Friday, March 6, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters: The Howling of Dogs

If you head into the northern bush,
you understand solitude.

As a young girl in isolation,
I sometimes thought
No one in the entire world 
knows where I am right now.
No human may ever have stood
on this exact spot.

I was caught up in the Romance
of the stunningly beautiful wilderness.

When you are off by yourself
you experience profound silence.
Only the sounds of nature intrude.
At times I could hear my blood 
moving through my veins
and the Lub dub, Lub dub of my heart.

But sometimes during the day
and often at night,
it was not silent.
A constant noise cut the silence:
the eerie, unforgettable howling 
of the Indian dogs.

Tuesday, October 11, 1960 
My father wrote:

Hi Everyone:   
This is going to be fairly short, 
because I’m feeling quite miserable tonight.  
I am, and have been having, 
a session with the flu.  

Bill Mitchell  tells me that 
every new arrival at Lansdowne House 
usually has one or two bouts 
before he becomes acclimatized.

I didn’t do too much today, 
didn’t even eat, 
just went to school 
and let the pupils in out of the cold.

I didn’t teach, 
because I only spent 
about a quarter of my time in the school. 
The rest was spent 
in the backhouse behind the school.
After school, 
I came home and went to bed.
I want to go back to those Indian dogs 
and their howling for a few moments.


I mentioned the howling to the Father today, 
and he told me that the main reason 
the dogs howl is that they are starving, 
and they are howling with hunger.  

That piece of news makes 
me feel worse than ever.  
Before I was just annoyed 
when I heard the poor brutes howling, 
but now, I will feel sorry for them.

It is very easy to believe this, 
because the Indians are 
very cruel to their dogs.  

They never pet them, 
or let them into the house, 
or feed them, 
and the poor brutes are half starved 
and go slinking around 
with their tails between their legs 
all the time.

                       19/01/2013 Coxyde - Sled Dog  

y exist on whatever 
they can find in garbage piles 
or catch in the woods.  

Occasionally their diet is augmented 
by one of the weaker dogs 
or a cat who happens to get careless.

                         19/01/2013 Coxyde - Sled Dog

When a cat happens to get eaten though, 
the Indians are quite annoyed, 
because for some reason, 
the Indians treat their cats just as kindly 
as they treat their dogs unkindly.  

The cat is always allowed indoors 
and is always given the choicest portion 
of whatever the family is having to eat.  

The Father tells me, 
that in spite of all his efforts 
and the efforts of the Protestant Padre, 
the Indians still consider 
that all cats have either 
a benevolent or malevolent spirit 
residing in their bodies 
and treat them with considerable deference.

We will have to be careful 
when we take Gretchen up here, 
to see that she doesn’t end up 
as a tidbit for some of the Indian dogs.

We Five with Our Dachshund Gretchen
Donnie, Barbie, Louise, Bertie, and Roy
Margaretsville, Nova Scotia
Spring, 1959
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Another custom of the Indians 
that I find a source of 
never ending amusement 
is the habit they have of 
always letting the males go first.  

The males always enter church first 
and leave it first.  
They also eat first 
and always enter 
and leave a building first.  

This habit is even strong 
among the children in school.  
At recess and at noon, 
the girls never leave their seats 
till the boys have put on their coats 
and have left the building.
If there are several girls 
waiting at the pencil sharpener 
to sharpen their pencils 
and a boy comes up, 
the girls automatically stand aside 
and let him sharpen his pencil.  

I have been trying, 
with very little success, to teach 
the boys to treat the girls with respect, 
but they only think that it is foolishness. 
Even the girls look at me askance 
when I try to get them to go first.

I have never seen a man 
haul water from the lake yet, 
and only once have I seen 
a man cutting wood 
and hauling it into the house. 
That is woman’s work.

Well, so much for today.

Bye now,
Love, Don.

Like my father, I could never forget 
the howling of the Indian dogs.

This is the best best video that I could find
to show what sled dogs howling sound like.
These dogs (and the ones in the photos above)
are much healthier and better cared for than 
the Indian sled dogs of Lansdowne House.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue


  1. Unfixed half-feral dogs roaming unattended on First Nations reserves are still an issue. Every once in a while, there's a terrible news story about some kid being mauled or killed by a pack of dogs. The RCMP used to keep control by shooting those dogs once a year but animal activists object to that. The problem is, though, that the strays are unsocialized and absolutely unadoptable as house pets. It's a dilemma.

    1. Hi Debra! Google just ate this long comment that I had written you. I was reading about the dog problems n the north while looking for photos I could use. Fifty years ago, the Indians had dogs to pull their sleds, but now they use skidoos instead. Once they got a skidoo, I think they probably let the dogs go, and they have gotten wilder.

      Even as a kid in the north I heard stories about dog attacks in the north, especially by huskies and malamutes. I always swore that I wouldn't have either type as a pet. The Indians always kept an eye on we five, especially Bertie as a toddler. If she went down, every Indian in the vicinity came running with some kind of weapon, in case the dogs attacked.

      In Newfoundland men used to use horses in the woods when they were cutting pulp. Once they got machines they let the horses go. I don't know about now, but when I lived there in the 70s, herds of wild horses roamed free on the barrens of the Burin and around our village on White Bay. And supposedly movie producers brought the first moose to NF when they were making a movie. They let them go, and now NF has a huge moose problem. The moose landed in moose heaven when thy came to NF, and they have run amok!

      We seem to screw up royally with unintended consequences.
      Have a good one!

  2. Sad the dogs get treated like that. Should go take a bite out of the lazy men up there lol just a small one.

    1. Hey Pat! The treatment of the dogs really bothered us when we lived in LH. I'm sure there was some reason linked to survival for why the Indians treated them as they did, but I don't know what it was. When I think of men in some cultures, I think of male lions. LOL! Have a good one, Pat!

  3. So sad to think about those poor dogs...and those poor women. Why do males think they are superior?

    1. I have no idea, Peggy! I know that the men fished and hunted, and that the division of labor probably had something to do with survival. I am giving the men the maximum generous take on it I can muster. I am a woman, after all! Have a good one!

  4. That is interesting, as a dog would protect, but need more food, maybe this has been the practice there for many years, yes, a quiet, lonely place, and not good when you are sick.Lovely photo of you all together, treasured memory.

    1. Thanks Jean! I'm not sure why dogs were treated so, because they needed the dogs for their dog teams. Now the natives have skidoos, and all the dogs have been turned loose to become feral. Roaming packs of wild dogs has really become a problem in the north. That's the first photo of we five, because mom had just come home from the hospital with Bertie. It's one of my most favorite photos. Hope all is well with you in NZ!

  5. I turned the video on and when the dogs started howling..Dexter and TK just freaked out..sad sad sound

    1. Hi Jackiesue! That's interesting that Dexter and TK picked up on their howling. It is a sad, sad sound. When I went north to Lansdowne House later, I would be crossing the ice and night and hear those dogs. It was something else! Have a good one!

  6. Fascinating. I had no idea it was that way with dogs and cats in Indian culture. You learn something old every day!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Suldog, and leaving a comment. It is fun to learn new things! Have a good one!

  7. It deeply saddens me that anyone or any animal be either mentally or physically mistreated. One day, here in Montreal, (about 20 years ago), I saw a guy hitting his dog with a HAMMER. :( Anyway, I reported the incident to the SPCA, who, along with the police, went to the guy's place. I didn't stay around to see what happened, because I didn't want the guy to know who had reported him, but I knew I had done the right thing by reporting it. More people should stand up and report things like this.

    Louise, your post, as always, is fascinating and very educational, I learned a lot. Thank you so much for all you share, your posts are fantastic. Hugs. :)

    1. Hugs, Linda! Kudos to you for doing the right thing! I'm trying to portray the truth of the north as Dad, Mom, and I saw it ~ there is good, bad, and ugly. Like all of life, I guess. Have a great weekend, Linda! Hugs right back at you!

  8. The poor dogs! The poor women! When we lived in the country in Illinois, I heard the coyotes howling every night. It was a haunting sound.


    1. Hi Janie! I agree about the dogs and women. It was no fun being born a woman in the north! We still hear coyotes yipping and howling near our home in Aurora. It is haunting!

  9. Those northern lights are so mesmerizing. I could imagine the howling. Must be creepy.

  10. Hi Lux! The northern lights are the most beautiful thing I have ever seen; somehow even more beautiful when I was out on the ice and could hear the chorus of dogs howling. Happy weekend!

  11. I knew the dogs had a rough time up north, but never this bad.....a whole different social dynamic from the 'south'.
    I wonder if this attitude towards the women and girls is so systemic in their culture that it may be part of the reason so many aboriginal women disappear.
    Yes, that photo of you and your siblings, Louise, is so cute! I bet you learned (as I did) to change diapers since you were 8 or 9!

  12. Hey Jim! Ms SD was fortunate to be born in a time and place where she ended up with you. The dogs in the north had it brutalIy hard. I was reading about the disappearance of the aboriginal women. It was very sad to learn about. I will have more in future posts about women. That photo is the first one of "We Five." Yes, I learned to change diapers very young! Bertie was my living doll. I used to dress her, feed, and play with her all the time! It was so much fun! Thanks for being such a faithful commentator on my northern blogs! I really appreciate it!

  13. That first dog sure looks like his wolf ancestors genes remained strong in his howl

    1. Hey Adam! Most of the Indian dogs had wolf in them for sure! Have a good one!

  14. The howling dogs bring back so many memories! Amazing post Louise ...keep going...Dutchess

    1. Hey Dutchess! Great to see you! I'm plugging along, although it's hard to get computer time here in Honolulu ~ so much to do! I hope that you had a wonderful trip. XOXOX, Sis!

  15. Guess who stood up poker straight on all 4's when the howling video started? You guessed it right, HRH SD ! Not a happy camper in the least. I think she got the point immediately. Oh well.........!

    Quietness in nature, I'm sure I have never known what you experienced Louise but I have stopped in the middle of the forest and just listened.....catching anything on the wind and wondering what it was. Time to do it again.

    Paternalistic societies ..... it's rampant I tell you!

    Have a wonderful walk on the beach for all of here in Nouvelle Ecosse!
    Ron and SD

  16. Replies
    1. Yes it is, Keith! It's something that you never forget! Sorry, somehow I didn't catch this comment!


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