Friday, November 28, 2014

The Lansdowne Letters: In Isolation

When I started sharing my father’s letters,
I decided to proceed chronologically.

I skipped this letter originally
because it seemed so ordinary.
Then I returned to it for that exact reason.

Today it’s hard to imagine
waiting for a weekly bush plane
to deliver mail and news.

Mail Run

Or the isolation of an Indian teacher 
who could talk to an administrator
only by shortwave radio.

Or the loneliness of long nights
in the boreal forest.

Boreal Forest and Lakes.
Northern Ontario

So here it is, an ordinary letter, 
written by my father
on Thursday, September 23, 1960:

Hi There! 
Everyone at Lansdowne is busy 
reading letters, magazines, and back issues 
of their hometown newspapers, 
for today is MAIL DAY, 
a very important day in the week 
of every person in Lansdowne.  

I received four lovely letters 
from you, Sara, 
and three others, also lovely, 
from you, Mother.  

There is going to be a plane 
in tomorrow or Saturday, 
and I have written 
individual answers to each of you, 
so I will be able 
to send them out on that plane.

A Letter from Lansdowne House
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Well, I wish you 
could have seen me this afternoon 
holding a singing session with my pupils.
First we sang "O Canada,"
and then we tried 
"When Johnny Comes Marching Home." 

Cover of Sheet Music
When Johnny Comes Marching Home, 1863

I won’t vouch for 
the tonal integrity of this recital, 
but the enthusiasm was overwhelming, 
and that is the main purpose 
of the singing sessions – 
to draw the Indians out, 
overcome their shyness, 
and encourage them 
to use the English language.

After we finished murdering 
"When Johnny Comes Marching Home,"
we proceeded to demolish 
"Oh Dear, What Can The Matter Be,"
and "I’ve Been Working On The Railroad."

Original 1918 Cover of K-K-K-Katy

I don’t know if these songs 
are on the approved list 
for use among the Indian schools, 
but they are the only ones 
that I can sing and be sure of 
being reasonably in tune.

Oh yes, I also tried them singing a round.  
The one I picked was 
"Row, Row, Row Your Boat." 

This selection was nothing 
but disorganized confusion at first, 
because the children had never tried 
singing rounds before, 
but as soon as they got the idea, 
they made a great job of singing rounds.

Have either of you 
got any old song books 
that you could send me, 
or song sheets used by the BYPU1
or other church societies?

I don’t want hymns though, 
because the Indians are Anglicans, 
and the Bishop might not appreciate it 
if he heard all his little charges 
singing Baptist hymns.

I bought a battery-operated 
transistor radio today.  
It is a portable.  
It cost $59.95.2

Transistor Radio
Photo by Don MacBeath,  Fall of 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

This may sound extravagant, 
but a radio is almost a necessity 
up here in the bush.

The nights are awfully long,
and there isn’t too much entertainment.  

Bill Mitchellhas agreed 
to let me pay for it 
over a period of several months.  

It is a nice little radio 
and gives wonderful reception.  
It only has the standard broadcast band, 
and no shortwave band, 
but it has all the Mid-Western U.S.A. 
and Canadian stations.  

In fact, at night, we have more stations 
than we know what to do with; 
although, the morning and afternoon reception 
leave a lot to be desired.  

Oh yes, one beautiful feature 
of this radio is that it operates 
on three flashlight batteries.  
This is better than paying $17.50 
for a power pack.
Everyone up here 
has radios similar to mine, 
and they tell me that the batteries 
last for several months 
of rather continuous listening 
before they wear out.

I can’t think of anything more 
to put in today’s Edition 
because I have had no more 
misadventures in that damned canoe, 
or anything else amusing or interesting, 
so I will close till tomorrow.

Bye now, 

Bill Mitchell and Local Man
Hudson Bay Store,
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario
Photo by Don MacBeath,  Fall of 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

1 Baptist Young Peoples Union
2 My father was making about $300/month
3 Manager, Hudson Bay Store.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue.


  1. Waiting on a plane for mail sure would be strange this day in age. lol thanks to, now I have row row row your boat in my head lol

    1. Sorry about the brainworm, Pat! HaHa! Have a great day!

  2. It brings back memories! I flew many an hour in the Nordyn Norseman, or "Thunder Chicken" as we called it. Great story and tale!

    1. Hi Ian! Nice to see you stop by again. I flew in the Norsman too! Have a good one!

  3. I remember those 5 cent Canadian stamps very well! And those great big "transistor" radios, LOL. And how radio reception was always better at night. Man, seems like a million years ago and might as well have been.

    1. That transistor radio became mine a year later, and from the summer of fifth grade through the end of university, it was a constant companion! Have a good one, Debra!

  4. The envelop looks so pretty!..
    I like the way your father describes the singing sessions. sounds like fun!. Enthusiasm is key for sure. A good sing along can certainly raise he temperature, if not the roof!
    I miss receiving handwritten letters. theses days we tend to email, but i'm sentimental about letters

    btw nice pic of you on the boat.. :)

    1. Thanks, Dawna! I love handwritten letters too! A lot of our personal history is just vanishing away in emails! Have a great weekend!

  5. I love your Friday blogs Louise - I remember that radio and I believe I took that picture of you - hugs Barb - I am having a wonderful day ... I took the day off work - it is well below minus 20 today with blowing snow ... and i am all snuggled in at home - lol

    1. Yay Barb! Sounds like a good one to be burrowed in! You did take the photo of me on the Chad and Sisters Two! Can't wait to get back on the Bay of Fundy next summer! It's gorgeous here in Breck ~ Everyone is having a low key day after a great Thanksgiving. Stay warm! Hugs!

  6. Another lovely installation of your father's letters. Just his ordinary days are so interesting. It makes us think that although we have the sameness of our days each day is important. I can picture your dad with his ear to the radio at night. Thank you for sharing this personal part of your life. You leave me hungry for more of the story.

    1. Thank you, Peggy! You made my day! Every day is a gift. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

  7. Lots of great memories here, fantastic post! :)

    1. Thanks, Linda! You comments always make me happy! Have a good one!

  8. I can't believe that you took time from your mountain Thanksgiving holiday to write in your blog today. You are awesome! Your father was one smart cookie to use singing as a way to draw out the kids' shyness and to help them learn the English language. And who doesn't enjoy singing a fun round!!

    1. Hi Susan ~ actually I wrote it just before we came up on Wednesday, and it posted when I scheduled it! I finally learned how to schedule in advance! I hope you had an awesome Thanksgiving!

  9. Wow, interesting stuff, but it sure reveals a lot about the divide between Native Canadians and white men doesn't it? It speaks of "The Indians" as though they were a different species!

    1. Hi David! Sorry about the late reply ~ I didn't realize comments were continuing. I'm behind with Thanksgiving and all! The divide between the First Nation peoples and the white men has always haunted me. It's just as bad here in the USA. I am working on a memoir, and the relationship between the Indians and the white is one of the themes. Take care!

  10. It's interesting to ponder a time of limited delivery. Willy Dunne Wooters and I talked yesterday about how we waited such long periods for deliveries, even when we first placed orders online. This week I ordered DVDs from Amazon on Wednesday, and they arrived today (Friday).


    1. Times have really changed, haven't they, JJ? Amazon blows my mind! I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving. Take care!

  11. Hello dear Fundy,
    Don't worry about being behind with blogging, I am a very poor blogger myself, always outdoors looking for opportunities to photograph wildlife :)
    It must have felt quite lonely indeed for your father for long periods of time, what an homage to him to publish his letters, all this should be gathered in a book ;-)
    Keep well dear friend, enjoy your weekend!

    1. Hi Noushka! I just found all these comments that I had missed. Behind again because of Thanksgiving and traveling ~ so what else is new. Playing catchup is my perpetual state! LOL! I met your friend David Gascoigne on line. He put a comment on my blog, and I recommended your blog to him because he loved birds. What a delight to discover that he knew you ~ but then I'm not surprised because you are a spectacular photographer of birds and other living things. I am working on the book!!!! I have so many things competing for my time, and I am retired LOL! Take care! Hugs!

  12. This is a delightful letter! And speaking as an Anglican, I am sure that the Bishop would not have minded the Baptist hymns but it makes me see how thoughtful your father was about the least little thing!
    Hope you are doing well in Colorado and staying warm!

    1. Hi Kay! It's warming up again! Yay! We had a lovely Thanksgiving holiday up in the mountains around Breckenridge. It was just gorgeous with about twelve inches of fresh snow. I'm an Anglican now too. Terry was Roman Catholic, and we compromised by becoming Anglicans and getting married in the Anglican church. I attended a lot of different churches growing up, usually attending what was available (including Roman Catholic ones). So now I'm ecumenical in my approach, and I have quite a repertoire of hymns! Have a great day!

  13. What a fun post! Singing is a universal language that brings people together. Love that. And that stamp took me back in time. Amazing how such a simple little thing can stir up so many memories.

    1. Thanks, Martha! I sometimes think that we sang as humans before we talked. My grandmother saved a number of envelopes with her copies of the letters. I love the old stamps too; and I was thrilled to have a Hudson Bay Co. envelope. So much history! Have a great day, Martha!

  14. Holy Cow! That was an expensive radio, but I totally see his point. We are so used to out TV's, computers and music from all kinds f media, we'd certainly go nuts! I can remember taking a tiny transistor radio to camp in Algnquin Park.

    1. Only rarely could we pick up anything. (Sorry, Blogger wouldn't let me continue on my first post!)

    2. Hi Dreaming! I hope that you have had a lovely Thanksgiving! We were up in the mountains in Breckenridge and then stopped in Blackhawk overnight. It was a great holiday, but here I am playing catchup again. That little blue transistor radio became my companion from the summer of fifth grade until I graduated from university when my sister Donnie nabbed it. I think Dad got his money's worth! Life is definitely different now. Have a great rest-of-the-week.

  15. Thanks for your comment on my blog. Noushka is a personal friend of mine. My wife and I spent time with Noushka and her husband, Patrick in July, at their home, and we all visited Le Teich together. She is indeed a formidable photographer.

    1. And thank you, David! How fun to know that you are a friend of Noushka and her husband! Take care!

  16. Hi Louise. Nothing at all 'so ordinary' about this one! Those were certainly different days back then, eh? It made me wonder if people were more relaxed, generally speaking, because they had to wait for things. Today we are all wanting instant gratification and responses. I suspect there are more people today with high blood pressure than back in 1960.
    Oh the pleasure those little radios gave people back then....listening to stations from all over North America. I used to LOVE listening to the NYC stations late at night!
    Loved this post, Louise. Thanks so much for sharing it. Love your father's sense of humour too....'murdering' "When Johnny comes Marching Home Again" LOL
    I am getting the sense that the students liked your father.....especially if he had them singing Row Row Row Your Boat!

    1. Hey Jim! Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Life was definitely less hectic then! I used to pick up the New York stations when I lived in Nova Scotia (reading in bed and listening). I was quite sick when I was in grades 9, 10, and 11, so that radio spent a lot of time sitting on my stomach and bringing me distracting comfort. I now know I had severe and ongoing asthma (complicated by strep throat and bronchitis and allergies to almost all known drugs), probably aggravated by my parents smoking; but we didn't know better then.

      In the north on Lac Seul and in Sioux Lookout, I got WLS in Chicago (when the little blue transistor radio became mine). Loved WLS!!!!!

      Dad's students always came to love him. He was an amazing teacher, and I'm so grateful I had him as my teacher a number of times. He was wildly creative and grasped intuitively how to work with non-English speaking students. He didn't get much help or training from the Dept. of Indian Affairs!

      I'm glad that you enjoyed the letter. Sometimes it's hard for me to be objective, so I just put something out there to see how it's received. Have a great day, my friend!

  17. Having enjoyed many high school and, before that, elementary school choirs and singing groups (bands as well), I found this post fascinating. My, it must have been fun to know your Dad! All the songs he mentioned except for K-K-K Katy were ones I've done with kids. When I saw the Katy song, I had an immediate (oh, I should have done that one) thought. Loved his description of the importance of his radio. So many touching moments in these letters! As for ordinary, Jim is absolutely right! Many thanks!

  18. Hi Carol! Thank you! I'm so glad that you are enjoying my Dad's letters. It would mean the world to him to know that people were enjoying them. Dad was particularly fond of K-K-K Katy, and I remember him humming it when he was shining his shoes. His older relatives must have come home singing it after WWI. Have a good one! Favorite pats or scratches to Black Jack!


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