Friday, May 6, 2016

The Lansdowne Letters: Take Me to Church

My father resumed his northern Lansdowne Letters to our extended
Nova Scotian and Prince Edward Islander family in early January, 1961.

In his first edition he wrote about his experience attending
an Anglican service at a small log church in Lansdowne House,
not far from the Hudson's Bay Company Store
and next door to the Forestry shack my father was trying to rent,
so my mother and we five children could join him in the North.

Guaranteed this
Anglican Church of Canada
service was unlike any 
that most people coming from
my sheltered, orderly, and traditional
Baptist background
had ever experienced!

The Coat of Arms
of the Anglican Church of Canada

The Hudson's Bay Company Store
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, 1961
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

In this photo you can see the Hudson's Bay Company Store in the center, 
the HBC Manager's House to the right of the tall tower, and in the trees, the HBC warehouse.
The Anglican Church is hidden beyond the trees at the middle right of the photo.

On Friday, January 6, 1961
my father wrote:

Hi There Everyone!
The Lansdowne Letter is officially back in business again.
The part for Uno’s typewriter finally came in; 
and so, I can now resume my editorial pursuits.

Since I have been silent for so long,
I think that I will devote a considerable portion of my time
bringing you up to date on the highlights since the beginning of freeze-up,
as well as keeping you posted regarding the daily events.

I survived Christmas, though at one time,
I didn’t think that I would survive.
I was as sick as a dog over Christmas - couldn’t eat any
of the lovely things that Maureen baked for me.  Perhaps
I enjoyed the things that Sara and Mother had sent up for me to eat.

The Christmas Party at My Father's School
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, December 1960
Photo by Donald MacBeath (before he caught the flu)
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I think that the most interesting thing to happen to me recently
was my first Indian church service; so,
I’ll devote the remainder of this edition to describing it.

The service was an Anglican service,
which is confusing enough
for a poor Baptist at the best of times.
Last night I wasn’t confused, I was completely lost.
I didn’t have the haziest notion of what
was supposed to be happening.

Actually, I should have been able to follow the service,
because I had sat through lots of Anglican services
when I was going to St. Paul’s Sunday School,
but it was only once or twice during the proceedings
that I saw or heard anything vaguely familiar.

Basically, it was an Anglican church service,
but at various times during the evening it took on the characteristics
of a revival meeting, a political rally, recess time at a reform school,
and a mob scene from a C. B. DeMille production.

The Indians are very sincere in their religion,
but their attitude in church is almost irreverent by white standards.
If they don’t like the seat that they are sitting in,
they move to another one.

Last night most of the congregation became dissatisfied
with their seats at some time during the service,
with the result that there was an almost constant movement in the church.

White people frequently stay away from church
because they have small children (Sara and I),
but not so the Indians.  The whole family goes.
I don’t think I have ever seen, or will ever see again, 
so many tikinagans in one place.
The crying of the babies and the rocking of the tikinagans, 
which resembles the sound of a very rickety rocking chair
being rocked on a squeaky floor, 
added to the general confusion of the occasion.

Indian Mother and Child
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Fall 1960
Photo by Donald MacBeath (before he caught the flu)
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

In Indian church services the men all sit up front, 
and the women and children all sit at the back.  
Being a true MacBeath, I was late for church and had to sit at the back.
There I was right in the middle of all the women, children, and tikinagans.  
I’ll never be late for church again at Lansdowne House, I can assure you.  
I never went through such agony in my life.  
I think children should be quiet in church, 
but the Indians don’t subscribe to this belief at all.

The minister only manages to get into Lansdowne House 
once or twice a year, most often once, and so 
there are a lot of church matters to be attended to 
when he does make his appearance - marriages for instance.  

The fact that there is no minister available
to perform marriage service doesn’t hold up the Indian.  
If a young family wishes to get married,
they just build a home and start living together.

They will get their union solemnized and legalized
at the first opportunity.  Quite frequently,
when the minister gets around to marrying them,
he also has to baptize their first child.

Indian Family and Pets, 
Fort Hope, Northern Ontario, 1913
The National Archives UK
CO 1069-279-15

I don’t mean to infer that the Indians have a low standard of morals.
On the contrary, they are almost puritanical in their morals.
They are honest and extremely faithful to their wives.
You will find far less scandal among the Indians at Lansdowne House
than you’ll find among an equal number of white people.

No, the Indians haven’t loose morals,
they are just exceedingly practical.  
As the Reverend Mr. Long said marriages are God-made
and are essentially agreements between men and women
who want to live together and raise children.
The marriage service is a man-made device,
and while he doesn’t advocate the abolishing of the marriage service,
the minister doesn’t see anything basically wrong
with the Indian custom of living together,
providing they get married at the first chance.

Well, anyway, to get back to my account of the church service.  
All in all, it lasted from 7:30 to 10:45 and consisted of
scripture readings, a sermon, two weddings, three baptisms, Communion,
and a couple of things that have me completely in the dark.

Oh yes, I took Communion last night,
and while it was just as spiritually gratifying
as a Baptist Communion,
I will admit that it was considerably different
from what I had been used to.

Communion Cup

At one time during the service,
I was quite skeptical of the whole thing and almost backed out.  
This was when I had to partake of the Communion wine.  
As you probably know,
Anglicans use a goblet in their Communion service,
and everyone drinks out of it.
The man that was kneeling beside me at the communion rail
was one of the filthiest looking creatures that I have ever seen.  
He even had some sort of running sore on his face.  
I didn’t fancy drinking out of the same cup that he did, 
but the minister assured me before the service
and reassured me after it, 
that he had never known any kind of disease
to be spread by the communion goblet.  
Well, anyway, I took the wine, and I am still alive,
so I guess my fears were groundless.

The service lasted for over three hours,
but the Indians just stayed for what they were interested in.
Frequently, if they got bored, or something,
they would go outside for a smoke and came back in.  
A couple of times I joined the Indians outside for a smoke.

The marriage services were quite interesting.  
There was considerable confusion lining up the witnesses,
the best man, etc.
Indians don’t believe in planning ahead,
and although they knew that they were going to be married
for at least six months in advance,
they didn’t line up the best man, maid of honour, etc.,
till just before the marriage service was due to begin.
This lead to considerable movement and consultation within the church.  

In the second wedding of the evening,
after all other delays had been endured
and all the functionaries sorted out,
the wedding was delayed for a further twenty minutes
while the mother fed the baby.

I am telling you, it was quite an experience.
I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

  Back in Business
   Photo by Uno Manilla
   © M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
   All Rights Reserved
I have had quite a few more
interesting experiences,
and I will be relating them 
to you in future letters.
Now that the typewriter is functional again, 
I’ll resume my daily editions.

However, since the mail plane
is due any moment now,
I’ll sign off for this edition.

I am sorry that I was unable
to continue the letter during
the months of November and December,
but it was impossible without a typewriter.

Well, bye for now,
will be seeing you next week in the Letter.

I, too, had the chance to attend an Anglican service
when my mother and we five children joined Dad in the North.
That later service was alien and fascinating for me,
although as ten-year old girl, I was less perplexed than my father
by the dissonance between the Anglican and Baptist services.

There is one startling omission in my father's description
of the service that he attended, something that was unforgettable for me.

Reverend Long conducted the service sentence by slow sentence
with the help of an Indian translator. 
The minister would say one sentence in English,
and the Oji-Cree translator would repeat it in Ojibwa.

Dad always said that the brain could absorb
what the butt could endure.
I'm afraid both of mine gave out before the service was over.

As a female and child, I had to sit among 
the rocking tikinagans with the women and children.
That didn't bother me.

What bothered me was the endless 
sentence by sentence service,
English, Ojibwa, English, Ojibwa,
and the fact that I had to sit there setting an example
of modest, proper church behavior,
while my father slipped outside
to smoke cigarettes with the Indian men!

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

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


1.  The Anglican Church in Lansdowne House:
      I'm not sure if the church was named St. Benedicts, but the Parish was.  dioceseofkeewatin
      The parish belonged to the Diocese of Keewatin.
      As of July 31, 2014 the Diocese of Keewatin ceased to exist
      after the creation of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh,
      This is the first self-determining, self-sustaining Indigenous church within
      the Anglican Church of Canada.

2.  St. Paul's Sunday School:
     I have no idea why my father attended Sunday school at St. Paul's Church,
     an Anglican church in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada.  Google
     We, as children and Baptists, attended whatever church was available
     in some of the small communities we lived in (And, yes, we behaved!).

St. Paul's Church, Charlottetown

3.  C. B. DeMille:
     He was a famous American filmmaker and considered a founding father
     of the Hollywood film industry.  He produced films known for their epic scale and
     cinematography.  Wikipedia 

4.  Fort Hope Indians:
     Fort Hope is located about 45 miles (73 kilometers) south of Lansdowne House
     on the Albany River.  At one time the Oji-Cree in the two communities both belonged
     to the Fort Hope Band.

For Map Lovers Like Me:

Map of Lansdowne House
Sketched by Donald MacBeath, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

This map shows the Father's Island and the tip of the "Mainland" peninsula
that contained the community of Lansdowne House.
                                                 #12 HBC Store
                                                 #13 HBC Warehouse
                                                 #14 HBC Manager's Home
                                                 #15  Department of Forestry Shack 
                                                 #16 Church of England (Anglican) Church

Lansdowne House, Ontario


  1. Oh, I have so enjoyed your post today. I can almost imagine being at the church, waiting for the various couples to be married, a quick pop outside for a smoke, quiet time, and fresh air. And then, the beautiful old stone church. A wonderful end to my worried week.

    1. Hi, Jean! I'm sorry to hear that you have had a worried week! Life today is somehow so crazy! We're getting ready for another trip where I'll be chasing bucket list dreams! I thought when we came home from Hawaii that I'd have all this time, and then we both were very sick. Down the drain went all my time. Oh well, that's life! Sometimes I do wistfully think of simpler times! I'll be visiting blogs tomorrow to catch up with everyone. Love and hugs to you and Hugh ~ may you have a less-worried week!

  2. That is true, marriage is a man made custom. Not sure I could live as practical as the indians up there though, need my running water and electricity lol

    1. I'm with you, Pat! After going without running water and electricity, I do not want to ever have to do it again! I don't need 40 below anymore either! LOL Take care, my friend!

  3. Interesting post--those sermons with two languages done sentence by sentence can be way too long (I prefer if they do a paragraph each time)

    1. Happy Friday, Sage! Sounds like you know only too well what those sermons are like! Have a great weekend!

  4. What a glimpse into a totally different culture. Through your words I can imagine the confusion of the church service as men and women and children moved around inside and out. This series of yours has been fascinating..even more because it is all real and all personal.

    1. Peggy, you are such a sweetheart! You always build me up! This has been the craziest year! Thank you for hanging in there with me when my life has been so herky jerky! Wishing you, Don, and little Sadie the best of weekends! I WILL make the rounds tomorrow!

  5. This letter (and your later comments) were fascinating to read!

    1. Thanks, Debra!!! Lord, I think how I missed meeting you and your Rare One by one day last summer! It would have been so fun to meet you in real life! No chance you're coming back to NS to see Ron and Jim this summer, I guess? Have a great weekend!

    2. Alas, no. But you never know, Louise, our paths may cross some day! That would be great!

  6. What a lovely little church, Louise! Your posts are always fascinating and captivating, and I love all the photos you share, too. Love and hugs to you, my cherished friend.

    1. I'm racking my brain trying to imagine what my father was doing going to an Anglican Sunday school in Charlottetown, Linda! I will probably never know. Dad and his parents were staunch Baptists ~ my father even considered being a Baptist minister at one point! The religious schisms on both sides of my family were powerful! All the mysteries of the last that I didn't ask about when I could! I do hope that you are doing well and looking forward to a really good weekend! The snow has finally gone here, and spring is busting out all over the place. Thanks for being such a wonderful and encouraging friend! Big hugs coming at you!

  7. Your father had the 'patience of Job'! i'm afraid I wouldn't have lasted long in that church.....but maybe I would have when I was younger.
    I had to chuckle when your father found himself next to 'the filthiest' person alive for communion wine!!
    You couldn't have had such an interesting/challenging/educational upbringing, Louise, if you imagined one!!
    Totally fascinating, as Debra has said.

    1. Well, Jim, I guess you knew all about shared Communion cups! LOL I have had such an amazing life, I look back at it, and I am amazed at all I have experienced! Wow! As Dad said, "I wouldn't have missed it for anything!" But best of all are the people I've met along the way. You know, I always thought of Ron as one of those special people, even decades after I had last seen him. Then we reconnect, and I get to meet wonderful you too! I am so excited about seeing you both this summer. Have a great weekend! God willing, I'll be getting around tomorrow to visit my blogging friends! Take care!

    2. Testing, testing! Hey Jim, I'm just trying to see if I can access my post on the blog or using my iPhone! Hope you, Ron, and SD are A-OK!

  8. I love the description of the service. I would laugh if people wandered around during church. I'm a Lutheran. We used to have a communal goblet for communion. Then people became afraid of AIDS and other diseases so we changed to individual cups. A long-time pastor once talked about how his part during the service was to remove "the floaters" from the communal goblet; in other words, the crumbs and stuff that fell out of people's mouths when they drank. Yeah, individual cups are fine with me. Love, love, love the letter and photos.


    1. Hi, Janie! I was thinking of you a couple of days ago and kicking myself for getting so out of my blogging rhythm and not visiting you and some other blogging friends. And here you are, with your kind words! It is so lovely to see you! Hope all is well with you! Have a great weekend!

  9. What an amazing story! Thanks for sharing it. That church service sounds fascinating.

    1. Thanks for your kind comment, Susan! Have a great weekend!

  10. Fascinating as always, I love these letters and photos from your Dad's time there.
    I love the Anglican service this service described by your Dad is quite different from any I have known! (Also, now you are invited to "dunk" the wafer in the wine rather than drink from the cup, if you so desire.)

    1. Hi, Kay! I'm glad that you enjoyed Dad's letter! I'm glad that I got to experience a similar service myself. I didn't partake in Communion though because I didn't get baptized until 1963. I'm glad to know that one can now dip a wafer into the cup. There seem to be more dangerous diseases around today. I hope you and Richard are enjoying a wonderful weekend together. Happy Mother's Day, btw! Here's hoping you get to see Christopher this weekend!

  11. I'm enjoying your father's letters. The details are honest and fascinating. I've also heard that disease cannot be transmitted from the Communion Cup. Thanks for sharing these letters and photos and diagrams with your readers. All the best!

  12. What a beautiful history your father preserved with his letters. I loved when he wrote he was back in business because the part to the typewriter had arrived.

    Great images.

  13. So amazing to relive your father's life through these letters. As I read about him being sick during Christmas, I couldn't help myself from feel sad, but he didn't seem down about it. It's funny how they didn't plan out the wedding until just before it started. Maybe that's how we should do it. Less stressful!


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