Friday, April 1, 2016

The Lansdowne Letters: Santa's on His Way!

My father loved Christmas more than just about anyone,
and, if he couldn't have Christmas at home with his family,
then he was going to celebrate Christmas with his Indian children.

A simple idea, but what a lot of planning and coordination
it took to pull a party together in the Northern community
of Lansdowne House, Ontario in December 1960.

My father shared his Christmas party plans in letters 
he wrote to his mother and mother-in-law,  Myrtle and Ella,
along with his hopes and plans for bringing Mom 
and we five children to Lansdowne House in the new year.

Dad's Classroom Decorated for the Arrival of Santa Claus
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario
December 19, 1960
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Friday, December 16, 1960 
My father wrote to his mother, 
Myrtle MacBeath:

Dear Mother:
I don’t know for sure where you are going to spend Christmas, so I am sending this to Smith’s Cove.  
If you aren’t there, Sara will forward it to Charlottetown.

Myrtle MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I just have time for a short note because the mail plane
just arrived earlier than usual, and I want to get this out on it.  
There is going to be another plane in tomorrow, 
and I’ll try to get a nice long letter on that plane.

I just finished decorating my room for the school party.
Santa is flying in Monday, and we are giving the Indian children quite a party.  
Right now the room is a mess, but we are going to remedy that
right quick like this afternoon.

Well, I must sign off now and get this down to the plane.  
I hope you have a nice Christmas,
and I will be thinking of you all the time.
Next year, if everything goes according to Hoyle, 
you will be enjoying a northern Christmas at Lansdowne House.

Bye now, Love, Don,
Merry Christmas.

The Classroom Decorated for the Coming Party
And Some of Dad's Indian Students
December 1960
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 18, 1960 
My father wrote to his 
mother-in-law, Ella MacDonald:

Dear Mac:
I want to thank you for the candy
that you were so very kind
to send to my school children.

Ella MacDonald with Roy and Me
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Also I want to thank you and Carl and Louise for the Christmas gifts.  
I don’t know what they are yet, but after Christmas I will know,
and then I can thank you in a more precise manner.
The two parcels arrived okay.
Nothing lost, broken, or damaged.

As I have already written you, Uno’s typewriter
is out of commission, and mine has not arrived up here yet.
Until either mine arrives, or the part for Uno’s arrives,
the Lansdowne letter is kaput.
Publishing will be resumed as soon as the presses are functioning again.

I have quite a Christmas party planned for my children tomorrow.
The room is decorated beautifully.
The children made all the decorations and made a wonderful job of doing it.

Tomorrow morning we are having a regular feast.
Bill Mitchell, the HBC manager, donated ten loaves
of bread, and the DOT donated sandwich spreads.

Anne Flaherty made cupcakes, and Maureen,
Dunc, Brian, and myself spent all tonight making sandwiches ~ ham, tuna fish, salmon, and peanut butter.  

Oh yes, Bill Mitchell also donated
fifteen dozen assorted filled cookies.

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

With the sandwiches, the cookies, the cupcakes, 
and some other candy I managed to scrounge,
the children should be well fed.

Tomorrow afternoon Santa is flying in from Armstrong
with candies and more gifts for the children.  
He is landing at Lansdowne House and picking me up,
and we are flying to Webequie, one of the trapping camps 
about seventy-five miles north of here.

We are distributing gifts and candy there,
and then Santa is flying back to Lansdowne House
where he will hold forth at my school 
for all the children of the community.

Santa is someone in one of the air force 
radar stations in the Mid-Canada Line.
All of the gifts and candy has been donated
by charitable organizations on the outside,
and Superior Airways is donating the flight in and out for Santa.

The Classroom Christmas Tree
with its Decorations Made by the Indian Children
December 19, 1960
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

On New Year's Day we are having a feast for the adults.
This will also be held in my school.
The food for this feast is being donated 
by the Honourable Company (HBC) 
and the Anglican Church of Canada.  
I guess I’ll be busy at the feast also.

It looks very much like I will be able to get 
Sally and the children up here with me after Christmas.  
I have been negotiating with the Department of Lands and Forests
for permission to live in the forestry house till the teacherage is built.

Also, I have been negotiating with the Department of Indian Affairs
for permission to bring in my family if I can get the house.
Also, I think I can get them to pay the expenses.
I am not certain yet, but things look quite hopeful.

The house is furnished with everything but bedding and linen.
It is heated with oil, and there is a propane stove in the kitchen.
Also there is a kerosene refrigerator and a gasoline washing machine.

The only drawback is that there is no electricity,
but we are only a short distance from the nursing station,
and Mike Flaherty says that he will run a line
over from the nursing station power plant.  
This will give us enough power for a tri-light in the living room,
and it is also enough to operated either an iron or an electric kettle.
We’ll have to use kerosene lamps for the other rooms.

It will be wonderful if I can get them up
because I am near crazy with loneliness up here,
and Sara is in the same boat in the Cove.
I want her up, and she wants to come up.
If everything proceeds according to plans, they should be up here
between the end of January and the middle of February.
Well, I must sign off now.

Oh, before I go, I should tell you about Aunt Maude.
When I came up here, the doctors all said
that she only had a month, at the very outside, to live.  

The last letter I had from Mother had good news ~
miraculous news in fact.  Aunt Maude is out of the hospital,
and the doctors told Chester that they can find no more evidence of cancer.

Dad's Mother with Her Sisters and Brother
Maude (back row)
Belle, Nana (Myrtle), and Chester
St. Peter's Bay, Prince Edward Island
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Dr. Lea called Chester and said to him, 
“Now I don’t want you to think that we are either idiots 
or miracle workers, but even though in September and October
we expected her to die any moment with cancer,
we can find no evidence of any cancer in her body now."

Apparently this nitrogen mustard treatment,
which actually is supposed to palliate cancer,
cured it in Aunt Maude’s case.

Well, I must close now.  
Thanks again so very much for what you sent me
and especially for what you sent to my Indian children.

I hope you and Carl and Louise and Jeff 
have a very Merry Christmas.
Love, Don.

It's fascinating for me to look back
and see all that so many people contributed
to help my father throw a party for his students.

But I was shocked when I googled nitrogen mustard treatment
and discovered that Aunt Maude's cancer was palliated
with chemotherapy based on a chemical warfare agent!  wikipedia 

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: Playing with Fire

TLL: Northern Teacher ~ Problem Solving Skills Necessary


1.  Mac:  Dad often called his mother-in-law "Mac."
                His other favorite nickname for her was "The Yard Boss."

2.  Carl and Louise:  Carl Lindholm was married to my mother's sister Louise. 
                Jeff was their eldest child.

3.  Uno Manilla:  Dad's roommate and the teacher at the Roman Catholic school.

4.   Mike and Anne Flaherty:  Mike, married to Anne, was the nurse at the nursing station.
5.  Duncan and Maureen McRae:
                Duncan, married to Maureen, worked for the Department of Transport,
                and his duties included running the DOT Weather Station.
6.  Brian Booth:  The clerk at the Hudson's Bay post.  

7.  HBC (Hudson's Bay Company)
     DOT (Department of Transport)  

8.  Mid-Canada Line:  This was one of three radar lines stretching across Canada
               to warn of an attack on North America by Soviet bombers.

9.  Distance Conversions: 
     75 miles =  120.7 kilometers 

For Map Lovers Like Me:

Webequie North of Lansdowne House
Northern Ontario Communities
with Austin Airways Flight Routes 1985

Location of the Mid-Canada Line 
A Rough Map of the Three Radar Lines Across the North

Lansdowne House, Ontario, Canada


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you, Shortybear! If one person enjoys my posts it makes putting them all together so worth it! Have a good one!

  2. Wow, I bet that both those Xmas parties (for the kids and for the adults) were EPIC! I bet people who were kids then still remember it today!

    1. I'd like to think that there are people who still remember the parties, Debra. Life in Neskantaga (the current name for Lansdowne House) has been very difficult. I remember the children who were my friends there fondly; I carry them always in my heart! Have a great weekend with your Rare One!

  3. Now that's one heck of a Christmas tree!
    Awesome that someone would donate his time to play Santa for the kids. And that others had donated candy to give to them.

    1. Hi, Alex! I agree that it's quite the tree. I can imagine Dad's students making all the beautiful decorations for it. I have fond memories of Friday afternoons in Dad's classroom which always included Art. The Indian children really loved Art and the other special activities, and their enjoyment overcame their shyness. Those were some of my best school memories. I hope you are enjoying the first day of the ABC wildness! I'll be making the rounds later tonight which is probably six hours behind where you live. Have a good one!

  4. Those are the kinds of parties that sure stick with you. That must have been a pain getting electricity hooked up too.

    1. One of the things I remember most about living in the North, Pat, was the sense of community, the feeling that we were all in it together. Sometimes our very survival depended upon those around us. As it turned out, Mike and Dad never did get a line hooked up, and I, as a kid, never heard the reason why. I like to think that Orlin and Cassie pulled a fast one on you today! Have a great weekend!

  5. Having thrown many Christmas parties for my students over the years I can just imagine how excited the kids were to celebrate in a manner that they weren't used to. Seeing that tree with all the kid made decorations and paper chains reminds me that it isn't the cost of the decorations but the love with which they are made that is important. After you write this as a book it should be sold as a movie script. This story needs to be told. I can't tell you how I have enjoyed each and every episode of your father's story. It is such a treasure for you to have those letters.

    1. Thank you so much, Peggy! You have been a constant and encouraging support! It's been more challenging than I anticipated getting these written in Hawaii, but each post truly is a work of love for me. This time next week, I'll be home. Home will feel good, but it will be so hard to leave Waikiki in a few short days. Hugs and happy weekend to you, Don, and little Sadie!

  6. I have missed you so much, Louise, and I am so happy to see this post! Thank you so much for sharing all these treasures, it really touches my heart. :)

    1. Thank you, dear Linda! I keep trying to get consistent in visiting all my blogging friends posts, but it's been challenging to spend the time. When I was working on this the other day, Nelson (a former piano player in a band) and Caroline ( a singer in a church choir) were having their regular jam session next to the computer table in the breezeway. Vivian (an older lady from outside Toronto) was singing along; very excitedly because my husband had shown her how to google lyrics for each of the songs. Other people were coming and going as the jam session went on, including a toddler in a bathing suit dancing by the table. It was Nelson's last day here, and before I knew what happened I was spending almost an hour filming everything with Nelson's camera! LOL! Sometimes you just have to go with the flow! It means a lot to know I touch your heart, Linda, because you reach out and touch so many hearts with your inspiring posts. Have a lovely weekend, my Montreal friend!

  7. Hi Fundy, Another great post! I remember so many Christmases and Dad's utter joy for the Holiday - I can't imagine how hard it was for him to be away from us. Oh, and I love the Christmas Tree. Hugs, your sister Barb

    1. Hey Barb! I look at that beautiful tree, and I can see Dad heading out on snowshoes several miles into the bush to cut it and bring it back. I can imagine in a few spots that the air was blue!

      You probably don't remember anything of Christmas in Atholville, NB. I was almost seven, so you almost one. Dad and a buddy went out to cut Christmas trees for their homes, and Dad came back with a beauty! I can remember being in the bathroom and seeing its top against the bathroom window. Only problem was we lived on the second story of the house! Dad chopped the top off and put it in the living room.

      That was the infamous tree that got caught in Donnie's long ringlets and came toppling down. Dad had gone to the store on Christmas Eve and brought back a six-pack of Coke for everyone as a treat. Donnie was under the tree looking at the lights and came running to get a rare bottle of Coke when Dad shouted from the kitchen, "Come get your Coke!" Down went the tree! Poor Dad, he had to decorate it again. After that he always made sure the tree was tied to the wall on both sides. And Duchess ~ she still loves her Coke! Hugs back at you! Next weekend we'll be able to talk!!!

  8. ".....but we are going to remedy that right quick...."!! Love this! A true Maritimer...right quick!!
    What a party! All the work and preparation. I bet the kids were wide-eyed and FULL!! how nice.
    Must fill you with joy, Louise, to read these letters.....bringing back so many memories I am sure.

  9. You're right, Jim! These letters do fill me with joy and memories. I'm glad I was old enough at the time to remember for myself. It was quite an adventure! I hope that you, Ron, and SD are finishing off a great weekend. I'm typing in the bathroom of our hotel. I've stayed mostly in our room today because Terry has a cold and needs TLC. And I managed to sprain my foot, although it's well on the mend. Have a great week, my friend.

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