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


  1. Much sure does get lost over time. That was quite the array of books too. Yeah, we sure take communication for granted these days indeed.

    1. Happy Friday, Pat! I was aghast when I read that list of books in my letter. I certainly didn't expect all of them when I wrote, but I was hopeful I'd get some for sure. Reading has always been one of my greatest pleasures in life. At this time in 1960 Dad was truly cut off with the arrival of freeze-up, and here I am up in the mountains in Breckenridge sending a little comment to you. I'm quite happy with all the communication options I have today! Have a good weekend!

  2. It was a real trip down memory lane to read your list of books! I read a lot of Bobbsey Twins books too. And I loved the Hardy Boys!

    1. I loved the Hardy Boys too, Debra, and read many of them. When I went north, Dad paid me a little bit extra beyond my 25 cent allowance because I had to do so many extra and hard chores. We had nowhere to spend money, so Dad kept an account, and I anxiously watched the amount rise so I could afford to order a collection of the first five Hardy Boy books. And I loved "Trixie Belden and The Secret of the Mansion" so much, I borrowed a friend's copy and tried to hand copy it before we went north. Mom let me tackle it until I figured out that wasn't a realistic task. Have a great weekend!

  3. Your Nana was a beautiful young lady, and I love the photo of you.


    1. Thank you, Janie! Nana was a beauty in her day, but she always remembered that she was thin and the style was to be pleasingly plump. Why is it we females go right to the imperfections??? I hope that you enjoyed a happy Thanksgiving Day!

  4. An impressive list of books, I remember so many of them. Communications, right now one of our NZ TV weather presenters is in Antarctica, and has a live link on the 6 p.m. news, a video link no less, and then as well as the local weather and news from down there, he gives all NZ weather and forecasts. I never take modern technology for granted, am so thankful for it every day. Your marks, equally as impressive as your list. well done.

    1. Hi Jean, I've been traveling again, back from Thanksgiving in the mountains with our family, so I'm just replying now. That's quite amazing about your weather presenter in Antarctica; that's the epitome of isolation, and yet he is connected with the world. I, too, am grateful for modern technology. I was a little embarrassed by the length of the list and touting my marks, but it would be dishonest to edit them out or change them. I hope you are in the middle of a great weekend! Take care!

  5. Things were so different back then, weren't they? My parents used to write to family they left behind in Greece; their parents, siblings, and so on. There was so much excitement when a letter arrived. Although I like modern technology, I'm so glad my early years didn't include it. I had to communicate by phone or by mail, and sometimes I had to physically walk over to a friend's house to make plans. There was something special about that and the kids today will never experience it. Now it's all texting.

    I LOVE that you had Lassie on your list of books! A definite favourite of mine :)

    1. Hi, Martha! Things were different then, and like you, I am glad that I got to experience life without all our modern technology. I'm sad that I no longer wait anxiously for the mailman to bring a letter. I adored Lassie! I hope you are having a great weekend!

  6. Oh! How wonderful! I love that you shared these letters with us, including yours!
    When were you at the museum in Denver? Our son loved dinosaurs and we took him there in 1996, were you there then? So funny to think that we could have run into you if you were there!
    Letter writing is a lost art...I wrote quite a few letters in my lifetime...and you know I married my pen friend! xx

    1. I was definitely there in 1996, Kay! Wow, what if we did cross paths? I had to give up working in the lab when my school responsibilities became all consuming. I keep thinking about going back again. Christopher may love dinosaurs all his life! I will. I love that you married your one pal!!! Have a happy week!

  7. Those were the days, my friend......(we thought they'd never end).
    More than a few of these books I have at the shop. People still enjoy them.
    Letter writing was a fine art for some and obviously your family, Louise, had it in spades!!

    1. HI, my friend! I'll have to check out your shop for books next summer. I'm sorry I've gotten behind on visiting your blog. Three strikes and I'm OUT: Medical issue, Las Vegas, and Thanksgiving in Breckenridge. What a time these past few weeks have been! And here comes Christmas! I hope your, Ron, and SD are doing well! I'll be catching up! Take care!

  8. I truly miss those days. Life wasn't perfect but so much better than now. I had a best friend who moved away when I was young and we wrote each other for years. i can't remember anything more exciting than getting a letter from her!

    1. How lovely that you and your friend have those memories Tess Julia! There is nothing like a letter from a good friend. I'll be around to visit your blog shortly. I've been buried these past few weeks! Have a great Monday!

  9. What a cute picture of sweetheart you. Letter writing runs in your family I see. That list of books was great, I imagine that you were a voracious reader. Thank you for that glimpse into other members of your family. I keep telling you...they need to make this into a movie. The only trouble is I want John Wayne to play your dad and Maureen O'Hara to be your mom.

    1. Hi Peggy! I'm sorry to be replying to your wonderful comment so late. I have been slammed this week! I'm a little embarrassed at the length of that list of book suggestions, but I was who I was and remain who I am. Voracious is the perfect word to describe Reader Me! I'm sure my parents would be stunned at the thought of having Wayne and O'Hara portray them in a movie. I loved both these actors! Have a great weekend!

  10. I agree that it was just a wonderful way ( those days almost the only one) way to contact each others. Now I do sometimes write letters for my friends that are abroad. Usually I send greeting cards.

    1. Thank you for your kind comment! I miss those days of letter writing, although I appreciate the immediacy of the internet.

  11. Wow your pics really capture the glitz of Vegas and the beauty of the vast surrounding country.Love them.x

  12. Just stumbled on your blog and find the accounts of life in Landsdowne House fascinating. Would certainly be interested in purchasing a copy of your memoir when it's done.



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