love rocks! ^5 ^5 ^5! My friend Ron taught me this symbol for ^5!

    Love you too girl! More than you can imagine!
    I do gigantic comments too!

    1. Hey Lisa...Listen to your Aunt Louise...she is very wise!!!

  6. Hey Louise,

    It is Barb - Wow!, I can't believe you are writing this story - are you sure you are up to it? I was so very young when we went to Lansdowne House and yet it still haunts me - I get a whiff of Pinesol and suddenly I am surrounded by black spruce ... crunching through snow ... I am waiting with baited breath to see what your write! Love you Barb

    1. Yes I am! I'm just going to keep writing one word after the other! Thanks for the encouragement! Love you too!

  7. Hi Louise: Sorry I have been so busy, I have not been on facebook for almost two months and just got your message. Your story, our story, is incredible. I can't wait to see the next chapter! It is funny how different our remembrences of Landsdown House and Lack Suel are. For me they were times of adventure, exploration and the pure joy of interacting with the Indians. I remember when Dad and I landed in Sachico Lake a couple of years later. I was the first white kid the Indians (pardon me - First Nations) had ever seen. They passed me around like a sack of beans. I (all of eleven years old) was terrified to their general amusement!

  8. Roy, how wonderful to hear from you! And thank you for posting on my blog. Many of my memories of the north are wonderful! The place haunts me to this day. It was adventure, exploration, and the pure joy of interacting with the Indians for me too. And history coming alive! I will tell those stories too!

    But, for me, it was more than that, and I have to tell my truths about the uglier side of things. I don't want to spill anything prematurely on my blog, so I will reply to you more in a gmail.

    You can become a follower of my blog and get a notice when I post. I will be getting into the Northern memories much more after the first of the year. XOX


Thank you for your comments! I appreciate them very much.