Friday, January 30, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters: Bush Planes and the Puzzle of Thanksgiving

Have you ever flown in a bush plane?

I have a number of times.
It's a noisy, vibrating, 
raw experience,
and the trees, rocks, 
and water sliding below
look starkly, solidly real.

View from a Norseman
on the Way to Lansdowne House
Photo by Don MacBeath,  September 13, 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Taking off isn't the hard part for me.
It's the landing!
Two skis on ice,
two floats on water,
or in the belly of a seaplane ~
It's mesmerizing to watch 
the ice or water racing at you
as the plane closes in to land.

Oh thank you, God!
always flashes through my mind
when the plane slows in a splash of water
or in a rooster tail of snow. 

Austin Airways Norseman

Bush flying can be treacherous,
and I never forgot one letter my father wrote,
especially if I were flying in a small plane.

Friday, October 7, 1960 
My father wrote:

Hi Everyone:
Here we go on another Lansdowne Letter.  
I hope that it will be more interesting than the last one.

I had a very bountiful mail this week:  
five letters from Mother, 
five from Sara, 
two from Louise (daughter), 
and one from Grammie.  
I had a wonderful time reading and answering them.  
I am greedy, perhaps next week I’ll do even better.

Today was wonderful, 
a veritable Indian summer!!  
I went about all day in shirtsleeves.  
The lake was just like glass, not a ripple on it.

I was amazed when I talked to the Austin Airways pilot 
and found out that it is very dangerous to land on the lake 
when it is as smooth as it was today.  

When it is real glassy, 
it is almost impossible to tell 
where the air ends and the water begins.  

After I was talking to the Austin pilot, 
I watched Harry Evens, 
a pilot for Superior Airways, landing.  

He glided just about two miles 
about three feet above the surface of the lake.  
Even after a long glide like this, 
he misjudged and landed 
about 2½ feet above the surface.  

This may sound strange, 
but it actually happens.

Norseman Taxiing
wikimedia ~ edited

The pilot does everything he would do on landing, 
except actually touching down.  
After he has cut down the motor, etc., 
the plane just drops like a brick 
and bounces several times before it really lands.  

This can really jar your back teeth, 
if the pilot lands about ten or twelve feet above the surface.


They had a bad accident last year at Armstrong 
when one of Superior’s pilots misjudged the water level 
and tried to land about ten feet below the surface.  
He went right in!!  

Two days later they managed to get his body 
out of the plane which was at the bottom of the lake.

Northern Ontario Lake

My father continued:

Some more of our furniture arrived yesterday: 
a nice large bookcase. 

Our little cottage is beginning to look quite homelike.  
I would not mind living here with Sara for the winter, 
but it would be pretty crowded 
if I had the whole tribe up with me.

This is the start of the long Thanksgiving weekend.  
Three whole lovely days with no Indian children to worry about.
As I said in one of my previous epistles, 
I love them all, but at times it is nice to love them from a distance.

I don’t know if I told you 
about Maureen making curtains for us, or not; 
but she did, 
and it is the most wonderful thing to have curtains, 
especially in our bedroom.  

She made cafĂ© curtains for our bedroom, 
and now she is making full- length curtains for our front room.  
We just bought some printed material from the Bay, 
and she whipped them up on her electric sewing machine.


Dad and Uno's Bedroom Window
with pictures of Dad's mother, father, and wife Sara on the table  
Photo by Uno Manila, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour 
All Rights Reserved.

The reason that 
we wanted the curtains 
is because of 
the insatiable curiosity of the Indians.  
They are always 
looking in the window, 
and this begins to bug you after a couple of weeks.

Considerable difficulty was encountered 
when I tried to explain to the children 
why there was going to be no school Monday.  
They just could not seem to grasp the idea of Thanksgiving.

The First Thanksgiving in America, 1621
by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

I took over some of my books 
and spent most of this afternoon 
reading them stories and poems about Thanksgiving.  

I told them about the first Thanksgiving in the New World.  
I suppose it is ironic for the poor creatures 
to have to talk and think about Thanksgiving, 
because the poor creatures have so little to be thankful for.

The First Thanksgiving in Canada ~ 1578
Martin Frobisher in Frobisher Bay

Well, I guess that just about ties her up for today.  
Will be back again tomorrow.
I am not cheating you by just giving you a part of a page.  
This paper is longer than usual.  
I am using it because it is thinner, 
and I think it might make better duplicates.

Well, see you all.
Bye for now,
Love, Don

Dad Typing His Nightly Lansdowne Letter
Photo by Uno Manila, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All rights Reserved

I never forgot this letter my father wrote,
not the tragic story of the pilot and his plane
and not Dad's comment about his poor creatures.
Even as a young girl I wondered,
why is it that some people have it so good
and others have it so desperately hard?

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue


  1. I've never been in a bush plane and don't want to be! Fascinating info about how they land.

    1. I can't wait to fly in one again, Debra! I hope to make a northern tour in 2016, and it will have to be done by bush plane. I flew once in a small, small plane, the pilot and I up front and my mother and a kid in a canvas jump seat in the back. When the pilot banked to land at Two Point on Lac Seul, he was almost directly below me! Yikes! He was checking the feel of the wind before he landed, fortunately on breeze- rippled water. It's a crazy, scary, wonderful, tummy-tickling feeling! Have a happy weekend!

  2. WoW! No, I've never been in a bush plane and I'm not sure I want to try it either! I can see how landing on that glassy surface might be troublesome. I enjoyed reading your Dad's letter, as always! Hope you have a wonderful weekend, Louise! XOXO

    1. Hi, Audrey! I'm so glad that you enjoyed Dad's letter! I'd fly on a bush plane again in a heartbeat! I hope you have a lovely weekend, too Audrey! XOXO!

  3. That would be weird to see a plane just drop like a brick. You never see that in movies. They always have a perfect touch down on the water.

    1. Haha, Pat! I only want perfect touchdowns! Did you ever see the movie "Six Days and Seven Nights"? I absolutely loved the turbulence scene and crash in the De Havilland Beaver. I double over laughing every time I see it. I flew in a Beaver up north, fortunately long before I saw the movie! Have a great weekend!

  4. I have never been in a bush plane. Another fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable post. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. I just returned from catching up on your kind and inspiring posts to find your comment here, Linda! I know in my heart that I was meant to share my family's northern sojourn. Thank you for always encouraging me! Happy weekend to you!

  5. I will leave the scary plane travel for you, and now, as then, there is a huge gap between the " Have" and "Have None" in the whole world, Again, thank-you so much, very much for sharing your Dad's precious letters with us. Electric machine, did they have generator power there? So much I do not know about other parts of your world, and no matter how hard I try, find their lives hard to imagine. How did they do the laundry? Was the cooking on a gas stove? How far to any nearest small area with population? I will wait for the next episode. Hugs.Jean

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment, Nancy! It fills my heart to know that people are enjoying Dad's letters. He trusted me to care for them and knew that someday I would write a book based on them. Neither of us imagined the blogging world! Some of the buildings in Lansdowne House had generators ~ certainly the Hudson Bay Company buildings, the Department of Transport buildings, and the Roman Catholic OMI buildings. They were fired with fuel hauled in over the frozen muskeg by tractor train. One of my near further posts will tell about laundry. Dad and Uno had a wood stove in their cabin that they mostly used for warmth and for boiling water for coffee. They ate at the Roman Catholic rectory with Father Ouimet and Brother Bernier. The nearest community of any kind was Nakina which was an hour and a half by bush plane. There were other small Indian communities nearby, probably an hour or so by plane. Lansdowne House is inland on the Attawapiskat River which empties into the west side of James Bay near Akimiski Island. Have a great weekend, and hugs right back at you!

  6. Shame the one pilot put it into the water and died. I don't think I'd want to do a water landing.

    1. It is a shame, Alex. Unfortunately too many bush pilots died in the North, including some I knew. That said, water landings are fun, even if they are scary. Landing on two skis on snowy, rough lake ice is scarier! Have a great weekend!

  7. No, I've never been on a bush plane, and I'm not sure I'd want to. Although I'm sure there's an adrenaline rush! Very sad about that pilot. What a tragic death.

    Thanks for another great post, Louise!

    1. There's definitely an adrenaline rush, Martha! I'm planning on going back to northern Ontario in 2016, and it will definitely involve flying on bush planes. I'm glad that you enjoyed the post, and I hope you are enjoying a relaxing weekend! Take care!

  8. The bush plane landing is terrifying. Thanks for sharing these letters. I learn so much from them.


    1. I'm glad that you are enjoying my father's letters, Janie! Encouraging comments like yours keep me plugging away. I hope that you are in the middle of a great weekend! Take care!

  9. I am with Debra on this one....I too would NEVER fly on a bush plane! Especially after reading this!!
    'Front room'....when was the last time I heard that!? Was it just a N.S. term, Louise?
    I so enjoy hearing your Dad's impressions/stories/tales. I can only imagine what it was like there by 'himself' basically without his family.
    Thanks for sharing.

  10. I don't know about front room, Jim. It's part of my background ~ maybe it's PEI too. In Dad's case, it was clearly definitive. He and Uno shared a small bedroom, and the front room was the only other room in their "cottage" and served for everything else. Now that I think about it, I don't think they had a bathroom. I think they had to go over to the rectory. I should be able to remember because I used to visit Uno all the time, after Dad moved into the forestry building and brought us north. Thank you for reading my posts every time and being so encouraging, Jim! Have a great week!


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