Friday, May 20, 2016

The Lansdowne Letters: Freeze-up Clarified

At home in Nova Scotia, my mother and we older kids
were very curious about the phenomenon of freeze-up,
and we anxiously waited out the period over which freeze-up
took place and we were cut off from all news of my father.

Needless to say, when my father's typed Lansdowne letters
started arriving in the new year, we were thrilled and avidly
listened as my mother read them to us.

I always read my father's letters over and over again,
often taking them to school to share with my teacher and classmates.

Winter Today in the Canadian North
Flickr ~ Travel Manitoba License

On Sunday, January 8, 1961 
My father wrote to our extended family:

Hi There Everyone:
Here I am again, just as I threatened to be, and I hope everyone
is in a receptive mood.  Myself, I feel a little like Uncle Remus.

You know, I didn’t know that water could freeze up as fast as it froze over up here.
I don’t remember the exact dates now, but on a Friday night
I went across to the mainland in my canoe; no, I beg your pardon,
it was on a Saturday night, and Monday morning I WALKED
over the same piece of water on my way to school.

Some of the Indians were walking across on Sunday night,
but I didn’t risk it till I saw a rather large Indian with a
four-dog team and a rather heavily loaded sleigh go across.

Library and Archives Canada
Credit:  Bud Glunz. National Film Board of Canada. 
Photothèque e010962320 

For the week after freeze-up we had some wonderful skating,
but then the snow put a rather abrupt end to our skating for the year.  

Everyone was out skating, except Bill Mitchell who is
an old country Scot who never learned to skate. 

I went for a nice skate about five miles down the lake and back.
It was wonderful.  There was no wind to speak of, and the day
was a nice crisp winter day with the temperature around ten below.
This was about the seventh or eighth of November.

Ice Skating on a Northern Ontario Lake

The first two or three inches of iced formed very quickly,
but it takes seven inches or so to support a Cessna and
over nine inches to support a Norseman or a Beaver,
and the thicker the ice became, the slower it froze.  

A couple of heavy snowfalls didn’t help the situation too much either.
The freeze-up period is not the time it takes for the water
to freeze sufficiently for you to walk on it;
it is the period required for nine inches of ice to form to enable the planes to land.

A Modern DeHavilland DC-6 "Twin Otter"
Equipped with Skis
Flickr ~ Sahtu Wildlife    License

I’m glad that I wasn’t living in Ogoki, for this mission
is situated on a rather swift flowing river,
and their freeze-up didn’t end till after Christmas.
I don’t know how my emotional hibernation would have endured,
if I had been cut off over the Christmas holidays.
It would have been pretty miserable here without my Christmas presents.

Incidentally, I want to thank you all (Louise and Carl also)
for the lovely things that you sent to me.
I have thanked you all individually, but since then,
the weather has been real cold (35-50 degrees below at times),
and I want to assure you all that I really appreciated the nice
warm underwear, pyjamas, and shirt that you sent me.
I never thought that I would see the day when I would be begging for long underwear;
me, who always boasted that he never wore a suit in his life.
The end of the page and the end of today’s edition.

Bye now,
Love, Don.

No More Canoe
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, 1961
Photo Probably by Duncan McCrae
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

What I would have given chance to fly down Lake Attawapiskat
on a pair of skates, even at 10 below zero!
I did get to canoe down the lake to the base of the peninsula,
but that's a tale for another day!

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

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


1.  Uncle Remus:  
      I'm not sure what my father meant by this reference other than he felt like a storyteller.
      Uncle Remus is a fictional narrator of a collection of American-African folktales
      compiled, adapted, and published in a book by Joel Chandler Harris in 1881.  Wikpedia
2.  Miles to Kilometers:
     5 miles = 8 kilometers

3.  Fahrenheit to Celsius:
     -10º F.  = -23º C.
4.  Inches to Centimeters:
     2 inches = 5.1 centimeters
     3 inches = 7.6 centimeters
     7 inches = 17.8 centimeters
     9 inches = 22.8 centimeters
5.  Ogoki:
     Ogoki is a community managed by the Martin Falls First Nation.  Wikipedia 

6.  A Personal Note:
      I am still without internet access.  I have several northern posts written and scheduled to 
      post automatically.  If I can get online, I will reply to any comments and try to visit as many 
      blogs as I can.  Sorry about that!  I'll be back soon! 

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

Lansdowne House, Ontario

Albany River on the left, Ogoki River Tributary on the right
The Ogoki River was part of a canoe route from Hudson Bay to Lake Superior: 
James Bay, Albany River, Ogoki River, portage, Ombabika River, Lake Nipigon, Lake Superior. 


  1. Your Dad was an outstanding person, he managed to do what others would baulk at, and the letters home, what treasures you have, and sharing with us, I can visualise it all. Would you go back there in the freeze and skate? Have a great weekend wherever you are,maybe home again.

    1. Ciao from Sorrento, Italy! I am wiped out from exploring the ruins of Pompeii today. I'd go back and skate today if I had a chance! Take care. Hugs to you and Hugh!

  2. That explains freeze-up. Ice has to be really thick for planes. I've been ice skating before and to do it on a natural surface outdoors would be really cool.

    1. Hey, Alex! Dad built me my first rink in the backyard when I was six. I think it did him in because he never built me another. Lol. Take care!

  3. After the dog sled went across, yeah probably safe indeed haha not sure I'd skate though, I can skate, just can't stop without a wall. Water freezing that fast would make me move away quickly.

    1. LOL! I have to hit a wall to stop too! Ciao! My hubby is telling me it's almost midnight,and that means he wants the hotel room light out. You would get a kick out of the brothel district in Pompeii which I saw today! Take care.

  4. Replies
    1. LOL. I can't say I miss my longjohns! I spent hours and hours going all over Pompeii today. I bet you'd love it! Take care!

  5. Louise, your father was an amazing man and you are so blessed to have all his letters! I wish I had all these memoirs of my own father, but alas, I don't. I enjoy your posts very much, thank you for sharing. Love and hugs to you.

    1. Hi, dear Linda! I wish you had letters and photos of your parents. I'm glad that you enjoy sharing mine. I certainly get a lot of pleasure sharing them with you! Have a lovely weekend. I'm about to crash after spending the day exploring Pompeii. I can't remember a time in my life that I didn't want to see Pompeii. I just wish my mom could have seen it with me. Guaranteed she was the one who first told me about it. Love and hugs to you!

  6. Imagine...your father skating on a remote lake while you children waited patiently for his letters. Simple pleasures.

    1. Hi, Peggy! Simple pleasures are the best! Hope all is well with you and Don. And sweet Sadie too. I am traveling, and it's hard to get online. Thanks for always being supportive. Ciao from Venice!

  7. How wonderful. Those letters are such a treasure. I miss letters. I suppose I could write to my mom. She'd love that. I get so lazy thinking everyone gets updated with Facebook.

    1. Hi, Elizabeth. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I love getting letters, but I 'm lazy about writing them. Sorry about my late reply. I'm traveling, and it's hard to get online. Take care

  8. How wonderful. Those letters are such a treasure. I miss letters. I suppose I could write to my mom. She'd love that. I get so lazy thinking everyone gets updated with Facebook.

  9. I'm enjoying the letters and you're so fortunate to be able to read and share them with all of us in the warmer climes. I love trying to imagine the cold and the isolation of that area.

    I keep thinking of To Build A Fire, but I may have mentioned that in another comment earlier. What intrigues me is the idea of being in that thin area where one misstep, one degree less means survival is no longer possible.

    1. Hi C. Lee! Thanks for your thoughtful comment. One misstep could cost you your life. There' was a later event in Lansdowne when people thought our family had died, but thanks to our father's quick thinking, we survived. Things could change in a moment. Sorry about the late reply. We are traveling. I just got a chance to get online at Venice's airport. Have a good one!

  10. I do enjoy reading these letters and can imagine how exciting it would have been for you to read it. I have looked at paddling the Albany River to the James Bay (I've done the Missinibi River)

  11. Ciao, Sage! What a wonderful trip paddling down to James Bay would be! I hope you get to do it. You'll need lots of bug spray! Sorry about the late reply; I have limited access to wifi when I'm traveling. I appreciate your comments very much. Have a good one!


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