Friday, April 17, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters: Unlikely Friends

When my father went north in 1960,
he made some wonderful friends.
One of his closest might seem unusual
for someone with strong Baptist roots
nurtured in a Green Gables world.

A Prince Edward Island Boy
My Father, circa 1930
(most likely his grandfather's home in St. Peter's Bay)
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved 

 St. Peter's Bay
Prince Edward Island, Canada
flickr Steve Elgersma  license 

The teacherage for Dad's school had burned down, 
leaving him with only two options for a place to live
in tiny Lansdowne House.

He could live alone on the mainland
in an empty forestry building,
or he could share a two-room cabin
at the Roman Catholic Mission
on a small island nearby.

Living at the mission cabin 
had advantages over the forestry building:
electricity, cold-running water,
and meals at the rectory;
but, it required commuting
back and forth to the mainland
in a canoe or on snowshoes. 

My father chose the cabin
because he couldn't bear 
the thought of living alone.

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

So this Prince Edward Island Baptist 
suddenly found himself sharing daily meals 
with a French Canadian Oblate priest,
a French Canadian Oblate brother,
and his Finnish-Ojibway roommate Uno.

Roman Catholic Mission, Rectory
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
Father Ouimet (center), A Sleepy Uno and Brother Bernier (upper left and right)
Chicago Bill (pilot) and Mr. Baker (prospector) 
Photo by Donald MacBeath,  Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Father Ouimet and Brother Bernier belonged 
to a Roman Catholic religious community called 
the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate,
and they welcomed Dad into their home and lives.

The Oblates have been serving in Canada since 1841,
dedicating themselves to working among the poor.
Many, like Father Ouimet and Brother Bernier,
lived in the north among the Aboriginal people.

The Steamboat St. Emile, 
an Oblate Order Mission Ship on the Lesser Slave Lake
Date Unknown

Dad quickly became good friends 

with Uno and Brother Bernier, 
but the friendship he struck up 
with Father Ouimet was especially close, 
and Father Ouimet remained friends 
with him and our family over the decades.

Father Ouimet was known and respected
throughout Northern Ontario and beyond.
Pilots, prospectors, scientists,
surveyors, stranded travelers, and others 
visited or stayed at his rectory
during his decades in Lansdowne House.

In my research I have tracked down information
about Father Ouimet's hospitality and work,
but it's had to find much about him as a person.

Occasionally my father shared little stories
that showed the human side of this dedicated priest:  
his humor, his interests, and his personal challenges.

Here are two, with a third I shared earlier:

On October 7, 1960 
My father wrote:
I have my Bible up here; 
in fact, I have two with me, 
a King James Version and a Catholic Bible.
The Father was over to our house the other day 
and spotted it right away.  
He was quite surprised to see 
a Protestant with a Catholic Bible.  

I told him that I was thinking once 
of being a Baptist minister and thought at the time 
that I should know something about the opposition.  
He got quite a laugh out of this term.
He also was quite amused when I told him 
how I cornered the Bishop at Rotary 
and asked him where I could get one.

On October 17, 1960 
My father wrote:
We had a rather unusual Thanksgiving dinner 
at the Father’s.  We had fish and chips, 
but they were well done and were very tasty.  
The fish was deep fried in batter. 

flickr ~ Heather Paul  license

The other day we had goose.  
The Father was out hunting 
and shot a huge wild goose.  
It was delicious.

The Father made some rice dressing 
for it from an old French Canadian recipe.  
He has a cook, but the Indians don’t know 
and won’t learn how to make dressing.

He has an awful time with this cook and her tea.  
The cook insists on boiling the tea 
and won’t listen to the Father.

Whenever the Father tries to tell her 
how to make tea correctly, 
she gets real huffy 
and tells him that she is older 
and has been making tea longer than him 
and therefore knows more about how to make it.
Things have now reached the stage 
that there are two pots of tea made for each meal, 
one for her and one for us.

I'm repeating this little story
because it illustrates the sacrifices
that the Oblate priests and brothers made
when they chose to serve in the north:

On September 29, 1960
my father wrote:
Father Ouimet was laughing at my worrying 
about the mail being one or two days late.

He was telling me that 
when he went to the bush 
the first time in 1940, 
he was at a mission on Hudson’s Bay 
and received his mail twice a year; 
once in February by dog team 
and once in the summer, 
about August, by steamer.  

The first year his mail missed the dog team run, 
and he had to wait till August for his Christmas mail, 
including a Christmas cake that his mother sent him.  

The cake was in fine shape though, 
because she had used lots of fruit and wine 
when she was making the cake.

Long after my family left the the North,
Father Ouimet and I exchanged occasional letters.
It has always amazed me that this 
French Canadian, Roman Catholic priest
took time from his heavy duties to write to me.

People have asked me
(in meetings with mixer activities) 
if I could go back in time 
and talk with anyone in history, who would it be.
I've answered Darwin, Tolkien, or Queen Elizabeth I.

But truly, if I could,
it would be Father Maurice Ouimet.
He is one of the most fascinating 
and inspiring people I have ever known,
and I have so many questions.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue


  1. You are so fortunate to have that treasure of information and the aritifacts, too.

    Father Ouimet saw something in you - that you would keep his memory alive.

    1. Thank you, Peaches! Your comment makes the hours I put into writing this post so worth it. For some reason this post fought me all the way as I wrestled the words onto the page! Sometimes it goes like that. Have a lovely weekend!

  2. I guess you never know who you'll befriend in life. Two pots of tea must have been rather annoying haha

    1. Hey, Pat! I crack up whenever I think of Father Ouimet, his Indian cook, and the two pots of tea! It's such a human, ordinary story ~ probably played out daily in different forms and cultures around the world. So funny, so real! Have a great weekend, my friend!

  3. I love these so much! I honestly get a tear in my eye thinking of your Father in that place and all he learnt, and everyone he met and saw. x

    1. Thank you, Kezzie! It warms my heart to read your kind words ~ puts a tear in my eye! I'm trying to visit all of my blogging friends asap. Life has been complicating things recently. Nothing really bad, just a big pile of responsibilities that cannot and will not wait. Have a lovely weekend!

  4. Replies
    1. Hi Jackiesue! I certainly have a rich history, and I am grateful for all of the experiences I have had. Guaranteed though, as I shall reveal, they have not all been wonderful! Have a great weekend!

  5. Father Ouimet loomed large in our lives - what an amazing man he was. I remember when the Oblates letter came to let Mom know that Father Ouimet had passed away. There were tears in our eyes that day.Hugs Barb

    1. Hugs, Barb!
      I never knew that the Oblates sent a letter to Mom to left her know that Father Ouimet had died. Do you still have that letter??? Could you scan it and send it to me??? Any memories you'd care to feed into the grist mill are welcome!!!

      I'm out of control, BARB! Now that Terry has retired, I have had nothing to tie me to a regular schedule. Not good.

      Do you remember the neighbor we have next door, the one who has a few odd quirks and sometimes runs and closes his garage door when he sees Terry and I or our car coming? So sad, while we were in Honolulu he went into hospice at home, and then two or three days ago they took him into the hospital. I think he may have died last night in the middle of a snowstorm, but I'm not sure. He is only about three years older than me. I've rarely seen his wife. The longest time was went she got stuck in a snowstorm drift a few years back and Terry and I ran out and pushed her out of it so she could go to work. Cancer is such a horrible disease. I feel so sad for the family and I'm not sure what to do, so I've been sending a few prayers up.

      Hope all is well with you. I turned around and it's Friday Date Night Again. Not sure if Terry feels up to it because he has a cold. Today he looked at the snow fog, ran back into bed, and pulled the covers up over his head. It's great to be retired!

      Will call XOXOX!

  6. I hope you get your time machine soon and can go have a nice visit with Father Ouimet!

    1. Thanks, Debra! I would dearly love to talk to him. Some others too. When we get older we start realizing all those people we knew and their adult problems that we didn't comprehend could teach us a lot ~ but we think we have time and put off asking the hard questions. Then time runs out and we are kicking ourselves. I hope you're getting all the important stories from you mom while you can! Have a great weekend, my friend!

  7. I so enjoy every Friday with Letters. what sacrifices, and to have missed the mail, and wait another 6 months, hardships we can only imagine, Outside long-drop, only cold water, heating, did they have a fireplace? hot water bottle for the bed, did your Dad get goose-down jackets, hand made with a fur trimmed hood? and dear Father Quimet, a wonderful man who lived for others, not only in his parish, but all who came through. Are you putting all this into a book> I do hope so. And thanks for sharing with us, we are also all the richer for getting to read your Dad's letters.

    1. thank you, Nancy, for your wonderful heartwarming and encouraging comment! Dad and Uno had a wood stove that they fought with daily. And yes, Dad did have a fur-trimmed hooded parka ~ we all did! Hot water bottles for the beds too. As my story unfolds I will be revealing more about Father Ouimet and others. I am grappling with writing a book, and thank God for this blog, because it helps me flounder along. I'm so glad that you are enjoying Dad's letters. I do hope that Hugh and you are looking forward to a wonderful weekend!

  8. Louise, you are so blessed to have such treasures and history. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Linda! You always make my day. Things have been crazy this week, so I'm behind on my blogging visits. Can't wait to catch up on yours! Have a great weekend, my Montreal friend!

  9. I usually cringe when someone mentions they are baptist. Though the Northern/American and Canadian version of the Baptist church seems to be version different from what we see from Southern Baptists. I was glad that when my mom took me to church, it was Methodist.

    Southern Baptists are typically super-conservative, have a long history with racism, outspoken on their pride in their homophobia. and have strange beliefs like not wanting anyone to dance. And they command their followers to not drink alcohol. So they hide their beer in paper bags. They honestly think the paper bag fools a soul?

    A southern baptist and a catholic would be very unlikely friends. I've heard many of them call Catholics "not Christian", though who came first?

    1. Hi Adam!
      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. You have no idea how much your comment resonates with me. Northern/Canadian Baptists are definitely not Southern Baptists, although they have their conservative/fundamentalist sects too.

      I am no longer a Baptist having become a member of the Episcopal Church when I married a Roman Catholic. Actually we met somewhat in the middle because the E-P became an Episcopal too. I'm not really "at home" there either. I would belong to Canada's United Church if I lived there which was a union of several Protestant groups in Canada, including the Methodists and Presbyterians.

      Sometimes I even struggle with being identified as Christian because contemporary religion in America seems so hate-filled and unlike anything I ever associated with Christianity. Perhaps the thing I find most distressing is hypocrisy among "righteous" people ~ perfect example being the beer in paper bags above.

      Both my father and Father Ouimet were well-educated, open-minded, and compassionate men who honored and respected many of each others religious views. They could agree to disagree over some questions of religious faith, and they were able to become close friends. They both were both working very hard to improve the lives of impoverished and disenfranchised First Nation people, a tough, tough slog.

      I remember one of my great aunts in Charlottetown, PEI, questioning me a number of times when I came home from kindergarten. She wanted to determine how much time I was spending with Roman Catholic children, and she tried to steer me away from my best friend who was RC. Then in grade one we moved to northern New Brunswick where there was only a Roman Catholic school for me to attend. It was a little bit of a disconnect for me, but I rolled with it. Going to whatever denomination of church was in whatever community I landed in became the story of my life.

      If God is not about love, forgiveness, mercy, tolerance, and compassion, then count me out!

      Happy weekend to you and Daisy.

  10. Oh my, where to start? Well, I love that top photo of your father. What a gift! It made me realize I don't really have photos of my Dad when he was small. Will have to get right on that! There must be some out there somewhere, right? And, oh my, as a huge fan of "snail mail", for the life of me I cannot imagine getting mail twice a year. And we call it "snail mail" when it arrives a day or two after we send it. Ha, the irony is not lost here. And, as a total tea drinker/lover, the two different pots of tea made me laugh and smile. You have such great stories and I so appreciate you taking so much time to type them out to share them with us. Gives me so much to think about!!! XOXOXOXO!

  11. Thanks, Audrey! I am so glad that you are enjoying my father's stories. I have a fair number of photos from PEI that are 90-100+ years old. Dad's maternal grandfather was prosperous despite having arrived on the Island by boat as a young orphan on his own (probably about 8 or 9 years old). We don't know who his family was, although the boat was from Scotland. He took the last name Pratt because some Pratts were on the boat and took him in, so we don't even know what his family name was. But business man he was, and so they could take lots of photos at a time many people didn't. My childhood is far less documented because my parents didn't have a lot of money they could spare for developing photos. I really encourage you to track down any photos you can find of your father's childhood. And ID them: people, places, dates. People assume that they won't forget ~ Ha! This person is kicking herself for not listening better, questioning more, and writing it all down! Sending best wishes and hugs to you, Alain, and your beautiful daughters! You are documenting their childhoods beautifully!

  12. Fascinating post, amazing glimpse into another world from mine.

  13. I love the stories about your father and I love the photos that you have shared on this post!
    I find all of this quite fascinating and I am very happy that you realize the importance of remembering all of it! xxx

    1. Thank you, Kay! I'm glad you are enjoying my father's letters!

  14. Father Ouimet was an open-minded human being and so was your father. Both had a faith based on the core value of being of service to others and lived that out in difficult conditions. It's good to read of their respect for one another and about the every day life in the mission house. I like the photo of the men sitting around the table and smiled at the anecdote about the tea. Father Ouimet was a wise man in resolving that situation peacefully and at the same time enjoyed the tea the way he liked it! Thank you for sharing. I've been busy with family recently so have saved up a quiet time to read this post and reflect on it to do the writing of such memories justice. It's important to record family history and remember those who have enriched our own life, whether friends or family members.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Linda! You captured the heart and faith of Father Ouimet and Dad so beautifully! Have a lovely day!

  15. Just goes to show you that no matter the differences, people can be friends. All that's needed is an open mind and an open heart. Thanks for another great post about your dad's adventures. What an exciting history!

    1. Open heart, open mind ~ We need more of those two things in our world! Have a happy week, Martha!

  16. Catching up here, as last week was a blur.
    Imagine a Catholic and a Baptist being and staying friends back in those days!? Proves these two men were intelligent and could see beyond narrow beliefs.
    I would imagine your father, Louise, could see the courage and faith that Father Ouilet had and vise versa.
    I went to Catholic public school in Halifax and in the early grades we were told daily to be kind to our non-Catholic neighbours but to know that they would never make it to heaven. I always thought that this was a weird thing to never did!
    I hope Barb finds that letter that informed your family of Fr.Ouimet's passing. It would be be a perfect addition to your collection/story.

    1. Hey, Jim! I know you had a rough week; how could it be anything but a blur?
      I did worry about all these conflicting things when I was little. Like whether or not my RC kindie friend and I would both make it into heaven! And I have to say, limbo really had me confused! Barb said that she must have tossed the letter. :( Such is life! I keep hoping lost things will surface. Thanks for reading my story so faithfully! Have a good one!


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