Friday, May 1, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters ~ A Big Bang

flickr: Rod Brazier  license

In my last northern post
I shared a letter of my father's
in which he described
the approach of winter 
and freeze-up.

Medical emergencies were
always the biggest concern
in isolated communities
like Lansdowne House 
during the time it took
for lakes to freeze over
with ice thick enough
to support a bush plane.

The day after Dad
wrote that letter
such an emergency happened.
Fortunately planes could still fly.

Meanwhile nearly every day
in the north brought my father
unexpected experiences
which he embraced.

On Tuesday, October 18, 1960 
My father wrote:

Hi again:
Today started off with a bang – literally.


I was jolted from my sleep 
and almost from my bed 
this morning about 6:15 a.m. 
by one of the loudest bangs 
that I have ever heard.  

For a few seconds, I couldn’t figure just what was going on; 
and then I remembered the Brother mentioning 
that he was going to start blasting out the basement 
for the new church that they are planning to build next year. 

Brother Bernier
Photo by Donald MacBeath, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved 

I always believed 
in getting an early start 
at a big job, 
but 6:15 in the morning yet!!
I think that’s carrying things 
a bit far.  

Well, there was no more sleep for me this morning, 
so I jumped up, and quickly got dressed, 
and rushed out to watch the fun – me and the Indians.  

It was colder than Hades, 
and all the other white people had enough sense 
to stay in where it was warm.  

Not Donald though.  
He had to be out in the cold with the Indians, 
huddled in the lee of the church, 
in the midst of the Indians, 
trying to keep as warm as possible, 
and see as much as possible, 
and meeting with little success in both respects.  

It was very exciting though, especially since 
I had never seen much blasting close up before.

Well, we still have lots to learn about that confounded stove.  
Last night, we banked the fire and closed all the dampers, 
in an effort to keep it from burning too fast.  

We were successful in keeping the fire from too fast – 
so confoundly successful 
that the darned fire went out without hardly burning any.  
Guess tonight we may be able to reach a happy medium.

Something has been bothering me 
ever since I copied that article 
out of the newspaper the other night, 
and I figured out finally what it was.
blog post

Indian Record October, 1960

Whoever wrote that article didn’t know 
too much about the Ojibway language, 
because he put sounds in that just aren’t in the language.  

As I said before, the following letters, 
or the sounds represented by the letters don’t exist:  
R, B, D, L, and F.
R becomes N
B becomes P
D becomes T
L becomes N
and F becomes V.  

I will now correct that menu.  
The corrections are as follows:  
Kitche-Ogniminnabo should be Kitche-Ogniminnapo (tomato juice),
Dagondkigan should be Tagontkigan (salad)
Meshkawa-Koding-Bimaigan becomes 
Meshkawa-Koting-Pimaigan (ice cream)
Nibishabo-gonima becomes Nipishapo-gonima (tea),
and the word Sisibakwatonsan becomes Sisipakwatonsan (bon-bons).  

It is pretty hard for a person 
who doesn’t know the language 
to always catch the pronunciation, 
because the Indians talk with very little accent 
or inflection and slur a lot of their words.

Oh yes, we had a very serious accident 
at Lansdowne House today.  
They were digging a large drainage ditch 
at the nursing station, and there was a cave-in, 
and one of the Indians was buried 
by about three feet of earth.  

He was buried for about twenty minutes 
before he was dug out, 
and he was in pretty bad shape 
when they finally got to him.  

The nurse had to radio the hospital at Sioux Lookout (photo)
and have a plane fly in and take him out.
Well, that’s it today from Lansdowne House.

Bye now,
Love, Don

Flying into Sioux Lookout
Planes would land on Pelican Lake on the lower left.

Bush Plane Landing on Pelican Lake
Sioux Lookout, Ontario, Canada
flickr ~ steve and twyla   license

Map on Iceland Air Flight
Denver to Reykjavik, May 2014
Lansdowne House would be roughly halfway
between Sioux Lookout and Winisk
and about a wing length southeast of the dotted line.
(I'm probably the only one who's taken this photo!)

I always laugh when I read Dad's words:
"Not Donald though.  
He had to be out in the cold ..."
I'd have been right out there with him.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue


  1. My husband fished in Canada and was flown into a lake by bush plane. It picked they up the next week. Meanwhile they were on their own with no communication. What if they would have had an accident? No wonder he didn't tell me until he got home. One time they were canoeing in the fall and the water was so cold if they would have capsized they would have frozen to death. He loved these adventures though.

    1. Hi Peggy! What an adventure for your Don! I'm glad that you didn't have to worry! When you are on your own in the bush, you are on YOUR OWN! We take it for granted that we have readily available and good medical care. But so many people in the past went about their lives with little access. And we kids never thought about it at all, unless the nurse at Lansdowne House caught us doing something stupid and risky and chewed us out royally. Have a lovely weekend!

  2. Be buried in that much earth would sure be awful indeed. Getting up that early isn't nice either lol that's why I wouldn't want to live anywhere barren, be screwed if you ever had any health issue or accident

    1. I can't believe some of the places we lived in growing up, Pat! My mother was so strong ~ she worried a lot but never let us see her worry. Even when I spent eighteen hours walking my toddler sister Bertie up and down the floor in a log cabin because she had managed to get into a medical kit and nibble some morphine, Mom was calm. The three people "next door" were gone and the nearest living human being was eight miles away by boat. We had no boat. Might as well have been on another planet. So Mom and I kept each other awake and kept Bertie walking. She survived just fine. And we learned she was a monkey who could figure out how to get into the kit in the top cupboard shelf in the kitchen. Have a good one, Pat!

  3. Interesting tales, must have been a real scary experience.

    1. Thank you, blogoratti! I think being buried alive by cold, damp earth must be one of the most horrible things that can happen. Have a great weekend!

  4. Your Dad understood -- NEVER pass up the opportunity to see anything exciting or out of the ordinary at Lansdowne House!

    1. You're right, Debra! And there is so much to see that is fascinating in our world. You just have to look around. I loved that tarot cards of Edmonton series of posts that you did by looking imaginatively at your world. Happy Friday!

  5. This makes life there very real!! We have camped in some remote areas, at least by NZ standards, no cell phone coverage, no power, occasionally another camper or two, the nearest town about 1 hour drive, , a lot on a narrow rough logging road. But not in winter, when there would be snow and ice there!!! Your Mum, a wonderful lady. How hard would it have been not to show fear, and carry on every day? You have a legacy like no other, and... again... so many thanks for sharing your Dad's letters and life at Landsdowne House with us.

    1. Hey Jean Thank you for the encouraging words! I couldn't sleep last night. I was thinking "I can't do this! I'm too ... whatever!" But your words give me courage yet again to keep trying! Have a lovely weekend!

  6. Well, I am happy that your father cleared that 'letter mix up'!! I didn't know know what was going on at first!! lol
    actually, the menu sounded a lot like 'church suppers' one gets around here.....always so tasty.

    So if one was seriously injured after the freeze-up, they would be out of luck? that wouldn't be good.
    And there was 'Donald'....out in the cold! I wonder who takes after him, LOUISE! Just guessing.

    1. LOL, Jim! Yes, I take after my Dad, but also my Mom who was even more adventurous than my Dad! Well that "church supper" menu was missing a Nova Scotian classic ~ lobster! Have a great weekend, my friend!

    2. Yes, if you were seriously injured during freeze-up or break-up, you were SOOL! Kitchen table operations with directions over the short wave radio did happen in the north. Lansdowne House was lucky, because at least it had a nurse. Everyone had substantial first aide kits. Basically, it was the luck of the draw!

  7. Louise, I think that your blogging editorials are well worth the sweat, tears, love, laughter, and everything else you put into sharing your dad's letters! You really write from the heart. Get some good sleep tonight---you deserve it.
    P.S. Can't wait until your next "labor of love", be it next week, next month, next season, or whenever!

    1. Thank you, Susan! You are just the best friend! Writing from my heart is what keeps me writing! Have a lovely day!

  8. Too cool Louise! What an amazing letter. Your father clearly had a rare gift, was a skilled listener, respectful and a mindful learner.

    1. Hi Mark! How good to see you, and thanks for your encouraging words!

  9. I LOVE these. "As cold as Hades" made me laugh. These are precious memories. Thanks for sharing with us.

    1. Thanks for your kind comment, TPC! Have a good one!

  10. "It was colder than Hades" Hahaha I love that your dad added comments like this in his letters. With that type of cold, I may have been in the group of "and all the other white people had enough sense
    to stay in where it was warm." But then again, maybe I'd want to see what all the excitement was about.

    Ack! Be buried in that much earth. Pretty scary!

    1. I have a feeling you'd have been out there too, Martha, just like me! Being buried alive is something that terrifies me. Cold, damp, heavy dirt and being unable to breathe. If a plane hadn't gotten in, that man would have died. There is a rawness to living in the North. Life is much more fragile than in our modern cities; but it is also up front, in your face real. Have a great day!

  11. I just love these!!! I was worried about what the bang was! I'm so glad they found the person in time.x

    1. You're such a sweetheart, Kezzie! I glowed all evening from your featuring my blog on yours! I, too, was glad that they got the Indian man out to Sioux Lookout in time. Have a happy day!

  12. Your dad's incredible experiences were one thing but what a great daughter you are to bring all of it to life again for our amazement!
    Hugs from France, Louise!

    1. Hugs back to you, Noushka! I am enjoying this journey so much! And I can feel my father with me as I write. Not a day goes by that I don't miss the incredible parents I had! Happy hunting with your camera. I can't wait to see more photos of those sweet Eurasian wrens!

  13. This is an amazing blog and I loved the approach, with the letter of you father! I particularly loved the part of the language, but all the experiences are amazing - the church, or someone being buried for 20 minutes... not good, but an experience to learn from!

    1. Thank you, Denise! I appreciated the feedback on the Ojibway language. When I started sharing Dad's letters, I worried about what to include and what to leave out. In the end I decided just to let them stand on their own, because different readers would be interested in different things. Thanks for visiting, and have a good day!

  14. I think your father was a typical teacher in being bothered about the article which gave the wrong spellings in the newspaper article. He had a respect for the Indians and knowledge of the language. He understood how the mistake might have happened due to mispronunciation, although the guest had seen a written menu in both languages so should have done better with the report.


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