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!


  1. I love all the photos here, and I so enjoy your father's writings!

    1. Thanks, Linda! Sorry about the early post. I still can't figure out how that happened. Have a lovely Friday and an even better weekend!

  2. What wonderful and interesting piece, and the photos too!

    1. Thanks, Blogoratti! Knowing that others are enjoying my northern posts keeps me going! Have a great weekend!

  3. This fills my heart with pity for the plight of those poor people but thankful for people like your Dad. I find the 'no.contraceptives' aspect of conservative catholicism difficult too for many reasons, particularly those you name. I teach families who keep churning put kids they can ill-afford and don't have time for. X

    1. Thank you, Kezzie! I could never forget what I experienced through my family's time in the North. As a teacher, I saw similar families too often. Have a wonderful weekend, my friend! Hugs!

  4. Ugg being under nourished like that would be awful indeed. haha yeah different siblings can take things in different ways

    1. It's fun to compare stories and experiences with the sibs, always good for a laugh or a squabble! Have a great weekend, Pat!

  5. You were quite right to include your father's criticism of the Catholic church. Its opposition to birth control is one of the many, many things it should answer for in the catalogue of human misery. Of course, in those days the only birth control available was condoms, rhythm method or surgery.

    One of my old aunties just died last month in Saskatchewan. She gave birth to 15 children because my uncle refused to allow any birth control methods. (They weren't even Catholic -- he was just a control freak who needed to constantly prove his masculinity). After #15 was born in the mid-1970s, the doctors said having another would kill her and said she should have her tubes tied for her own safety. In those days, the husband's consent was legally needed for surgical birth control and the miserable bastard refused. So the doctors went out on a limb and did the surgery without his consent, relying solely on hers. I suspect he probably beat her for it later. He beat all of them.

    1. Thanks for sharing your auntie's story, Debra. It is tragic and has been played out in the lives of countless women over the centuries. Thank goodness for compassionate doctors who take a risk to help their patients. I think the stories of regular people are important, and I hate to see them lost.

      I am critical of organized religion in general right now, because I see so much that is wrong. But in every faith, there are inspiring and truly genuine people who are infused with spirit and light. Sometime I may share my Great Uncle Cuppy's story. Just a humble fisherman, he was truly touched by God during WWI.
      Father Ouimet was an amazing human being, and he dedicated his life to helping others. There is a lot that is wrong in religious institutions, and if it weren't for people like Uncle Cuppy and Father Ouimet, I might never go back to church again.

      Have a lovely weekend, my friend!

  6. Very interesting. Especially the birth control part.
    The pic of you and your brother was funny.
    You looked serious.

    1. Thanks, Susie! Even though I had just turned four, I remember that incident vividly! In most of my young photos, even when I was a baby I looked serious. It's quite funny to see solemn looks on such a little face. I wish I knew what I was thinking when I was staring off in the distance holding that razor clam. LOL Have a great weekend!

  7. Well hi, everyone! This is a surprise. I have this scheduled to post in about nine hours (I double checked!); but here the post is, and it's clearly dated the 12th, but it's the 11th. Computers like to screw with me. Why I don't know!

  8. sad to think that some of those conditions haven't changed all that much

    1. Hi Jackiesue! In many ways they have worsened. At least now, First Nation people are standing up for themselves more, speaking out, and salvaging what they can of their cultures and languages. It is a Gordian Knot and will take a long time to unravel the tragedy of all that has gone wrong among the indigenous Canadians.

  9. I have never heard the word falderal before. I love that your dad used words like that. And I'm very glad you included the comments he made about the Catholic church. I'm also in total agreement with him. I think birth control is one of the best things that ever came along!

    1. Hi Martha! My father loved words. His Uncle Chester (mother's brother) was forever challenging him on words and meanings throughout his childhood. Handing him a dictionary, just like Dad always handed one to me. Language truly is a living and fascinating thing. Have a great weekend!

  10. The more I learn about your father the more exceptional I find him.

    1. Thanks, Geo. To me he was unforgettable; but then I'm his daughter and it's hard to be objective! I was fortunate to have him as my teacher a number of times when I was growing up. I've had a number of outstanding teachers and professors during my life, and Dad remains the absolute best! Have a good one!

  11. This is a great peek into history. So important. And yes, siblings (and people in general) sees things differently, but that does not void each account. Our experience is our own. This makes me think about how people view things. Some people do look at things rosier because realty is too difficult for them.

    I'm Baptist and not Catholic, but I think we have to be careful about believing in what mankind says to be true about God and religion. We have our own minds and souls to discern what is right and wrong, IF we listen to God.

    Great post!

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, TPC! To me it is endlessly fascinating to hear peoples' stories because each one is utterly unique. I have often suspected that my brother does see through rosier eyes, because sometimes it's easier and less painful. He has been blessed with an amazing life, but he has seen a lot of difficult things around the world.

      I strongly agree with what you said about God and religion. I keep going back to Jesus and remembering his loving care for the disadvantaged. I have always believed that we have those minds and souls to use, not to blindly accept. I think that God is far, far bigger than we can imagine and understand.

      Have a lovely weekend!

  12. Back again, everyone. Just wanted to say that it will be a little while before I get around to visiting everyone, but I will!!! Our niece is visiting from Indonesia, and we are having a ball!!!

  13. Another great post Louise. I was wondering when you would post directly about the hardships faced by the native people - very hard but important part of the saga. Mom and Dad were years ahead of their time on so many issues, including birth control. Have a great time with Heather - hugs Barb

    1. Hugs, Barb! I made the decision to follow events chronologically, and let things unfold as they unfolded for Dad. I started initially with with a darker foreshadowing, and Roy asked me if I had forgotten all the wonderful times we had had, the joy and adventure. I hadn't forgotten the wonder of it all, but I was letting the bad things that haunted me overwhelm all that was good. We're having a blast with Heather ~ we're up at the Ameristar in Black Hawk right now.

  14. I'm sure you're having a wonderful time with your niece which will be a special time since she's come all the way from Indonesia for a visit.
    Thank you for your encouraging comments in response to my comment on the last post.
    This current Lansdowne Letter is again very thought-provoking. It was difficult and sickening, to read about the poverty, undernourishment, sickness compounded by the lack of birth control due to RC teaching. I know it's a complicated subject as there are many pressures in closed communities - cultural issues, male dominance and indoctrination. I've been taught to question, listen, discern God's guidance in my life. I pray for those who have such an influence on vulnerable people and for the folk in such dire need.

    1. Thank you, Linda! We are having the best time with our niece Heather! Religion, culture, life, it's complicated everywhere! I hope that you have been enjoying a lovely weekend!

  15. This was obviously very difficult for your father to witness first hand, Louise, especially seeing the insanity of it all from a different, and much healthier, vantage point......his own non-Catholic religious beliefs. It is very important to post things as they were. How else would we all learn from this?
    I remember when when a few things just didn't 'add up' to me as well, having been brought up in the RC religion. I took my 'blinders' off ASAP!
    I really enjoy these letters and look forward to them weekly. OH OH, you have definitely started something here, Louise!!

  16. Lovely and very precious photos. They speak volumes of past history and how people lived in very tough conditions.

    Your father is a wonderful letter writer. He narrates his experiences with great precision and impact.

    A few things came to my mind after reading your interesting post.

    The attitude of the governments all over the world towards poor and needy people have not changed at all. There is no empathy or sympathy or kindness or generosity to help the downtrodden people. The governments spend billions of dollars on many things which they call development but when it comes to helping the poor they are tight fisted.

    The Catholic church has changed over a period of time but there are many areas where they have to rethink particularly in the size of the family. The Church should take into consideration the health of the mother and the family financial condition. Your father's letter about the condition of the child touched my heart. In this world we have so many rich people wasting money on frivolous thing but some how their minds are closed about helping the suffering people. This is a tragedy.

    Your father and his friends did great service to these hapless Indians.

    Best wishes


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