Friday, November 27, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters: Before Cell Phones and the Internet

Today we take immediate communication for granted.  
Technology is so integrated into our lives,
that it's hard to imagine life without it.

A half century ago, 
family and friends
scattered across a country
kept in touch
by writing letters.

     Dad writes to Mom

Many rural or remote places 
had poor or no telephone service,
and long distance calls were expensive 
and reserved for rare occasions.

You had to catch the person
you were calling at home,
because voice messages
and texts were unknown.


If you had no phone service 
and needed to communicate something quickly,
you went to a telegraph office and sent a telegram.

The Telegraph Office
Nakina, Ontario
Photo by Donald MacBeath, September 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

People wrote for many reasons:
to share news, solve problems, 
exchange information,
or make new friends;
and always, they had to wait for an answer.

Today I am not sharing one of my father's letters,
but I'm including several short letters
that were traveling from Ontario to Nova Scotia
and from Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island
in November 1960.

They're ordinary letters written by people in my father's life,
but they're authentic and reflect the way we communicated then.

The first letter is written by Maureen McRae,
one of the four white women in Lansdowne House.
She was married to Duncan McRae 
who worked for the Department of Transport.
She and Duncan were close friends of my father,
and she wrote to introduce herself to my mother.

On Sunday, November 4, 1960 
Maureen wrote to my mother:

Maureen and Toboggan
Photo by Donald MacBeath, 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Dear Sara,
I hope you don’t mind me calling you by your first name, 
but Don has talked of you so often I feel I know you already.
Right now I’m in a letter writing mood 
so I thought I’d drop you a wee note.

Don is looking very well, 
and he’s still having lots of fun with his canoe.

Duncan and I are really looking forward 
to meeting you and the children.  
I’m pretty sure you’ll love it up here.  

It is the most beautiful place in the whole world.  
Mind you, that’s one person’s opinion.  
It is just like a resort in the summer.  
There’s fishing, swimming, and picnicking (Is that a word?).

Canoeing on Lake Attawapiskat
Near Lansdowne House, 1961
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I hope all your family is fine.  I’d love to meet them too.  
It would be nice to have more children up here.

I’m sure our little lad 
would appreciate playmates 
when he’s old enough to play.

Baby Duncan
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Well I haven’t said much, 
but I hope you’ll answer and tell me 
how your children are, and you of course. 

Maureen McRae

P.S. We love you sending some pictures of the girls and Roy.

The second letter is written by my mother
to her mother-in-law in Prince Edward Island.
Ironically my mother, 
at home alone with five children,
was more socially isolated than my father
in his remote northern village. 

Today it's hard to imagine it taking 
multiple back and forth letters
to straighten out something as simple as a receipt,
let alone copying by hand.

On Friday, November 11, 1960 
My mother
wrote to her
Myrtle MacBeath:

Dear Mother:
I received a telegram from Don right after you phoned 
saying the freeze-up had finally set in.  
I imagine he wired you at the same time.

I have been taking the house apart 
trying to find the receipt that you sent me.  
I had put it in my desk to copy when 
I had the time to do it without fear of losing it.  

I had so much company this last week; 
usually, I see very few people.  
Anyway, I went to get it this afternoon and couldn’t find it.  

The only thing I can think is that I might 
have thrown it out thinking it was an old letter from you.  
Every once in a while I houseclean the letters in my desk; 
however, I usually read them over before destroying them.  

As soon as I found I couldn’t find it, 
I looked for the old receipt I had, 
so I am sending it to you so you can read it over 
and see if it is the same as you sent.  

I feel just terrible about losing it.  
I will continue to look for it, 
although I turned the house upside down today.

Would you let me know if this receipt is the same 
or are there some changes that should be made?

With love,

The second letter is written by yours truly,
a grade five student student in Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia.
Academic success was important in my family,
and my grandmother and great aunt 
always wanted progress reports,
not to mention a little help with  
book suggestions for Christmas gifts.

On Tuesday, November 15, 1960 
I wrote my Grandmother MacBeath 
and my Great Aunt Maude:

Nana as a Young Woman
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Dear Nana and Aunt Maude,
I miss you very much.  This is going to be a short letter 
because I am going to school.  I am doing very good in school.  
Two weeks from now there are going to be exams.  
My marks are:  Reader 95, 98; 
Language, 96, 96, 100; Science 100.

Love, Louise

P.S.  Here is a list of books 
that I would like you to try and find for me.  
The titles of the stories are different, 
but the people are the same.  L. L.

Rin Tin Tin   Hardy Boy Mysteries (Real good)
Trixie Belden   Donna Parker
Nancy Drew Bobbsey Twins
Spin and Marty Roy Rogers
Dale Evans Gene Autry
Tarzan The Walton Boys
Rip Foster Tom Stetson
Ginny Gordon Zane Grey
Circus Roy Wyatt Earp
Trudy Phillips Red Rider 
Annie Oakley Polly French
Fury Lassie
Bomba Rocks All Around Us

The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars
In the Days of Dinosaurs

     Amazon                                                                                      Wikipedia                                                                        Wikipedia

I could never have imagined that my early interest in dinosaurs
would lead to my studying geology and paleontology
and to a thirteen year stint volunteering in the fossil lab
of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

So much of our lives is taken up with the little things,
and, sadly, it is the memories of little things that disappear with time.
I often think of the countless stories of everyday people 
that have been lost over the generations.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Crossing to Tiverton
on Long island,
in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia
Photo Copy by Roy MacBeath 
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Links to Earlier Posts:

TLL: Bush Planes and the Puzzle of Thanksgiving

TLL: Pushing Back the Black Night

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Canada   Wikimedia

Lansdowne House, Ontario, Canada

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters: A Touch of Winter

Do you have a first memory of snow?
I do.

Falling Snow
Flickr:  Kate Ter Haar   License

It's one of my earliest childhood memories.
I was not quite four, 
and we were living in an apartment
in my Grandmother MacBeath's home
at the corner of Fitzroy and Edward streets.
in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

I distinctly remember seeing snow falling
through the kitchen window.
I raced outside in my pyjamas,
through the gate, and into the backyard.

I looked up into the lowering skies 
and felt cold snowflakes kissing my face.
I couldn't believe fluffy white things
were falling out of the grey clouds.
It was pure magic!

And then Mom was suddenly bundling me
up in a blanket and carrying me inside,
promising me that we would dress in warm clothes
and go outside to play in the snow after breakfast.

I still feel that magic when I see 
the first flakes of winter coming down; 
but like many adults, I'm over snow quickly
if I have to shovel it, drive in it, or slog through it 
over ice like my father did so long ago.

Sunday, November 6, 1960 
My father wrote:

Dear Mother:
I just have time to dash off a short note to you.  
A plane is expected in today, 
and from the look of things around here, 
it could very well be the last one before freeze up.  

The temperature is hovering around 10 above.  
There is about a foot of snow – it is knee deep in places, 
and the lake is covered, about half covered that is, 
with about ½ inch of ice.

A Partially Frozen Northern Lake

A good calm night and a real hard frost would do the trick.  
As I said before, I will wire you just as soon as 
the last “last plane” comes in.

I turned in my canoe Friday.  
The lake is frozen over along by the causeway, 
and I can walk across with no difficulty.

The Partially Built Causeway
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
Painting by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I am glad to be rid of that canoe.  
It is no fun, and it is quite dangerous during this cold weather.  
If I upset it in deep water, I could be in real trouble, 
because it would be too cold to swim in, 
and I would be hampered by my parka and heavy boots.

I had to buy a pair of four buckle rubber overshoes.  
The snow was too deep for my low zipper over shoes, 
and I don’t like wearing rubber boots more than I have too.

Dad's Store ~ The Hudson's Bay Post
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
Photo by Donald MacBeath, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I was so sorry to hear about your disaster with the dinner 
after you worked so hard to get it ready.  
The next time you feel like a big meal,
you should phone the Rendezvous or Starrys (Windmill)
and have something sent up.

I will take good care of the snap on cake tins ~ 
I might even send them back for a refill 
after I have eaten all they contain.

Sara is buying all the Christmas presents this year.  
I guess I told you that.  I can’t do any shopping.  
You have to shop by mail and get your orders in early, 
and I did not know about this in time to do it.  

The only present I bought was a pair of
moose hide Indian mitts for Sara.  
She loves this sort of thing, 
and I had one of the Indians make them for me for $5.00.  
I couldn’t even get anything for the children.

Myrtle (Pratt) MacBeath

I hope that by the time this letter reaches you, 
your worries about the cottages, storm windows, etc.
will be over, but knowing poor Herb like I do, 
I guess they will just be starting, eh?

In Earlier Days:  The Four Pratt Siblings
Maude (back), Belle, Myrtle, and Chester
St. Peter's Bay, Prince Edward Island, Canada
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Uno and I were over to Dunc and Maureen’s for bridge last night.
Maureen and I got beaten by 850 points.  
We should have won by at least 1,500 points, 
but Maureen made a couple of bad mistakes. 

She opened the bidding once with 2 no-trump.  
I was holding a hand with a count of 16 points.  
You are supposed to have at least 22 points to open 
with 2 no-trump and strength in all suits.
I figured we were loaded and pushed for a slam.  
I ended up in 6 hearts, 
and when she laid down her hand 
I nearly dropped through the floor.  
She had 11 points and only had two suits stopped.  
We went down 4, doubled and vulnerable.  

The next time she passed up my opening bid – 
I had a count of 18, and she had 17, 
she passed, and we missed a game and a quick rubber.

Maureen MacRae
The Father's Island, Lansdowne House
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Well, I have not too much news, 
because that is taken care of by the Lansdowne Letter, 
and I have to get a letter written to Sara, so I will close.

Oh yes, Sara sent me some lovely pictures 
of Louise, Roy, and Donnie, which were taken at school.  
I may be a bit prejudiced, 
but I think they are very handsome children.

Our School Photos, Fall 1960
Donnie, Roy, and Me
Smith's Cove Elementary, Nova Scotia, Canada
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I am keeping my hand in with advanced subjects.  
Uno and Maureen are taking Grade XII subjects 
by correspondence, and I am helping both of them.
I can’t get them together and do it though, 
because they are taking different subjects.  
Maureen is taking Geography, History, and Arithmetic, 
and Uno is taking English and French.

Even if they were taking the same subjects, 
they are taking them from different provinces.  
Maureen is taking hers from the Manitoba Board of Education, 
and Uno is taking his from Ontario.  

On top of this, every so often the Father gets me over 
for a session in English grammar and vocabulary.  
He is very anxious to improve his English, 
and he says that this is the first time he has ever had
someone who was well-educated and used good English, 
and he wants to learn as much as he can.


Father Maurice Ouimet and Donald MacBeath
The Roman Catholic Mission
Lansdowne House, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Well, must sign off now.
Bye now,

Dad in His Rubber Boots
Lansdowne House
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

P.S.  You may not hear
from me till after freeze-up, 
and then again you may.
Will wire when freeze-up is on.  
Don’t forget the stamped envelopes.

I find myself sympathizing with my father a lot.
Crossing the Father's causeway was not easy.
I did it jumping from stone to stone,
when the ice had melted,
but I never crossed it when there was danger 
of my plunging through thin ice.
I think of my father going back and forth
twice a day to get to and from school.
I'm glad that it wasn't me!

I also am glad I didn't have to
play bridge with Dad as a partner.
He was a serious and intense bridge partner
who knew every rule and strategy
and could recall every hand played during the game.
He played to win!

I'd have passed up Dad's opening bid of 18
after going down doubled and vulnerable in the previous hand.  
I'd be lucky if I could sort my hand!  Poor Maureen!  

Not that Dad was a poor sport or an ungracious partner;
he was formidable, and Mom wisely partnered
with someone else when opportunity arose.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Crossing to Tiverton
on Long island,
in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia
Photo Copy by Roy MacBeath 
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Links to Earlier Posts:

TLL: To Hell with the Stepping Stones

TLL: The Government Strikes Out ~ Again!


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

2.  Duncan and Maureen MacRae:
     Duncan worked for the Department of Transport,
     and his duties included running the DOT Weather Station.
     Maureen was his wife.
3.  Father Maurice Ouimet:  
     He was a member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate,
     a missionary religious congregation in the Roman Catholic Church.

4.  Unit Conversions:
     10º F. = -12º C
     One foot = 30.5 centimeters
     ½ Inch = 1.27 centimeters

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Canada   Wikimedia

Lansdowne House, Ontario, Canada

Sunday, November 15, 2015


I wanted to let everyone know
that I will have little
or no internet access
starting tomorrow (Sunday).

So I'll be taking a mini-break
and will be back as soon as I can.

I'm A-Okay ~
I just don't have an on-ramp 
to the internet highway.

Wishing you all a great week!

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Lansdowne Letters: The Inevitable Happens

It was bound to happen and it finally did,
on a cold November afternoon in 1960
on Lake Attawapiskat in northwestern Ontario.

An Island on Lake Attawapiskat
Near Lansdowne House, Ontario, Canada
Fall 1960 
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, November 2, 1960
My father wrote:

Hi There:
Well, I finally did it today.  
I upset the canoe and pitched myself into the lake.  
It happened when I was going back to school this afternoon.

 Looking toward the Mainland of Lansdowne House
This was the route that my father canoed to get to school.
Lake Attawapiskat
Fall 1960 
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My first action that contributed to my misadventure, 
though, happened when I was coming home for dinner.  
When I was getting out of the canoe on the Island, 
I tripped over this old paddle that was in the bottom of the canoe.
It was broken and not much good.  
When I tripped, I got one foot wet.

This afternoon when I was starting back, 
the first thing I did was to pick up 
the old broken paddle and heave it away.  
Then I started across.

There was a stiff wind
in from the north, and
the temperature was about 20 above. 

I was paddling like blazes, 
but because of the wind
and the current, 
I was not able to make
the HBC dock, 
so I laid a course
for the DOT dock.

I was doing wonderful, 
when all of a sudden my paddle, 
which was pretty well covered with ice, 
slipped out of my hand into the water and was away on me.  

I was only about fifteen feet from shore when I lost my paddle, 
and the old broken one would have gotten me in.  
Oh how I regretted throwing the old paddle away!!!!!!
Well there I was, as helpless as a newborn babe.  

Now I know exactly what is meant by the expression 
‘up the creek without a paddle.’ 
I was soon drifting rapidly out into the lake.  

Fortunately for me, Bill Mitchell was watching me 
paddle across and saw me lose the paddle and start to drift.  

Very soon I saw Brian and him come out of the house, 
run to the beach, launch the HBC canoe, 
and set out to my rescue.

By the time they got the canoe launched though, 
I had drifted over by the end of the Island 
and had fetched up on some submerged rocks, 
about twenty feet off the point of the Island.

They came across the lake after me, and 
because they were traveling with the wind, 
they were going almost as fast as if they 
had an outboard motor on the canoe.  
They almost hit me broadside and upset me, 
but at the last moment they managed 
to turn the canoe and miss me.  

In the excitement Brian tried to throw me the paddle, 
and it landed just out of my reach.  
I tried to reach for it, and splash, 
the next thing I knew 
I was above my waist in ice-cold water.  

Just at the time that I upset, 
Bill and Brian hit another rock, 
holed their canoe, and had to beach it on the Island.  

Well, I pulled my canoe ashore and emptied it, 
and left it there and ran up to the cottage to get warm and dry.  
An old Indian came down and paddled my canoe 
back to the beach in front of the Father’s.

The Father's Beach
Fall 1960 
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


Bill and Brian left their holed canoe on the Island 
and managed to get back by way of 
the partly finished causeway.  

Goodness, but I was cold!!!!  
After I got undressed, dried off, and into warm dry clothes, 
it took me about two hours to stop shivering and get warmed up.  

Finally I succeeded in getting warm, 
and then I borrowed TWO paddles from the Father 
and went over to the HBC store 
and thanked Bill and Brian for my rescue. 

Did I ever get ribbed.  
However, they were surprised 
that I was brave (or foolhardy enough) 
to take the canoe out so soon after my misadventure.

Anishinaabe Thunderbird
Emblem of the Ojibwa and Other Anishinaabe Peoples

I believe that I promised you 
the Lord’s Prayer in Ojibway.  
Here it is.  
It is the Catholic version though 
(I got it from the Father), 
and it ends at “but deliver us from evil.”

“Nossinan, kitci-kijikong eiaian, 
apatec kitcitwawinikoian,
ani tipenimiweian, kaie nanaitakoian aking, 
tapicko kitcikijikong.

Nin tassokijiko-pakwejikaniminan nongom mijicinam;
ponentamawicinam ki nickiiwe-iang, 
eji ponentamawangitwa neckiiiangitwa; 
keko pakitinicinakang tci matci aciikoiang.  
Maianatak itac ikonamawicinam.  

Apatec ing.” (Amen)

Flag of the Neskantaga First Nation
The Ojibwa or Oji-Cree of Lansdowne House

Well, there it is.  
Please excuse any typing errors.  
It is awfully hard to copy a language like this.

I am awfully tired after my swim in the lake, 
so I will wind this up right now, 
and I will get this ready and send it out tomorrow, 
because there is a plane expected in tomorrow, 
and at this time of year, it could be the last one. 

Photo Likely by Uno Manilla
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

See you all next week, 
if we aren’t frozen in by then.  
If we are, then I will be talking to you
after freeze-up.
As you can see, 
I am so tired that I am making
a lot of mistakes.

Bye now,

And I used to grumble if I had to drive to school
on a cold, windy day in my nice warm car.
I don't know how Dad did it, day after day.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Yours Truly
Freeport, Long Island,
in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia
Photo by Roy MacBeath
© All Rights Reserved

Links to Earlier Posts:

TLL: Robinson Crusoe

TLL: Bush Planes and the Puzzle of Thanksgiving


    1.  Bill Mitchell:  Manager of the
          Hudson's Bay Co. store  (left).
    2.  Brian Booth:  Clerk in the
          Hudson's Bay Co.  (right).
    3.  HBC:  Hudson's Bay Company
    4.  DOT:  Department of Transport
    5.  Father:  Father Maurice Ouimet, OMI


And for Map Lovers Like Me:
Location of Ontario

Location of Lake Attawapiskat
Inland from Akimiski Island in James Bay
Wikimedia   edited

Map of Lansdowne House
10  HBC Dock
11  DOT Dock
8 Tip of Father's Island Dad Was Drifting Past
2  Dad and Uno's Shack