Friday, January 9, 2015

The Lansdowne House Letters: Robinson Crusoe

Dad's Trunks on Father Ouimet's Beach,
Couture Island, Lake Attawapiskat,
Northern Ontario, Canada
Photo by Don MacBeath,  September 13, 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My father wrote:
when I took this picture, I thought
of Robinson Crusoe.  
I felt quite alone 
and lonely 
then I didn't know ... ."

Dad's Trunks on Father Ouimet's Beach 
(Back of Photo)
Photo by Don MacBeath,  September  13, 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Didn't know what
I wonder.

Do you have old family photos: 
faded words 
penciled on the back?

My family has only a few photos 
from Lansdowne House.
Our parents simply couldn't afford 
to buy film, let alone develop it.1

On the back of the photo 
of Dad's trunks on Father Ouimet's beach, 
I can read my father's words,
but the rest is missing; 
cut off by someone who
trimmed the photo decades ago.
Quite possibly me!

It's maddening, 
because I would love to know
what Dad didn't know then. 

Flying to Lansdowne House
Photo by Don MacBeath,  September 13, 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My father took 
the photograph when 
he first flew into Lansdowne House 
on this Norseman
on September 13, 1960.

The pilot off-loaded 
Dad's luggage
on the dock, and
someone paddled it
across the water
in a canoe
and deposited it 
on the beach. 

And there Dad stood in the sand,
knowing not a single soul 
in the remote Northern village ~
left behind in Nova Scotia,
his wife Sara, five children,
and his familiar life.

Brother Raoul Bernier
Photo by Don MacBeath,  October 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

But almost immediately 
a French Canadian 
Oblate brother, Raoul Bernier,
hauled Dad's trunks 
to his rented cottage,
where Dad met his
new roommate Uno Manila.

I'm sure the cottage was a bit of a surprise.
Shack is more like it.

Two rooms, unfurnished,
cold running water,
and a cantankerous wood stove.

Uno and Dad rented the cottage
from Father Ouimet for $15.00/month,
with fuel and lights included.

For an additional $2.50/day each,
they took their meals at the Father's rectory.
Unfortunately, the only furniture
the Father could loan them 
was two single beds.

But they managed ...

On Tuesday, October 4, 1960 
My father wrote:

Hi There:
Everyone ready for the daily blurb?

Today has been quite eventful for me.   
A while ago, I wrote to Gowan2 
to see if the Department would send me some furniture, 
since the Father could only loan us two beds.  

Living out of trunks can get irksome at times, 
and it is nice to have a couple of easy chairs to relax upon.  
One gets sick of lying on his bed all the time.  
Well, today the furniture started arriving.

The Front Room
in the Cottage that Dad and Uno Rented from Father Ouimet
Photo by Don MacBeath,  October 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The first things that arrived were 
a large double bed, 
a mattress and a spring, 
and a large double bureau.  
We stored the double bed in the Father’s attic, 
but we are making good use of the bureau.  

All the furniture will be used 
in the new teacherage next year, 
so we are taking good care of it.  

I didn’t see the plane that brought the furniture, 
but I wish that I had.  
guess it looked like a flying junk wagon. 

The spring and mattress were too large 
to put inside the plane, 
so they lashed it to the outside.  

There was so much wind resistance 
(there was also a canoe lashed to the outside) 
that the plane took two hours and forty-five minutes 
to fly from Nakina.  
This is normally a one and one half hour trip.

Dad's Bed with the Small Table 
Uno and He Shared
in Their Two-Room Cottage
on the Father's Island
Photo by Don MacBeath,  October 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

When I was coming home from school, 
I saw all this stuff on the DOT3 wharf.  
I didn’t know how I was going to get it across 
in my little canoe.  

Fortunately Duncan came along just then 
and helped me out.  
I don’t know what I would do without Duncan.  
He is a really good friend.  

He got the DOT speedboat 
and hauled it across to the island for me.  
Uno and I then carried the freight up from the beach.

Life Lived on a Bed
(when you have no other furniture)
Uno is trying to catch Baby McRae
who is making a break for it.
Photo by Don MacBeath,  October 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Tonight we spent rearranging our furniture 
and storing our trunks in the Father’s attic 
to make room for the furniture still to arrive.  

We are expecting a chesterfield, a bookcase, 
an easy chair, and a writing desk.

Another thing I found on the DOT dock 
was some parts for a new schoolyard swing.  

Now isn’t that just like the Government!!  
They send in swings just as winter sets in, 
but they can’t see to get my desks in for me.

I suppose you are wondering 
how I always find everything on the DOT wharf.  

First, it is the only wharf 
the plane can get to now, 
since the water is so low, 
and besides, that is the wharf closest to the school.  

I always check the dock 
whenever I see anything on it, 
because no one notifies you 
if you have anything on the plane.  
They just dump it and leave.

Thank goodness the Indians are trustworthy.  
They have never stolen anything from the wharf yet.  
I often wonder if white people 
would be so white in this respect.

Couture Island4 
with Roman Catholic Mission
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
Dad's cottage is below the wind charger between the church and the rectory.
Photo by Father Maurice Ouimet,  Probably 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Uno was just laughing at me typing.  
There was a rumba tune on the radio, 
and I was keeping perfect time to it with the typewriter.  

He says that I really make the old thing hum 
when there is a fast jazz tune like MUSKRAT RAMBLE, 
or some good Dixie Land Jazz tune playing.

Now it is my turn to laugh at Uno.  
He is doing his exercises.  
We have started a rigorous physical fitness campaign.  

It may be too late for me 
to turn into a Charles Atlas, 
but at least it won’t do me any harm, 
and it does help to pass the time.

Dad Standing Outside His "Cottage"
Photographer Unknown,  Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Yesterday I was talking to 
one of my little girls, Alice,  
and I told her that she could be a very pretty girl 
if she would take better care of herself 
and try to wear something clean and reasonably good fitting.  

Well, it would have done your hearts good 
to see her today.  
I hardly knew her when she came to school.  

Her hair was clean and curled, 
her face and hands were clean, 
and she was wearing not a bad dress, 
and it was reasonably clean.  

I’m telling you, any parents 
would have been proud to claim her as their own.  
She was beautiful with her flashing brown eyes, 
her jet black hair, and her beautiful light brown skin.

You should have seen my grade one pupils
and my beginners today.  
I had them making paper hats, 
putting their names on them, and coloring them.  

They made wonderful hats 
and were very proud of them.  
In fact, they insisted on wearing them home. 

They went out like a bunch of fashion models, 
but as soon as they got outside they ran into trouble.  

There was a strong wind blowing.  
In a few moments the yard 
was filled with flying hats 
and running children chasing after them.  

In fact, I could still see some of them 
ten minutes after I let them out.

Well, I guess that just about sews up things for today.  
Will be back at the same old stand tomorrow.

Bye for now,

1  This is why, if you've been reading some of my Northern posts,
    you may have noticed me using the same photos more than once.

2  Gowan ~ Indian Agent in Nakina, and Dad's immediate contact and boss.

3  DOT ~ Department of Transport

4  Couture Island ~ My father 's "cottage" was between the church and the rectory.  Dad invariably
    referred to Couture Island as "The Father's Island."  I never heard it called Couture Island when I
    lived there.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue


  1. I was so drawn to the first picture of the luggage on the dock. I can't imagine how your dad felt seeing that being left there. How proud you must be of him. He really is the true definition of an adventurer. How dedicated he was to leave his family and live in that barren land. I love the Lansdowne Letters. Thank you so much for sharing them each week.

    1. Thank you, Peggy! Your regular visits mean so much to me! The encouragement keeps me going as I figure out how to write a book and do it! Have a happy day!

  2. I love this kind of stuff. And yes, that missing bit creates quite a little mystery. Are you planning to put all this in a book eventually?

    1. Thank you, Donna! And yes, I'm working on my memoir right now ~ actually my dad's and my memoir! I'm climbing a steep learning curve. I'm so glad you led me to the IWSG, because I'm learning so much from its members and getting a lot of encouragement! Happy Friday!

  3. haha a paper hat brigade. Yeah that first photo really makes you think, stranded on a desert island it looks like

    1. Hey Pat! Dad loved his kiddos no matter where he taught! The Father's Island looks like the middle of nowhere, and it was/is! Happy Friday!

  4. Wow, pretty harsh working conditions. I had a good laugh at the plane with the mattress strapped to the outside. My grandma used to write on photos too -- but in ink and on the FRONT, lol! One of my faves is a blurry photo of my parents on their wedding day with her notation "Chas' wedden" on the front in her phonetically-based spelling style!

    1. What a sweet story! Love it ~ wedden! At least your grandma wrote on them. Neither of my grandmothers did, and I'm trying to ID all these photos more than a century old. Yes, the working conditions were harsh, but the people were magnificent! Have a great weekend, Debra!

  5. How long did you Dad stay there and did he come home on leave from time to time?

    1. Hi David! My Dad was there for one school year. He did not get to come home. He did not have the time or the money. We joined him some months later when we were able to rent the forestry department's emergency house.

  6. Fundy, I am waiting for you to publish a book about all this!! ;-)
    Otherwise....... why on earth would you have to use a translator on my blog since I write in English too??????
    Makes wonder why I should go through the hassle!!!!!!LOL!!!!!
    Keep well and warm my friend :)

    1. Duh! LOL! But I like to try to read the French parts too and see how they are translated. It's really fun sometimes to see what Google comes up with. When I have more time ~ I'm perpetually optimistic! ~ I want to go back and study French again. I'm working on my book, but the historical research is challenging ~ especially 50+ newspapers and parliamentary records from 50 years ago. The more I dig, the more I find. The story is bigger than our immediate family's part. And please, keep writing in English as well as French. My niece who was in Dijon last year is now in Havana studying Spanish ~ she got the language genes in our family! Take care!!!

  7. I felt quite alone
    and lonely
    then I didn't know ... ."

    ...The beach would become my favorite place?

    1. Nice guess, Susie! Perhaps, but Dad had a lot of misadventures on that beach, and it was mighty cold when the temperature dropped to -40 or -50 FÂș My best guess is that it had something to do with how great the people were there. I hate loose ends!!!! Happy weekend to you!

  8. I agree with Noushka, dear Fundy, you could definitely publish a book about all this...the photos, the stories, the memories. Wow. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Linda! I'm working on it! It's my first attempt to write a factual book. I did make a serious attempt to write a Harlequin Romance a long time ago. It was bad! I still remember the sound of the rejected manuscript hitting my door when the postman returned it. LOL I found something amazing in my research for my memoir, and it scrambled my plans royally. It's not just a straightforward memoir. And I'm co-writing it with my Dad who died in 1984. When I publish it, I'm including Dad as a co-author. I promise you, there are surprises ahead! Have you ever visited Noushka's blog? You love birds, and she is the most amazing photographer of birds and wildlife! I bet you'd love it. Take care!

  9. I had quite a few old photos that I cherish, and every time I visit my hometown I bring back some more from my mom's place. She's so happy about that because she wants them passed on to future generations. But there are that many because film was too expensive. I love these stories in your family. They are amazing. Your dad really worked hard in tough conditions, and he was so dedicated to those kids. And that statement "Thank goodness the Indians are trustworthy. They have never stolen anything from the wharf yet. I often wonder if white people would be so white in this respect." Well, that just says it all, doesn't it?

    1. Thanks for your encouraging comment, Martha! It does say it all, doesn't! Dad, I'm sure, would be thrilled to know that people were enjoying his letters and photos! It's so fundamentally human to want our stories to go on. Happy weekend to you, my friend!

  10. Oooohhhh, there's just something about that one photo with your Dad's desk next to his bed that I love. The desk, the typewriter, the little clock. Even a modern-day stylist would struggle to create a photo that nice. Everything looks perfectly placed! The trunks on the beach gave me chills ~ what an adventurer!!! XOXO

    1. Haha, Audrey! You picked up on Dad's need to have everything perfectly placed! You should have seen his sock drawer! LOL! Those trunks give me chills too. Dad was really stepping out into the unknown! Have a happy weekend with your lovely family!!!!!XOXOX

  11. Wow! These photos and your dad's words are truly a treasure for future generations.

  12. Aloha, Kay! Thank you for your kind words! I'm working on a manuscript on our time in the north now, and I'm carefully transcribing Dad's letters because they are over 50 years old. BIG project! Thanks for visiting, and have a great Saturday!

  13. So much to think and ponder about in this post! For one thing, I wonder about the children, what their lives must have been like.
    I love the idea of your Dad typing in time to the music, that makes me smile!

    1. Hi Kay! I think about the children too. I'm not sure what direction I'll go in as I continue my Northern blog posts. I'm in this series for the long haul on my blog; but, I'll definitely be going into what happens in the future in my memoir. To be revealed as the story unfolds!
      My Dad loved jazz, especially Dixieland. Sometimes I will go to a performance just to honor Dad. And when I'm on a roll and the music is great, I'll type to the beat just like Dad. Have a great weekend, Kay!

  14. Louise. As someone who has worked in some of the most remote parts of Labrador and Nunavut, I know the feeling of geographic and cultural isolation in that vast landscape. I also know the courage and dedication it must take for those who decide to stay their year-round to work and build their lives. For all of these reasons, I so appreciate your labours to cobble your father's story together with his diary and images for us. Few today can imagine what it is like for letters from the outside, communications that lagged in weeks or months, just to maintain connection with those you love. Today with satellite phones, radios and other forms of outreach it seems so simple. Not so, in those times when the written word and B&W photos that sometimes waited years even to be developed reigned supreme. All best wishes.

  15. Thanks for your encouragement, Mark! It is so very different today. Sometimes I miss that isolation!

  16. Oh my, such a wonderful post, Louise. So many images will stay in my mind, some that you show and some that your father describe. I believe your father would have added something along the lines of, "I didn't know how many friends I would meet and how they would add to my already rich view of the world." The one of the plane with belongings strapped to the outside is such a vivid image. The idea of a dock that you watch because you never know when something may appear on it, the children chasing their flying hats, the beautiful little girl, the sound of the typewrite in perfect time with the jazz recording, and your father, standing strong in front of his doorway, but with humor and gentle spirit coming through as well.. one of your, as I often say when I meet salt-of-the-earth people, "beautiful people".. Will try to go back and catch up. I'm always a couple of weeks behind, no matter how I try :)

    1. Thank you, Carol!!! I am always playing catchup ~ LOL! And I think that you are spot on with where Dad was probably going with his comment ~ I'll be there are a lot of things lost in the clippings of history! Have a great week!

  17. Boy! Roughing it they were! Can you just imagine this happening now with teachers and their ironclad contracts! Your Dad was certainly a pioneer, Louise in so many ways.
    I am appreciating more and more as I read your posts the 'story' you have to tell at some point. I know something is 'in the works', but what a treasure trove you have at your fingertips. Plus with your knack for writing, Louise, I look forward to more!
    I think you got this from your Dad, don't you think?
    I can't get that image of the plane strapped with furniture and a canoe out of my mind! Noo one can make this stuff up!
    Have a great week!

  18. You'd be surprised what I had to handle in my classroom sometimes, Jim but certainly nothing like what Dad did! Now tell me truly, did you ever work to your contract? Or know a lot of teachers who did? Most teachers I knew violated their contracts daily, including this union local and regional secretary!

    Thanks for the encouragement! Actually I got it from both of my parents. My Mom was always writing. Sadly, lots of her papers have disappeared. And I did have the fun of having Mom as my English teacher a couple of years. When she was taking university literature courses by correspondence, she had no one to talk with, so she'd make me read all these books and discuss them with her. And she was always encouraging me to write. Dad was always on me to excel and to use grammar correctly! I wish I could have seen that plane too! I wish I had a photo! I'm working up to the story ~ I hope it won't prove anticlimactic! :) Have a good one!


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