Friday, May 29, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters: Traffic Jam

Whenever I think of the North fifty years ago,
I think of bush planes, canoes, and dog teams.
I was fascinated by all of them; 
as was my father, despite his grumbling
about his trusty little Hudson Bay Company canoe. 

On Saturday, October 22, 1960
My father wrote:

Hi There Everyone:
Today was a lovely day, 
and I think that every plane in the North Country 
was in at Lansdowne House.  

I counted five planes in here at one time today:

three Cessnas,

a Bellanca,
wikimedia ~ in Norway

and a Norseman. 
Photo by Don MacBeath,  September 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

If they have much more traffic than they had today, 
they will have to build a control tower at Lansdowne House.

Well, I had a good mail again today, 
although not as good as last week; 
well, I won’t say not as good, 
but rather not so many letters. 

Well, that’s not exactly right either, 
because I believe I had just as many letters.  
I know for sure that I heard from more people.  
Oh, I know what was wrong.  
There were only magazines and very few newspapers.

The company has left, and so I can continue with the Letter.  
Oh yes, I suppose that you are interested in 
knowing who the company was.  
The company consisted of four or five little Indian children.  
They are always coming to visit Uno.  
I wished I lived nearer to my children on the mainland, 
so they could come to visit me.  

We have been having a real bang-up time here today again.  
The Brother is going after the rocks with the dynamite.  
He’s really a noisy character when he cuts loose with the pyrotechnics.

I don’t think that I have ever seen such a 
beautifully perfect day as today has been.  
There was hardly any breeze blowing, 
and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

And it was so warm!!!!!  
The temperature actually rose to 21 above zero.  

After the cold weather we have been having, 
this felt like you could go about in shirtsleeves.  
As it was, everyone was going about 
with their parkas open and their earlugs turned up.  

Uno and I even went on a canoe trip for pleasure.  
I never thought that I would establish enough rapport with 
that fiendish contraption to enjoy going on a pleasure trip in it.

A lot more Indian families left for the winter traplines today, 
but they must have been some of the better off Indians, 
because they all left by plane.

I never fail to be fascinated when I watch them loading 
an Indian and all his accouterments in and on a plane.  
Today I watched Harry Evans load up his Bellanca 
for a trip to Big Beaver House today.

Big Beaver House Area
Wunnummin Lake
You can see ice on the lakes.

When Harry took off he had two large canoes 
lashed to the pontoons outside, and inside he had 
the father, the mother, four children of assorted sizes, 
and all the winter supplies, cooking utensils, clothes etc., 
and oh yes, four dogs and the family cat.

Float Plane with Canoes Lashed to Pontoons

They use the dogs in the sleigh, and as I’ve said before, 
the cat enjoys special prestige among the Indians.  
They would never leave without pussycat.
The dogs may be mongrels, but they are quite valuable.  
A good team of four dogs is worth anywhere 
from 150 dollars to 200 dollars, depending upon 
the dogs and the demand at the particular time. 

The way they treat them in the summer though, 
when they aren’t earning their keep, 
you wouldn’t think that they were too valuable.

Credit:  Bud Glunz. National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque. Library and Archives Canada, e010962320 /

Even when the poor brutes are earning their keep, 
they aren’t exactly sufficiently fed, at least not by my standards.
Their daily diet (one meal) consists of one or two raw fish.  
Frozen yet!!!
No wonder the poor things are hungry all the time.  
As I said before, in the summer, 
they exist on what they can scrounge.

Brian was over tonight, and we had a couple of games of chess.  
He hasn’t beaten me yet, but he is getting better.  
got an awful trimming from the Brother at dinnertime today though.  
He is a very canny player.

Well, I guess that winds her up for tonight.  
Will be back again tomorrow.
By now,

My dad really enjoyed a good game of chess or cards.
My brother Roy and I spent many hours playing games with Dad.
Eventually, Roy became so good at chess
that he could trounce our father, 
much to Dad's chagrin and Roy's delight.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

1.  The Brother:

Brother Raoul Bernier, OMI,
Roman Catholic Mission, Lansdowne House

2.  Brian:

Brian Booth, clerk,
Hudson Bay Post, Lansdowne House

3.  21º F = -6.1º C

4.  Flying in a float plane.
     This is what it sounded like when you were a passenger!


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, blogoratti! Just hearing the sound of the float plane brought back a flood of memories. Back then people didn't wear headphones, and you shouted to communicate which was almost impossible. But what adventure! I'm longing to fly in a bush plane again! Have a good weekend!

  2. What excitement that must have been to have all those planes in at once. It's hard for us to realize how hard that must have been on your father being away from his family like that. He lives for those letters and never complained. Do you also have the letters the family wrote to him?

    1. Bush planes were always exciting, Peggy, whether they came on floats or skis. You'd hear them, and then you you'd spot them coming in low over the horizon. I never tired of watching them. It was my job to meet the mail plane and get our food and mail. Dad did live for our letters, and sadly, most of the family ones were not preserved. When I was a little older, I became a letter preserver for just this reason. Have a lovely weekend, Peggy!

  3. Poor pups must have been hungry indeed. That is an interesting way to fly canoes out haha

    1. Hey, Pat! Those bush planes were the workhorses of the North. It was definitely flying by the seat of your pants! The pilots were constant problem-solvers and innovators ~ and they had to be risk takers and adventurers to fly in all kinds of conditions with little to rely on but themselves. Have a good weekend, my friend!

  4. Replies
    1. That he was, Debra! My mom was even more so, but she had to have her adventures with five kids in tow! Have a great weekend! Hugs!

  5. very interesting, Louise. i enjoyed seeing the planes and the way they carried the canoes. Having just been on a boat at the prow albeit on a river i realise how wonderful itis to be onthe water. i'm writing this on a new tablet so hope you get this comment.

    1. Thanks, Linda! I was lucky to find that photo of the canoes strapped to the pontoons of the plane. It is awesome to be out on the water. The Air Force Blue Angels just finished up a practice for the air show tomorrow in the airspace near our house. What fun to watch. I love planes of every ilk. Have a lovely weekend!

  6. Another great post, Louise, and I love all the photos! Seeing the loon is fantastic as well, as I love the sounds they make...hauntingly beautiful! :)

    1. Hi, Linda! I will never forget the haunting sound of the loons up north. They are beautiful and personify the sound of the north more than anything else. Have a lovely weekend!

  7. Did your dad write letters to your family every day? How often were letters picked up from Landsdowne House to be delivered to the "outside world"? I can only imagine how important communication with loved ones must have been for helping your dad survive such hardships at Landsdowne.

    1. Hi Susan! Dad wrote every day, and would mail "The Edition" for the week on Friday's mail plane. The bush pilots were the mail service for the North in many instances. If the weather was bad, the mail plane couldn't get in; neither could it during freeze-up or break-up when the ice couldn't support the weight of a plane. Mail was the highlight of the week for everyone in Lansdowne House. Precious newspapers and magazines were passed around after the original recipient read them: everything from Father Ouimet's "Indian Record" to Dad's Charlottetown "Guardian."

      Have a lovely weekend, Susan. In a few minutes I'm off to Aurora Reservoir to see the air show. I've been watching the jets practice off our deck for the last two days. I thought it was the Navy's Blue Angels that were flying, but they kept flashing white in the sun, not blue. Haha ~ It's the Air Force Thunderbirds which are white. Anyway, I am excited!

  8. Oh the poor dogs!!! I hate to think of them being hungry!!!!x

    1. I can still hear their howling, Kezzie. I thought at first that the dogs liked to howl at the moon. But then Father Ouimet told Dad that it was hunger that made them howl. Sad, but true. The area around Lansdowne House, west of James Bay, was a very harsh environment, and survival for the Indians during the winter was iffy. Traditionally they would spread throughout the bush in family units during the winter,
      so that there was a better chance of each group finding enough game to survive on. Then the community would regroup in the summer when they could fish and food was more plentiful. I'm sure that leaving the dogs to fend for themselves originated during the generations of food scarcity for the people.

  9. I love these posts Louise! Hugs Barb

    1. Hugs, Barb! I'm so glad that you and others are enjoying these posts. I think Dad would be so pleased! Wish you could be here today to go to the Air Show with me! I'm flying solo since thunderbird jets are not Terry's thing. Taking lots of memory cards and batteries with me. Love you! Miss you.

      Wow, you should see our beautiful new tile floors in the master bathroom and walk-in closet. I was so tired I went to bed last night about 8:00. I slept through a booming fireworks show that I didn't realize was going to occur. Terry didn't wake me up because I was sleeping. Aargghh! Doesn't he get how much I love fireworks after all these years? So what if I've been having trouble getting to sleep and only getting about four hours a night. It was FIREWORKS! I must have gotten 10 or 11 hours last night, though, and I feel sleep groggy! LOL! Hugs to you.

  10. Fascinating video, were the headphones plugged into a radio receiver? and paddling out from the jetty, what a brave man your dad was, to go there, and live there, and work there, facing all weathers. and then there are the intrepid pilots , such a vast area with lakes, water, ice and bush. I so enjoy the Friday letters. Thanks so much, again and again, for sharing with us.

    1. Hi, Nancy! I actually started to reply to this several days ago, but my immediate and weekend plans got hijacked! Long distance radio was making its way into Northern Canada by 1960, but I don't remember seeing the pilots in earphones. I think they had hand held receivers like the old CBs. Now everything is done through headphones. I do remember that you had to really yell to be hear above the engine noise, and of course, passengers didn't have earphones. Lots of people make hard decisions for themselves to make things better for their families; Dad was definitely making the most of the situation and enjoying the adventure and novelty of it all. The landscape was mesmerizing at any time of year, and in much of northwestern Ontario there was more water than land. And the pilots! Bush flying was and remains a dangerous job. Some of the pilots Dad (and I knew) were killed in crashes later. So tragic. Thanks for being a faithful reader of my northern posts. I'm sorry that my life has been so scrambled this month. I hope that you are enjoying a wonderful week!

  11. What a great letter and post ... though I can't stop thinking about the poor dogs going hungry winter and summer! I hope they could at least roam free and hunt for themselves in summer.

    I really enjoyed those airplane photos. :)

    1. Thank you, Sue! Sorry for the late reply; things have been chaotic around here these past few weeks. Indian dogs largely ran free, but that could be a problem for small kids. When all of us joined Dad in Lansdowne House, the Indians watched my toddler sister Bertie like hawks. If she tumbled, they came running with sticks to protect her from potential dog attacks. I'm behind on my blog visits, but I hope to visit you shortly. Take care!

  12. I'm so loving these posts-- what a fascinating life your Father lived through. It must have been so difficult to live as he did-- but the stories are just amazing...
    Thank you for telling his story..

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment, Vicki! I'm so glad that you are enjoying my father's stories! It was difficult to live in the North, but my Dad enjoyed the adventure. Have a great day!

  13. Your dad was such a great letter writer. I feel like I'm at Lansdowne house waiting for mail, only I'm on the internet waiting for your next blog post with one of his letters. Just fantastic.

    1. Thank you for your kind and encouraging comment, JarieLyn! It means a lot to me. Sorry I'm behind replying. So much has been happening. I will visit your blog very soon! Take care!

  14. Never realized the extent to which some natives used modern means to get to their hunting grounds. They took the whole shooting match!!
    Another wonderful entry, Louise. I like how easily your father writes what's he's thinking. and, I like how you wrap it all up in the end with those edits. thanks so much.

    1. You're welcome, Jim! I appreciate your comments a great deal. Dad wrote as he thought and spoke which makes the letters so meaningful to my siblings and me. I hope that you are enjoying a great day!


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