Friday, November 7, 2014

The Lansdowne Letters: To the Rescue

Everyone at home in Nova Scotia
and Prince Edward Island
eagerly awaited my father's northern letters,
and they were passed among
our extended family and friends to enjoy.

As we read his letters, we shared his adventures
of life in the northern bush,
and we came to know the unforgettable people
who lived with him in remote Lansdowne House.

Brother Raoul Bernier was one of these,
an Oblate brother in a religious order 
called the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
He and Father Maurice Ouimet dedicated their lives
to working among the Indians in northern Ontario.

Short, red-haired, and very French,
Brother Bernier was seemingly here, there, 
and everywhere in the tiny community,
always quick to help or to join in the fun,
despite his difficulty conversing in English.

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

On Sunday, September 25, 1960 
my father wrote:

"Well the Brother and I had lots of excitement today, 
and I discovered that I am not 
the worst canoeist at Lansdowne House.  

I was over to the mainland twice before noon.  
There was a terrific sea running, 
but I got over and back twice without too much trouble.  

And my canoe is very small as canoes go.  
It is only about twelve or thirteen feet long and very light.

Miss Margaret Kelly came over to Mass 
in her big, twenty-foot modified freighter canoe
with a ten-horse outboard on it.  
Miss Kelly is the nurse at the nursing station.  

Well, after Mass, the wind and the sea 
were both much stronger than at eleven o’clock, 
and Margaret had considerable trouble launching her canoe.  

The water is quite shallow off the island, 
and you have to pole a boat out 
about ten or twelve yards 
before you can use a kicker 
(Lansdowne terminology for outboard).

In the process of poling out to deep water, 
Margaret managed to get broadside to the waves 
and get her canoe about a quarter full of water 
before she got it straightened out again.  
This made it sit much lower in the water than usual.
This, coupled with the fact 
that she was sitting in the stern 
and is quite a large girl, 
left only about three inches of freeboard 
at the stern of the canoe.  

To further compound her troubles, 
Margaret then started her kicker 
and attempted to back out into deeper water 
before she turned the canoe.  
This maneuver was attempted against very heavy waves.

Suddenly, a large wave 
washed over the stern of her canoe, 
drowning out her kicker 
and half swamping her canoe.  

Immediately her canoe lost seaway 
and drifted aground on the rocks 
where I had gotten into trouble earlier.  
She was having a real wet time of it.  

I noticed her from my window 
shortly after she went aground on the rocks.

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

I rushed down to the beach 
and arrived at the same time 
as the Brother who saw her from church.  

We launched my canoe, 
went out and towed her off the rocks, 
and got her back to shore again.  

We dried out her motor and drained her canoe.  
The Brother got in the canoe with her and took her home.  
I followed in my canoe to bring the Brother back.

On the way back I got into the prow, 
and the Brother got into the stern, 
because when two men are in the canoe, 
the most experienced man usually gets in the stern, 
unless you are shooting white water 
when the positions are reversed.  

I was paddling like hell 
to keep the front of the canoe 
from swinging around 
and getting broadside to the waves.  

And I guess I was kicking up quite a spray with my paddle.  
Most of it was going on the Brother. 

I guess he was complaining most of the way across, 
but I didn’t hear him because of the wind.

When we arrived back on land, 
and I looked at the poor Brother, 
his left side was soaked from the waist up.  

I said, “What happened to you?”  

The Brother literally snorted and said, 
“By golly, that paddle of yours, 
every time she comes out of the water, 
a bushel of water lands over the top of me.  
By golly, I have to teach you how to paddle 
with no splash before we take any more trips.”

I apologized and said that I was just trying 
to keep the canoe into the same direction 
as the waves were running so we wouldn’t get upset.  

The Brother said, “By golly, 
I think it is more worse to get wet by pieces 
than to get wet all at once.”

We were both pretty well soaked by this time, 
so we changed our clothes and went to dinner.  

We were about an hour late, 
but no one had started dinner.  
The Father and Uno were too interested 
in watching our efforts from the window of the Father's house.

After the Brother 
got dried out, 
he was no longer disturbed 
and admitted 
that it was better 
to get wet by pieces 
than upset in the middle 
where the water 
is quite deep.  
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

However it is only real deep 
for about fifty or seventy-five feet, 
and if I had to swim for shore, 
I could do so with no difficulty. 

Margaret was in real difficulties though, 
because to quote her, she “swims like a rock.”

Dad and Brother Bernier
in Drier Times
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Until next time!

Personal Note:  Starting Saturday,
I will be off-line for the next few days.


  1. Enjoyed this story very much! Poor Brother Bernier!

  2. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Debra! Sometimes when I work a long time on something, I begin to loose perspective and a sense of how people might react. Happy Friday to you!

  3. I LOVED this. You took me there, for sure. The photos well placed, too.

    1. Thank you, TPC! I'm so glad that you enjoyed it. Have a happy weekend!

  4. lol that was a lot of canoeing, I think I agree too, much better to get wet all at once than in spurts

    1. It was a lot of canoeing! I'm for getting wet all at once too. Poor Brother Bernier, wet in the freezing cold and strong wind. Have a good one, Pat!

  5. I've gotten very hooked on your father's adventures; thank you for sharing them! The personalities are so distinct and clear, its like time travel.


    1. Thank you, Ceci! Your comment made my day! Have a happy weekend!

  6. Hi Fundy, Its Barb - oh my oh my but I enjoyed this story - I'm still laughing - now I understand the some of the other tales from the North ... but I will not elaborate - cheers BM

    1. Oh my oh my you sound like a Westporter, Barb! We'll have to email about these memories of yours. But not tomorrow ~ off to Vegas, baby, and I can't wait! It's been more than a year for me! You, Donnie, the E-P and I have got to get a trip together! Luv u!

  7. Your father experienced so many adventures! Thank you so much for sharing them. :)

    1. Thanks, Linda! You would not believe the amount of family letters I am transcribing! My typing is really improving. Have a wonderful weekend, my friend!

  8. No wonder your father's letters were eagerly awaited! What a great storyteller! I enjoyed thisnvery much.

    1. Thanks, Terry! I'm glad that you enjoyed them! Take care, and have a great weekend!

  9. What a great story! Poor Brother :) Your dad's letters are so entertaining.

    1. I'n glad that you are enjoying them, Martha! Poor Brother Bernier is right! Dad made sure that my brother Roy and I learned to paddle without splashing, once we got in the North! have a great weekend!

  10. This was such a fun post to read! Thank you for sharing this with us!

  11. What a cool letter!!!! Very exciting!!! X

  12. Your letters are a goldmine of stories and history Louise. This must a daunting task yet fulfilling at he same time.


    PS: I ask you to check your FB page to see that I have challenged run like a quick bunny and check it out!!


    1. Hey Ron! I just got back from Vegas, landed in wind and snow 15º ~ 3º w/wind chill. We're going to Parkway to get something to eat while the house warms up. I will be catching up!

  13. By golly, the brother sounds an interesting character. I did laugh at your dad asking him what had happened to get him wet on the crossing.

    1. Hi Patsy! Thanks for your kind words. That made me laugh too! I'm sorry that I'm just getting to answering comments that people posted while I was away. Have a good one!

  14. Hey Louise, Donnie is trying very hard to leave comments - I helped her out last night but her comment for this post ended up on the power of ten - lol Cheers, Barb PS: Donnie is really enjoying the Northern Posts!

    1. I'm so glad that you and Donnie are enjoying the posts. And yes, I did find Donnie's comment. Woot! Woot! Dawn sent me a lovely not about the Northern posts. That keeps me plugging away! Luv u!

  15. Belas histórias...Espectacular....

  16. Louise, your father was a good writer, wasn't he. He keeps it interesting so as not to lose the reader. Letter writing was so important back then and I believe most people were good at it, as it was one of the only means of communication. Becoming a lost art I am afraid.
    But you are keeping it alive here. And you come by your writing skill quite 'naturally', I'd say.

    1. Thank you, Jim! Your words are very encouraging! It's sad to think that letter writing is becoming a lost art. My Dad was a good writer. I'm discovering just how many ways I'm like my Dad. We both shared a love of maps and exclamation points! LOL!!!!! Have a good evening!


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