Friday, January 16, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters: To Hell with the Stepping Stones

Yours Truly, 10 Years Old
Smith's Cove, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Whenever a letter arrived
from my father,
my mother sat us down
after the supper dishes were done
and shared it with we five.

Then I snapped it up
to pore over it myself.
I wanted to step through Dad's words
and into his adventures
in the wild and mysterious North.


Tens years old,
I was in Grade 5
in Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia,
and we were studying
Canadian History for the first time.

My mind was filled with romantic tales
of the voyageurs, the priests, 
and the Hudson Bay Company
pushing into the unknown bush.  

Voyageurs Paddling a Hudson Bay Company Freighter Canoe
Artist, Frances Anne Hopkins, 1869

I couldn't wait to take Dad's latest letter
to school the next day 
to share it with my teacher and classmates.

To me, Dad was an adventurer too ~
but, well, maybe not quite a voyageur!

Historical Hudson's Bay Company Flag 
(originally used on July 21, 1682)

Wednesday, October 5, 1960 
My father wrote:
How’s everyone tonight?

I may have started off this week slowly, 
but I’m sure finishing it with a bang.  

I woke up this morning, 
and from the sound and direction of the wind, 
I knew that I was in for trouble.  

It was in from the north 
at about thirty miles an hour, 
and not even a barbed wire fence 
to break the wind 
where it blows over the strip of water 
that I have to cross to get to school.

Canoe Route
This is strip of water my father had to cross with his canoe one or more times a day.
He landed at the dock by the bush plane in the photo.
The Hudson Bay Post is the closest white building in the photo.
Photo by Don MacBeath,  Fall of 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I got up and had breakfast 
and then went down to try to launch the canoe, 
but as soon as I took it out of the bushes where I keep it, 
the wind got it and started blowing it along the beach.  

Right then I said to myself, 
“I’ll never get across in this, this morning.  
If I can’t control it on land, 
what will I ever do with it in the water?”  

I managed to wrestle it back into the bushes 
and tried to get up courage to cross 
the way some of the more agile Indians do.  

The water is very low now, 
and if you are quite agile 
like some of the younger Indians, 
you can get across on the rocks, 
where the island is separated 
from the mainland by about 150 feet.  

Did you ever try crossing a brook 
150 feet wide on slippery stepping stones?  
And with a thirty mile per hour wind blowing yet?

I very shortly discovered 
that I’m not an Indian, 
at least not a young agile one. 

The Father's Causeway
The Narrowest Link Between the Father's Island and the Mainland ~
Pictured Here at Very Low Water
Dad's "Stepping Stones"
Painting by Don MacBeath, 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I came to this conclusion
about half way across,
just after I missed
one of the stepping stones
and found myself sitting in
about two and one half feet
of icy water.

I was so cheesed off by this time
that I just waded back to the island ~
to hell with the stepping stones.

After changing all my clothes 
and hanging the wet ones up to dry, 
I went down to the beach 
to have another go at the canoe.  

Luckily there was an Indian 
just heading across on the rocks.
I gave him a holler, 
and he helped me launch the canoe 
and paddle it across.  

I was pretty well soaked by the time I got over, 
because we were running broadside to the waves, 
and we were shipping water at every wave.  

However, I got to school about an hour late, 
and about fifteen minutes later, 
after frantically ringing the school bell, 
I managed to round up 
most of my children and start school.  

I had to change my socks and shoes 
which were very wet, 
but I very early learned 
to keep a dry pair of shoes 
and several pairs of socks in the school, 
so this presented no problem.

By noon the wind had pretty well died down, 
and I had no more trouble getting back and forth.

This afternoon our chesterfield 
arrived by plane from Nakina.  
The Father hauled it across in his big freighter canoe.  

This evening Brian Booth, 
the clerk at the Bay was over visiting us, 
and I played cribbage with him and Uno.  
After he left, I sat down and banged this out.

Dad and Brian Playing Cribbage
Photo possibly by Uno Manila, late 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Nothing else of note happened today (thanks goodness), 
so I guess I will sign off for the night.  
Will be talking to you all tomorrow again.

Bye for now,
Love, Don   

Voyageurs Shooting Rapids
Artist, Frances Anne Hopkins, 1879

Dad's misadventures with his 
Hudson Bay Company canoe
never failed to entertain us,
nor did they discourage me.
In my imagination and dreams,
I became an adventurer, a voyageur, too.

And, as I later found out,
dreams can come true!

Les Voyageurs
Louise and Roy MacBeath
Lake Attawapiskat
Photo by Don MacBeath,  Spring 1961
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue


  1. Wonderful post once again, Louise! What fun adventures. Your father didn't quit that day; he was so determined to get to his class. These stories are so captivating. Have a lovely weekend!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Martha! Despite his misadventures, Dad was having the time of his life; and he loved his students, so he was driven to do whatever he had to to make it to school. You have a
      lovely weekend too!

  2. Who knew your dad was an artist too! I can see why you poured over your dad's adventurous letters. He can make crossing water in a canoe sound like the most exciting thing in the world. I can't wait to read them every Friday. And I love the picture of you in the canoe. And your young picture.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Peggy! Dad was a great storyteller. By this point his letters were making the rounds among my Nova Scotian side of the family (MacDonalds/Raymonds+) and my PEI side (MacBeaths/Pratts+), as well as in my classroom, where I was sharing every letter. I remember the thrill of canoeing up north so clearly. The landscape was magnificent: water, ice, tree, and rock. I felt intimately connected with the land and with history. Have a great weekend!

  3. He discovered he wasn't an Indian - funny! At least he finally made it across.

    1. Hi Alex! Dad could turn a phrase so naturally. It's a skill I really have to work on. And yes, one way or another he made it to school. I hope that you and your wife have a great weekend together!

  4. Smith's Cove looks like a cool place. I like the photo of Dad and Brian.

    1. Hi Susie! Smith's Cove is a wonderful place. My grandmother's home (now my sister Bertie's home) was the one constant throughout our lives. And one branch of our family has lived in the area for hundreds of years. But when you're a kid, you don't always appreciate your everyday home. I was fascinated by the north. Have a happy weekend!

  5. haha well with a little perseverance you get across, even if you aren't a young agile Indian.

    1. Hey Pat! I later made that crossing back and forth one time ~ scared the heck out of me! Perseverance is the key to just about everything in this life! You're the definition of it when it comes to your blog! Have a happy weekend!

  6. This is so precious to have after all those years, photos, a painting or more, and to share with us, I can almost be there as I read your Dad's words, and realise how you would have read over and over, imagining the day so well. Cheers, Jean.

    1. Cheers, Jean! These letters, photos, and paintings are my most valuable belongings. If I had five minutes to clear out in front of a forest fire, they'd be in my car! My cleaning lady, more importantly my longtime friend, was over yesterday and telling me about how her uncle spent New Year's Eve in New Zealand ~ a item on his bucket list. He was so excited to wake everyone up in the middle of the night and wish them Happy New Year before most of the world. The people at the other end of the phones ~ not so excited! I've often wondered about how New Zealanders think of the rest of the world. You're always in front of everything and at the bottom of the world. Have a great rest of the weekend!

  7. Hey Fundy, another great post - I have the advantage of hearing Dad's voice as I read your post. Great job fixing up the photo Donnie sent you of Dad's painting. Hugs Barb

    PS: I wish I was going to the bar tonight with you and Terry for a glass of wine - It's been a long hard week & I could use my big Sis :)

    1. Hey Sis! I tried to call you last night after we went to Parkway ~ no answer. So I called Bertie ~ sounds like you are really under the gun. It can't be easy in the Oil Patch with the price of oil in the toilet! We have a meeting later this morning, but I will call you later. Borrow one of Donnie's cranes to help hoist that chin up! TeeHee. Do you remember when Donnie would tell us it was a two-crane-day or a three-crane day? I thought of you when I was sipping that wine! Love and Hugs, kiddo!

  8. And look at you now -- still sharing your Dad's letter but today with an even larger audience! I didn't realize your Dad was a talented artist -- love his painting of the stepping stones.

    1. Happy Saturday morning, Debra! The reason I have all of Dad's letters is that Dad knew I would eventually write a memoir. I just wish he were here now to share the journey! Dad did quite a few paintings while he was in the north. He gave many away to friends, but I can still see them in my mind. I was always fascinated to watch his paintings as they developed. Have a happy weekend!

  9. Those letters are quite a treasure! I'm sure it was so much fun getting them and reading about your dad's adventures.

    1. Hi Sherry! Our Dad's letters were the only contact we had while he was in isolation. Dad did have the ability to send a telegraph wire in an emergency, but that was very expensive and strictly for critical things. So those letters were big in our lives ~ and so much fun!

  10. Such strength and fortitude your Pops had, Louise. I really don't think I would have lasted.

    Is that your school picture? Wide - eyed and bushy tailed ready for the world you were!


    1. Hey Ron! Dad really hung in there, but if you had had a wife and five little kiddos aged one to ten who were depending on you, you would have hung in there too, I bet. Thank goodness you and I never had to face those challenges! But then we had our own different ones, didn't we? Yes, that's my 5th grade photo taken in the fall of 1960 ~ one of the few colored photos of me growing up! Have a happy weekend, my friend! I'll be making the rounds of all my favorite blogs this weekend. I managed to slice open my left index finger with a knife Thursday night and my right index finger and thumb are full of cracks. It really throws you off when you're a trained typist ~ LOL! I hope you, Jim, and SD are enjoying a fun weekend!

  11. Your father had so many talents and another great post once again, love the photos.

    1. Thanks, Linda! You are always so encouraging! Have a great weekend!

  12. As a gardener, I too learned to keep extra socks at work. These are wonderful glimpses into an adventurous time. What an admirable and intrepid man your father had to be! And the photo of you(?) as a child shows such an alertness, energy and sincerity. My belated compliments to the photographer.

    1. Happy Saturday morning, Geo! Thanks for the encouraging feedback! Yes that's me, and it was a school photographer who took my picture. I was so excited because Mom let me borrow a necklace of hers. And she managed to salvage my hair for the photo because I had recently taken scissors to my hair in a secret attempt to cut and style it. I knew immediately that I was not destined to be a cosmetologist! You and Norma have a great weekend!

  13. Your father must be very proud of what you've become especially to think that he has always been your inspiration behind your aspirations. Fundy Blue, I hope you'll make more things happen this 2015. :)

    Glad to have found your blog.

    1. Thank you, Superlux! Your comment is so encouraging! Happy week to you!

    2. Thanks for dropping by my blog too. Enjoy the rest of the week!

  14. Nice post Louise! It puts me in memory of precious mail deliveries when I was in the arctic around 1975. A twin otter would fly over the little air strip at top speed a drop a package of mail to us below eagerly waiting word from the outside world. Once every two weeks with usually a month between responses. Old news in the arctic was 'new' news in a landscape of such proportion, of such geographic scale - few elsewhere in the world today can imagine. Your father must have had a tremendous pioneering personality to stick it out in the north, especially through the cruel winter! Best - ME

  15. Hi Mark! I would love to have done what you did, Mark! I'm glad I got to experience northern Canada even if it was not quite the Arctic. . I loved the solitude and how the few people there were pulled together to make life enjoyable and survivable. I got to live in a Newfie outport which was wonderful as well. It was a relief to take a long timeout from our crazy world. I still have to go above the Arctic Circle. There is nothing like the North. I flew over Hudson Bay twice this year, going to and from Reykjavik, and the scale of the wilderness was hard to grasp. But what magnificent county! In the summer of 2016 I plan to return to the North. Have a great week, Mark. I'll be popping by to see your inspiring photos!

  16. Fantastic adventures again of your dad, I can well imagine his hazardous exploits and how lucky nothing really serious happened to him!!! WOW!!
    About dreams coming true, I have to say I managed to realise most of them (to live in Africa was not the least!!).
    I bet you did the same, Fundy!!
    Many thanks for your lengthy comments, it is always such a great pleasure to read you!
    I can only be sorry we live so far apart, I would have loved to meet you :)
    Keep well, have a good week !

    1. Hi, Noushka! Yes, I've realized a lot of dreams! but I have many to go ~ and a big one is coming up this summer. Terry and I are taking a cruise up the inside passage from Vancouver, Canada to Alaska, and then into Denali National Park in Alaska! I am so excited! Maybe I'll get some cool bird photos!!!!! It would be fun to meet you too, Noushka! Maybe it will still happen! but we can still be friends thanks to the modern age we live in! Take care!

  17. Great stuff as usual. The historical pictures really enhance this segment. I can remember when the logs were still floated down the river and the men would leap from log to log guiding and freeing up logjams with their spiked poles.That always seemed to represent a romantic images of the past although I am sure in reality that it was brutal, dangerous work. Many of them were French Canadian and a whole picturesque, unique vocabulary developed around life on the river.

    1. I remember the loggers, too, David. We lived just outside Sherbrooke, Nova Scotia, for a couple of years in the mid-1960s. Each summer there was a sports meet for lumberjacks. They held all sorts of competitions, like log rolling and walking out a long greased pole over the water. They had a pancake fry too. It was so much fun. Lots of logging in the Atlantic provinces. I was fascinated with the coureur des bois as well as the voyageurs. Canadian history was always such fun! Have a good one!

  18. These letters and posts melt my heart. Thanks for sharing.


    1. Thank you, TPC! What a lovely thing to find your comment tonight! Have a good one!

  19. Hello there, Louise!!! Your name was chosen for my book giveaway. Sophie picked your name out of a hat!!! I sent you an email, hopefully you received it. I just need to get your address and the package will be on its merry way! Congrats!!! XOXO, Audrey

    1. Hi Audrey! What fun! I haven't found your email, but I'll check again tomorrow. Give Sophie a hug and tell her thank you!

  20. Your dad seriously had some amazing adventures!! Enough for a book or a memoir :)

    1. Hi Keith! I'm working on the memoir! But I am not fast, so don't hold your breath!


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