Friday, October 16, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters: The Stag Party

My father knew when he went into the North
that he would face the challenges of loneliness and isolation.

Northern Ontario Lake

"The bush is a bad place,"
Dad later said of his experiences, 
"for anyone lacking the inner resources and personal fortitude
to exist for extended periods of time completely cut off from civilization."

He had two cardinal rules he lived by in Lansdowne House,
and they helped him cope with the loneliness and isolation:
1.  Alway keep yourself busy.
2.  Never let yourself go.

To this day I can hear Dad's toneless half whistle 
and the rhythmic back and forth scuff of his brush 
as he spit-shined his shoes.

It is one of the most memorable and familiar sounds of my childhood.

Second Rule in Action
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue  
All Rights Reserved

Pressing his clothes, polishing his shoes, shaving daily, 
and dressing for work was the easy part.

Keeping busy, especially
on long, dark, cold nights
pressed in on all sides 
by boreal forest and muskeg,
was much harder.

Bedroom of Dad and Uno's Two Room Shack 
Photo Likely by Uno Manilla
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue  
All Rights Reserved

How better to push back than to host a stag party? 

That's exactly what Uno and Dad did
in their small shack on the Father's Island
on a dark night over fifty years ago.

Dad and Brian Playing Cribbage
Front Room of Dad and Uno's Two Room Shack
Photo by Father Maurice Ouimet  
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue  
All Rights Reserved

On Monday, October 31, 1960 
My father wrote:

Hi There Folks:
The winter social season got off to a flying start tonight, 
with a stag party held at our cottage.  
All the white men came, except Mike Flaherty.  

All told, there were eight of us:  
The Father, the Brother, Brian Booth, Bill Mitchell, 
Duncan MacRae, Milt MacMahon, Uno, and myself.  

We had two tables of bridge going in the cottage 
and two pots of coffee going on the stove.

Our guests arrived about eight o’clock, 
and the party broke off about midnight.

The Well-Traveled Strip of Water Between the Mainland and the Island
Dad and Uno's Brown "Cottage" is to the Left of the Church
Photo by Father Maurice Ouimet, circa 1960  
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue  
All Rights Reserved

We stood in the door of our cottage 
and watched them come over from the mainland.  

I have often stood and watched 
the lights of a car coming up our lane, 
but last night I was completely fascinated 
by the light of flashlights coming across the water.  

By eight o’clock it was pitch black, there was no moon, 
and they had to use flashlights to navigate their canoes by.  

Even Duncan and Milt came by canoe, 
because they had laid up their speedboat for the winter 
when we thought the freeze-up was starting.

 Different Party, Different Night
Brother Bernier Had Just Skunked Uno at Cribbage.
The Kitchen at the Roman Catholic Mission
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue  
All Rights Reserved

The next stag (to be held some time next month) 
will be held at either Duncan’s or the Father’s.  
If it turns out to be as successful as ours did, 
stags are apt to become a regular fixture on the social timetable.  

We stopped playing bridge about eleven; 
and after we had lunch, 
I played the Father a couple of games of chess.  
The Father won the first one, and I took the next one.
I would have liked to play the rubber game, 
but it was getting late, 
and tomorrow being a holy day (All Saints), 
the Father has to get up early in the morning for a special Mass.

It just poured rain all night up here.  
I kept wondering if my pets got wet 
when they went out for Halloween Night.
If my memory is correct, 
it seems they have gotten wet 
quite a few Halloween nights 
in their short lives.


Dad and His Pets ~ Pre Bertie
Donnie, Me, Dad with Barbie, and Roy
Alymer, Ontario, Fall 1958
Photo by Sara (MacDonald) MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved  

I never got to attend any of the stag parties in Lansdowne House,
but I saw many games of bridge, cribbage, and chess among the adults,
fueled by coffee, cigarettes, and laughter.

Intense games!
Make no mistake, these were hard-fought battles, 
and a stinging defeat guaranteed a good-natured ribbing!

As for Halloween and Dad's pets ... 
The previous year a torrential rain had hammered 
Greenwood Air Base, Nova Scotia
where we were living in military housing.

Donnie, Roy, and I went trick-or-treating with pillow cases
which Mom said wouldn't break in the rain;
but no Halloween masks. 
They might make it hard to see in the downpour.

Nine year old me and eight year old Roy
quickly gave up because we were drenched,
and we retreated home with few treats in our pillow cases.

Five year old Donnie soldiered on 
by herself in the cold rain and dark
determined to collect Halloween treats. 

She came home later 
proudly dragging a wet pillow case
stuffed with all kinds of goodies.

Donnie, Greenwood, 1959
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue  
All Rights Reserved

Roy and I demanded a cut of the booty.
Probably three year old Barbie did too.

Donnie balked and Dad backed her up.
He told us that if we had wanted candy,
then we should have stuck it out like Donnie.
He was proud of his "Dutchess" aka "The Scrapper." 

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

The Brier Island Nature Reserve 
Bay of Fundy
Photo by Roy MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Links to Earlier Posts:

TLL: To the Rescue

TLL: The Ups and Downs of Teaching


1.  Uno:  Dad's roommate and teacher at the Catholic school

2.  Mike Flaherty:  The nurse at the nursing station.
3.  Father Ouimet and Brother Bernier:  
     They were members of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate,
     a missionary religious congregation in the Roman Catholic Church.
4.  Brian Booth:  The clerk at the Hudson Bay Post.

5.  Bill Mitchell:  The Manager of the Hudson Bay Post.  

6.  Duncan MacRae:
     Duncan worked for the Department of Transport,
     and his duties included running the DOT Weather Station.

7.  Milt MacMahon:
     Milt was the other DOT employee in Lansdowne House.

8.  Trick-or-treating:
      Yes we went out on our own, unthinkable now.
      And yes, our parents were upset when Roy and I returned without Donnie.
      Dad went looking for her, but Donnie was moving fast,
      and he couldn't find her in the warren of PMQs.
      I can't remember who got home first, nor do I remember my parents' relief.
      I remember the pillow case stuffed with forbidden goodies.
And for Map Lovers Like Me:
(Of course this is now; there was no airport or road then).
You can see the long peninsula or "mainland"
where Dad lived and the Father's Island off its tip).

Lansdowne House google map

Bill Mitchell Talking with an Ojibway Man
in the Hudson Bay Post at Lansdowne House
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


  1. How come you were living in military housing?

    1. Hi Debra! My dad had been a supply officer in the RC Air Force at Greenwood, but left to return to civilian life in sometime in the summer of 1959. His plan was to return to Acadia to get an education degree as soon as he could afford to. And my mother wanted to go back to Acadia to complete her degree which was put on hold by my arrival and the death of Dad's father. But then that chance ad about teaching in the north came up, the money was good, and on the spur of the moment Dad applied, changing the course of his and our lives radically. So that's why we were living in PMQs. Happy Friday, my friend!

  2. A great way to pass the time indeed. Always fun when they are hard fought games and then can pick when you win haha

    1. To this day, Pat, there is nothing I enjoy more than a hard fought game of cards, especially with my siblings. And the trash talk during the game with all the ribbing that follows is half the fun! Of course we're not playing with a Roman Catholic priest and brother, so our language may be a little more colorful! Happy Friday, my friend!

  3. Once again you stirred my memories Louise - the dry low whistle while shinning shoes - the other sound memory I have is Dad playing with keys in his pocket as he walked the hall at school. Big hug - your sister Barb

    1. Wow! I had forgotten the keys! That would be the same nervous energy I live with every day. He used that same whistle when decorating the Christmas tree.

      How about resting his arms on the podium and rocking it when he was giving a speech at an assembly? Another strong sound memory is Dad hand-sharpening his carving knife before he carved the Sunday beef or festive ham, lamb, or turkey!

      btw, the picture of we "pets" with Dad in the backyard in Alymer is one of my favorites ever of you!

      Hugs back at you!

  4. What great photos of you all, wee Donnie, what a treasure, and I guess your Mum made all your clothes ,look at her gorgeous dress. I played Canasta with my Dad and another couple, all farmers or in related jobs, I loved the thrill of getting close to winning, guess I was about 12 or so!!! Being resourceful in your Dad's situation tells so much of his inner strength and amazing character. I do enjoy the Friday letters so much.

    1. Thanks, Jean! That photo of my sister Donnie is my all time favorite of her! And Barb's is one of my top favorites of her! I used to play canasta with my grandmother MacDonald. This stern, proper Baptist lady was a shark when it came to playing cards. There was nothing she loved more than winning, and she would snap up a fat discard pile to lay down tons of points with the greatest glee! Grammy was also lots of fun, but she could look like a towering wrath of God thunderhead is she disapproved of what you were doing! I hope you are enjoying a lovely weekend!

  5. Such beautiful memories. I love it! I think everyone today has so much to entertain us, we don't do simple things like play cards with friends. Those nights had so many memories attached to them. A night where everyone sits around, playing on their electronic devices, doesn't have the same lasting power!

    1. Thank you, Stephanie! You're so right about the ubiquitous devices. Everyone is so absorbed in the on-line world that they're not interacting with the real people around them. I say this while I'm drinking my morning coffee at the counter with my computer and my husband is in his chair with his coffee and computer. We're back to back, LOL!

  6. My dad instantly came to mind when I read about shining shoes with a brush. My dad used to do that and I can see the whole scenario in my mind like it was yesterday.

    This is another wonderful post. I can only imagine how hard it was some days in such isolation but it seems like you dad kept himself busy. And I love that he stood up for your sister Donnie to keep her candy. I would have done the same thing! She certainly earned it.

    1. Isn't it funny how reading something can trigger a memory? We have so many things buried in our minds. I haven't polished my shoes with a brush in ages, although guaranteed, I know how to do it! That's one of my favorite childhood memories of Donnie. She was the sister I shared a room with, and sometimes a bed with, throughout my childhood. Have a happy week!

  7. So THAT"S why you were at Greenwood! We were wondering too......thanks for asking, Debra!

    You know what, Louise? These letters have kept your Dad alive, through you. What a wonderful acknowledgement. We are a captive audience here and I am wondering what you think your father would think of this?
    I can see that social nights/get-togethers were an integral part of keeping sane up there.
    Thanks for this, Louise. It's like reading a weekly chapter in an adventure series book.

    1. I think Dad would be pleased; I hope he would. He entrusted his letters to me, and he and my mother knew and supported the idea that sometime I'd write a memoir of that time. I just never thought it would be this lated in life. Had to earn a living, I guess! I feel like one of those old serial writers that used to publish in newspapers, although I can't crank out the words like they did! Have a great week, My friend. Hi to Ron; pats to SD. We're having great fun with Gracie and Rufus!


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