Friday, August 28, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters: Heath Clinics and Party Plans

Sometimes when I look back a half century,
it feels like fifty years,
and at other times it feels like yesterday.

When you're ten, it's hard to imagine so much time,
but now the years collapse into a pile of pickup sticks,
and I can grasp century easier 
than I can pull a single year out of the pile.

This child was probably ten a century ago.
I hope the next century provides better lives for
the Aboriginal peoples than the last has delivered.

Indian child, Anishnaabe
(Mattagami First Nation, Northwestern Ontario, 1913)

My father was horrified when he and Uno
helped Mike Flaherty conduct the first clinic
at Uno's school on the Father's Island.

But he was hopeful that his own students would prove healthier 
at the clinic at his school on the mainland the following day.

Wednesday, October 26, 1960
My Father Wrote:

Hi There!
Some freeze-up - ha!!!
Today the temperature hovered between forty and fifty degrees,
and it was rainy and foggy all day. 

The ice has completely gone from the lake, 
and the frost has started to come out of the ground. 

The way things look today, we are good for 
a couple of weeks more before she freezes,
although the locals all assure me that things could change 
overnight, and she could be closed in two days.

We held the clinic today in my school, 
and the difference in the children was amazing.  
They were cleaner, better clothed, better nourished, 
and better smelling than Uno’s children.  

We examined about forty-seven children 
and only found one that was undernourished 
and two that were infested with lice.  

Quite a few of them though 
were in bad need of dental attention; 
but this is to be expected, considering 
the scarcity of milk in their diets and the fact 
that they only see a dentist once in a blue moon.

Women and Children, Anishnaabe
White Dog Reserve (Mattagami First Nation), Northwestern Ontario, 1951
Flickr:  Repository:  Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto    license  

Only one family had a history of TB, 
and they are apparently all cured, 
although four children in the family 
died with the disease before it was checked.

It was so funny to see some of the little children 
objecting to the examination.  

They would lie on the floor, 
kick and scream at the tops of their voices, 
and shout “Gawin, gawin,” which means “No, no.”

I discovered what the Indian word for pipe is today.  
It is Pogan.

Indian Camps on Shore of Nipigon Lake
Ojibwe (Lake Nipigon First Nations), Northwestern Ontario, 1906

Uno and I are going to hold a stag party 
in our cottage on Halloween.
All the white men are going to come:  
Bill Mitchell and Brian Booth from the H.B.C., 
Duncan MacRae and Milt MacMahon from the D.O.T., 
Mike Flaherty from the Nursing Station, 
and the Father and Brother are all going to be here.  

We are going to play bridge, and cribbage and chess, 
and have a good gabfest.
As you probably know, the male of the species 
can actually put the female to shame in the gossip department.
I will write and tell you all about our first real plunge 
into the social swim of Lansdowne House.

I spent most of tonight helping Uno 
with his correspondence course in English  
It is doing him a lot of good, 
and it sure helps me to brush up on my English.  

It might even help me with my spelling, though I doubt it.  
I am afraid that that is a lost cause.  

I am inclined to agree with Mother 
when she says that some people are just natural spellers, 
and I can assure you all 
that I am the world’s most unnatural speller.

The diet is coming
along satisfactorily.
I have come down
to below 220 pounds, 
and I hope to be below 
200 pounds before spring.

Dad with His Friend
Duncan MacRae
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue 
 All Rights Reserved

I weigh 219 pounds with all my clothes, 
except my suit coat on.  
That should put me at about 211 pounds stripped.
I will be extremely happy
if I can get below 190 pounds stripped.

I can’t think of anything more to write about tonight, 
so I guess I will sign off right now.
Bye now, 

I can feel my father's elation after his grim experiences
at the first health clinic the previous day:
his delight at the delay in freeze-up
the health of his Indians students,
the prospect of some much needed fun,
and his shrinking waistline.

I smile at the thought of Dad remembering his own children,
and how much we must have squawked at vaccinations,
delousing, deworming, and other indignities we endured
with medical treatments during our young lives.  

But I also can sense that paternalism
that tainted relationships between Indian and White.  

A lot of good-hearted and well-intentioned people
like my father, Father Ouimet, and others in Lansdowne House
worked hard to improve the lives of the native people,
but they worked under misguided policies.  

It was the same throughout the Canadian North.
Government and religious entities took a paternalistic approach 
to controlling and managing Indian affairs
without considering whether or not
the Aboriginals wanted to be assimilated
into the mainstream non-Aboriginal society.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

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


1.  TB  Tuberculosis

2.  H.B.C.  Hudson Bay Company

3.  D.O.T  Department of Transport

4.  40º to 50º F  =  44.4 to 10º C   

5.  Photos  Just a reminder that I often use photos that were taken of people (or in areas) similar
     to those in Lansdowne House because actual photos are rare and hard to find.

Continuing with Links to Previous Northern Posts:

HR8:  What My Father Didn't Tell My Mother
(one of my most visited posts ever) 

HR9:  Grounded in Nakina


  1. Glad your father's kids fared better.
    Thrown in a new environment, even with the restrictions placed on activity due to the weather, and I can see how losing weight would be a likely possibility.
    Keep the stories coming, Fundy!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Alex! I wish I could find an environment where weight loss was easier! LOL! Enjoy your Friday!

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, Debra! I was desperate in the summer. Hopefully that won't happen again! Happy Friday!

  3. haha that must have been hard to examine some as they lied on the floor kicking and screaming. Going to the dentist does suck, but better than the alternative and having no dentist I guess.

    1. Kids are the same everywhere! Have a good weekend, my friend!

  4. Very, very interesting post, Louise! Both your father's account of the medical state of his students and your comments about so many well-meaning people missing the mark in assessing what was best for the native people. But, I believe the emphasis is on "well-meaning" and not on laying blame. It has taken "us" a long time to begin to "get it" with respect to aboriginal/white relations. There is likely a long way to go, with work to be done on both sides, but I think we are getting there.

    I really had to laugh at your father's observations of women's/men's ability to enjoy a good gossip.

    Many thanks for your wonderful comment. It will be so good to finally meet up with you. If you can't make it here, perhaps, Bill and I could get over to Victoria. We'll work something out for sure!

    1. YES WE WILL, CAROL!!!! I can't wait to meet you and Bill! I have a nephew studying engineering at UBC, so hopefully we'll get to Vancouver! Will work things out once our niece's wedding is over next weekend!!!

  5. Louise, I love the letters and all the photos! I love your father's talent in writing and in expressing himself!

    1. Thank you, dear Linda! It means so much to me to know that people are enjoying Dad's letters!!! Happy weekend!!! Hugs!

  6. Can't you just picture your dad and all the boys at the stag party?...playing cribbage?? So funny. Those events must have really meant a lot to them since their lives were so barren of social life.
    The people benefited from the help they received..wether they actually wanted it is another thing. Obviously the difference between your dad's kids and the others show that their lives were improved by his intervention.

    1. Oh yes, I can see them, Peggy, complete with a Roman Catholic priest and brother! But they all knew how to had fun, and the fun they had they made! Thanks for you thoughtful and kind comment! Hugs!

  7. Wonderful post, Louise! Your dad's letters are so animated. I can picture him putting them together, and smiling as he's doing it.

    1. Thank you, Martha! I often think of him doing that too. I feel very close to my father when I work with his letters. Have a lovely weekend!

  8. Hard to believe the differences between the children from the island and the children from the mainland.....guess it does makes sense considering their proximity to health services.
    The stag party sounds very civilized actually and it's good to see that back then entertainment was self-initiated and something they had to do to stay balanced, I guess.
    Great 'letter' Louise. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks you, Jim, as always! Perceptive you: There were differences between the mainland and island Indians that went much deeper than the surface differences. There were forces at work that my father had no clue about. I'm not sure how many white people there did grasp the developing situation. It's something I stumbled upon some months back, and I'm researching it. But I'm not saying anything yet, because I want my posts written as they occurred, and the things I have discovered I may save for my book. Happy weekend!

  9. Thank you for sharing all these letters with us. I love reading them all and feeling like seeing how it has been like back then. He has an amazing way of describing it :) I hope you're having a wonderful weekend! Lots of hugs to you :)

    1. Lots of hugs right back at you, Beate. I'm so glad that you are enjoying my father's letters. Have a lovely weekend with Keith!

  10. Great new letters to read about your dad and his life works. Greetings.

    1. Greetings, Blogoratti! And thank you! Have a great week!

  11. I'm catching up with my reading of your posts. Your Dad's letters get me thinking about different issues about health care then and now; efforts to improve the health as well as the education of others, government policies etc. I can picture your father, the priest and the other men getting together for the occasional social evening which must have been welcome company.

    1. Thank you, Linda! It means a lot to me when people read and think about my father's letters. I have never forgotten my family's time in the north.

      You're catching up; I'm falling behind ~ such is life! I'm in DC for a family wedding! At least I have access to internet if I get some time! Hugs!


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