Friday, March 25, 2016

The Lansdowne Letters: Ceilings, Water Samples, and Salmon

Have you ever slogged through a dense, dry report
wondering about about the lives and stories behind the statistics?

Just two days ago I stumbled across a collection
of Indian Affairs Annual Reports, 1864-1990
in Library and Archives Canada.

I quickly located the 1961 report 
that covered the time my father taught in Lansdowne House
and began skimming through its 66 pages.

It's fascinating to see all of the federal government's 
annual interactions with the First Nations Peoples
summed up in 66 concise pages, 
complete with statistical tables.

Northern Ontario had 54 Indian schools 
scattered across its wilderness of rock, lake, and muskeg.
My father's was one of the 38 single-classroom schools. Table

Church of England Indian Day School
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

His school was mentioned in the report in a short phrase
as one of three schools constructed in Northern Ontario 
during the fiscal year ending on March 31, 1961.  Education 

But nowhere in the report could I find any mention
of the quality of construction completed
or whether the schools were actually equipped
with the furniture and supplies needed to function.

I can't help laughing as I remember what was not
in the brief innocuous words of the government report:
My father arriving in Lansdowne House
and finding the new school without a stick of furniture.

After a radio call to the Department of Indian Affairs in Nakina,
my father furnished the school temporarily
by borrowing old handmade desks stored in Father Ouimet's attic
and carrying them over to his school on the mainland via canoe.
He also scrounged card tables and chairs, sawhorses and lumber
around the community to accommodate his Indian children.

Dad's Children in Their Borrowed Desks
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

That was the beginning of a number of challenges
my father had to overcome at his new Indian school
including shoddy construction, malfunctioning oil stoves,
and partial shipments of necessary equipment.

Fortunately people in Lansdowne House pulled together,
helping each other out with difficult tasks.

On Monday, December 12, 1960 
My father wrote:

Dear Sally:
I had a very busy weekend.  
Friday when I came to school, it was very cold, 
and the ceiling had fallen down again.  

Mike, Duncan, and I spent the morning putting up the ceiling ~
insulating it and sealing the fire door shut.
The three of us spent Friday afternoon banking the school
with snow to keep it warm.

Saturday morning I hauled four or five loads of wood for our shack,
and Saturday afternoon, I spent pumping oil 
from barrels into the school oil tanks.  
I pumped 400 gallons, and by the time I was finished,
I was nearly frozen.

  Dad's Shack on the Father's Island
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue 
All Rights Reserved

It was 25 below all day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  
The temperature usually drops to 30 below and lower at night.

Sunday I spent the morning reading, and then about 11:00, 
Mike came over and asked me to help him take lake water samples.
I had dinner at the nursing station, and after dinner 
we put on moccasins and snowshoes and took off for the lake.

We walked five miles and drilled twelve holes in the ice.  
It took us from 1:00 to 5:00 to do it.  
We went up one side of the peninsula for about ¾ of a mile 
and then cut across the peninsula and down the other side.  
Oh, and we went around the island.

Lansdowne House and the Father's Island, 1935
Credit: Canada. Dept. of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Library and Archives Canada / PA-094992

I had supper at the Father’s and then came back to Mike’s 
and had a nice hot bath ~ 
my first bath in a bath tub since I arrived here.  
Boys but it felt good.  
I was so tired that Mike asked me to stay the night.  
I did.  I’m quite stiff today.

Tomorrow or Wednesday I have to go out after a Christmas tree for the school.
That will involve another three-mile hike on snowshoes.
This life sure is different from anything that I have been used to up till now.

I had gained five pounds last week, 
but I knocked three of them off this weekend.  
I weigh an even 200 pounds now.  
Another ten pounds to go, and I will have reached my goal weightwise.  
However, I have quite a ways to go yet to reach my goal strenghtwise.

I can tell you one thing though.  I’m in great shape from the hips down.
I never saw my legs so muscled up as they are now.

Dad in the Bush on the Peninsula
Photo Likely by Mike Flaherty
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue 
All Rights Reserved

Continued at Afternoon Recess:
Mr. Gowan is in visiting the settlement now.  
He is in in response to a letter that I mailed to him regarding the school
and the problems I have been having regarding the heating, etc.  

I did not get a chance to ask him about the forestry shack 
when he was in my school just now, 
but I will press him for an answer to this question 
as soon as I see him after school.  
I sure as hell …

And the rest of the letter is missing!
But I found the missing page from a letter 
written back in September attached to this one.
Maybe this letter's missing page will surface somewhere. 

It is funny to note that in the letter of September 12th
when my father was grounded in Nakina by bad weather,
he was trying to track down Mr. Gowan 
and learn where he was going to live
once he finally arrived in Lansdowne House:
"I have met and talked with a few more Indians,
but I still have not succeeded in seeing 
Mr. Gowan, the Indian Agent at Nakina.”

Now Dad was pressing him for permission to move into the forestry shack,
so my mother and we five children could join him.

It's fair to say that my father and the Indian Agent
had an up and down relationship.
The Department of Indian Affairs 
did not want employees to rock the boat, 
and my father was already making waves.
Oh the things to come that are missing in that bland report! 

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: Freeze-up Approaches

TLL: A Big Bang


1.  Mike Flaherty:  The nurse at the nursing station.

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

3.  Father Maurice Ouimet:  
     The priest at the Catholic Mission in Lansdowne House.
     He was a member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate,
     a missionary religious congregation in the Roman Catholic Church.
4.  Mr. Gowan:  As the chief administrator for the Department of Indian Affairs in Nakina,
     the Indian Agent managed the lives of all First Nations people in his jurisdiction
     which included the native people in Lansdowne House.

5.  Liquid Capacity Conversions:
      400 gallons = 1514 liters

6.   Temperature Conversion:  
     -25º F  = -31.6º C
     -30º F  = -34.4º C

7.  Distance Conversions: 
     5 miles =  8 kilometers 
     ¾ of a mile =  1.2 kilometers
     3 miles = 4.8 kilometers

8.  Weight Conversions:
          5 pounds = 2.26 kilograms
      200 pounds = 90.7 kilograms
        10 pounds =   4.5 kilograms

9.  My favorite statistic in the 1961  report:
     The Indians of British Columbia took 262,323 salmon for home consumption.  Source

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Lansdowne House
Surrounded by Water
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Lansdowne House, Ontario, Canada


  1. Another great post Louise. Do I detect some foreshawdowing here? I love the photo of the Peninsula and Father's Island ... I have not seen this perspective before. I am reading another great book about the North that I need to pass on to you when I am done. It was a finalist in the CBC Canada Reads program and is our Book Club Book this month : Birdie by Traecy Linberg. Dutchess

    1. Hey, Dutchess! Oh yes, you detect foreshadowing here, and you know what will happen! LOL!

      I was late posting today. I have discovered that in hotel lobbies there is always a talker! It's quite amazing how hard it is to extricate oneself from a determined talker!

      Thank God it rained in Honolulu today, and I got a chance to finish this post which fought me every step of the way. I was walking with Terry to the Shore Bird when I finished, and the right title popped in my head, after I scratched my head over what to call the post. Arghh!

      I was thrilled to find that photo. I've searched and searched for photos, and out of nowhere this one pops up. It dates to before Father Ouimet's arrival in Lansdowne House. Can't you just see Dad and Mike thrashing through the bush in their snowshoes! The water in the area has always been bad, and Mike was collecting data to prove it over fifty years ago.

      Can't wait to read that book. I'm headed to beddie-bye now, but I wouldn't be surprised if you were just thinking about going to bed where you are (four hours later)! Hugs and take care!

  2. It seems that your father had to fight uphill battles to just do what he was hired to do. It is a blessing that the small community rallied behind him and supported his efforts. Even at twenty five below zero he was willing to go out and cut a Christmas tree for the children. I have such admiration for your dad.

    1. Hi, Peggy! It is awesome to see you! I took an unexpected break from blogging and am still trying to get back in the groove. It doesn't help being in Honolulu where I have internet access only in the hotel lobby and breezeway. Granted it's a very small hotel, but the guests all interact. It's fun because when you come back to the Royal Grove over several years you develop friendships with other repeat guests.

      I do hope that you, Don, and your family are all doing well. And sweet Sadie! I'll be by to catch up! I have missed you! Hugs!

  3. Living like that would sure be not to be. I'd hate being frozen as can be lol I've slogged through such reports, mostly just wanted them to be done.

    1. LOL, Pat! I have little desire to be out in such cold temperatures. That's why we're in Hawaii right now taking a break from winter. Good timing too because we missed a blizzard followed by a second snowstorm in the past few days. Terry's pickle ball friends back home were saying it was taking a long time to get dug out.

      I think that worse than slogging through one of those reports must be writing one! Usually I just want them to be done too! Have a great weekend ~ you're well into Saturday, seven hours ahead of me. Take care!

  4. And a good rocking of that boat was needed then as it is now! I can't imagine how your father survived, Louise. Shows the strength and fortitude he had.
    These letters, as you know, are priceless. And very applicable today as the newly elected liberal government here are trying their best to finally address the terribly neglected First Nations living conditions that continue to this day.
    Have a wonderful weekend, Louise.

    1. Have a wonderful weekend, Jim! I so appreciate the encouragement you continue to give me! Don't laugh, but Terry discovered that if you put the computer on our bathroom sink, you can pick up the wifi signal for our hotel ~ I can't play games, but I can type! I'm glad to hear that the Liberal government is tackling what has happened to the First Nations people. I'm sure they'll meet opposition, but maybe they can finally do some good.

  5. Someone has to rock the boat, don't they? How else would things ever change or get better? What a tough man your father was. Not everyone could live that way with all it's struggles. But I imagine there were also very rewarding things that came out of it, like those kids!

    1. You're right, Martha! Dad was a born teacher, and one of his greatest strengths was the rapport he built with his students. He genuinely loved them and his relationship with them was his greatest reward! I hope that you had a great Easter! Hugs!

  6. Wow, what a post! You are so right, it is the things that are left OUT in the report that makes you shake your head!!
    AND walking in all that snow and cold, I can just imagine how lovely that bath felt for your Dad. You come from very strong stock, Louise, you should be very proud! Happy Easter. xx

    1. I hope you, Richard, and Christopher had a lovely Easter together! Terry and I had a beautiful day in Honolulu; and the sunset was glorious!

      I look down at my "MacBeath thighs" and groan sometimes. Why couldn't I have inherited my mother's perfect-for-modeling long, slim legs? But my trainer Alex, here in Hawaii, says I am really strong! I'm grateful that I can be really gritty emotionally when the going gets tough. Now if I could just permanently exorcise the odd bouts of depression! Oh well we can't have everything we want! LOL Hugs to you, my friend!

  7. Hello dear Louise!
    WOW, that was quite a wonderful surprise to discover today all your sweet and thoughtful comments on my blog :)
    Except for my friend the vixen published this morning, I upload pictures from last year these days, since I should be moving this spring if all goes according to plan and I don't have much time going after wild life now.

    Your post is very interesting... as usual :) and I find funny the fact that what strikes you most about your findings on your dad's life, is what has not been written!
    What a strong character he proved to be to face so many problems and fight for these lovely kids, but he must have found well worth!
    Keep well dear friend, and enjoy the new week :)

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment, Noushka! I shudder at the thought of moving, so I don't envy you in all that moving entails. I hope that things go smoothly as you pack; I can't imagine how hard and poignant that must be for you, but you'll get through it. You are one strong lady! Wherever you land, I hope it brings you close to great wildlife. Your soul needs that connection! Hugs to year, dear Noushka!

  8. Brr. Reading this made me cold. Wonderful and educational post as usual. Your dad had to work hard just to work. :)

    1. We are so lucky to live now! We don't have such physical challenges. But I'd go back and live through it all again if I could! I hope you had a lovely Easter, Teresa!

  9. Pretty primitive conditions for all concerned and a tough life.

    1. A tough life, but it had its rewards! Have a good one, Debra!

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