Friday, February 20, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters: A Housewarming, Northern Style

I think it is hard to imagine today
what living in isolation is like,
unless, of course, you've done so.

The stillness of the remote Northern Ontario winter
Northern Ontario Bush
License:  CC

My father was one among fourteen
white people living in Lansdowne House
in the fall of 1960 ~
and two of those fourteen were infants.

Their only communication with the Outside
was by short wave radio
and by the mail that came and went
in the belly of a bush plane.

Winter in Northern Ontario
Northern Ontario Bush
License:  CC

No phone.
No TV.
Erratic transistor radio reception.

Nowhere to go,
other than to your neighbors.

Nowhere to shop,
other than the Hudson Bay post.

Hudson Bay Trading Post
with clerk, Brian Booth and two Oji-Cree Men
Lansdowne House
Photo by Don MacBeath,  October 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

No cars, no streets.
Just hoofing it,
or canoeing in the summer
and snowshoeing in the winter.
Father Ouimet had a skidoo,
but he was the only one.

If you weren't self-reliant,
you didn't make it.

But you also had to be able
to fit into the small circle
of white people in the community.
You counted on them,
and they counted on you.

Fun was what you made it. 

Saturday, October 8, 1960 
My father wrote:
How’s Everyone Tonight?
Though I dated this as if 
it was written on Saturday,
I am actually typing it Sunday morning.  

The reason for this is that 
Uno and I had sort of a 
small home-warming last night.  
We didn’t actually consider it a home 
before we got some furniture 
and fixed up the front room, 
and got rid of the trunks.

  Front Room Before
Photo by Don MacBeath,  October 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Duncan, Maureen, little Duncan, 
and Brian Booth 
were over for some 45s 
and a real old-time gabfest.  

About ten o’clock the 
Father and the Brother dropped in, 
and about eleven Mike, the nurse, 
was over to the Island 
on a sick call and joined the party.  

It was all very informal.  
Everyone just came and went as they felt like it.

 Front Room After
Photo by Don MacBeath,  Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Duncan and the Father even went out on the lake 
with the speedboat about midnight 
to get some pictures of the northern lights.  

They were magnificent last night.  
They had mauve and red and 
yellow and green and white, 
and they were so low 
that you would think that 
you could almost reach up and touch them.

Northern Lights

It was the first time that I had ever 
seen them colored like these were colored.

  Northern Lights

And you could hear them!!  
They were crackling and buzzing 
like a bunch of angry bees and crickets.  
I never saw or listened to anything like it 
before in my life.

Everyone contributed to the party.  
Maureen baked a large honey-spice cake, 
Brian brought over some candy, 
Uno and I bought cookies, etc., at the Bay, 
and the Father brought over 
a large bowl of fruit: bananas, grapes and apples.  
We had two coffee pots 
and a teapot going all the time.
    fruit  bing                                                           honey spice cake  wikimedia                             coffee  ebay

All in all, we had a very nice party.  
The Brother was the first to play out and go home.  
He left about twelve thirty.  
Brian played out and went home about one, 
and the Father left about one thirty.  
Mike and the MacRaes left about two thirty.
I went down to the shore with them 
to help push their boat off the beach.  
I still can’t get used to this commuting by boat.  
Instead of a bunch of cars in our front yard, 
there were two canoes and a speedboat 
dragged up on our beach.  

This was in addition to the one 
belonging to the Father and several 
belonging to some of the Indians on the island.  

Actually, at times we have 
a parking problem at Lansdowne House also.  
There are only two wharves, 
and there are very few stretches 
of beach suitable for beaching a canoe.
If everyone decides to go 
to the same place at the same time, 
we really have parking problems.  
You should see the shore below the Bay 
if they are having a busy day.

Canoeing at Night

The party was sort of a spontaneous effort.  
Dunc came over in the afternoon, 
and Uno and I suggested that 
he and Maureen come over in the evening.  

After all, we have been over there so much.  
Dunc told Brian about it, 
and the Father and the Brother, and Mike 
just saw our lights and dropped in.

Nothing like doing something ass-backwards 
I always say, so now I will tell you 
about the first part of the day.

We got up about seven thirty 
and went over and had breakfast.  
We read the papers for a couple of hours, 
and then we answered some 
official correspondence and personal mail.  

Then Uno did a washing over at the Father’s, 
and I cleaned up the house.  
Next time we need to do a washing, 
it will be my turn.  

In the afternoon Uno went out painting 
and I settled down to listen to the World Series.  
But the reception wasn’t too good, 
and I very soon lost track of the game 
and fell asleep and slept till about five o’clock.  
I guess that is why I was able 
to keep going so late at the party.

I can just see Aunt Maude shaking her head 
in disapproval at these irregular hours, 
so I hasten to assure her 
that we don’t keep these hours all the time.  
We are usually in bed before eleven.

Well, I think that just about 
winds things up for Saturday, 
so I will sign off till Sunday.  
ACTUALLY it is Sunday now, 
Sunday morning that is, 
so I will just be signing off till tonight.

Bye for now,
love, Don

When I went north, I heard the northern lights
buzzing and cracking a number of times.
For decades our stories of the noisy northern nights
were dismissed, like those of others in the wilderness.
Scientists said they didn't make noise.
Well, now science is catching up!

Take a listen or read about the mysterious sounds:

Daily Mail: July 10, 2012
Scientists discover where the mysterious sounds of the Northern Lights are generated.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue


  1. Another wonderful and informative installment, Louise, of your father's correspondence to his family.
    Living where he did, and your family as well, required touching base with survival......things we really have lost touch with today. What a good experience for you all.
    thanks for this and I appreciate the work it takes to get these 'letters' out to us.
    Now, go surfing or something!! lol

  2. Was there even anything on TV worth watching back then? lol so no need for a tv haha isolation has to be rough though, no matter the day in age. The parking issue must have been interesting too when all decided to go at the same time.

  3. Ok, that was just jaw dropping amazing!! Thank you so much for the video. When your dad said that the lights made noises I couldn't imagine but the video proved it. I think I look forward to your dad's letters almost as much as your family must have. How wonderful that he could put into words all his experiences. The life he lived made every encounter and communication important. The isolation must have been hard but I never hear him complain. He must have been such a positive person. What a party that must have been to last so long into the night. I'm thinking about how these devices have made us isolated from the human contact that we once had so much of. What good days they were when people dropped by without invitations and spent time with you. so much fun. Now it seems they can't come over without phoning first. Heaven forbid that they would catch you at a real life moment. Louise, I love Fridays because of you and your dad. hugs.

  4. Louise, your posts are always fascinating and informative. I agree, it is difficult to imagine what isolation is like unless we have lived it...and most of us haven't. I love your photos, seeing the old store, the living room, and your own photos as well is so enjoyable. Thank you so much for sharing.

  5. It must have really lonely. I'm sure your dad looked forward to receiving letters and any gift to cheer him while he lived there.

  6. I am enjoying this so much, and the clip on the northern lights is such a treat..

  7. When I have seen Northern Lights in southern Manitoba, they were always white or green. I saw "dancing" Northern Lights once and they blew my mind! I'd love some day to see the multi-coloured Lights or to hear them cracking and popping.

  8. well.
    i think i'm in love with your dad.
    for a man to write so regularly and take such time to describe and ... well. these are treasures as you well know. thank you for sharing them! peggy's right. well worth visiting.
    and the northern lights!!!
    took me back when we lived in a rather remote little town in northern minnesota. they were fairly common but i don't remember actually hearing them. i say common. they NEVER felt common to me. i was thrilled by them!
    i have to meet the marine for dinner tonight. but i want to come back soon and explore this beautiful blog of yours.

  9. I love it so much that you're sharing those amazing letters with us! I don't think I could have lived so isolated, I'm very impressed he did it. I hope I'll get to see the Northern Lights one day!

    Thank you for your lovely comment on my last post! Wish it. Dream it. Do it. really has become a motto for my life and I'm loving it :)

    Have a fabulous weekend!

  10. Hello dear Fundy!
    Your father did know how to tackle life and he might have had his share of troubles and difficulties but at least could never have been bored even isolated as we was!!
    Those northern lights are fabulous, auroras are one thing I would have loved to witness once in my life!!
    Keep well dear friend :)

  11. What a tough way to live. So isolated. Most people would never be able to handle that. Your dad was pretty amazing. And these posts you are sharing are incredible.

  12. Tammy J's comment made me smile. Your Dad was so very special. I can see how you had no choice about bringing these letters to us. They are enriching more lives than he could ever have anticipated. I love the warmth and spontaneity of the party. The closest to that kind of feeling happened when I lived in Northern N.B. I remember the staff members of my school gathering about the piano or guitar or whatever instrument was available and singing and singing until the wee hours of the morning. It is one of my dreams to see the Nothern Lights. One day....

  13. Hi Everyone! Thank you for all your wonderful comments and encouragement! And thanks to my newest followers ~ It means so much to me! All of you do! Well, as some of you know my Terry, the Ever Patient retired yesterday, and this week has been a whirlwind. Tuesday morning we are leaving for a long vacation, so we're happily packing for the tropics. I'm going to respond to your comments here, because I am in a major time crunch. I will not have access to the internet for about a week. I will get around to each of your blogs asap!

    Jim: Big hugs to you, my friend! It does take a lot of work to do these posts, but it is a labor of love, and I feel my dad with me all the time!

    Pat: There were thing to watch on TV way back then ~ goo d things, but we didn't get to see them!!! LOL

    Peggy: You are so sweet, Peggy! You make me smile big! Hugs to you, my friend!

    Linda: Thanks, Linda! You are always so kind! I went to a lot of stores like the Hudson Bay Post during my childhood. I never really lived in a city until I moved to Garden Grove, California when I was 23!

    Peaches: Dad LIVED for the mail. It was the highlight of his week when that plane came on Fridays ~ if it came!

    Jackiesue: I've been playing that clip over and over, just to hear their magic voices again..I just found out this morning, that my sister Bertie heard them in Newfoundland too. Now, do I have a story to tell!

    Debra! I hoe you get to see the full on northern lights show and see them! You will never forget the unearthly awe!

    Tammy J: I'm glad that you have experienced the northern lights, even if you didn't hear them. Thanks for your kind words about my dad!

    Beate: Thanks for your kind words! I love your motto too! I find myself repeating it. I have always lived by it ~ just didn't know it! LOL!

    Hi Noushka! I bet that you could take phenomenal photos of the northern lights! I hope you get to see them and hear them and share their beauty with the world! I'm trying very hard to stay well! Especially with Hawaii coming up shortly. I'll be trying to find birds to share with you! XOXOX

    Martha: Thank you, Martha! It was tough, but it was an adventure!!!!!

    Carol: Northern New Brunswick??? Where were you? I lived in Atholville near Campbellton when I was in 1st grade. Thank you for your kind words, and I loved hearing about your school staff! Those are the best moments!

    Have a lovely rest of the weekend everyone, and an awesome week to come!!!!!

  14. The northern lights' forever in my bucket list. :P

    Life with no tv, etc. Gosh, they must be really creative to survive that.

    Thanks for sharing your stories as always! :) Have a lovely weekend.

  15. They're back in my BL too, SuperLux! You have a lovely weekend, as well ~ Well what's left of it! We have five or sic new inches of snow this morning. Take care!

  16. As so many others have commented Aurora borealis is on my life's bucket list, but I suspect that this may just be one dream that is not going to be realized.

    1. Never say never! I was in Toronto in the summer of 1972, and northern lights appeared over the city ~ faint green white. The radio and TV were saying not to worry ~ they were just the Aurora borealis! Have a good one, David!

  17. I visited Lansdowne House in the 1950's. My Uncle and Aunt were living there. Roy Jeffery worked for the D.O.T. and Vera Jeffery taught at the one room school. Jack Tait and Bob beach operated the HBC store across the bay. Does anyone have any photos of Lansdowne House from back then? I would love to see them.


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