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.


  1. Again a wonderful post. I think I look forward to the letters almost as much as your family did. What a treasure to have.

    1. Thanks you, Peggy! I get so much pleasure out of putting these posts together. I hope that you are enjoying your Friday ~ three years retired this week, and I still think TGIF! Hugs!

  2. Great letter and I love all your old family photos. My, my, my, it's been a long, long time since I've heard someone call a woman or girl "lassie" -- but it was still relatively common 50 years ago when I was a kid. Even "wee lassie," LOL! I still say "wee" a lot and often get odd looks from people who aren't used to that archaic word.

    1. Thanks, Debra! I bet a lot of people think of a collie when they hear "lassie," although I guess that it has been a long time since "Lassie" was on TV; just like "Rin Tin Tin. I use "wee", too. I've gotten a lot of odd looks from people over the years because of words I would use; even though Americans and Canadians speak the same language, there are many subtle differences. And of course, I've had thousands of "ehs" thrown at me! LOL Have a great weekend!

  3. Wow, by the last of September? that was some early Christmas shopping. By the sounds of it I'd never want to go outside again up there either lol

    1. LOL, Pat! If you're like a lot of guys I know, you think shopping early is 1:00 pm on Christmas Eve rather than 5:00 pm. But I seem to recall that you shop on-line and early. Bet Santa has lots of kit kat toys in that sleigh! Have a great weekend!

  4. I always liked the old fashioned bathing suits. Nice post.

    1. Nana was quite the fashionista in her day! Have a great weekend, Susie!

  5. That's incredible your sister published a book on spelling. And that your father taught even though he had dyslexia.
    It would've been very frustrating for me to be that cut off from those I loved.

    1. I know it was hard for Dad, Alex, but you do what you have to do when you have a wife and five children to support! My sister Bertie was a top notch teacher for a couple of decades. She has just passed the tests for her Landman certificate. She is now working in land for an oil company. Unfortunately teaching just got too screwed up.

      Barb, my other sister with dyslexia, has a geology degree and a law degree and is doing awesome as a land manager for an oil company. We don't mind putting things like this out into the Cyberworld, because all of us want to say that you can succeed and to not let labels define you.

      Bertie's book was published by Rowman & Littlefield which is pretty big for educational books. I had a wonderful thrill going to the Library of Congress, getting a researcher's card, going to the famous main reading room, and getting the info on her book. Unfortunately, that was just before her book was published, so I could only get the computer info on it, but what a thrill! I gave her a piece of the old copper roof of the Library of Congress in honor of her book being published. Such fun!

      Have a great weekend, Alex!

  6. Great post, as always! Man, do I love that beach photo from the early 1900's. So cool! I can only imagine how hard it was for your Dad to be so cut off from his family and how worried that someone might get sick or hurt.

    1. Hi, Audrey!!!! Wasn't that bathing suit something? I'm sorting though piles of old, unidentified photos that are a century or more old. It's fun trying to track down everyone. It's ironic that my great grandparents and grandparents on my father's side had more money to spend on photos of their family than my parents did. I love holding the old photos and imagining the lives of the people in them! Have a lovely weekend! Hugs!

  7. Oh Louise what a marvelous post and these marvelous photos ...they bring warmth to my heart but tears at the same time! The picture of Mom & Grammie on the beach with you in the foreground is amazing and the one of Dad in residence at Thank you for these posts and all you put into them for family, friends and your blog followers....XXOO SDM aka Dutchess

    1. Thanks, Donnie! I love that picture of Grammie with her arm around Mom! It's one of my favorites. All of my baby pictures are so serious! It's hysterical! And I love the one of Dad at Acadia trying to look so cool with his pipe! I think we had the same beds and blankets at Simms House my first year! LOL! Thank you for the kind words, Donnie! These posts take a lot of time to put together, but it is literally a labor of love! Can't wait to see you!!! XOX!!!

  8. We have driven through Morell a few times and actually stopped at a great bakery there.
    Who would have thought that your dad had dyslexia! he knows how to tell a a good story.
    One can feel the love and respect he had for his mother here, Louise. It must have been very difficult to be so stranded during freeze-up and being so far away from her and you guys!! Great college photo of your Dad too taken in our alma mater!! You still have the wonderful smile I see!!

    1. Hi Jim! I wonder how many people can say that they have been in Morell! My Great Aunt Maude lived there, and I spent several summers with her. Roy, being the grandson, got to stay in Charlottetown with Nana, but that was the hot, icky city. I got to run wild in the fields of Morell. And I got to my Great Uncle Chester's North Shore beach way more than Roy. That beach is now in a national park, but when I was a kid it was wild. My Great Uncle Chester (Nana and GAM's brother) used to train his race horses on his beach. Oh I long to go back to PEI! I LOVE that photo of Dad at Acadia! Wasn't Acadia just the best? But, of course, you'd agree because that's how you crossed paths with Ron! Have an awesome weekend!

  9. Hey Fundy, Another great post and I agree with everything Duchess says above - from your other dyslexic sister - I hope stories like this demonstrate to folks that you can overcome things like Dyslexia by learning copping skills - Mom worked with me for years and I thank her everyday for the skills she taught me. Dad always told us that we could do anything we put our minds to and he was right - hugs Barb

    1. Hugs, Barb! I can't wait to hug you for real!!!!! Mom was something, wasn't she? What I would give to find more of her letters. I keep hoping that someone will stumble across a bunch. I own the ADHD tag for the same reason that you and Bertie own the dyslexia tag, even though I didn't realize it until after I retired. LOL! I was doing all these things for the kids, especially with how I set up my classroom, never recognizing that I needed it too. Too funny ~ that and a lot of other clues that I didn't recognize in me. I'll be calling you this weekend! Love you!

  10. Fascinating post. Most interesting to read our parent's letters and try to envision them as they wrote. I have all my dad's letters he wrote from 1941 to 1946 while in the European theatre. Also the V-Mail that he received from home. I have letters from friends when I was a kid and throughout the years. I don't know many that save them. I worry that our kids won't have that from us, so perhaps our blogs serve a good record of our thoughts.

    Great photos. Heartfelt post. Enjoyed it.

    1. Thank you, MR! How wonderful that you have those wartime letters from your father. They are definitely a treasure! I have many of the letters that I received from family and friends during my lifetime. But the Next Gen don't write them. I hope that they will enjoy our blog posts. Have a lovely weekend!

  11. It was interesting to read about the way your Dad coped with the dyslexia. He seems to have been a strong character with a determination to overcome and succeed in his studies. Did he have someone who encouraged him when he was younger, I wonder? Dyslexia was very much misunderstood in a learning environment and unfortunately still is as I know from my young grandson's present school experience. These posts are so interesting as you explain about the life in north Ontario and about members of the family in between your Dad's letters. I like the photo of you on your fifth birthday.

    1. Thanks, Linda! Encouraging comments like yours keep me moving forward! It is a lot of work, but it is so gratifying!

      Dad did struggle when he was growing up, although he was brilliant and found ways to compensate for his dyslexia. But you should see his handwriting - OMG! He became a typist early on. His mother was mentally ill, and that made things much more difficult for my father growing up. And at that time, there were "Natural born spellers" and people who could learn to spell properly if they only put their minds to it and weren't lazy! My father's high intelligence just made it harder, because his mother and teacher couldn't understand why someone so smart could have trouble with writing, spelling, and math (particularly in transposing numbers).

      Math was Dad's cross to bear all his life. When he took his statistics exam for his masters at a Roman Catholic university, his very understanding professor, a priest, gave him the test separately and handed him a good stiff shot of scotch before he started. And he passed!

      And you're right about dyslexia still being misunderstood today. I have a creative and brilliant niece who has struggled all the way through school and university. She got a lot more support than my dad, but people still got frustrated with her because she is so smart. She has just graduated, and she received her university's medal in geology. Mom and Dad always said that you could do anything you put your mind to.

      I was saddened to hear about your grandson's current school experiences. So often in school, kids are labeled with some learning disability, and then they are defined by those labels. But kiddos are so much more, and they usually have strengths and talents that can overcome their challenges and allow them to well succeed beyond what was expected of them. They just need lots of love, patience, understanding, and encouragement. Understanding parents and extended family can do so much. One thing I always told the parents of my challenged students was that they had to be strong advocates for their children, that the squeaky wheel got the grease.

      Have a lovely weekend, Linda!

    2. Thank you Louise for taking the trouble to write some more about your Dad's way of compensating for his dyslexia. I'm pleased to know that he got support when taking tests and that your niece has gained her degree, which is very encouraging for her. Thankfully our grandson is an enthusiastic and talented boy at his chosen sports of football, rowing, but the academic situation is an ongoing
      challenge trying to get individual teachers to show patience, understanding and arrange the support he needs. He is a quiet and polite lad and much liked by teachers and friends, but at the moment he's miserable in himself as he feels he has not made progress this year.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. My heart breaks for your grandson's feeling miserable in himself! I have found that unconditional love helps a lot, but then I think your family provides that! It's not the child who is smartest who goes farthest; it's the child who is persistent and doesn't give up. Who cares if you take a step backward sometimes, as long as you keep walking?! It's wonderful that your grandson does well in sports, because often it's the desire to participate in sports that keeps a kid from giving up on school or motivates that kid to keep trying. Hang in there and never give up on your grandson. He sounds like an awesome kiddo. Hugs!

  12. Wonderful post! I'm just catching up. I left all your Friday posts for today when I knew I'd have time to read them. I also LOVE all these old images. They tell a story all on their own. Parents do shield their children from adult troubles, which they really should. I'm still learning about things my parents went through whenever I speak to my mom and I'm now 50!

    1. How can you be 50, Martha? You look fabulous, even in a bathing suit!!! Thanks for the kind words.

      I'm having a lot of fun with the old family photos. A cousin of my father sent our family a small photo album of their family history, which is now in my hands, so I'm slowly making progress in identifying people. Slow work, but fascinating. Isn't it compelling to unearth our family stories and to see our parents through adult eyes?

      And yes, parents should shield their children from adult troubles. Too often I saw parents who kept nothing private and were leaning on their children for support. In some cases it was as if the kids were raising the adults, or at the very least, raising themselves. As if kiddos didn't have enough to handle these days without trying to shoulder adult problems. Some of our families were so stressed and overwhelmed, especially during the recent financial crisis.

      I hope you are having the best weekend, my friend! Hugs!

  13. Your posts on your father are always so poignant.

    1. Thank you, Sandra! Hope all is well with you! Hugs right back at you!

  14. Did your parents live long enough to watch you and your siblings become successful as adults? I bet they would "bust their buttons" if they could see what you're doing now with this blog. Awesome job, again, this week!

    1. Thank you, wonderful Susan! Dad died in 1984, but he saw enough to know that we were off to a great start, and he'd met his grandson Neil and knew that he had a granddaughter Heather who was born two days before he died. Mom lived long enough to know and enjoy all of her grandchildren, and of course, she saw all of us well into adulthood. They would both be amazed at the concept of blogging and people around the world sharing their adventures. But they would be proud!!!! I hope that you are having a lovely weekend! Hugs

  15. hello Fundy!
    Impressive the number of old photographs you have kept from your your parent's youth!
    Not only you manage to publish all your dad's letters, add your own point of view but through this blog you share it with others! It is really amazing :)
    Strange how one can remain unaware of our parent's and grand-parent's lives during childhood. It is long after that we realise the troubles they went through...
    I can well understand your father's battle with dyslexia, I my self went through hell with the problem because I was (and still am!!) left-handed and my parents decided it was a no-go.... I still often battle with the keyboard!!!
    Many thanks dear friend for your sweet and delightful comments while I was away (again!!)
    By the way, I found the photo of you "in jail" hilarious!! LOL!!!!
    Keep well :)

    1. Thank you for the lovely and encouraging comment, dear Noushka! I'm so sorry that you experienced that! When you try to switch a child from left to right handedness it doesn't work well. I hope that I'm remembering correctly, but I think Dad's mother forced that change on my father when he was a child. Two of my siblings are left-handed and struggled with the bias toward right-handed students in school. As a teacher, I always thought of them and did the best I could to support my left-handed kiddos. You should have seen me trying to teach handwriting left-handedly! Pretty ugly! LOL It was always a good lesson in helping little kids know that no one knows everything or is good at everything. We all have strengths, weaknesses, and struggles. We're all unique and have gifts to share. And what a wonderful gift of birds and nature you share with the world! Hugs!


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