Friday, June 26, 2015

The Lansdowne House Letters: What's Going On?

My sister Barb serendipitously solved
a problem that has been eating away at me:
what to do with my northern posts
while I am knocking off a Bucket List item.

Barb and I on the Bay of Fundy, 
Westport, Brier Island, Nova Scotia, 2014
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Now if I were more disciplined and orderly,
I'd have the next fifteen posts written in advance
in anticipation of being cutoff from the internet.  
I am not so together.

Barb suggested that I repost Shacks Filled with Babies,
after I published Cruel Realities ten days ago.

It occurred to me that in addition to reposting Shacks...
I could revisit my earliest Lansdowne House Letters posts.

That solution might be readily apparent
to most people, but not to me.
Sometimes I have to be hit between the eyes
with a 2 x 4 to see the obvious.
Sisters are the best at doing that!

Before We Were Four
Donnie 3, Me 7, and Barb 1
Alymer, Ontario, December 1957
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I started the Northern posts almost three years ago,
and they spilled out so slowly.
I was slogging through the trauma
of my early years and had no clue
how to handle all the upwelling emotions,
let alone write about them.

You can safely bury lots of things deep in the muskeg,
but once you start digging around in the bog
you can't avoid what comes bubbling up.


Add to the mix an unexpected email
from Somebody-That-I-Used-To-Know a lifetime ago,
and I plunged into a psychological tailspin.

It took me more than a year to be able to bottom dive 
in the muck and handle all that was buried there,
northern and otherwise.

Muskeg Creek

But I floundered through and suddenly
the Lansdowne Letter posts became regular,
and I could address my past and my memoir.

So for the next while I'm going to repost
the earliest Lansdowne Letters 
from when I had very few blogging contacts.

And typical me, I'm setting them up now
less than twenty-four hours before we leave,
and I still have to pack.  LOL

But what can I say?
I've been busy!

My Niece Heather and I Last Week
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

You'd think by now I'd have life figured out.
But just like I've forgiven my younger self,
I'm being kinder and gentler with my present me.

Instead of railing against the nonlinear, herky jerky Louise,
I'm embracing her and reminding her
that things have always worked out in the end,
and they will continue to do so.

So my apologies for a most irregular Northern post,
but I wanted you to know what is going on.

If I should catch an onramp to the Internet highway,
I'll visit your blogs as much as I can.

Perfect music for floundering around in the muskeg:

You Tube ~ goytemusic

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters: The Last Plane ~ Or Not???

I wasn't up in Lansdowne House
as freeze-up approached in the fall of 1960,
but I remember the following spring
and the approach of break-up clearly.

Gossip, speculation, and story-telling
swirled around the community
as everyone scrambled to get supplies in
and letters out before The Last Plane.

The trouble was you never knew when the last plane was 
until the weather truly cut you off from the Outside

Freeze-Up Northern Ontario
flickr:  dmffryed   license

On Monday, October 24, 1960 
My father wrote:

Hi There:
Freeze-up may or may not be upon us.  
The temperature was down to two degrees 
below zero this morning, 
and  the lake was about three quarters covered 
with a layer of ice about a third of an inch thick.  
I had to cross by way of the causeway again, 
but had no accidents today.

The Causeway
linking the Father's Island to the Mainland
Painting by Don MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The ‘last plane’ from Nakina arrived today with mail, 
but didn’t bring any of the freeze-up groceries.  
It looks as if there may be another ‘last plane’ tomorrow 
with the grocery orders and some more mail.
It looks even more hopeful, since the temperature 
rose to above freezing by this afternoon, 
and most of the ice on the lake melted.  
It all depends upon what happens tonight.  

It is very calm now, and if we have a real hard frost, 
we have had it for several weeks at least.  
However, I am going to get the letter ready to go out tonight, 
in case another ‘last plane’ arrives tomorrow.
Some years they have three or four ‘last planes’ 
before it finally closes in.

 A Bush Plane Off-Loading Supplies
(de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter)

There is one consolation about freeze-up 
happening in October instead of in November though. 

If  it comes early, before there is too much danger 
of too much snow, it only takes two or three weeks 
to freeze the required thickness to support aircraft 
(seven inches of good hard ice), 
but if it snows during the freeze-up, 
it takes much longer for the ice to reach the required thickness.  

The longest freeze-up period that the Father remembers 
was seven weeks, the average is from four to five weeks, 
and last year it took only two weeks.  
Let’s all pray for a short period, 
because it is deadly up here without mail.

 Letter from My Father
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Keep the letters coming though, regardless of freeze-up, 
and I will have a glorious time the first mail after freeze-up.  

Please explain to all members of both families 
why there will be a long delay in answering their letters.  
To be specific, explain to Grammie, Athol, Don Fraser, 
Aunt Nan, and Aunt Louise.

Uno’s in bed, and it is pretty late, 
so I have to wind this up.  
I will keep writing this during the freeze-up period, 
and there should be quite a book coming 
after the lake has frozen over.

Bye for now,


My Father Typing
at his small desk sandwiched between the beds
in the small bedroom he and Uno shared
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I can't help imagining poor Uno in bed
just inches from my father right elbow
as he quickly typed trying to get one last letter written 
before freeze-up set in and there were no more planes.

Please Note:  For the next several weeks 
I will have little or no access to the internet.
During this period I will be re-posting 
a few of my earliest northern posts.

If I have an opportunity to get on-line,
I'll reply to comments and visit your blogs.

You can be sure I'll have stories to tell
when I can reliably get on-line again!

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters: Cruel Realities

Parents tell their children many things,
but they never know what impact
their lessons and stories will ultimately have.

It's fascinating how the same parents
can tell the same siblings the same things,
and each child will respond differently.

My brother Roy remarked on an early Northern post 
how different our memories of the North were.
For him it was a time of adventure, exploration
and the pure joy of interacting with the Indians.

A Treasured Childhood Photo of Roy and Me
Sitting on the Loveseat in My Parent's Charlottetown Home, c. March 1954
The photographer had just told me to pull my dress down because my panties were showing.
Roy found that funny!
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

It was for me too, 
but I read, saw, and remembered darker things.

Perhaps it was that fourteen month age difference
between us, or perhaps it was because my brother
has the gift of seeing things through rosier glasses.

I thought long and hard about posting this letter,
but I cannot tell the story of our time in the North
and ignore the cruel reality that the Indians endured. 
That reality colored my world forever darker.

This letter had surprising ramifications in the future, 
especially for my father and me;
and this, ultimately, is my story too,
so I will tell it as I experienced it.

On Sunday, October 23, 1960 
My father wrote:

How’s everyone tonight?
Today was as nasty as yesterday was nice.  
It was very cold and cloudy and 
snowed on and off most of the day.  
When it wasn’t snowing, 
the wind was howling and whistling 
like a thing possessed.  
The water is very thick and cold.  
Freeze-up is not too far off.

Mike was in today after Mass to see Uno and me 
and see if we would help him out if he organized 
a health clinic next Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. 

There is a serious nutritional problem among the Indians 
at Lansdowne House, and especially among the children.  
Some of them are literally starving to death.  
The main stay of their diet is bannock and tea.  

In a great number of cases, the only milk that the children 
get is the little bit of canned milk that they get in their tea.  

The government is supposed to supply powdered milk 
and vitamin fortified biscuits, but as usual 
with the government, neither has arrived for this year yet.  

Mike wants to find out just what the general health condition 
of the children is, so he will know what measures are necessary.  
If the children are too undernourished, 
they are wide open for any disease that comes along.

Uno's (left) and Dad's Schools
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue  All Rights Reserved

Look, I’m telling you, you wouldn’t believe it
unless you saw it with your own two eyes.  
It is utterly appalling how 
undernourished some of these children are.  

I was in the nursing station the other afternoon, 
seeing Mike about something, 
when this Indian mother brought in a baby 
that was about one month old, 
and it was almost in the last stages of starvation.  

The mother was beyond the usual child bearing age, 
and she was attempting to breast feed the child, 
just as she had done with her eight others, 
but because of her age and/or general run down condition, 
she didn’t have sufficient milk for the baby, 
and the poor little thing was slowly starving to death.

Mike didn’t realize that the poor thing 
was as far gone as it was, 
and he had Anne fix it up a bottle.  
Well, it would have done your hearts good 
to see the relish with which that baby tackled the bottle.

Unfortunately, the baby was so run down and so far gone, 
that he no sooner got the milk down, then he threw it up again. 

Mike immediately took the baby out of the tikinagan 
and stripped it, and I wish you could have seen it.  
Its arms and legs were no larger than matchsticks.
Its tummy was distended, 
and its body was almost completely dehydrated.
The mother wanted Mike to give her something 
to restore her milk supply.  
Mike told her to buy canned milk for the baby, 
but she said that she could not afford to do this.  

Do you know that all the milk that her family was getting 
was one half can of condensed milk per day – 
this for eight children, a father, and a nursing mother.

 A More Fortunate Mother with a Healthier Child
Mainland, Lansdowne House, 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Mike had to go down to the Bay and arrange 
for her to get some condensed milk for the baby on credit, 
on the condition that the baby’s family allowance 
would be used to pay for it.

This mother and child were from the Father’s flock, 
and Mike, even though he is Catholic himself, admits 
that the conditions are worse on the island than on the mainland.
The people are poorer and have much larger families than on the mainland.  

I would think that the church would be doing the Indians 
a greater service by teaching them to prevent 
unwanted children that they can’t afford to feed properly, 
than worrying about their Hail Marys, rosaries, 
and other such religious falderal.

After Mike arranged for the milk for the baby, 
he had to show the mother how to prepare the bottles 
and prevent them from becoming contaminated with germs.  
She didn’t have the slightest idea how to go about this.

The Hudson Bay Post and Dock w/ Bush Plane
viewed from the Father's Island
Lansdowne House, September 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Well, the clinics are on for Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons.
Tuesday, it will be held in Uno’s school, 
and Wednesday it will be held in my school.  
Uno and I will have to help out at both clinics.

That winds her up for tonight.

See you all tomorrow.
Bye now,

I thought about omitting Dad's criticism 
of the Roman Catholic Church,
especially considering how much I have always
admired and respected Father Ouimet
and how large he loomed in our lives.
But my parents had strong convictions birth control,
and it felt wrong for me to omit Dad's remark.

Doctors sternly warned my mother 
not to have any more children
after Roy and I were born 
because she had serious medical issues.
But my parents couldn't stop the babies.

Donnie, Me, and Roy
Atholville, New Brunswick, 1957
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

When I was in first grade, 
after the birth of my sisters Donnie and Barb, 
my mother had a seriously botched thyroid operation 
down in the States, and she nearly died.
She survived and went on to have my last sister Bertie.

Donnie, Barb, Me, Bertie, and Roy with Gretchen
Margaretsville, Nova Scotia, 1959
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My mother was one of the earliest women 
in Eastern Canada to take the pill, 
and both she and my father thought
it was a lifesaving medical advance.
They had seen far too many children 
born into extreme poverty,
and they were relieved that they 
were able to limit their children to five.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Baby Fundy Blue with Razor Clam
by the Annapolis Basin which
Connects to the Bay of Fundy

Her Mother:  Sara MacBeath (middle)
Her Grandmother:  Ella MacDonald (left)

© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


Mike Flaherty:  The nurse at Lansdowne House's nursing station.

Uno Manilla:  Dad's roommate and teacher at the Roman Catholic School

Bay:  Hudson Bay Company post in Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario

bannock:  A traditional bread made of salt, baking powder, lard, flour, and water  (recipe)

An early conversation with my mother:  Shacks Filled with Babies

To my sisters:  Never for a moment did I ever wish you weren't born!
                          I can't imagine my life without you!

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters: Freeze-up Worries

My parents experienced difficult challenges
when I was growing up, but they sheltered
me from much that was happening.
I had a wonderful childhood.

My Fifth Birthday Party
My one-year-old sister Donnie is just above the blue arrow.
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
March 18, 1955
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

It was only as I entered my teens
that I started to realize how difficult things were for them.
When I was little, my father seemed larger than life
with his charm, intelligence, sense of humor,
and imposing physical presence.

My Father in the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps
Prince Edward Island, c. 1952
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My father read voraciously, 
was a compelling speaker,
loved a feisty debate,
and told wonderful stories and jokes.

I never suspected as he drilled me on grammar, 
spellings, and vocabulary, or answered many 
of my questions by handing me a dictionary,
that he had dyslexia and was bedeviled by spelling.
I never saw his feet of clay. 

"Donnie" MacBeath Studying in Residence
Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, c. 1947
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I also never realized how much my father
worried about his mother, a widow living alone
in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

I was vaguely aware that Nana suffered 
from depression and mental illness,
that her health was fragile,
and that she had never truly recovered 
from the death of her newborn daughter.
As a child I just accepted what was.

Myrtle Jane Pratt in Happier Days
(in stripped bathing suit)
Prince Edward Island, c 1906
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

As freeze-up approached in Lansdowne House,
my father worried more and more about what might happen
to his far away mother, wife, and five children,
when the only way he could communicate was by telegram
and the only way he could get out was by dog sled.

By dog sled 
is a joke.  

Determined as
my father was,
he could not travel over 
150 miles of muskeg
to  reach Nakina.

flickr:  dmffryed  license

As temperatures plummeted during freeze-up, 
the Indians tied a canoe on their dog sleds 
whenever they had to travel through the maze 
of bog, water, and rock in northern Ontario.

That way, if their dog sled broke through the ice,
they would float and could haul the dogs into their canoe.
Their survival depended on their dogs.

On Saturday, October 22, 1960 
My father wrote:

Dear Mother:
I thought that I had better get your letters answered tonight, 
so this letter will go out on the plane expected in tomorrow.  
This could very well be the last letter that you receive from me 
till after freeze-up, as things are getting quite cold up here now. 

I will send you a wire as soon as the freeze-up starts, 
so you will know not to expect any letters for a while.  
I wouldn’t want you looking for letters every day 
and being disappointed all the time.

I am so glad to hear that Aunt Maude is getting better.  
It is quite nice that she is getting home again.  
It ought to be a good rest for you too, out at Morell.  

Now don’t you go and get sick 
while I’m up here in the bush, 
especially during freeze-up.  
During freeze-up and break-up 
you can’t get in or out for love or money.  
The only way you could get out would be by dog sled.

Nothing new on the teacher’s residence yet.  
One thing you very quickly learn 
up here in the bush is patience.  
It takes anywhere from two to three weeks 
to get an answer to your letters.  

I don’t know how I’ll adapt myself to the hectic pace 
of outside living next summer.  
If it wasn’t for you and Sara, my family, and my relatives, 
I wouldn’t ever want to come outside again.  
At least that’s the way I feel right now.  

I may feel differently about it this spring though.  
The people up here all tell me that by spring, 
I’ll either love the North passionately 
or hate it with equal passion.

A Northern Night

I received a nice letter from Don Fraser, 
and like you predicted, there were no spelling errors in it, 
but I was surprised at the number of typing errors.  
I see that he and Anna are planning to do some boating next summer.  
Tell him that I’ll be answering his letter soon.

Oh yes, I also had a nice letter from Athol.  
He wants me to write again soon 
and describe the land about Lansdowne House.
He expects to make a lot on his potatoes this year.  
It’s the first time that I ever heard one of the Marshfield natives
admit that he was going to make a profit on anything.

Well, I finally caught you, Lassie, 
in a spelling error, right after you were bragging 
about what a natural born speller you are.  
You actually used “their” for “there.”  
Oh well, as they say; only the Pope is infallible.  

I don’t mind you correcting me, Mother, 
but I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t enjoy 
catching you out on the limb the odd time too.  
I admit that these moments of enjoyment 
have been few and far between though.

A nice light fruitcake would be awfully nice, 
but I am not too fond of dark fruitcakes.

I am not going to be sending any presents out 
this Christmas, except one small one to Sara.  
Sara is going to do the shopping 
and send the presents from both of us.  

You have to order all your presents 
before the last of September up here, 
and I didn’t know about this till it was too late.  
Besides I didn’t have any money to buy them 
even if I had known, and still haven’t.  
My pay should start coming through soon.  

I would buy you a present up here at the Bay, 
but there is absolutely nothing 
that you would like or could use, 
unless you would like a nice pair of snowshoes 
or a good .306 rifle.

I am sending Sara a nice pair of leather, or rather, 
hide mitts made by the Indians and decorated with beadwork.  
I don’t think that you would like them 
if you thought that those leather slippers had a strong smell.
You should smell these mitts.  
Sara will have to give them several good airings 
before she can put them in a drawer.  
I imagine that she will wear them, 
because she likes good warm mitts.

Beaver-Trimmed and Beaded Moosehide Mitts

I hope you understand about the Christmas presents 
and that you don’t mind too much.  
I also hope that I can get a good account from you 
about how you enjoyed Christmas at our place.

I have several invitations for Christmas.  
The McRaes want me to spend Christmas Eve 
and Christmas Day with them 
and open my presents at their house with them.

Uno wants me to go out to Nipigon with him.  
That is very tempting, but I think that I will stay 
at Lansdowne House for Christmas.  
It will cost too much to go out.  
Besides, Duncan and I plan to do 
some hunting over the holiday.

Well, I guess that this just about winds things up 
for this letter, as I have answered all your letters 
and told you everything of a personal nature. 

As you know, the weekly letter contains all the news,
and it would be stealing some of the thunder of that letter 
if I told you any of that news in advance.  
It’s quite a job writing that letter every day, 
and sometimes I’m pretty hard put to find news to put in it.
guess though, that when I start snowshoeing, 
I’ll have just as many misadventures 
as I did in that canoe at first, and that ought 
to provide some amusing incidents for the letter.

Bye now,

As for me, 
I think of myself as my father's editor,
just like he was mine;  
and like my mother, 
I quietly correct my father's misspellings
and hope I don't make any of my own.

Fortunately I didn't inherit dyslexia,
although two of my sisters did.

I'll end on an ironically funny note.
My youngest sister Bertie, 
who has dyslexia,
published an excellent book on spelling.
Her dad would be so proud of her!
And so is her big sister!

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Baby Fundy Blue with Razor Clam
by the Annapolis Basin which
Connects to the Bay of Fundy

Her Mother:  Sara MacBeath (middle)
Her Grandmother:  Ella MacDonald (left)

© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Aunt Maude:  My grandmother's sister who lived outside Charlottetown in Morell

Don Fraser:  Married to my grandmother's niece, Anna Pratt

Athol MacBeath:  Dad's first cousin who inherited the MacBeath farm in Marshfield, P.E.I.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

IWSG: June 3, 2015 ~ What's Going On?

It's the first Wednesday 
of the month ~ 
the day when members of the
Insecure Writer's Support Group
share their writing struggles
and offer their encouragement
and support to other members.

To visit the IWSG website, click here.

To become a member of the IWSG, click here.

Our wonderful co-hosts who are stepping up to help 
IWSG founder Alex J. Cavanaugh today are:  M. Pax, 
Tracy Jo, Patricia Lynne, Rachna Chhabria,
Feather Stone, and Randi Lee.

Visit them and thank them for co-hosting.
I'm sure they would appreciate an encouraging comment!

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

Last month's IWSG Day was so freeing!
I was discouraged because I was battling distractions,
and I felt guilty because I was neglecting my memoir.

That IWSG Day started with a frustrated "Arrggghhhh!!!!!
Yet another day without writing.

Then I started reading May's blogs and comments.
I'm so glad that I made that choice.
It caused me to really think about
what I have been doing and why.

"Kids in the way?  Dog want to play?  
Cat having its say?  Pffft and enjoy the day," 
said Pat Hatt. 

I'm driven, so that's hard, but I tried it.
Saying "Pffft" eased my frustration and guilt.
I was letting Have-to-Dos overwhelm me 
and discolor the fun in my life.
Thanks, Pat!  source

May co-host Melanie Schultz commented,
"Life is in the distractions."
It is, and I appreciated the reminder!
Good thing too, 
because May was full of life's distractions!
I can get so busy Doing 
that I neglect important people in my life.
Thanks, Stephanie.  blog

Then I read Alex Cavanaugh's IWSG post.

His desire to support and encourage other writers
was proving more important to him
than writing that next science fiction novel.

That caused me to realize that working hard
on my writing and photography to craft good
blogging posts was truly important to me.
For me, blogging is writing.
That was a huge revelation!
Thanks, Alex!  source

So how did May go for me?
I embraced spontaneous fun with less guilt.
I cut the frustration when life called.
I acknowledged that writing my memoir 
is not my only important writing goal.

Hadn't Scheduled This!

I realized that publishing my Northern posts every Friday
help me write my memoir and keep me from giving up.  latest

My Father Writing and His Indian Students, 1960

I addressed some worrisome household tasks.
I tamed that on-line gaming beast.
I took some great photos.
I published blog posts that fulfilled me creatively.
I hunted down and organized decades of manuscripts.
I faced my study and began tackling my memoir.

U.S. Air Force Pilots in Their Thunderbird Jets

Funny thing was I accomplished more memoir writing.
I'm feeling encouraged and hopeful, rather than 
discouraged, frustrated, guilty, and overwhelmed.
I'm making progress.
I'll get there.

It was a good month!
Happy IWSG Day, Everyone!