Friday, May 8, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters: Playing with Fire

flickr ~ Per   license

If you wanted to work in the 
Northern Ontario bush in 1960, 
you had to be self-sufficient, 
or you didn't last long.

You could count on the help 
of others who lived in 
the remote village with you, 
but you had to be ready 
to make quick decisions and 
solve problems on your own.

Sometimes your decisions 
could mean life or death, 
and sometimes you were 
just plain lucky.

On this day my father was lucky, and so were the children who relied on him for their safety.

On Wednesday, October 19, 1960 
My father wrote:
Hi there everyone,

flickr ~ lance robotson   license

Well, we still haven’t mastered 
the big stove yet.
Last night Uno and I 
were successful in making 
the stove stay on all night, 
but it kept the house so hot 
that we were unable to sleep at all. 

I was up most of the night standing in the open door 
or sitting by an open window in an effort to keep cool.  
Tonight we are going to try banking it with ashes. 
I will be quite self-sufficient 
when I get home this spring, won’t I?

All my troubles seem to come in clusters.  
Today I had some more trouble 
with the oil stoves at the school.
When I got to school this morning, 
it was as cold as charity inside the school, 
in spite of the fact 
that the fires had been on all night 
with the stoves set at three.  
There are only six settings on the stove, 
so three is quite a high setting.


flickr ~ Jesse! S?   license

I looked in the stove, 
and you could just see a little flame.  
I set the stoves to five and one half, 
but they didn’t get any warmer, 
and the flames didn’t increase one iota. 

Well, we all kept our parkas and caps on, 
and I also kept my overshoes and mitts on, 
and we held school anyway.  

About ten-fifteen it started to get quite warm, 
and by the time recess was over, 
the school was comparatively warmer.  
I could no longer see my breath, 
and I could take my mitts and cap off.

  My Father's School
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario
Photo by Don MacBeath,  October 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

About eleven ten the stoves started 
making whooshing and whomping noises, 
and when I rushed down 
to the back of the room to investigate, 
the stoves were red hot, and flooded, 
and just kept jumping off the floor 
with every whoosh and whomp. 

I got the kids out of the school pronto, 
and I turned off the oil supply myself.
Then I left the school and went over to the nursing station.  
figured that if she was going to blow up, 
I was going to watch it from the nursing station 
rather than from the inside of the school.


The black smoke 
was just pouring 
from the chimney, 
and I expected to hear an explosion any minute.  

In about twenty minutes the smoke died down, 
and Mike and I went over to the school 
to have a look at the stoves; 
but, they were too hot to go near, 
so I just made sure that the oil was shut off completely, 
and I locked the school and went home for dinner.  

The stoves were cooled down 
when I came back after dinner.  
In fact, the whole school was ice cold again.  
Mike came over, and we examined the stoves superficially 
but could see nothing wrong.  

I rang the school bell, started the stoves, 
and started my afternoon classes.  
I kept a sharp eye on the stoves though, 
and as soon as they showed signs 
of going out of control again, 
I shut them off – before they started 
whooshing and whomping again.
We did without any fire in the afternoon, 
but by three it was so cold that I let the kids go.  
It was damned cold today too.  
It never rose above fifteen all day.
(15º F or -9.4º C)

On yes, the chickenpox has worked over 
from the island to the mainland, 
and two of my children had the pox out on them 
when they arrived at school this morning. 


I thought that it looked like 
the pox, but I wasn’t sure, 
so I sent them over to Mike.
I should be able to recognize 
the chickenpox after last winter,
shouldn’t I?

Mike told me that if too many children get it, 
he will have to close the school.  
The Indians have a hard time with the chickenpox, 
especially if they get it this time of year.  
It has a tendency to turn to pneumonia, 
and that kills them off like flies.  

Father Ouimet told me that in 1947 
forty-nine died at the mission at Ogoki 
with chickenpox turning to pneumonia.  
So you can see that it is a real threat up here.

flickr ~ Lyndsay Esson    license

This morning it was snowing quite heavily 
when I set out in my untrustworthy canoe, 
and it was very little above zero.
I’m telling you it isn’t any fun in a canoe at this time of year.
I would sure hate to fall in the water these days.

Duncan is pretty well over his mumps 
and is feeling just as chipper as a young puppy.  
He is a sweet child, 
but then I am so lonesome for my own children 
that any child looks sweet to me, 
even some of the dirtiest Indian children on the Island.

Well, that ends it for tonight.

Bye now,

I remember only too well when my brother, 
three sisters, and I caught the measles 
just before Christmas in 1959.
I recovered fairly quickly, 
but my siblings developed scarletina (scarlett fever) 
and were seriously ill.  

It was a difficult time for my parents, 
especially for my mother who took care of all of us 
while my father worked.  
But at least we had access to doctors 
and good medical care. 

Mike Flaherty was an excellent nurse,
but doctors and the Sioux Lookout Hospital
were about 225 miles (362 kilometers) away.
By bush plane, 
and a plane had to fly into Lansdowne House 
before it could transport anyone to the hospital. 

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Note:  Measles:  In 1960 there was no vaccine for measles, a highly contagious viral respiratory
                           disease that causes a fever, cold-like symptoms, and a body rash.
                           Children who caught the measles were susceptible to complications like pneumonia,
                           deafness, permanent brain damage, and death.  ctvnews

                           The Ojibway children in Lansdowne House lived in crowded, squalid
                            conditions and were malnourished, so they were especially vulnerable to this
                            contagious disease.


  1. Ah yes, the famous measles in 1960. I felt bad about your father not being able to sleep due to the house being so hot. I love the photo of your father's school, and I think you are so blessed to have all these stories and memories...and photos of your father. Sadly, I have very few photos in comparison, as there was a fire in the apartment building where my parents and I lived when I was a little girl and many of my childhood photos perished, along with the negatives. I just love your posts, so thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Linda! I'm so sorry that you lost so many of your precious family photos and momentos. I know that you are a very sensitive person and emotionally attuned to people, so I have a sense of how much they would mean to you. I also can imagine how traumatic this would have been for you as a child.

      When I was in grade one living in Atholville, New Brunswick (up by Gaspe Peninsula), the house next door burned down. I can't remember the fire. I must have blacked it out of my mind. It took about two years for me to be able to sleep through the night. Every night when my family was asleep, I would get up, check every room, and look out the windows to make sure there were no fires. Sometimes my mother would hear me, get up, and try to gentle me back to sleep.

      It's raining here, and snowing in the mountains. The weather-hypers are saying we could get snow this weekend! I'll believe it when I see it! I hope you have a lovely spring weekend with lots of sunshine!

  2. We have come a long way with all our immunization snow. I had chicken pox and measles as a child. I remember in my early teaching days how measles would spread through the classroom really fast.

    Your dad was so lucky the stove didn't blow up on him. What harsh conditions he endured.for the sake of teaching. I'm sure he was such a good teacher to devote his time like that and be away from his family.

    Are you sure you don't want to sell the movie rights to his story

    1. Hi Peggy! People today don't understand what it was like before the miracle of modern vaccines. I was born just late enough to get the polio vaccine ~ and remember getting it vividly in grade two. The nurses came in and vaccinated the entire school. Terry's older sister got polio as a child, but fortunately was left only with a bad limp. Measles, mumps, German measles, whooping cough, tetanus, pneumonia, flu, rheumatic fever: so many things could kill children off.

      Dad was extremely lucky that his school stoves didn't blow! He had notorious go rounds with the school stoves, the wood stove in the cabin he shared with Uno, and later with the kerosene lamps he lit our forestry department "home" with. I can vividly remember the lamps flaring up with flame, Dad yelling, "Open the door!" and him flying out the door to toss the flaming lamp into a snow bank. Repeatedly ~ always an adventure up north!

      Have a lovely weekend, Peggy! Maybe you'll get some gardening in!

    2. PS ~ movie rights! You're so sweet!

  3. Had a chuckle at the phrase "cold as charity." I had the chicken pox too when I was a kid, also scarlettina, and of course measles and mumps. In fact, I got mumps twice, LOL -- first on one side, then on the other a year or two later.

    1. Poor you, mumps twice! We five never got them. My mom was always wishing that we would catch them, because contracting the mumps as an adult was much more dangerous! So far so good! Dad had a bunch of interesting expressions, probably originating from his PEI childhood. Have a great weekend!

  4. People working up north sure did have to be self-reliant and self-sufficient! My goodness, add all these ailments to an already heavy school curriculum schedule.....amazing.
    Louise, I really appreciate the work it takes to produce these Friday 'letters'. You are taking us on a journey here, and the layout of each post is well-thought out and meticulously presented. Thanks for this.
    And have a great weekend.

    1. Thanks, Jim! I do spend a lot of time getting these posts the way I want them. Terry went to bed last night about 10:30 and asked when I was going. I said, "Soon." He replied, "Un-huh (sarcastically). He can't believe I'm having fun. LOL And he knows what a niggling perfectionist I am. It's my cross to bear in this life, and I no longer beat myself up over it. And thank God for the Ever-Patient! He accepts me and lets me fly. I hope that you, Ron, and Ms SD have a great weekend! Take care!

  5. Damn, that was lucky nothing went boom indeed. Teaching in the cold must not have been fun at all. hankfully never had the measles, had chicken pox but they came and went easily.

    1. Measles were certainly a miserable affair, but then chickenpox was too. I'm glad that you got off easily. We're lucky to have good medical care available. Childhood used to be a crap shoot! Have a great weekend, Pat!

  6. So inspiring and interesting. Sorry to hear that you lost many photos, though.

    1. Thank you for your visit and kind comment, Vanessa! Have a great weekend!

  7. Very interesting! I really didn't know that pneumonia could be a complication from chicken pox. I just thought chicken pox was an annoying, itchy thing.

    1. Hi Sherry! I remember the itching vividly. Before vaccines and modern antibiotics there was always the risk of serious complications with any childhood sickness. Mine was the first generation to have some protection and medical treatment for such things. Have a great weekend!

  8. All these ailments should be in childhood, but in remote areas, overcrowded small homes, and little hearting, what a worry for every family there, now with vaccinations ,life for a mother and her children is lots safer. Your Dad's letters tell a wonderful story, so vivid I can see it happening. Chickenpox, I had it as an adult and was so ill!!! And are you going to get more snow? Down here, we are definitely into Autumn, leaves are golden/orange/ and yellow, and falling more and more every day.

    1. Hi Jean! It's always a mind wench for me to think about the seasons being opposite in the southern hemisphere. We're in the middle of a lovely spring here ~ mostly cool and wet which is wonderful because water is so scarce here. And, yes, it was snowing up in the mountains today. We're getting a prediction of some snow during the weekend in our area, but I find it hard to believe. Thank you for your kind words about my father's letter. Have a lovely weekend!

  9. and yet we still have parents that won't vaccinate their kids...crazy

    1. Hi Jackiesue! This is a big issue here in Colorado. We have become so complacent about childhood diseases. We've been largely spared them in the last twenty or thirty years. There is always a risk to any medical treatment, including vaccines. But the benefits for community health and alleviating suffering is much, much greater. Many urban people don't grasp what it's like to live on the edge. Have a great weekend!

  10. What extreme weather!!!. It sounds very dramatic!!! Poor Father Fundy!
    Measles is a really terrible thing. We've had a chicken pox epidemic at school recently, it has got most of our children but we have a little boy who is having radio therapy for a brain tumour and he can't be in contact with any of those poxes as it is very dangerous for him so it really is rotten.timing as we haven't had an epidemic for years! X

    1. Hi Kezzie! I'm still glowy warm inside from your blog post! I do hope your little boy is coming along well. I've had a number of students who later developed cancer, and it's always so sad. Sick children go through so much, and often with a wisdom and acceptance beyond their ages. It's scary to think that some of these childhood diseases are starting to reappear, especially as resistance to antibiotics grows. Have a wonderful weekend, my friend!

  11. When my mother first began teaching in a one-room school in Virginia in the early 1930s, she had to get the pot-bellied stove going before the kids arrived. Happily, no flare-ups happened like your dad experienced, though. Love reading your Landsdowne Letters blog!!!!

    1. Hi Susan!!!!! I'll bet that your mother had lots of stories to tell about that time and place! Thanks for your encouragement! Have a great weekend, my friend! Hugs!

  12. Never a dull moment! These posts are so enjoyable. Thank goodness for the vaccines that have come along to control these illnesses. It was so hard for families back then.

    1. Thanks, Martha! Terry's older sister had polio and had a lifelong limp as a result, but she was lucky. It could have been much worse. I'm glad that the polio vaccine was available and I got it in second grade. I hope that you are having a great Saturday morning!

  13. Hahaha!!!
    Comparing my Red kite to a Klingon Bird-of Prey is quite a compliment!!!
    You are really a person I would love to meet one day... I guess we've got quite a similar character and have many interests in common!!! ;-)

    OK, back to your dad's story...!!
    My goodness, what scare he must have had...
    Especially since he was in charge of the kids.
    He was lucky that the gas bottles didn't explode while they were all around or when your father went back to check on them...
    My TV set caught on fire when I was alone with my eldest boy, he was then 18 months old.
    I realised something was wrong when the smoke had invader the upper half of the lunge and my son was playing quietly totally unaware that the fire was starting to lick the curtains...
    Well guess what I did... The last thing naturally I should have done: throw buckets of water at the damn thing!! LOL!! That was close too!!
    Cheers my friend enjoy your weekend and the coming week, I will be away again... this time on the Atlantic coast!

    1. LOL! I'm glad you appreciated my comparison! And I would love to meet you someday too! What a scary thing for a mother! I'm glad that it turned out well for both of you. When I was sixteen, I caught the ing sleeve of my blouse on fire when it touched an element on the stove. And what did I do? I tried to shake the fire off my arm! Fortunately my grandmother was standing near me, and she slapped a kitchen towel around my arm to smother it. It was all so fast that I only had a small burn! I still can't believe I reacted like that. Have fun on the Atlantic Coast. May awesome birds cross your path! Safe travels too!

  14. Wonderful post and a intresting read, I had mumps as a kid, not very nice...
    Take care, Amanda xx

    1. Thanks, Amanda! I'm glad that you enjoyed it. I'm so glad that I dodged the mumps when I was a kiddo! xo

  15. So poetic and great post dear :) I hope you had a great weekend.

    Check out my new post...Swedish summer houses to kill for :)

    Have a fab new week.

    LOVE Maria Inredning - it's Swedish for decor


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