Friday, February 1, 2013

Human Refuse 3: A Northern Teacher Departs

It was just happenstance that my family landed in the North.  
In the summer of 1960 my father was planning 
to return to Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, 
to pursue his Bachelor of Education.

University Hall, Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia
On a whim, prompted by curiosity, 
my father answered an advertisement for a teaching job 
in the Church of England Indian Day School 
at Lansdowne House on Lake Attawapiskat in Northern Ontario.

Lake Attawapiskat:  Look for it Under the Second T 
in the Word Attawapiskat 
inland from Akimiski Island, James Bay

 Note also:  Sault Ste. Marie
Between Lake Superior and Lake Huron

He was hired almost immediately; 
and, although he jokingly liked to think 
that his speedy acceptance was due to his qualifications, 
my father knew that it was largely because of 
how desperate the Indian Affairs Branch was 
for teachers at that time.  
It was an offer too good to resist.

On the day my father left, the letters began - 
letters that have come to me for safe-keeping.  
The first I have was written by my mother 
to my father's mother, Myrtle Jane (Pratt) MacBeath, 
on September 4, 1960.

When I touch these faded pages, 
I feel my mother’s presence and her unwavering love, 
not just for me, 
but also for her husband, children, and extended family.  
These letters are among my most precious possessions.

I'm trying to imagine what it was like for my parents 
that last evening before my father left.
Dad was heading into isolation, 
and Mom was staying in Nova Scotia 
with five children aged one to ten.  

My parents had no idea how long they would be apart; 
but, they faced separation and difficulty 
in the hope of improving their financial circumstances.  

They shared a dream 
that all five of their children would go to university; 
and, not just any university, 
but Acadia University, their alma mater. 

At that time and place, 
university was a given for a son. 
But four girls?  
That was considered a waste of good money.

Donald Blair MacBeath and Sara Margaret MacBeath
Acadia University, 1950
There was so much unspoken in the words my mother wrote 
the day my father left Smith’s Cove for Halifax, 
Charlottetown, and on to Ontario:

I imagine Don will be on his way North when you receive this.
We certainly hated to see him go
and are lonely already without him ...

Don and I spent last evening with Grammy at Aunt Nan's.  
It was a beautiful night, 
and we watched the sea in the moonlight 
and enjoyed the fireplace.

Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia

The second letter is from my father to his Sally,
September 7, 1960.
Travel was quite different then: 

I arrived in Sault Ste. Marie 
after a very tiresome trip from Char’town (Charlottetown).  

I left at 11:45 a.m. 
& didn’t arrive at the Windsor Hotel
until 12:30 p.m. (1:30 your time).

Sault Ste. Marie

I had to wait 2 hours & 30 minutes in Moncton, 
55 minutes in Montreal, 
& 3 hours in Toronto.  

Then when I arrived in Sault Ste. Marie, 
I had another unpleasant surprise.  

There is no airport in Canadian Sault Ste. Marie.  
We landed in Michigan at a USAF base 
& had to drive by bus to our hotel.  

What with waiting for ferries etc., 
it took 1 1/2 hours to get from the plane to the hotel – 
just about as long as it took to get from Toronto 
to Sault St. Marie. 

Sault Ste. Marie:  Aerial picture of the Soo Locks 
between Lake Superior and Lake Huron 
dividing the cities of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, USA (right) 
and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada (left).

I almost missed the plane in Toronto.  
I didn’t hear them call the departure of the flight.  
When I realized what had happened, 
I dashed out to see the aircraft 
just as they had closed the door & taken away the ramp.
However the stewardess saw me through the window 
& notified the pilot.  
He cut back the engine, 
they put up the ramp again, & I got aboard.  
I felt mighty foolish, I can tell you.

To be continued …

Note:  I’m figuring out my way as I go for it.

I would appreciate any constructive criticism.

Is it interesting?
Appropriate length and details?
Helpful visuals?

I hope, as I get into the story
that you, kind readers,
will find the North as compelling as my family and I did.
Thank you for your support as I go through this process.

Links to other Northern Posts:
Human Refuse
Human Refuse 2:  Lansdowne House


  1. Hi Louise! I love this. There is not much that compares to a handwritten letter. To have those must mean so much to you! Having a printout of an email wouldn't be quite the same, would it? You wouldn't see their handwriting, their scratch marks, the postcards, the stamp marks....all of it, it reads of your a way that an email just never could. Beautiful story!

    1. Thank you, Audrey! You're right about emails - they're just not the same! I am sad to see the handwritten letter disappearing - and cursive which many elementary schools are no longer teaching! Thank you for the feedback - I'm going to keep plugging away on my memoir of the North. I hope that you are enjoying your weekend! Have a good week! I hope your doggie is adjusting okay!

  2. What a lovely post! I really enjoy these type of stories, and the photos remind me of my own earlier days, and those of my parents. Hand written letters...I really miss that. All this electronic communication doesn't compare. Printing out an email is not something that you feel like adding to a scrapbook of memories!

    1. Hi Martha, and thank you for your comment. I'm just getting started on my "Human Refuse series," but I have to lay the background and context. I've been floundering around getting started, but now, at least, I have a plan, and I am going for it! I too miss handwritten letters. I used to spend many hours writing them, and I always loved receiving them. Have an enjoyable Sunday, and follow that with a good week!

  3. Beautiful post and I have no suggestions for you, I think you are doing just fine!

    1. Thanks, Kay! You are always so affirming! I'm going to keep plugging away. In March I am going to Calgary to help one of my sisters recover from an operation, and I am going to be scanning every old photo I can get my hands on, many of which I plan to use in my "Human Refuse" series. I can remember a number of photos I don't have so clearly! Have a great Sunday, and all the best in the coming week!

  4. Hi Louise. You 'hooked' me from the start! Keep it flowing as you are doing....let it come naturally and what feels right for you. There is no 'right way' to do this. I am sure we would all approach it differently according to what 'drives' us.
    This feels all so familiar since some of your places are familiar.
    You must so admire your parents want you all to have a university education when that was not always an option. what an adventure you have there/here and ready to unfold to the world. You're doing your parents proud.

    1. Thank you for your kind comment, Jim! I'm just going to let it happen! One post at a time.
      I do admire my parents so much. All five of us did graduate from Acadia! Two nieces have also graduated, and another niece and nephew are there now. The youngest of the nine is going to start at Acadia this fall. It has done right by all of us. I hope you enjoyed Sophie's birthday as much as she seemed to enjoy it! Have a super week!

  5. This is a link to a post I did in Sept 2011 about Sophie`s 1st trip to Acadia University. I thought you might like to have a look!

    Just Click Here and enjoy!

    Your parents became so much stronger through these years of separation. It must have been so difficult for you children. I know the stories I heard from Mom re: WWII and my Dad going overseas for 5 just sounds so hard to try and manage. Thank goodness my grandmother was around to help.

    This, as Jim mentioned, is going to flow and will be as natural for you as your merlot on Friday night...needed some humour, right?

    Keep it coming as we are all so intrigued.

    Sophie send love on her birthday..6th! And....she saved you guys apiece of CAKE!!


    1. Hi Ron! Thank you so much for putting a link to Sophie's visit to Acadia. I so love Acadia, and I highly enjoyed the post. That was very thoughtful of you.

      Fortunately, my parents separation didn't last for years. I keep thinking of your parents and what happened after your dad finally got home. Life isn't fair, for sure. I think you dad would have been so proud of you!

      Thanks for the merlot/writing humor! I need lots of humor - one thing Terry provides no end of.

      The posts will keep coming. I'm planning on posting on the North every Friday, certainly once I get back from Calgary in March. I'm missing a few things required for the first part of the story.

      Oh, and now Terry has decided that since he routed me through Las Vegas going to and coming from Calgary to save money, he's going to meet me in Vegas on the way home for two or three nights. Huh?! I'm not sure how that saves $$$, but he's delighted I got a half price ticket to and from Calgary!

      I loved your post on Sophie's birthday. That first photo of her was awesome! I think the idea of a doggie bakery where dogs can go about sniffing is fun and smart! She looked like she was having a good time. Sophie leads a great life! Lucky girl - there are so many critters who are much less fortunate.

      That cake looked scrumptious. I can taste it.

      Have a great week with lots of good walks!

  6. Hello Louise,
    What a great post! I love these kind stories, they are so personal and the documentation beautiful (and precious in this case). So keep going and I love the maps!! (I am forever Googleing maps to see where things are!). I love the differences like the time it took and the plane stopping... imagine now!!
    Have a good weekend.

    1. Thank you for the encouragement, Ivan!
      I'm glad that you liked the documentation. I have just learned how to do collages on Picasa, and my scanner was giving me fits; but, I was happy with the results.

      I'm a map lover - and it's a good thing I like the hunt because finding a map with Lake Attawapiskat in a context that made sense was hard, especially when you have to work with copyrights.

      Can't you just see them cutting the engine back on a plane and opening the door now?! The contrast between now and then is amazing. I wonder what travel will be like in another 50 years.

      I hope that you are enjoying your weekend. I guess it's close to evening now in France. Have a great week!


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