Friday, April 22, 2016

The Lansdowne Letters: An Unexpected Journey and Unexpected Woolies

Sometimes, when you lived in the North a half century ago,
you had to step up and take on unexpected tasks.
It was part of pulling together in an isolated community,
like Lansdowne House in northern Ontario.

You might give a stranded traveler a warm meal and a place to sleep,
like Father Ouimet did so many times at his mission.

You might help help a friend with onerous chores,
like Dad helped Mike collect water samples from frozen-over Lake Attawapiskat.

You might keep a sick friend overnight on your couch
so he wouldn't slog home across the ice on a subzero night,
like Maureen did on Christmas Eve 1960.

Dad on His New Snowshoes
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario
Winter 1960-61
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

On December 20 my father stepped up for an unexpected journey,
and on Christmas Eve he was the recipient of unexpected care.

And sometime, no matter where you live,
you might come across some unexpected woolies.

On Thursday, December 29, 1960 
My father wrote to his mother-in-law Ella MacDonald (Mac), 
his sister-in-law Louise Lindholm, and her husband Carl Lindholm:

Dear Mac, Louise, and Carl:
I want to thank you very much for the presents 
you were so kind to send me for Christmas.  
The pyjamas from Mac are delightfully warm,
and the shirt is both warm and dressy and most practical for this country.
Thanks again, so much. 

This has been a very puzzling Christmas for me.  
I spent Christmas Eve (all night) and Christmas Day at the McRaes.  

Just so I wouldn’t be tempted to get into my presents before Christmas, 
I took them to the McRaes as soon as they arrived.  
Baby Duncan managed to get loose
the day before Christmas and rip all the cards off my presents,
so I don’t know who gave me what.

Baby Duncan with His Mother Maureen McRae
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario
Winter 1960-61
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I know that you gave me the pyjamas, Mac, 
on account of your ambiguous statement in one of your letters 
to me about getting my pyjamas off.  

There were two parcels with an entirely different type 
of Christmas paper than you can buy in the Maritimes, 
so I assumed these were the two from you people.  
One contained a pair of pyjamas, and the other a shirt, 
so I am assuming that Louise, Carl, and Jeff sent me the shirt.

Uncle Carl, Aunt Louise, and Grammie
Pre-Jeff Days, June 14, 1952
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Here is a list of the other things I got, 
but with the exception of the subscriptions, 
I have not the foggiest idea who gave me what:
2 other pairs of pyjamas – also nice and warm and welcome
2 pairs thermal knit long underwear
1 pair of socks
3 boxes of chocolates (The diet is going to catch hell.)
1 pair of gloves
1 tin of hard candy
1 cigarette lighter
1 cigarette rolling machine
2 flat 50s of cigarettes (one from baby Duncan)
1 pair of snowshoes from Duncan and Maureen

and subscriptions to:
Charlottetown Guardian (Aunt Maude)
Time (Mother)
Post and True (Sara)

That’s about it – pretty good, eh?  
I certainly appreciated everything, 
even if I don’t know who sent me what.  
Oh yes, I got some shaving things – blades and cream also.
However, in spite of everything and all the trouble
everyone went to to make sure I had a good Christmas, 
I had a perfectly horrible one.  
As I said, I was at McRaes for all Christmas Eve and all Christmas Day.

The McRaes' Home
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Didn’t I come down with the flu or the grippe
just after I went to bed Christmas Eve,
and by 4 a.m. Christmas Day 
I had a temperature somewhere between 102 and 103.  
I was sick all Christmas Day and Boxing Day, and most of December 27th also.  

I would have gone home right when I got sick, 
but I got so sick so quickly that before I realized it, 
I was too sick to walk across to the Island.  
I couldn’t eat a bite of poor Maureen’s lovely Christmas dinner.  

By Christmas night I managed to crawl back to the shack.  
I figured I had ruined their Christmas enough.  
Besides, I guess I am like a dog and like to be alone when I am sick.  

I sure hope that I never have to spend another Christmas away from Sally.  
No matter how sick or miserable I feel, 
it is never quite so bad if Sara is there to take care of me.  
No matter how sick I might be, 
as soon as Sara walks into the room where I am, I feel better.  
It must be love, eh – and after nearly fourteen years already!  
But then who could help but love my Sara. eh?

Mom and Dad's First Christmas
Wolfville, Nova Scotia. 1948
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I hope you all had a merry Christmas and that Santa was good to you.

I guess you are getting to be a big girl now, Louise.  
Be sure to keep me posted about all developments along Stork Avenue, won’t you?

Oh, I was Outside before Christmas.  
There was a sick Indian woman and her newborn baby 
who had to go out to Sioux Lookout Indian Hospital.  
Mike Flaherty, the nurse, sent me along as an escort.  

We flew to Armstrong, Ontario, and took the train to Sioux.  
I was Outside for three days and got back on Friday, December 23rd.
It was a nice break, but I was awfully glad to get back.

The Historic Sioux Lookout Train Station Today
Designated a Heritage Railway Station for 
Its Historical, Architectural and Environmental Importance, 1993
FlickrSeán Ó Domhnaill   License

I had a dreadfully funny experience when I was at the Indian hospital.  
I arrived about 4:30 in the morning, and they gave me a room.
Apparently it was the room usually reserved for the priest.  

Well, about 7:30 or 7:45 a.m., in came this woman.  
Apparently she knew the priest wasn’t in the room, 
and she did not know that I was there 
and did not see me on the bed over in the corner.  

She was one of these types who could be either 
an old bachelor girl or a young spinster.  
figure she was in her late thirties or early forties.

Well, anyway, she slips into the room quickly, closes the door, 
lifts her skirt, and starts to remove her woolies.  
Her back was to me, and she didn’t see me.  

Well being a man of an inquiring turn of mind, 
I was watching the proceedings with considerable academic interest, 
when suddenly she started to give her girdle a few hitches down.  

I started to get worried just how far she might unveil, 
so I coughed to make my presence known.  

She turned, took a look at me 
(I wish you could have seen the expression on her face.), 
gave forth with the most blood curdling scream I have ever heard,
and ran out into the hall tugging up her woolies.  

I don’t think I have ever laughed so hard in all my life.  
guess that’s one old girl who will be more careful in the future.

Well, it is very late, and I have to get to bed, 
so I’ll sign off for now.  
Thanks again for everything.

Bye now,

Northern Lights Over Sioux Lookout
A sight I long to see again!
Flickr ~ Pete Wyspianski   License

It must have been a challenging trip for my father  
to escort a sick Indian woman and her newborn baby
by bush plane and train to Sioux Lookout in the heart of winter.

My father had many wonderful qualities,
but he was never comfortable with sick people and tiny babies.
That said, I have no doubt that he did everything he could
to help the mother and child until he had them
safely delivered to the Indian hospital in Sioux.

Today Sioux Lookout no longer has separate hospitals
for the residents of the town and for the aboriginal people 
in the scattered First Nations communities in northern Ontario.

To me, it's quite shocking to think that the new amalgamated hospital,
the Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre,
was not built until 2008!

That same year construction also began on the
Jeremiah McKay Kabayshewekamik Hostel,
a residence for aboriginal people traveling to Sioux for medical reasons.

I'm sure my father appreciated having place to sleep
in the priest's room in the old Indian hospital;
but even more, I think he appreciated having a funny tale
to tell again and again.  

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Bay of Fundy out of Westport, Brier Island
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Links to Earlier Posts:

TLL: Cruel Realities

TLL: The Last Plane ~ Or Not???


1.  Duncan and Maureen McRae:
          Duncan, married to Maureen, worked for the Department of Transport,
          and his duties included running the DOT Weather Station.
          They were the parents of young Duncan.

2.  Father Ouimet:  
          He was a member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate,
          a missionary religious congregation in the Roman Catholic Church.

3.  Fahrenheit to Celsius:
          102 ºF = 38.9 ºC
          103 ºF = 39.4 ºC

4.  Developments on Stork Avenue:
           Aunt Louise gave birth to her first daughter, Julie, about a month later
           on January 30, 1961.

For Map Lovers Like Me:

Lansdowne, Armstrong, and Sioux


  1. Well, mystery solved about where your Dad picked up the flu bug that struck him down late Christmas Eve!

    1. That was my immediate thought, too, Debra! I hope you and your Rare One have a great weekend together!

  2. Your father had so many experiences, Louise, and it is so good that you have everything recorded in his letters and the lovely photos!

    1. The North always delivered exotic experiences, Linda. I think one of the reasons it had such an impact on me was that it was so alien: raw, fresh, unknown, even dangerous. I always meant to spend my life in the North. Darn that blind date I went on in Madrid that radically shot my life off in an unexpected direction!

      The big "project" in my retirement is transcribing and/or recording the family papers and photos. The more I dig into this, the more I believe in the importance of what I am doing. More than half the time I don't know what I am doing, but these posts keep me grounded and moving forward. And it's people like you, my dear Montreal friend, who give me the courage to keep going.

      I hope all is well with you, and that springtime is coming to Montreal. Our twenty inches of snow is rapidly melting here. We have a curious, striped green and white landscape now, and the trees have dropped their heavy burdens and snapped back in shape. Have a lovely weekend!

  3. Ugg, being away and sick on christmas was a double dose. lol bet she always checked the room after that.

    1. LOL, Pat! I wouldn't forget an experience like that! As someone who is often in her head, I've gotten into a few odd situations myself. None quite that embarrassing! Have a great weekend, my friend!

  4. LOL! Your father had a great sense of humour I see, Louise!
    I am always amazed at your father's will/strength/fortitude......never knowing what would come up on a daily basis.

    1. Dad had a marvelous sense of humor, Jim! Something I didn't really appreciate until I was an adult! I think whatever your circumstances are in life, they become "normal" because you deal with them daily. And sometimes, you don't even realize how far you have strayed from the collective "normal." Happy weekend to you!

  5. Hello dear Louise,
    I am always in admiration of your parent's life up there in the north, and your father facing so many experiences.
    I think I would pass out the instant I set foot in such a cold place!!!
    As I speak, it is 14°C in my bedroom and I am rapped up in 3 warm sweaters wool scarves, winter leggings and super warm trousers!! LOL!!
    Many thanks for dropping such sweet comments again on all my latest posts, that is an immense moral support in the most difficult days I have to face.
    My property is nearly sold - although it is a relief in a way because of the very heavy work it demands, it is very sad - and I have now to find a decent rent to stay temporarily.
    That way I will have a couple of years to think through carefully what I will do in the future, where I want to live (France or Australia) and share my time between my 2 sons.
    I really wish we were not so far from each other, I would have loved to meet you :)
    Keep well dear friend and enjoy what's left of the week!

    1. Hi, Noushka! We had a snow shower for about an hour this morning, and we've had the fireplace on all day; so I sympathize with your need for warm layers! I'm sure it is very sad to leave such a wonderful place. I am so glad that you have loving sons to spend time with. I have not ruled out that we may meet one day, for I would dearly love to meet you. While there is life, there is hope! You enjoy the rest of your week too! Love and hugs to you!


Thank you for your comments! I appreciate the time and energy you put into making them very much.