Friday, September 11, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters: Making the Rounds in a Small World

Flickr:  J.H.   license

Sometimes in the North, 
brief lovely days, 
unseasonably warm, 
before the cold hammer of winter strikes.

I always loved such days,
even though my father considered them unhealthy.

Friday, October 28, 1960 
My father wrote:

Hi There Everyone:
Here we go on another week, and it does not even look or feel 
like we are going to have the freeze-up for a while yet.  
The weather has been unseasonably mild, 
and I don’t like it, because unseasonable weather is never healthy.

Black Spruce and Larch in the Autumn Taiga

I am writing this on Sunday evening, 
but I am going to try to make it sound as if it was written 
on the day it was supposed to be written – 
on Friday to be exact.  

The reason that I didn’t write it on Friday 
was that we had another freeze-up scare again Friday, 
and there was another ‘last plane’ in Saturday morning, 
so I spent all Friday getting some official correspondence 
done and individual letters out before freeze-up.

Fueling a Norseman for a Flight into Lansdowne House
Austin Airways, Nakina, 1960
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue  All Rights Reserved

I said earlier that it doesn’t seem like we will ever have 
a freeze-up, and then I talk about freeze-up scares. 

This freeze-up scare was at Nakina, 
the southern terminus of our mail run.  
The lake at Nakina is supposed to be over half frozen over.  

We not only have to worry about the lake here, 
but we also have to worry about the lake at Nakina, 
because the plane has to be able to land and take off 
at Nakina as well as at Lansdowne House.

Flying Over the Albany River
Halfway between Nakina and Lansdowne House.
You can see the Albany River down to the right.
Photo by Donald MacBeath, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue  All Rights Reserved

There was a nice bunch of mail today, 
though not as bountiful as some I have received.  
Of course the ‘last plane’ that was in Monday 
bought some mail to me, and this naturally 
cut down on the volume that I usually receive.  

However, it wasn’t too bad.  
I received five letters from Sara, 
one from Mac, 
and three from Mother.
I still am waiting for one from you, Aunt Maude.  
I will be so glad when you are able to drop me even a short line.

Coming in for a Landing at Lansdowne House
The Father's Beach is in the middle right.
Photo by Father Maurice Ouimet, c. 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue  All Rights Reserved

I spent a very quiet day in school today.  
Just had regular classes in the morning, 
and the first part of the afternoon, 
but I spent the last part of the afternoon getting ready 
for the Halloween party Monday afternoon.  

The kids spent the last hour and a half getting ready 
the decorations for the party.  
It is surprising just how artistic some of these kids are.  
I just have to give them paper and crayons and set them loose, 
and I am usually quite pleasantly surprised with the results.

I did spend a very busy social afternoon after school though.  
Just as I was passing the nursing station, 
Mike stuck his head out of the door and invited me 
in for a cup of tea; and after I left Mike’s, 
Maureen called to me from her front window 
and asked me in for a cup of coffee.  

After I left Maureen’s, I cut through the DOT yard, 
and just as I was passing MacMahon’s back door, 
Milt sang out to me to come in, 
so I did and had another cup of coffee.

MacMahon's House
with the community path in front
Photo by Donald MacBeath, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue  All Rights Reserved


By this time I was getting pretty well waterlogged, 
and it was a real hard time to handle the cup of tea 
that I was offered at Mitchell’s after I left MacMahon’s, 
but I squared my shoulders and stuck with it.

Map of Lansdowne House
by Donald MacBeath
Dad's School (25)  The Nursing Station (24)
MacRae's House (20)  MacMahon's House (19)
Mitchell's House (12)  Dad and Uno's Cottage ( 7)
The Father's Beach (27)
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue  All Rights Reserved

It’s a good job that I take my coffee black 
and have started drinking my tea black 
or my diet would be all shot to h---.  

In a place like Lansdowne House, you are so hungry 
for companionship that you accept every invitation.

Friday night I spent writing the letters that I mentioned earlier 
and played a couple of games of chess with Dunc 
who dropped over about ten p.m.  

After the chess and letters were through, 
I went to bed because I was very tired, 
and that pretty well winds up Friday.

Bye now,

When we joined Dad in Lansdowne House,
we children were always on the go from house to house.
I don't remember ever being lonely!

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Boars Head Lighthouse
Tiverton, Long Island, Bay of Fundy
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Links to Earlier Posts:

TLL: Neskantaga

TLL: Kikinoamagewinini, pintiken


1.  Aunt Maude:  
     Maude Cox, sister to my father's mother.
     She had been gravely ill.

2.  Mac:  Mom's mother, Ella MacDonald

3.  Friends and Socializing:
     The few people in the White community of Lansdowne House
     were all good friends and looked out for each other.
     The only social life they had was what they created.
4.  Mike Flaherty:  The nurse at the nursing station.

5.  Maureen MacRae:  
     Wife of Duncan MacRae (Dunc).
     Duncan was one of the Department of Transport employees
     who worked in the DOT Work Building (23) and ran
     the DOT Weather Office (21) and DOT Powerhouse (22).

6.  Milt MacMahon:  The other DOT employee in Lansdowne House.

7.  Bill Mitchell:  The manager of the Hudson Bay Post.


  1. I was going to say "Hey, Aunt Maude, get off the pot and write!" but then I saw in the footnote that she had been gravely ill. Got to cut the poor woman some slack then.

    1. Hey Debra! How I miss letter writers of any kind! These days no one writes (me included!). I may have to practice writing cursive just to know I can still do it in case I have to write a letter! We overheard a man in a Victoria bookstore yesterday saying gleefully that he had just retired from Edmonton. I'm sure he was enjoying the glorious weather that has blessed this city in the past few days. Hope all is well with you!

  2. I really like that last picture with the lighthouse. Lighthouses always leave me with some sad longing for something.... I know not what. I like all your pictures. The world is so stuffed with the selfies that it's pleasant
    to look at the older pictures.

    1. Hi Manzanita! Maybe in another life you lost someone at sea? (If there are other lives) This lighthouse is at one end of an island I lived on in grade 11.

      I love lighthouses ~ well except when I was writing my grade 11 provincial exams and we lived down on the islands off Digby Neck. I could hear six different fog horns, because we were totally socked in for many days. Some of the foghorns were from lighthouses and others from dangerous reef markers. They all blared at different intervals and with different sounds, so you would know which was which. The longest interval was two minutes, and the shortest ten seconds. What a racket when you were trying to study for the intimidating provincials! I did pass, so I forgave them!

      Thanks for visiting and have a great day!

  3. I bet in that place one will take any invitation for companionship. The freeze up had to be worrisome indeed too.

    1. Hey Pat! When you're kids, you don't notice the isolation so much. You're too busy playing and exploring. It was harder on the adults, but they were always stopping for coffee and tea or playing cards and chess late into the night in each others homes. Happy Friday, my friend!

  4. Louise, I love all the photos here, and when you father mentioned about his nice bunch of mail, it reminds me how little mail we get these days as compared to back then! And sad that Canada Post is slowly stopping home delivery in favour of these community mailboxes. People don't use the postal services nearly as much as they used to. :)

    1. Thanks, Linda! Our mail is mostly junk now, although we still get mail delivered to our mailbox. In the US the postal service keeps wanting to eliminate Saturday delivery, but people make such an uproar that they back off. Now I notice that the mailman is also bringing Amazon packages, so maybe that will be the saving of the postal service. Have a lovely Friday, my Montreal friend!

  5. Sounds like your father spent extra time in the bathroom that day.
    I hope Aunt Maude finally wrote him. Sad to be writing with no response. Kind of like social media I guess!

    1. My father and his Aunt Maude were very close, as were she and I. I spent several summers with her while my mother was seriously ill. We had a lot of fun. Aunt Maude died just a couple of years later. I didn't know it at the time, but I would never see her again. But oh do I have memories!

  6. How welcoming the people were to each other and I'm sure your father was excellent company. In such a small community there must have been a lot of respect for him as a teacher. We get glimpses of the kind of man he is and I can only imagine what he would have been like outside his restricted world of Landsdown life there was so dependent on the elements. Not having a plane come must have been a big deal to them as they needed it. Your pictures add so much to the story. Thank you for sharing those with us.

    1. Thanks, Peggy! The biggest worry when planes couldn't get in and out was a medical emergency. We had a nurse which was fortunate, and he had a radio. I remember hearing stories about operations done on kitchen tables while a doctor told people what to do over the radio. Isolated families often had morphine in their first aid kits on case someone were in terrible pain from an accident. It was quite something! Have a lovely weekend!

  7. Wow, I didn't realise how much they relied on sea planes! He must've loved your letters. X

    1. He did! I wish they were saved too! Have a lovely weekend, dear Kezzie!

  8. Thank goodness for card and chess games to help stave off some of the loneliness for your dad and his companions at Lansdowne House. I know you mentioned in an earlier blog about the high suicide rate among some of the native families; so, I was wondering what they did to help counter their loneliness.

    1. Hi Susan! Thank goodness for games always! The white people who stayed in Lansdowne House were the ones who could handle it; otherwise they didn't last long. One of my father's jobs as a supervising principal of the Keewatin District (in the future) was to bring out teachers who were "bushed" (had a mental breakdown because of the isolation). Not an easy task. Hope all is well with you!

  9. Hi Fundy!
    Back from the Atlantic coast... the much expected migratory birds have still not made it from northern Europe :(
    Anyhow, amazing how your father relied so much on letters and planes!!
    My first thought was... How strange he attaches more importance to one eventual letter from his aunt Maude although he received 3 from his mother and 5 from Sara!!
    What an extraordinary life he had!
    You made me laugh out loud with your comment about my carps and their telescopic mouths!!! LOL!
    Gee, I would really like to meet you, what laughs we would have together!!!!
    Keep well dear friend, enjoy your sunday :)

    1. We would have a lot of laughs together, Noushka! Maybe sometime we will have a chance to meet. Late migratory birds ~ another piece of the changing weather patterns. I'm having a wonderful Sunday here on the Pacific coast of the continent ~ heading out to watch our Broncos play football with the Ravens! Have a great week, my friend!

  10. "In a place like Lansdowne House, you are so hungry for companionship that you accept every invitation." That pretty much says it all about the isolation. I imagine your dad was also thrilled whenever he received mail. Another wonderful post! Keep 'em coming :)

    1. Thanks, Martha! Type, type, type! I'm determined not to have to do reposts again! Good luck with the moving preparations this week. Hope your youngest daughter is having a great start to university life! Take care, my friend!

  11. I can only imagine how isolated one felt at times. I can also relate to your father a bit, Louise, about getting mail. I remember when living in B.C. in the late 70's and checking foe mail all the time from home!!
    Another good letter from your dad.

    1. Vancouver is a very long way from Halifax, Jim! I've driven it twice! I sure miss mail coming, but email is so fast and fun! Thanks for your kind words! Have a good one!

  12. Oh goodness, it still makes me cringe when I think about a freeze-up and how isolating that would feel. And this post also made me long & wish for some Snail Mail. There is truly nothing like a sweet card or letter in the me old fashioned but I miss that!!! I like technology and social media to some degree but someone taking the time to sit down and write, look up an address, put on a stamp, that is really something!

    1. Yes a handwritten letter really is something, Audrey! You make me remember that I really should write more handwritten letters. Thanks for all your kind words! More hugs!!!

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