Friday, October 30, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters: The Wintigo Is Coming!

It's amazing the predicament a teacher can get into
when he tries to communicate 
with Ojibway words he doesn't understand.

Such was the case on Halloween, 1960,
when my father tried to explain Halloween to his Ojibwa children 
in the heart of wintigo territory in Northern Ontario.

A Halloween Moon

On Monday, October 31, 1960
My Father Wrote  
(Stag Party letter continued):

Oh yes, we also had our Halloween party 
at school this afternoon, 
and it was also a great success.

 My Father's Ojibwa Children
Anglican Day School,
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

can’t remember when I have ever seen children 
enjoying themselves like my Indians did.  
Bill Mitchell told me that they never had parties 
in the school, till I came.  

All the white people think it is wonderful of me 
to go to the trouble and expense to treat the Indians.
Bill told me also that if I had 
let him know about the party earlier, 
he would have donated quite a bit of candy and gum, etc., 
but that by the time he found out about it, 
he had already given all that he could afford 
to the Indians for the month 
and had exhausted the amount 
that the Bay allows him to spend on welfare.

Bill Mitchell Talks with an Ojibwa Man
Mitchell was the Manager of the Hudson's Bay Post
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Bill and I are planning a whale 
of a Christmas party for them though.  
He is going to donate $20.00 himself 
and seventy dollars on behalf of the Bay.  

Harry Evans, the pilot for Superior Airways, 
is going to fly a Santa Claus in from Armstrong for the party.  
This Santa will also visit the out-lying settlements 
at Summer Beaver, Big Beaver House, and Webique.  
Bill is trying to talk me into going along to help Santa out 
and see that everything is distributed evenly.

All the Protestant white people will also be helping out with the party, 
and the Anglican Bishop will be good for a donation.  
We are not going to have any sort of a concert though,
just a nice party with Santa.  

So Donnie and Barbara won’t be confused and disillusioned, 
tell them that it will be so near Christmas 
that Santa is saving his reindeer for the big night.  
That is why he has to fly in with Harry Evans.

Waiting for Santa the Previous Year
Barb, Roy, Me, Donnie, and Little Gretchen ~
No Bertie Yet!
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

But to get back to the party we had this afternoon, 
we played all the traditional Halloween games 
such as dunking for apples, eating apples on an string, 
and many others too numerous to mention.  
The Indian children don’t celebrate Halloween, 
and they had never dunked for apples before.

  Dunking for Apples at the Party
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Of course, there were no masks in the Bay, 
so I had them all make masks.  
Of course they didn’t have the slightest idea how to do this, 
so I had to make one first, and pass it about 
the classroom for them to examine.  

Then I had to draw about ten different faces 
on the blackboard to give them some ideas.  
I drew a clown, a fat blond woman, a baldheaded man, 
a devil, an Indian in war paint, a skull, a witch, 
and some others that I can’t recall right now.  
Some of the masks turned out pretty good.

The Children in Their Halloween Masks
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I ran into quite a problem in communications 
when I tried to explain just what Halloween was.  
The Indians just don’t have any words for goblin, elf, 
little people, or anything like these words, 
and consequently they had no conception 
of what I was talking about at first.
I was just getting nowhere at first with my explanations.  
Then I thought of the Ojibway word Wintigo
so I introduced this into my explanations.  
All this was taking place in the morning of Halloween.  

Then I got a reaction from them.  
They all looked startled and scared; 
and I thought good, 
now they’re getting in the proper spirit 
to talk about ghosts, goblins, etc.  

I thought that the word Wintigo was ghost
so I started talking about how on Halloween 
all the wintigos go out on the prowl.  

Well, all of a sudden, all the little children were crying, 
and even my teenagers were looking damned scared.  

Then, I realized that wintigo 
evidentially had a different meaning than that 
that I was trying to put across to them.  

I tried to get myself out of the mix-up, 
but only succeeded in getting myself in deeper.  
The more I talked about the Wintigo, 
the more scared they got.  

Well, then, I tried the word Manito which means spirit
but this means nothing to the Indians, 
unless you talk about 
the Matche Manito, which means bad spirit, 
or Mino Manito, which means good spirit.  
Unfortunately the Matche Manito now means the Devil
and that only made them worse than ever.  

When I tried Mino Manito
I just added confusion to my other difficulties, 
because with the advent of Christianity, 
Mino Manito has come to mean the Holy Ghost.  
I could have used a little help from him about then, 
or even from Kishe Manito, which means Chief Spirit or God.

Well, finally I started to get alarmed 
about how scared they were. 

I was frightened that if I didn’t get things straightened out, 
they might be too scared to go home for dinner; 
and certainly, they would be too scared 
to come back for the party in the afternoon.  

I told them to stay in the class, and 
I went over to the nursing station 
after Anne Flaherty and told her my troubles.  

I needn’t have worried about the children 
leaving the school while I was gone.  
At this stage of the game, they were so scared 
that it would have taken a bomb to get them out.  

Anne is part Ojibway and speaks the language, 
so she came over to the school; 
and after about fifteen minutes of rapid-fire, 
two-way conversation with the Indians in Ojibway 
(none of which I could follow,) 
she had things straightened out for me.

It was just about dinnertime by then, 
so I let the children go home, 
and I accepted Anne’s invitation 
to stay for dinner at the nursing station.

  The Children in Their Halloween Masks
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

From Anne, I found out just what a Wintigo is.  
We have no word for it.  
A Wintigo is the very personification 
of all things evil and horrible.  

It is far worse than our devil. 
It is a combination of a devil, ghost, ghoul, werewolf, 
and anything else you can think of.  
Wintigos are supposed to eat women and children.  

If a wintigo visits the community, 
all sort of horrible things can happen.  
No wonder the poor kids were terrified.

In spite of their acceptance of Christianity and everything, 
they all believe firmly in wintigos.  
Wintigos are as real to them as God is to us.  

I have decided to leave Ojibway out of my explanations 
till I am a whole lot more proficient in the language.  

Well that winds up the page, and the day, so I will sign off.
Bye now,

I sympathize with my father and any teacher
who has gotten into difficulty trying to explain things
to students who speak a different language.
Obviously he had not heard of the psychological problem

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

In Honor of Canada's
New Prime Minister
Justin Trudeau:
The four MacBeath Girls supporting 
Justin Trudeau's father,
Pierre Elliot Trudeau,
when he ran successfully to become
Prime Minister of Canada in 1968.

Donnie, Bertie, Louise, and Barb  Freeport, on the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia
Photo Copy by Roberta MacBeath Heembrock
© All Rights Reserved

Links to Earlier Posts:

TLL: Grounded

TLL: The Order of Good Cheer

1.  Wintigo: 
     Father Ouimet was giving my father lessons in the local Ojibway language.
     Apparently wintigo was the spelling used there.
     The word has many spellings, windigo being a more common one.

2.  A Great Book: 

This is my favorite novel (so far)
written about the Oji-Cree in Northwestern Ontario.
It gives a chilling account of the experiences
of two young Cree fighting in WWI
and of the Wintigo
in Ojibwa and Cree cultures.

Joseph Boyden, its author, has written
two more memorable books about First Nations peoples:
Through Black Spruce and The Orenda.


And for Map Lovers Like Me
Territories of the Ojibwa Groups
Lansdowne House is on the Attawipiskat River (by #15),
The river wasn't sketched as far as Lansdowne House
(a little to the right of the first O in Ontario). 


  1. Oh dear, what a predicament. For myself, I don't believe in children knocking on strangers' doors, for trick or treat.Years ago, life was safe, you could walk any where day or night. Now, it is all so different. Lovely letter from your Dad, it gives my Friday a special ending.

    1. Your Friday is ending, and mine is beginning, Jean! Mental gymnastics! If kiddos go trick-or-treating now, they go with their parents, and they usually stick to their neighborhood. Churches, other community organizations, and businesses often hold trick-or-treat events.

      One of the coolest was a car show we saw on Fremont Street in Las Vegas. The huge collection of vintage cars all had Halloween treats in their trunks, and many of the car owners were in costume; tons of kiddos had a blast collecting goodies.

      Our school used to have a big carnival, parties, and a parade ~ the events supported in our community, especially by the Hispanics. Generations of a family would come dressed in costumes from the oldest grandmother to the smallest baby. Gradually it all got phased out which I thought was a big mistake. But some parents complained that we were promoting evil, anti-Christian things, so we had to have a simultaneous Fall Harvest Party. Then the Wiccans objected saying we weren't respecting witches properly. Parents were coming in to help their children with complicated costumes and makeup. And the sugar-high parties and cleanup! Finally the district started scheduling the fall break so Halloween happened during the break. I was quite sad, because it was a fun, safe time for the kiddos, and most parents enthusiastically joined in.

      Have a great weekend, Jean! Hugs!

  2. I enjoyed reading this, An excellent reminder of how words and cultures can be easily misinterpreted. I love the pictures.. and the masks look great.
    The children and your dad seemed to have had a really good time
    Have a great day Fundy

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment, Dawna! My father was an amazing teacher, and his kids always loved him no matter where or what grade(s) he taught. I hope you've been enjoying a happy Friday! Hugs to you!

  3. Each and every post about your father just amazes me. This needs to be made into a movie I'm telling you. Matt Damon could play your dad. You are telling such a rich story of tolerance and adaptation and cultural differences. Again thank you for sharing this personal story. You were such a cutie. Love the family pictures and all the extra maps and photos that add so much to the story.

    1. Thanks, Peggy! This comment is so encouraging! Your thoughts always keep me moving forward in what feels like a monumental undertaking. Matt Damon! Wow! I just saw him in The Martian" ~ phenomenal! All those photos and maps come from my being a visual learner and from working with young children. Images convey so much information visually, and when you're sharing an unknown place or culture with students, the first thing you have to do is build their background knowledge. So that's what I'm trying to do. Have a lovely weekend, my friend. I hope that Sean and Sara have a ball!

  4. Good morning, Louise.
    I am betting that many of those children carried good memories with them for the rest of their lives about this white man teacher who taught them that having a good time can be a lot of fun. Your father was a very intuitive man and he certainly has shared his joy of life to all of his children in school and at home.
    I agree with Peggy above that these 'letters' would make a great series on TV! But NO PRESSURE, Louise, you have enough on your plate!!

    1. LOL! Terry just commented, "God, he's got you figured out!" I've been spinning a lot of plates in the air this week, and they've fallen and shattered all around my feet!

      I don't know if you were teaching during the "Writing Workshop" phase in elem. ed., but we, as teachers, at one point were supposed to bop from one child to another, spending 15-20 seconds with each, get them all working with an individual direction and purpose, and then keep going around and around the kids, all while making anecdotal notes about each child's writing on a clipboard. Whichever guru with the latest magic bullet said, "Short and fast, like getting a plate spinning for each child and then keeping all the plates spinning throughout the class." R U ------ kidding me??? You can imagine how long that worked!

      First job: get the damned book finished! But I am having a blast!!!! Loving every minute!!! And I'll be catching up on blog posts shortly! LOL

      Have an awesome weekend, my friend!

  5. Louise, seeing the photos of the children bobbing for apples reminds me of simpler times. And even the tiles on the floor evoked childhood memories for me! I remember, when I was a little girl, that my parents would always check everything I got on Halloween night. Unfortunately there was some sick and unkind person putting razor blades in the apples. Not sure if they ever caught the person, but imagine? Very sad.

    You were a beautiful little girl, Louise, and I love your smile! I really like when you sometimes end your posts with a photo of yourself, and you are always smiling. You do have a lovely smile. :)

    1. Thanks, Linda! You've AGAIN put a big smile on my face! It means so much to know that people enjoy my Friday posts ~ actually any post! And I'm glad that this post sparked childhood memories for you. It's unfortunate that the sickos ruined so much innocent fun. The world is a darker place now, but it is the beautiful young people who give me hope . btw, I smile at myself in the mirror each morning ~ which is sometimes challenging because me first thing in the morning can be a Halloween sight! So if I'm feeling a little disheartened at the wrinkles and flaws, I'll think of your kind words about my smile! Happy Friday, and have a lovely weekend! Hugs!!!

  6. Funny the trouble he had describing Halloween to them. That was wonderful he threw a party for them and helped them make masks. Can't wait to hear how the Christmas party turned out. And how he was able to convey the idea of Santa and Jesus to them...

    1. Thanks, Alex! We shall see! Fortunately they did have a Christian background, but like many groups who've moved from one religious worldview to another, parts of the old persisted. The Roman Catholics on the Father's Island had the consistent presence of church and Mass. For the Anglicans on the mainland, it was much different. The Anglican priest would fly in and hold a service(s) several times a year. And they were something! I got to experience one visit in the spring of 1961, which I will share down the road. The priest ate at our home and slept on the couch in our tiny house during his visit; as did assorted pilots and stranded visitors. Have a happy Friday!

      btw, I appreciate how you post the names of your upcoming IWSG co-hosts via a badge on your website. Once I discovered that, it made adding the co-host names and links to my IWSG post much easier! I've got my post written and scheduled to publish on Wed. ~ trying to channel Pat Hat! Hope that scheduling works better than the scheduling for my scavenger hunt post! Never a dull moment with computers!

      Enjoy your weekend, Alex!

  7. Different beliefs and cultures can sure make it interesting and kinda tricky haha I hope I never run into a Wintigo though, they sound nasty.

    1. I never want to run into a wintigo either, Pat! My last fifteen year or so of teaching, I had diverse languages and cultures in my classroom from all over the world. And all the religions, holy smokes! It kept me hopping, for sure. And then there were the Have a Happy Halloween weekend!

  8. Hi Louise - I was wondering if the Wintigo was going to show up this halloween - it is one of my favourite Dad stories - Have a very happy Halloween Louise - miss you - Barb

    1. Miss you too, Barb! Guess what!!! I got an iPhone this afternoon!!!!! Now I just have to get everything set up!

  9. Only dad with all good intentions could find himself in hot water. I love the pictures on the chalk board and the kids masks ,,,and it brings me goosebumps when I am referenced in one of dad's letters. keep these coming Louise! XXOO Dutchess

    1. XXOO right back at you, Dutchess! I get goosebumps too! They'll keep coming! btw, I have a new iPhone!!!! Rose gold 6s+ Terry got one too. We're going to a workshop tomorrow to learn the basics! It will be interesting. When I'm in Canada I can get something to use it in Canada. Love You!

  10. Wow, that must have been so startling to your dad. And more and more stressful as it got worse! Wintigo... Such an interesting word, too. I'm glad it all worked out in the end. It is fantastic how your dad added a lot of fun into his lessons. He sounds like such a wonderful soul. This was a very enjoyable post, Louise. I really look forward to these each week.

    1. Thank you, Martha! Dad was way ahead of his time as a teacher. He was doing things then that I was getting staff development on in the 2000s! I was fortunate to have him as my teacher in part of 1961 and in my senior year of high school. I also had him as my principal for several years. Have a great week, my friend!

  11. Hi Louise,
    It is still very difficult for me to blog and comment and Halloween has always made me quite uneasy.
    But I wanted to thank you for your lovely words and assure you they are much help.
    Gosh, I am so devastated, I don't know how I will overcome this pain and writing makes it even more difficult.
    So I will just say thank you deeply for your frienship and support, it means so much to me.
    Take care

    1. Dear Noushka! Thank you for your kind words! I value your friendship a great deal, and it hurts to see you in pain. If people have not gone through it, they don't grasp how physical the aguish of loss is. It takes a lot of time, a lot! And it can hurt so bad that sometimes you want to do anything, anything, to make it stop. Trust that eventually you will get through this, even if you don't believe it right now. And know that people around the world, who have come to care deeply for you, are sending you love and hope. Now catch that big hug coming your way from me!

    2. Many many thanks again Fundy, your friendship means so much to me, especially in these so difficult times.
      Got your hug :)
      Take good care of yourself and your family

    3. Wishing you a peaceful sleep, my friend! :)

  12. The story about your dad keep amazing me! He was such a wonderful and caring person. Thank you again for sharing his stories and letters with us!
    I love that there is even a Halloween letter. Poor him for being so worried about scaring the children so much, I'm glad it was all well in the end :)

    How are you? How was your traveling? Did you get to see lots of wonderful places?

    Thank you for checking in again ;) Yes, we do enjoy our time together so much, I love being married! And Keith is very busy studying German, adjusting to his new life :) I just finished my thesis, that's why I was absent from the blogging world as well.

    Sending lots of hugs to you. Have a fabulous day!

    1. How lovely to hear from you, Beate! It's wonderful to see you and Keith enjoying life and each other so much! Congratulations on getting that thesis done ~ That is a huge accomplishment! Terry and I saw amazing places and things this year. It seemed like we were back and forth all over the continent. Certainly wild Alaska was one of the highlights of our travels! And going to our niece's wedding in Washington, D.C. was another really bright spot in our year. Hugs right back at you!


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