Friday, December 5, 2014

The Lansdowne Letters: Grounded

It’s Friday! 
Time for another trip back in time
via a letter my father wrote
during his time in Lansdowne House.

In a remote bush community
weather impacts everything.
It shapes your life.

Whiteout on Lake Attawapiskat
Painting by Don MacBeath,  Fall of 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

If you lived in Lansdowne 
or other northern villages,
you knew there would be times
when you opened your home to travelers
at a moment’s notice.

If you were a pilot
forced down by weather,
you could count on northern hospitality
for you and your passengers
until it was to safe to fly again.

Historical Photo of Two Float Planes
Location Unknown
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The food might be Spam and powdered potatoes,
and the bed a couch in the livingroom
or a sleeping bag on the floor,
but people generously offered what they had.

There was lots of tea and coffee,
late night conversation,
and warm companionship
while you waited out the weather.

On Thursday, September 29, 1960
my father wrote of such a night
with stranded travelers at Father Ouimet’s mission:

Hi There, Everyone:
Here we go on another edition of the “Lansdowne Letter.”  
I hope it isn’t as full of mistakes as last night’s was, 
and I hope that you are able to read what I wrote.
Please excuse all the postscripts.  
It is just that Uno was using the typewriter, 
and I kept thinking of so many things 
I wanted to say before I forgot them.

The mail may not get in and out tomorrow, 
because the weather is closed in badly tonight.  
There are two planes grounded tonight at Lansdowne; 
and, I should be able to get this edition out 
with the pilot whose name is “Chicago Bill” Kranach. 

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

However, I may not get 
my mail till the end of the week 
or the first of next week. 

That will bother me, 
because I sure look forward 
to mail day.  

It seems that I just live 
from Friday to Friday. 

Mail sure means a lot 
in an isolated post like this.

Father Ouimet was laughing at my worrying 
about the mail being one or two days late.

  Dog Team Near Hudson Bay
Little Churchill River, Manitoba, 1908

He was telling me that when he went to the bush 
the first time in 1940, 
he was at a mission on Hudson’s Bay 
and received his mail twice a year; 
once in February by dog team 
and once in the summer, about August, by steamer.  

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

The first year his mail 
missed the dog team run, 
and he had to wait till August 
for his Christmas mail, 
including a Christmas cake 
that his mother sent him.  

The cake was in 
fine shape though, 
because she had used 
lots of fruit and wine 
when she was making the cake.

I took some pictures tonight over at the Father’s, 
showing the Father, the Brother, Uno, “Chicago Bill” 
and a Mr. Baker from Geraldton, Ontario. 

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

This Mr. Baker
is an old time prospector 
who finally struck it rich. 

He and a partner staked 
a claim on some property 
that had been declared
worthless by geologists.
It turned out to have fantastically rich deposits of nickel and copper.  

So far, he and his partner 
have realized about $2,500,000.00 each, 
and the mine isn’t fully developed yet.  

He was telling me about it tonight.  
It was only in 1952 that he made his strike.  
Now he spends the summer running a large farm, 
(thereby fulfilling a lifelong ambition) 
and the winters travelling.  
Last winter he was in Australia, 
and the one before, he spent in New Zealand.

Brownie Hawkeye ~ Dad's Camera
I will be sending you 
the pictures as soon as 
they are developed.  

If you want any more pictures, 
you will have to send me 
some more flashbulbs. 

They are almost essential 
to picture taking up here in the wintertime.


The kind to get me is 
SYLVANIA Superflash Blue Dot M-2 Flashbulbs.  
They come in boxes of twelve and cost about $1.50 a box.

Well, I have to wind this up and get to bed.  
It is quite late.
I spent a few hours playing cribbage 
with the Father and Mr. Baker.  
The Father skunked me, 
but I managed to beat Mr. Baker two out of three, 
though it was touch and go during the last game.

 Brother Bernier Skunks Uno at Cribbage
Photo by Don MacBeath,  Fall of 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Dad with Brother Bernier and Mr. Baker
Cribbage Wars
Photo by Don MacBeath,  Fall of 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

This concludes this week’s edition of the “Lansdowne Letter.”  
Will start the next letter tomorrow.

Bye now,

P. S.  It was 15º above zero last night.  (15º F. = -9.4 Cº)

Lansdowne House 
West of James Bay
Ontario, Canada
The Attawapiskat River is traced in dark blue.
Lansdowne House is highlighted in yellow, just above the yellow sticky  note.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue.


  1. I'm not sure I'd want to eat that cake.
    Mr. Baker was a lucky man! Wow, that much money back then would've been like hundreds of millions. Maybe a billion by today's standards.

    1. Hey, Alex! That was a good RC cake soaked in wine! I'd eat it!!!! Even a Baptist fruit cake has to age a minimum of six weeks before you cut it! I know I've made tons of fruitcakes! The area in Northern Ontario where we lived is HOT, HOT right now for mineral riches ~ It's called the Ring of Fire. Happy weekend to you and your wife!

  2. The first camera I ever took photos on was a Brownie Hawkeye too (my parents' camera). It was so hard to look down into that teeny tiny viewfinder and keep the camera still so the photo wouldn't be blurry!

    1. I took my first photo when I was around four ~ of some hens on my Great Uncle Chester's farm. It was with a Brownie Hawkeye too, Debra. It was hard to focus, but it was what it was! Hope all is well with you and your Rare One! Have a happy weekend!

  3. That sure isn't a bad haul back then, damn. Like to have a fraction of that.

    1. I'd take a fraction of it at today's values, Pat! The area is hot for mining now, since they found large deposits of chromite, a very valuable and rare mineral. Of course the government is going to develop the area as quickly as possible with due regard for the impact on the environment and the Aboriginals! Have a great day!

  4. I do remember having a Polaroid Land camera and my father had an older camera, but I forget the type it was. It had no flashes, though. Thanks so much for this thoroughly enjoyable journey back in time! I so enjoy them!

    1. You encourage me to keep plugging away, even though these posts take a lot of time to put together! But then all bloggers spend a lot of time and effort on their posts. I'm so happy that I was encouraged to blog by my friend Ron (from Sophie's View). It's been such a pleasure to meet all the great people I've found in the blogging world, like you Linda. You know I bet you'd like Ron's heartwarming blog. It lifts me up like yours does. Here's the address: Have a happy day!

  5. This whole series about your father's life in the North has been very interesting to say the least . It's not really so very long ago since it all took place. It leaves me wondering whether you have ever visited the areas in which he taught. I am sure there would be a great degree of poignancy attached to such a pilgrimage. Thanks for sharing this slice of Canadian history with us. In have to confess to a certain sense of sadness and regret that you have left our country.

    1. Hi, David Thank you for your kind and encouraging comment. I do have a sense of sharing a slice of Canadian history ~ especially with Father Ouimet. My family joins my father in Lansdowne some months in the future from where I am in the letters right now. I have always had a longing to return there, but it just hasn't happened yet. That said, I'm seriously thinking about a trip to the North. I have such a longing to see it again, even though the people I knew are gone. Have a great weekend!

  6. Hey Fundy - As usual I enjoyed this Friday blast from the past! Happy Friday - hugs Barb - even I remember the mail plane :)

    1. Hey Barb! What would you think about a trip to Moosenee, Attawapiskat, Lansdowne House, Sioux Lookout, and Lac Seul? You should have seen the look on Terry's face when I threw that one out. His response: "Call Barb."" LOL! I'm seriously thinking about it. I just finished "Through Black Spruce," and I'm longing to go North again! I need photos, pictures, letters. Surely there are more things somewhere! Happy weekend!

    2. I'm in! and so is Terry - lol Let's start planning :) Hugs Barb

    3. My head is like a squash ball court with all the possibilities ricocheting around! I'm already really excited! XOX!

  7. Your letters make Fridays so interesting as I look forward to every episode. The characters are real and each one has their own story. You must put these in a book...even if it is just for you and your family.

    1. Thank you, Peggy! You and others have left such uplifting comments. I am working on a manuscript with the goal of publishing a memoir, but I'm a slow writer, and it's been difficult to figure out how to tackle things. I have to do some historical research in Canada's parliamentary records and old Canadian newspapers, and so far I've hit a brick wall there. I may have to hire a researcher. The OMI order in the Roman Catholic church is helping me in my research into Father Ouimet and his work in the North. At times I feel overwhelmed. But then a comment like yours lifts me up to keep going. I hope you are having a blast with your sisters today! Take care!

  8. That camera! Wow, that is a long time ago. So much fun! And I can imagine how cold it got where your dad was. Brrrrr.... Whoa...that cake? Did it actually keep from spoiling that long? And striking it rich with $2,500,000??? That was even more money back then!

    1. Hi Martha! That camera became mine just a few years later ~ when I was in grade eight with Ronnie! I have a number of fun photos of him from that time. I've teased Jim about hugging Ron before he did!
      I used that Hawkeye for a long, long time, right through university (just like the blue transistor radio)!

      When we got to Lansdowne, we regularly went outside to play when it was forty and fifty below zero Fº ~ I think -40 is the same temp on both scales, Fº and Cº. It's my understanding that if you put lots of alcohol in a fruit cake, it would last a long time. I'm sure it was delicious!

      Recently there has been a huge cromite discovery about halfway between Lansdowne and Attawapiskat on James Bay. I wonder what Mr. Baker would think of that. I wrote a paper once for my petrology professor at Acadia. I took a rather unorthodox approach for a geologist, and pretended I went with an old prospector in Lansdowne House and an Indian guide looking for copper and zinc in the area. Eerily prescient. The guys in the class thought I wrote a nutty paper, but fortunately Dr. Nathan "got" me!

      Have a happy weekend!

  9. Wow! That was a long time to wait for mail. I wonder if the people in that area have internet access now.


    1. Hi Janie! I'm betting that they do have internet. Things have changed so much in the North. Have a great weekend!

  10. Thanks for the comments on my post. I appreciate them! Maybe next week I will do an article on my first solo flight (to Moosonee and Attiwapiscat). In the meantime, keep on writing. You have fabulous history to tell! :-}

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Ian! I so hope you write about your first solo flight. Based on your comment, I'm guessing that you are a bush pilot! I would love to hear about your flights! Have a great week!

  11. It seems my pattern with these posts is to read them, think about them, and then go back to read them again. They have worked their way into my heart. I am deeply grateful to you for taking time to document the feelings and energy and wit of a man whose mark on the world (and I believe it was a significant and indelible one) may have rested only with those he met, rather than on so many of us who are now reading about him. The Brownie camera was my mother's favourite, though she often cut the tops off people's heads in her photos :) Spam and powdered potatoes! We ate both in our time. I especially hated potatoes out of a box, but also remember that the most unappreciated foods sometimes became golden in certain company. As for the fruit cake, I would have eaten and appreciated it for sure. My mother made one every year and it lasted almost until the following Christmas. A few slices were put on the cookie plate whenever company came. Mr. Baker, Father Ouimet, Chicago Bill, Uno, Brother Bernier, your father (love his painting, by the way).. "salt of the earth" people, brave, honest and hardworking. An honour to get to meetthem!

    1. Thank you for your wonderful and encouraging comment, Carol! I had just written you a long reply to your comment, and Google ate it! Rats.! Let's see what I can recover ~ I've been decorating our Christmas tree and into the Evan Williams southern eggnog! Terry and I returned not too long ago from our favorite bar and restaurant and watching football, so I am NOT at the top of my game. LOL!

      The Brownie Hawkeye became my camera, and I used it for more than a decade ~ saving my allowance to pay to develop pictures. I used to send my photos from Nova Scotia to New Brunswick to develop ~ after I had saved money from babysitting and my allowance. Isn't digital photography wonderful!!! You can shoot and shoot and experiment, and not worry about the cost!

      Powdered potatoes were wretched, but when you earned $300/month, and it cost 10 cents/pound to fly in groceries, for a family of seven, you ate powered potatoes.

      And I would have eaten Father Ouimet's fruitcake in a heartbeat ~ a good fruitcake needs to be aged! My grandmother MacBeath and her sister Maude were always competing over fruitcakes; Nana's was light and Great Aunt Maude's was dark. Sister squabbles ~ do they ever end???? Personally I liked Aunt Maude's. But they were Baptist cakes ~ I think they both would have been improved with wine or rum!

      Have a happy week, Carol. Please give sweet Black Jack her favorite scratch or pat, and "Hi" to Bill. He is a great sport!!! Take care!

  12. Hi Louise. As I was reading I was wondering how your Dad got his pictures developed......and there it was!!
    I was reading a book today at the shop about the northern wilderness and the hospitality of the folks that live there. They also mentioned how lonely it can get there. No wonder your father so looked forward to letters from home.
    Another great installment Louise. Oh yes your Dad was also an artist I see. What a treasure to have. Have a wonderful evening and week!!

    1. Hey Jim!!!! It's quite late on a Sunday night, so if I;m missing keys in my typing, I apologize! I've been into the eggnog! Terry is sensibly in bed.

      The North could be very lonely, but people banded together. I've been far lonelier in big cities than ever I was in the North!

      Yup, my Dad was quite a talented painter. Our cousin Kelsey Raymond ( who was a fairly well known Canadian artist) used to say that he was glad my father never set up shop near him. I wish we had more of his paintings, but he gave many away to his friends in the North. I learned a lot from my father and mother (who was also a painter) about composition which comes out in my photographs. Maybe, if I can ever get more time, I will paint. I'm supposed to have artistic talent, but I lack time. I really do hope that reincarnation happens, because I think I may not accomplish all that I'd like to in this lifetime. Or maybe there are art studios and libraries in heaven!

      You have a wonderful week too, my friend, and give SD a scratch and Ronnie a hug for me ~ hug to you too! Take care!

    2. Sophie says 'thanks' as does Ronnie!! lol


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