Friday, June 17, 2016

The Lansdowne Letters: A Narking Situation

The day after Mr. Foss, Dad's boss, spent the day
observing him in his one-room northern classroom,
my father solved an ongoing and perplexing problem
causing contention between his Indian students and him.

It doesn't matter where or when someone teaches,
puzzling situations are bound to arise
if the students must learn a new language
to function socially and academically in the classroom. 

Lansdowne House's Two Teachers (with Baby Duncan)
Uno ~ Roman Catholic School
Dad ~ Church of England School
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, 1960
Photo Probably by Duncan or Maureen McCrae
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

On Wednesday, January 11, 1961 
My father wrote to our extended family:

Here we go again Folks:
The cottonpickin’ weather closed in on us, and Mr. Foss is in for an extra day.
Thank goodness, though, that he spent all his time with Uno.  
I don’t think that I could have stood another day with him in my room. 

Uno's School at the Roman Catholic Mission
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, 1960
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I do know, though, that it is a good sign for me 
that he elected to spend his time in Uno’s room.  
It shows that he saw nothing in my room that he wanted changed,
or he would have been over advising me.  
It shows that he was pretty well satisfied with what he found.

Well, I finally unraveled a mixed up situation 
that had me up in the air for quite a spell.

Some of My Father's Ojibway Students
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, 1960
Photo Probably by Duncan McCrae
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Previous to today, whenever I saw a kid not doing anything,
I’d ask him:  “You’re not through with your work, are you?”  

Most of the time the kid would say:  “Yes.”  

Then I’d tell him to put away his books and read a magazine or a storybook.  
In a very short time I’d have most of the kids in, say grade three,
reading magazines; and when this happened, I’d tell them
to take out their books, and we’d start to correct the work. 

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

Always, as soon as I started to correct the work,
I’d discover that no one had anything done.

Of course, I’d be understandably narked
about the whole thing,
and relations would be a bit strained
for a while in the classroom. 

The funny part of the whole thing was that the Indian children
would be just as narked as I would, and after I had given them Hell,
they wouldn’t be a bit repentant, merely righteously indignant.

Well, as I said earlier, it finally untangled itself today
and turned out to be a language problem.
Whenever I asked a kid, “You haven’t got your work done, have you?” 
and he’d answer, “Yes,” I’d assume he meant yes he had it done.  

The Indian, on the other hand, was only confirming that he didn’t have it done.  
In other words, his “yes” meant “Yes, I haven’t got it done.”

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

As it turned out, the Indians were just as puzzled and upset
about the whole thing as I was. 

They couldn’t figure out why I would tell them to put away their work
right after they had told me that they weren’t finished with it;
and, if you think this confused them, just imagine
what a crazy white man they must have thought me
when I’d bawl Hell out of them for not having their work done.  

Anyway, it’s all sorted out now, and we all had a great laugh
over it when we finally discovered each other’s confusion.

I bought a nice new Harris Tweed sport coat today for $15.00.  
Uno had this coat that he had bought last summer 
and had only worn two or three times.
It was in perfect condition.
The nap had not been worn a bit.  

He didn’t like the color, and it was too large for him.  
It fitted me perfectly, and the color looked good on me.  
Harris Tweed sport coats usually cost from $35.00 up.

This is just about it for tonight, as I am very tired, 
because I hardly got any sleep last night.  

Uno was all worked up worrying about Foss, 
and he was up wandering around and smoking all night, 
with the result that I got no sleep either.

Bye now,
Love, Don.

My father considered the language barrier
one of the biggest challenges for Indian teachers.

When Indian children first entered school,
they had no knowledge of English.

They also came from a remarkably dissimilar cultural background
and perceived concepts such as time, property, or spirit
very differently from white people.

Mix in the students' reticence and diffidence when confounded
by an idiosyncrasy of a "crazy white man" teacher,
and my father had a potentially serious situation developing.

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

My father later wrote of this incident:
"If I had not stumbled
on the solution myself,
they would have put up with it
for a while longer,
and when they were finally fed up
with the whole issue,
they would have stopped school.

"It has quite frequently happened that Indian teachers have opened school
in the morning and not a single pupil had turned up for class.

"Investigations would always disclose that the teacher
had offended the children, confused them, or perhaps just bored them,
till finally they had had enough.

"When a situation like this develops, 
a teacher has a serious problem on his hands,
and unless he can do something to regain the interest
and confidence of both the children and their parents,
he might just as well pack it up and go home."

Fortunately for my adventurous heart
my father didn't have "to pack it up and go home."

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

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


1.   Mr. F. Foss:  
      Mr. Foss was the Indian Schools Inspector.  I have not been able to track down his home
      office.  He would have visited each of his various schools two or three times a year.
      Getting stranded by bad flying weather was a hazard of the job.  Mr. Foss probably spent
      both nights as Father Ouimet's guest, which meant he also shared his meals with Dad and Uno.

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.
                                                                    #23 Dad's School
                                                                    #  6 Uno's School

Lansdowne House, Ontario


  1. Well, that's how I would've answered that question.
    And I don't know who Mr. Foss is but I don't want him in my room either!

    1. Hi, Alex! Sorry about this late reply, but I've finally sorted out the mess I created when I inadvertently published the rough draft of this two weeks ago. If nothing else challenges me to summon my inner Pat Hatt, this experience will! Oh well, every post presents something new for me to learn!

      Mr. Foss was the Indian Schools Inspector whose job was to observe and to advise his teachers scattered throughout a large area in remote Northern Ontario.

      Have a good one!

  2. I was surprised to see a Canadian in the far-north using the term "Cotton-Pickin." I always thought of it as a Southern term. Another interesting letter. Before moving back South, I wore tweed jackets all the time and wish I could have found one for $15 or $35!

    1. Hi, Sage! Sorry about this late reply, but it's taken me a while to untangle the mess I created two weeks ago when I accidentally published the first draft of this post. My goal this summer is to get ahead enough in writing my posts that I'm not tempted to edit via iPhone when traveling.

      Dad used the expression "Cotton-Pickin" a lot. He came from generations of Pratt and MacBeath farmers in Prince Edward Island, so where he picked that up I have no clue.

      I'm still catching up on the posts of my blogging friends,, but I'll be reading yours very soon! Take care!

  3. haha would imagine they may have thought he couldn't make up his mind, put it away, finish it, geez lol

    1. Geez for sure, Pat! Students are always trying to figure out the idiosyncrasies of their teachers. I once had our school psychologist ask my students if they could tell when I was angry. I was stunned at the list of tells they created! That was the first time I truly understood how thoroughly they knew me, even as 7-9 year olds. That was one illuminating and valuable staff development experience!

      Sorry about this late reply! My goal is to channel you and get well ahead in writing posts while I'm home this summer.

      Have a great weekend!

  4. I think things got a little scrambled in today's post? Still entertaining though!

    1. Hi, Debra! My recourse when I learned what I had accidentally published was to unpublish the mess until I could deal with it. Hence the late reply after a lesson well learned! Correcting it prompted a lot of hair-tearing, especially last night when I managed to wipe out hours of work just as I was trying to republish the final draft. So there was lots of teeth-gnashing as I reconstructed it all into the wee hours. Technology and I have a difficult relationship LOL! I hope you and your Rare One have a lovely summer weekend!

  5. I can see your father's personality shining in his letters and I really love this! Hope you are doing well, Louise. Love and hugs to you, my cherished friend. :)

    1. Hi, Linda! I've finally cleaned up the mess I made when I inadvertently published the first draft of this post. Even when I publish a mixed-up mishmash of a rough draft, you find a way to be positive and supportive. You are a bright and inspiring presence in my life and much valued by me. I hope you have a great weekend!

  6. Hi Fundy, a few scramble's in the Post. I know you are away so I'll just Comment "Mr. Foss" was the school superintendant. The rooms he was checking were classrooms - Dad"s and Uno's classrooms. Hugs your sister Barb

    1. Hey, Barb! Thanks for clarifying a few things! I can get into more trouble with technology! We're back, and the trip exceeded my expectations! I'm sure looking forward to Nova Scotia and seeing you! Meanwhile normal (?) life is good. Hugs back at you! Looking forward to a physical one!

  7. Hi, Everyone! Sorry about the scrambles in today's post. This was supposed to be next week's, and it wasn't finished. I was trying to do things via my iPhone and got into trouble. I managed to delete part of today's real post and forgot next week's was a draft. I'll be home in a few days and will sort this all out. Meanwhile it's off to a special wedding in Baltimore tonight. I don't know which is harder ~ trying to negotiate in really high heels or going without glasses and peering through my first false eyelashes ever!! Always new adventures in life!

  8. Oooooh, yes, it's not done. I'd probably answer the same way.


    1. Hi, Janie! LOL ~ and you're an editor! I had egg all over my face when I saw what had been published! Oh well, stuff happens. My little third graders would have laughed because I would remind them that authors didn't sit just down and magically, effortlessly produce wonderful writing on the first draft. Have a great summer weekend!

  9. It's hard enough to get your point across when you both speak the same language. When teaching I experienced this a lot of times. But for your dad there was great confusion. I'm glad he discovered the problem and that he had a sense of humor about it.

    1. Hi, Peggy! I'm slowly getting caught up on my blog and all the household tasks that piled up while we've been gone. The outside of our house is being painted as I write, the final upset of the week! One of the painters has our front door open and is taping it to point. I can't wait to see what the finished job looks. I hope that you and Don are having a nice warm weekend!

  10. I had exactly the same situation with our Japanese student, and we soon realised that what I thought was the right answer, was right for her, and so wrong for what I expected as a reply. We did have some laughs over it all, I can imagine your Dad doing the same, but with a classroom of students too.

    1. I guess language expectations bedevil us all! I have one niece who is fluent in English, French, and Spanish, and who has dabbled in Italian, German, and Arabic.I think it must be amazing to be gifted in languages. I have struggled all my life. Sorry about my late reply! So much has been going on! But I'm beginning to find my rhythm, finally, after getting home! Hope all is well with you!

  11. More of these letters I read, the more I appreciate your father's patience, fortitude, compassion and understanding.

    1. You are always so kind in your comments, Geo! Thank you! I hope all is well with you, Norma, and family. I'm still playing catchup in the worst way, but I'll get there! Take care!

  12. It's all 'in the words' alright! Good thing they all laughed over the misunderstanding.
    Enjoy the wedding.

    1. I imagine that misunderstandings over language have led to more fights and hurt feelings than language. Even communicating in English with young English speakers can be tricky. The wedding was wonderful! I'll have a lot to share if I ever catch up with my tail! LOL Take care, my friend!

  13. He was quite a chronicler. I'm in awe of the $15 Harris Tweed coat.

    1. Thanks, C. Lee! I'm sorry for being hopelessly behind! With traveling, a special wedding, and catching up after a couple of months away from home and illness, I've been in quite a tailspin. I'm coming out though! Have a good one!

  14. HI Louise! I hope you enjoyed the wedding! You'll need to post a picture for us of you in your high heels and first pair of falsies! Did they survive the night? I've never worn any but would love to try because my natural ones are pale and not very thick. Haha! Loved this letter and the language confusion! XOXO!

    1. Hi Audrey! I'm sorry for being so behind! I will post some photos when I get caught up to that point. Yes, the falsies survived, but my feet were blistered and those heels went into the trash before I flew home! The wedding was awesome, and both Terry and I enjoyed ourselves immensely. I'm glad that you enjoyed my Dad's letter! You are always so positive! Hope all is well with you, Alain, and the girls! Hugs to you!

  15. Language barriers can be comical--in hindsight. But during the event, they can leave you scratching your head, or in my case, in tears. I had huge troubles in French class in college when they taught French IN French. Thanks for sharing this with your followers.

    1. Thank you, Victoria! My apologies for responding so late. I've just been unable to get to my computer. I struggled with French in university too. The irony is that now my nieces and nephews on my family's side are quite fluent in it. I think foreign languages should be taught in school from kindergarten on. Thanks for visiting and following! I will be by your blog. I'm slowly catching up, and I hope I never fall behind like this again! Have a good one!


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