Friday, August 21, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters: Assessing the Health of the Indian Children

I'm back!

With a new Northern post
after a summer of travel.

Thanks to my long time readers 
for your patience with my reposts 
while I was gone.

And to my newer readers, 
I'll put two links in each week, 
so you can catch up on the missing chronological posts 
should you choose to.

I appreciate each and every one of you!

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

I left off with my father's letter of Monday, October 24, 1960:
The Last Plane or ~ Not???   letter

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

He and the community of Lansdowne House 
were preparing for freeze-up, a period of uncertain length
when people would be unable to fly in or out
until Lake Attawapiskat froze enough to support a plane.

Everyone was writing last letters and waiting on the last plane
to bring a last load of supplies and mail.

And Mike Flaherty, the nurse at the nursing station 
next to my father's school, was organizing health clinics
to assess the health of the Indian children in the community.

Sunset on a Northern Ontario Lake

Tuesday, October 25, 1960 
My father wrote:

Hi There:
Our freeze-up turned out to be a fizzle, 
or maybe I should say drizzle.  

It got very warm during last night, 
and today the temperature was over 40 above, 
and it has  been raining all day.  

The ice is all gone from the bay and the lake, 
and the snow is nearly all gone from the ground.  
I guess we’ll be getting mail in and out as usual this weekend.  

Oh yes, while I think of it, 
quite frequently during the winter months, 
the mail plane is liable to be delayed by the weather, 
and my letter might not arrive on its usual day.  
If it fails to make its appearance when expected, 
you will know what has happened.

It’s back to the canoe for commuting for another spell for Donald.
I will be very glad when I can lay that thing up 
for the winter and walk over on the ice.

Well, we did the clinic of the Island children this afternoon, 
and I was horrified. 

We checked about fifty children of all ages 
from one month to sixteen years, 
and I believe, if I remember, 
that over forty of them were just crawling with lice.  

And dirty – I never saw anything like it in my whole life.  
I swear that you could scrape layers and layers 
of dirt off before you would come to flesh.  

I feel sure that my children are cleaner than Uno’s are, 
but, we shall know tomorrow for sure.

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

Oh yes, over half of the children were undernourished 
and about three quarters of them had very bad teeth.  

Additionally, ten of them were T.B. contacts, 
and of these, at least two were definite suspects.

You should have seen the sizes of some of the families.  
Twelve children isn’t unusual for the Indians on the Island.
I am more convinced than ever about what I said last night 
about teaching them to limit the sizes of their families, 
especially if they can’t afford to take care of them 
and feed them correctly.

The children may have been dirty, 
but the clothes that they were wearing were far dirtier.  
Honestly, I don’t think that some of the clothes 
had been washed since they were first put on, 
and some of these clothes were quite old.

I know that my children are cleaner than Uno’s.  
When you walk into his class, the smell of dirty bodies 
just hits your nostrils like spirits of ammonia, 
whereas, when you walk into my class, 
all you can smell is Indian, and clean Indian at that.  

Dad's Students
Anglican Day School
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue  All Rights Reserved

I am not being prejudiced when I talk about Indian smell.  
The Indians actually do smell different than the white people.  
I can’t describe it, nor is it offensive, it is just Indian.  

The white man’s smell on the other hand, 
is just as distinctive to the Indian.

Well, I guess that this winds her up for tonight.  
If the mail is still going by Friday or Saturday, 
I will send this last half of the letter out on schedule.

Bye for now,

It's hard to read some of the things my father wrote,
especially when he compared the conditions
of the children on the island with the children on the mainland.
But he was reporting things as he saw them,
so I will share them as he wrote them.

One thing for sure is that he was horrified,
and his letters had a huge impact on me. 

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Crossing Petit Passage to Tiverton
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Links to Earlier Posts:

HR6: Maps, Arrggghhhh!!!!!

HR7:  Nakina


1.  Photo Links:  Sometimes I find photos that I'd like to use,
                        but I can't because they are copyrighted.
                        I've decided that I'm going to provide links
                        so you can see them, if you'd like to.

                        Click on the word Photo to see the photograph.
                        I am also adding a link to the original source
                       ( although you might have to scroll down a page to see the photo).

Photo         View of the Father's Island, showing the Roman Catholic Church,
                   Dad and Uno's shack (brown) and Father Ouimet's Residence.

                   Original Description:
                   Members of the Fort Hope Band watching a floatplane arrive at the dock
                   at Lansdowne House at Treaty Time, June, 1956
                   John Macfie Transparency Reference Code: C 330-14-0-0-95.
                   Archives of Ontario, I0012712  Original Source

2.  40º F = 4.4ºC

3.  Tuberculosis:  In Northern Ontario there was a high incidence of tuberculosis among the First Nations Peoples.  The federal Indian Department surveyed Treaty Indians with the help of the Ontario Government.  Monitoring and treating T.B. was a challenge because of the remoteness of some communities and because Treaty and Non-Treaty natives were handled differently.  Source 

The Indians at Lansdowne House belonged to the Fort Hope Band and had Treaty status.
The clinics that Mike Flaherty set up at the two schools to assess the health of the students
may have been associated with the federal and provincial efforts to monitor and treat T.B.

4.  T.B. Contacts:  A close contact is a person living in the same household or having frequent
     contact with someone who tested positive for TB with a sputum smear.  Source  


  1. Yay! It's so great to see you back to sharing your family's amazing history. Keep 'em coming, Louise. I look forward to these.

    1. Thank you, Martha! Keep 'em coming I will! I'm thinking of you and your family as your youngest fledgling sets off. Hugs!

  2. That's both disgusting and sad. You'd want to help those kids, but how?

    1. Hey, Alex! What happens is a main theme in my memoir! Happy weekend, my friend!

  3. TB is a disease that thrives in poverty and overcrowding. Apparently it's making a comeback in some northern reserves today.

    1. What has happened and continues to happen to Canada's First Nations Peoples is tragic. It breaks my heart, Debra, and keeps me moving with my memoir, even as I flounder and fight with it! Have a great weekend with your Rare One!

  4. My ocd crawled a bit reading that. sad indeed that they had to go through that. Blah even more to the lice haha

    1. I'll bet your ocd did crawl! I know germs are not your thing! I caught lice at school in first grade when I lived in poverty-plagued Atholville, NB. I will never forget! I caught a number of icky things as a kiddo because we often lived in poor areas. I've been fortunate in my life, but I never forget the faces and stories from my past. Money is not the measure of a person! Have a great weekend, Pat!

  5. Louise, your father was very, very wise! I like his mention of not having children that you cannot afford to take care of. I can relate to the smell of dirty bodies, because being a HSP I am sensitive in so many ways...bright lights and intense sun affect me, smells affect me, noise, etc. I take public transit and in the summer when it is really hot here, I am aware of the smells of perspiration of some of the people on the bus and I can't stand it. LOL! It is so nice to have you back, Louise, thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Linda! Smells can be powerful, and I think many people don't realize how sensitive some people are to smells ~ not just perspiration, but perfume and other things! Have a lovely weekend! Hugs!

  6. This is fascinating, as usual! That would be so hard to see children in that condition. And the lice! Whew, made my shoulders tighten up just reading the words. I can't wait to hear what happens next!!! Hope you enjoyed your travels....

    1. Thanks, Audrey! Yes I enjoyed our travels; getting ready to head out again. DC for a wedding and then straight to Vancouver Island for a month! This time, unless something unforeseen happens I should be able to keep up with my posting! Have a lovely weekend!

  7. Thank you in progress: you're teaching a 65 year-old Californian of a world he never knew about. And, considering a good friend --a high school custodian-- recently tested positive for TB because he hadn't been warned the nurse's office on his string had been occupied by tubercular students, more education is called for.

    1. Hey, Geo! Happy Saturday! No matter how long I'm been retired, I still haven't gotten over really loving Saturday morning. So sorry about your friend. That is awful! We have become very complacent about infectious diseases in this country. More education is definitely needed!

  8. Oh, my. Sometimes we end up with children when we know we can't afford them. Even with birth control, children happen. I'm sorry the children were ill. They must have been very uncomfortable with the lice. There was a time when almost all Americans had lice and didn't bathe. They thought a bath would give them a chill that would kill them.


    1. Hi JJ! It's so good to see you! And yes, no birth control method is 100% effective. I caught lice in first grade when I lived in an impoverished area. Lice are awful! I'm glad I live now! Have an awesome day!

  9. It is nice that you are able to capture a bit of what it was like in the northwoods during this period of history.... Odd to think about the limits of communication set by ice (or the lack of it)

    1. Thanks, Sage! It's just one small community, but it is representative of that period in Canadian history. It takes place at a critical turning point in Aboriginal history in Canada. Have a good one!

  10. Hello Fundy!
    I hope your travels were real fun, great to have you back on the blogosphere :)
    We have been here and there too and I feel I am a very poor blogger myself!!
    I have been to the link you sent me about cuddly birds, all the photos are extraordinary and cute!
    Many thanks for comments while I was away!
    Your father has been through much and the way he writes says long about what he experienced and observed.
    It makes one wonder about the lives of others which we don't have a clue...
    All the best, Fundy, and thanks for sharing all this with us :)

    1. It's so good to see you, Noushka!!! We had the best fun, and we'll shortly be going to Victoria, British Columbia on another jaunt! Those huddled birds were darling! I knew you'd enjoy them! :) I often wonder about the lives of the Indian children I knew. I have been finding out tragic things in my research. So I struggle on trying to manage this beast called a memoir! Have a lovely day! Hugs!

  11. So good to have you back with 'the letters', Louise!
    You are correct, your father was calling it as he saw it. One can really feel the impact that this had on him first hand.
    And, we in Canada haven't advanced too far when it comes to treating and caring for our First Nations peoples. It is shameful the conditions under which these people continue to live.

    1. Thanks, Jim! You would think things would have improved after 50 years. It is shameful! Wishing you happy day!

  12. Life true and plain as your Father saw it, and it is wonderful that you give us this form his letters through your words to us. My Mum was a nurse for mental illness patients, and in the 1930's I am sure there weren't the medications or doctors to treat them. TB, lice, was there no way to heat water for a bath, not enough running water, was it just too cold to undress? No way to clean their teeth? no toothbrushes? today all that we take for granted, your dad was a man with great insight and understanding. I so enjoy his letters, and thank you every time I read of his life in the isolated area.

    1. Hi Jean! LOL! If you've ever had to chop through an ice hole on a lake, haul water out through the ice hole, lug it up a hill at 40 below, heat it in pots on the stove, and then pour it into a steel tub with just enough room to stand in so you and four siblings could take a bath ~ then you really appreciate today's wonderful hot showers!

      I can't imagine the things your mother must have experienced! She was probably plenty discouraged at times. We still have a long, long way to go in treating mental illness ~ starting with no longer dumping mentally ill people on the streets to become untreated and homeless!

      I'm glad that you enjoy Dad's letters. I always felt that his story should be shared, and working on this series is giving me purpose, direction, and more gratification than I ever dreamed of!

      Have a good one!

  13. Welcome back from all your travels. And welcome to the letters too. I only dealt with a few cases of lice when I taught. I can't imagine your dad's horror at seeing those children in such poor condition. Yet they survived in that barren place.

    1. Hey, Peggy! Thanks for your kind words.

      We had lice in my elementary school. After the first few years, I had my kiddos keep their coats on the backs of their chairs. I told them (which was half true) that that way they had their coats near them in case of an emergency. The half I didn't tell them was that the nurse said lice could jump easier from coat to coat on the coatrack than from coat to coat on their chairs.

      I caught lice in first grade when I lived in a very poor community. I never forgot my disgust, itching, and embarrassment. I vividly remember my mother combing out those nits at night. So I have great sympathy for poor little kiddos dealing with lice and other challenges that come with poverty.

      Have a good one! Hugs!


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