Friday, October 17, 2014

The Lansdowne Letters: Kitche Shemaganish

It's Friday, which means
another post about my father's adventures 
in the northern bush.

After a week in Lansdowne House,
my father was settling into life
in the tiny and isolated community.

For the most part
things were going well.

Dad had gotten to know 
the small group of white people,
settled in with his new roommate
in their two-room cottage,
eased into the Roman Catholic Mission's meal schedule,
and started his school year.

Don MacBeath and Brother Bernier
Mission Kitchen ~ Lansdowne House
Fall, 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Dad's commuting challenges continued though,
and he wrote of further misadventures
in his Hudson Bay canoe
on Septemeber 21, 1960:   

"Well, I finally came to grief on that canoe today.  
It was quite rough when I went across to school,
and it was considerably rougher when I came home for dinner.

"After dinner I set out with much apprehension; 
and before long, it was justified, and my fears were realized.  

"I was blown off course, 
and before I knew what was happening, 
I was hard aground on this large rock.  

"I tried for about ten minutes 
to see if I could work it off, 
but with no success; 
and all the time, 
I was in grave danger 
of having the canoe upset and throw me in the water.  

"The waves were hitting the canoe broadside 
and rocking it pretty badly.  
I wasn’t too scared though, only cross, 
for the water was only up half way between my knees and my hips. 

"None of the white people could see me 
and come and help me.  
Only the Indians on the Island saw me, 
and all they did was sit on the bank and laugh like hell."

Hudson Bay Canoes 
at Chats Falls on the Ottawa River, Canada, 1838 

"Finally, I had to jump over the side of the canoe 
and walk ashore dragging my canoe behind me.  

"I was wet pretty much to the waist 
and had to change all my clothes.  

"By the time I got changed 
and talked an Indian into taking me across, 
(I had had enough of the good thing by this time), 
I was about forty-five minutes late for the school.  

"However, all my students were waiting for me.  
They all knew what had happened to Shemaganish
and they were getting a great kick out of my discomfiture."

My Indians
Photograph by Donald Blair MacBeath
Fall, 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Dad's Classroom
It was Ojibwa custom to separate boys from girls.
Photograph by Donald Blair MacBeath
Fall, 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

"Shemaganish is the nickname 
that the Indians have hung on me 
since I arrived on the Island, and in Lansdowne in general.
"It means "soldier," 
and they named me thusly 
because I have been wearing my old Air Force battle dress 
after school and on weekends, 
and I wear the Air Force winter hat all the time.  

"I quite frequently get Kitche Shemaganish 
which means “Big Soldier,” 
because I am easily the largest man at Lansdowne.  

"None of the Indians are very large, 
and all of the white men are smaller and/or lighter than I am."

Big Soldier ~ Kitche Shemaganish
(I couldn't find Dad in Air Force gear ~
I know there's a photo somewhere, but where?!) 
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved 

My Father with His Army Sherman
Camp Borden, Ontario, Canada
February, 1952
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved 

My father's Ojibway lessons with Father Ouimet continued.
I find his choice of words to learn funny.

Dad wrote in the same letter:
"Incidentally, I have been learning some more 
of the Ojibway tongue from the Father.  
Here are the new words that I have learned:

Kitchi---------------------Large, big, or great
Pangi--------------------Small, little, or a little

A Northern Lake
Artist Unknown, 1911-1912


  1. This is such a fascinating post, and I just love the photos. That Sherman Tank is so big. I haven't seen photos of them in such a long time. Your father's adventures are amazing! Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. Thank you, Linda! Your words encourage me to keep plugging along. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed or faint-hearted, but then I get encouraging feedback, and I get the courage to keep moving forward. At first I was frustrated when I couldn't find Dad in his Air Force gear. He served in the Army and later in the Air Force. Then I thought, well they did call him "Big Soldier." Dad exited the Army after he seriously considered what can happen to soldiers in a tank. Mom might have had something to do with that! As an airman he was a supply officer which was definitely less risky. Have a happy weekend, Linda. I'll be visiting your blog and others later ~ gotta run to an early lunch date.

  3. He sure had such a fun time up there, or interesting time at least. And hey, being the biggest you can catch on to words easy enough as they are only used on you I'd guess haha

    1. HaHa ~ You are right, Pat! Have a great weekend!

  4. This is such an amazing post! It's so breathtaking to learn so much about your dad and the pictures are amazing to see. its great that he was able to document so much, and that you're able to look into it and share it with others today

    1. Thank you so much, Dawna Lee! I am so grateful to have his wonderful letters, and I am glad that you are enjoying what Dad wrote. Happy weekend to you!

  5. Your Dad provided not only education but amusement to the Ojibway -- better than TV, LOL! On Tuesday when I was in Winnipeg, I went through a Hudson's Bay Company archival and artifact exhibition about the fur trade. Oh, the beautiful artifacts they had there from the Anishinaabe (Ojibway) people! My Scottish and Native ancestry entered the family tree at the same time so I suspect that means both came via the fur trade. Since my family branch members at that time were up around the Ottawa area, I suspect that the fur trading occurred in the northern Ontario region which would mean my heritage would probably be Anishinaabe as well.

    1. There was so much intermarrying among the Scots and the Indians in Northern Ontario! Lucky you, Debra ~ I would be proud to know that Anishinaabe blood ran in my veins. I would love to see that exhibition in Winnipeg. I remember piles of beautiful furs in the Hudson Bay Post in Lansdowne House, and the skins stretched out to dry beside the Indian homes. I have a tikanogin still from Lansdowne, but mice ate my mukluks long ago. :( I long to see this country again. Have a happy weekend!

  6. How very interesting. How is the tch pronounced at the beginning of the word for canoe? Do you know? Did your dad teach you any Ojibway? I wish I knew more about the indigenous people of the U.S. I think I'd have to live very close to a reservation to learn much about our Native Americans and how they live today.


    1. Hi, JJ! I was ten at the time the rest of our family went North, and I didn't learn much Ojibway. We were told to always speak in English to our Indian friends so that they could improve their English. I lhave ooked into Ojibway pronunciation somewhat: The t and ch are hard sounds, run together with the ch the spoken longer than in English. The e is a long a, and the a is a short a. I know Father Ouimet was working on the local Oji-Cree dialect and teaching the people syllabics which is a written form of their language that was developed by a missionary around 1840. I have a treasured few letters from Father Ouimet. His Christmas cards, which I have lost :( would have Merry Christmas in syllabics. I've been fortunate to spend some time in Bluff, Utah, adjacent to the Navajo Nation, and I got a brief introduction to how they live. The issues with aboriginal peoples is heartbreakingly similar throughout North America. Have a good one!

  7. I greatly enjoyed today's episode of your father's adventures. The pictures just make the story come alive. You need to put this in a book form just to preserve it forever.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Peggy! And I am working on a book. I've been very careful with Dad's letters and photographs over the years, and now I finally have the time to tackle my manuscript. I really appreciate the feedback that my post readers give me. They keep me moving forward as I figure out how to write my book. The historical research is the challenging part right now, because there are things that happened that have documentation, but are hard to find. I'll get there. I'm off and running, in large part thanks to these blog posts.

  8. As I may have said before, and shall doubtless say again, I sure learn here.

    1. Thanks, Geo! I learn from your posts too: topics, voice, drawings, photos, humor! Have a great weekend!

  9. Just wonderful. I love the way your father wrote...and I wonder what could *possibly* have influenced his choice of vocabulary words. Wonderful post!

    1. Thank you, Diana! I, too, love the way my father wrote, and one of the challenges for me as I write my book is balancing his voice with mine. I'm slowly finding what feels right. I want him to shine through. He trusted me with his letters and photos and stories, and my #1 goal is to do right by him. Have a happy weekend!

  10. What a fun story (though not so fun for your Dad at the time!). The children have such cheerful faces - they look as though they laughed a lot. I wonder what happened to them all....

    1. Hi Sue. I often wonder what happened to them all too. I made wonderful friends when I went to Dad's school. All four of we older kids did ~ my youngest sister was just a toddler, but all our Indian neighbors kept an eye on her. I hope you are starting a great weekend!

  11. Surely this is a site well worth seeing.

    1. Thank you, Jerry! I really appreciate your stopping by and leaving an encouraging comment!

  12. Replies
    1. Hi Patsy! Yes it was some trip, and later, after freeze up, my dad had to commute on snowshoes ~ another first for him! Have a good one!


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