Friday, May 22, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters: A School Party

My brother, and I were really curious about life 
iLansdowne House in Northern Ontario.
We knew at some point we would join our father there.
My younger sisters, aged six, four, and one
understood less or very little.

But to Roy and me, the thoughts
of flying Way-Up-North in a bush plane
and of going to school with real Indians
was terribly exciting and adventurous.

Flying  Over the Albany River
Photo by Don MacBeath,  October 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Whenever one of our father's letters arrived in the mail,
we couldn't wait to hear about his adventures
in a place so different from Nova Scotia;
but most of all, we wanted to hear about Indian children.

Ojibwe Children
Wild Rice Camp, Minnesota. circa 1940
©The Ojibwe People's Dictionary          

On Friday, October 21, 1960 
My father wrote:

Hi There Everyone:
There was no mail again this Friday.  
It was a real blizzard up here all day.  
There is quite a lot of snow on the ground, 
but the lake is still mostly open, although 
there is quite a bit of ice in some of the bays. 

I don’t expect that it will remain 
open much longer though. 

Albany River

Harry Evans, 
a pilot for Superior Airways 
out of Sioux Lookout, 
told Bill Mitchell 
that all the lakes 
north of the Albany River 
are frozen solid, 
except for Attawapiskat 
and one or two other larger ones. 

The Albany is a river halfway between 
Nakina and Lansdowne House.  
I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if you don’t read 
what I am typing now till the last week 
in November or the first week in December.

Albany and Attawapiskat Rivers
(to the left of James Bay)

Well, I wish you could have seen me with my Indians.  
I decided to give them a party this afternoon.  
I bought a whole lot of candy and fruit down at the Bay, 
and I took it to school for prizes.  

The party lasted all afternoon, 
and I had a hard time to get rid of them at four o’clock.  
We played Musical Chairs, Blind Man’s Bluff, 
Pin the Tail on the Donkey, 
and lots of other games of this nature.

My Father's Students Dunking for Apples
(Note:  stoves in the background that caused problems)
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario
Photo by Don MacBeath,  October 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

We cleared all the furniture out of the main part of the school 
and had races and other forms of entertainment.
Two of my boys even put on a boxing match for us.  
I am going to have to get a set of boxing gloves, 
and teach them how to box correctly 
as they are very interested in it.  

When the afternoon was over, I still had 
lots of prizes left over, so I had a drawing 
and a scramble to give them away. 
I took care to see that everyone won something. 

The children must have had a good time, 
because they were all after me to find out 
when I’m going to hold another one.  

I guess that I will have one on Halloween.  
I believe that I will start them making 
a paper mache pumpkin Monday.  
Also, I’m going to have them make 
masks and all that jazz.

I don’t relish operating that confounded canoe 
in this weather.  I will be awfully glad 
when I am able to walk over on the ice.  

That reminds me of a term 
that I have heard since I came up here.  
It isn’t the most delicate or respectable, 
but it is highly amusing. 

There was a character here last year 
who taught school in the school 
that Uno teaches in this year.

Uno's School
Roman Catholic Mission
Father's Island
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Whenever he was over visiting on the other side, 
and it came time for him to put on his overboots 
and head across to the island in the winter, 
he always said, “Well, I guess it’s time for me 
to put on my Jesus Boots and head across the water."
He referred to his overshoes like this 
because he could walk on water 
(albeit the water was frozen) with them.

There was quite a bit of ice along the shore again 
when I went down to launch my canoe this morning, 
and I had to break a path through it for the canoe.

If it keeps getting any thicker, I will have to carry 
a little hand axe and sit right in the prow of the canoe, 
and chop my way along through the ice.

That ties it up for today.  
Will be seeing you all again tomorrow.

Bye for now,

Eventually Roy and I did fly Way-Up-North
in a bush plane and go to school with real Indians,
and it was every bit as exciting 
and adventurous as we had imagined.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Bill Mitchell:  Hudson Bay Store Manager, Lansdowne House

It's hard to find images to illustrate my northern posts.
My father could only afford to take a few photos,
so I scour the internet looking for things I can use.

Sometimes I use pictures from a different area,
like the photo of the Ojibwe children in Minnesota,
because they illustrate similar people, culture, or landscapes.

In my searches for this post,
I came across two archival photographs
related to the Indians and the Albany River.

I think they are interesting because they illustrate
a way of life that was vanishing just as my father
arrived in Lansdowne House in 1960.

The National Archives UK/flickr
CO 1069-279-22
Indian Summer Camp, Albany River, 1913
This image is part of the Colonial Office photographic collection 
held at The National Archives. 
Feel free to share it within the spirit of the Commons.

The National Archives UK/flickr
CO 1069-279-21
Cree Indian, Albany River, with unfinished canoe 1913
This image is part of the Colonial Office photographic collection 
held at The National Archives. 
Feel free to share it within the spirit of the Commons.


  1. Your additional pictures...both you father's and the ones you add yourself make the story more meaningful and help us frame the story. I know those children must have had the most fun day of their loves playing with your dad. He was amazing!

    1. Thanks, Peggy! You, as a teacher, would definitely get it ~ developing background knowledge. If one has little or no concept of a subject or an area, it's easier to grasp it with visuals. We are on track for the rainiest May ever in our area. It's so green around here that it's starting to look like Ireland! I'd go out, but it's been raining, raining, raining, and is raining now. Have a lovely weekend!

  2. What kids don't love party games? And I think you do a wonderful job of illustrating these posts!

    1. Kids are kids the world over for sure, Debra! And thanks for your kind words! It makes the hours of hunting worth it! Have a great weekend!

  3. That sure sounds like they had a grand time. Games were always much more fun than doing math and such haha

    1. Always! Often for the teacher too! I have to admit though ~ blackjack is fun, and there's a lot of math involved. Have a good one, Pat!

  4. Now what kid wouldn't want to have the chance to experience what your family did, Louise. What good fortune it was to have had this. Now I am getting an inkling/appreciation for the nomadic nature that your family has.

    I had to chuckle when I read about those 'Jesus Boots'!! Those catholics can be so rude!!! lol

    1. Hey, Jim! Oh, I was very aware of our good fortune. We five all experienced different things in different places. While my youngest sister remembers very little of living Way-Up-North, she truly experienced life in an outport in Newfoundland in a way I never did.

      Even as a girl, I did find the Roman Catholics in L.H. somewhat irreverent when compared with my more severe northern Baptist background. Irreverent in that Father Ouimet and Brother Bernier sometimes drank wine and played cards when socializing with my parents. And they weren't dour; they had great senses of humor and big laughs. They were also hardworking, pragmatic, and not afraid to get their hands dirty. Have a great weekend, my friend!

  5. The baby Indian is very cute.

    1. I thought so too, Susie. Children everywhere are so compelling. I still have my tikanogin that was made for one of my baby dolls. TGIF! Have a great weekend!

  6. I love this post and the photos you are sharing. Not sure if I ever mentioned this or not, but just in case I didn't....I love how you include a photo of yourself at the end of the posts. You have a beautiful smile. :)

    1. Thank you, Linda! Each one of the photos of me has the Bay of Fundy in the background. This summer when I go to Nova Scotia, I'm going to get lots of photos of me on the BoF. I'm always the photographer, so I don't get many shots of me. Have a great weekend! I'll be catching up ~ again ~ my perpetual state! Hugs!

  7. The video of canoeing through the thin ice is amazing. Kudos to you for bringing to life this particularly dangerous experience your father had to endure in winter!!

    1. Thanks, Susan! It's hard to imagine these things sometimes. Have a wonderful Memorial weekend ~ I hope we get some sunshine! I'm beginning to sprout moss. LOL! Hugs!

  8. Your wonderful words with the photos show life as I could have never imagined it, Canoeing in ice, breaking it with an axe to find a clear channel, tents and clothing all hand made with skins they have prepared themselves, and winter weather so extreme. Your father was an amazing man, so good with words, and talented with the children too. His letters are to cherish always. Down here, almost a frost, and snow in the far south.

    1. Thanks for your continuing encouragement, Jean! We've been close to frost at night here this past week, even a tease of snow in the forecast (but that was a bit over-optimistic). I'm going to wear my raincoat and carry an umbrella when we walk to Parkway tonight for Friday Night Date Night! Quite novel for my arid corner of the world. I'll be catching up with everyone over the weekend. I'm anxious to hear what's happening with the ginger cutie. Hugs!

  9. Hi Louise! I can just imagine the children's glee when they played those games and won the prizes. Your father was a kind man. I loved his description of Jesus Boots-ha, very witty!!!x

    1. Hey, Kezzie! Glee for sure! The games were unfamiliar to them, but they caught on quickly. No matter what their circumstances, children have such a capacity for joy and fun. You and I are fortunate as teachers because we have our work lives filled with delight and joy! Happy weekend!

  10. I love these stories...what a great movie it would make.

    1. Thanks, JS! My father would be surprised to think people could envision a movie from his letters, but he would be pleased to. Have a great weekend! I'll be spending part of mine catching up with my blogging world!

  11. Replies
    1. Thanks, JarieLyn! Your encouraging comment put a big smile on my face!

  12. Such an interesting installment. Your Dad was a fabulous story-teller! Can't even imagine canoeing in those icy conditions!

    1. Thanks, Barb! I'm glad I didn't have to commute to work under those conditions! Have a lovely day!

  13. I would have loved joining you on that journey.


    1. Hi, JJ! It was an amazing time in my life, and I wouldn't have missed it for anything! I hope you are enjoying your Memorial weekend!

    2. The Memorial Day weekend is a time of reflection for me. My dad, who was a veteran, died on Memorial Day in 1991. I like to think about him and share stories about him with my kids.

    3. I don't think you could spend your Memorial Day weekend in a more meaningful way, Janie! It's wonderful that you are keeping your father's memory alive by sharing family stories. They are so important! I'm sorry for your loss. It doesn't matter how long our parents have been gone; the pain and sadness of that loss are always with you. It's the wonderful memories and the joy of the time you shared that eases the sadness. My parents were veterans too, and it's Remembrance Day and poppies that skewer me, but make me so proud too. It's men and women like your father and my parents who truly served our country and are the real heroes! thinking of you and sending you a big hug!

  14. Oh man, I can't wait to hear more about your school days when you joined your Dad up North!!! That party sounds like a lot of fun ~ can you imagine how happy those children were??? :-)

    1. Thank you, Audrey! It's wonderful to see you! I have lots of stories! Hope all is well with you, Alain, and the girls! Hugs!

  15. Hello Fundy!
    Another of your father's fantastic stories!
    I bet the kids wanted more after this wonderful time he organised for them!
    Can't wait to read you about the time you had in school up there!!
    Much love, enjoy your week :)

    1. Thank you, Noushka! I'm very happy this week because I'm in the middle of getting a new floor in my master bathroom and walk-in closet ~ out with carpet and in with beautiful new tile; plus we had an unexpected trip out of town and time with some special friends. I even did a surprise "photo shoot."
      I'm in the gym walking on the treadmill, and suddenly there is my husband bearing my camera and one of my best friends ever. I had the fun of shooting some photos for a save the date wedding announcement, even if I was in my sweaty workout clothes and looked oh so professional and glamorous! Thank goodness everyone was happy with the results! I hope you've been enjoying your week, too! Hugs!!!

  16. I definitely preferred playing games than doing school work. :)

    Nice pictures! They really added to your post.

    1. Thanks, Chrys! One of the things I love about blogging is that visual element. And I have learned from working with elementary children that visuals really help to build background knowledge about unfamiliar areas and times. I loved games as a student and as a teacher! I had a lot, especially math, that were fun and instructive; plus some that were just plain fun! Enjoy your day!


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