Friday, June 24, 2016

The Lansdowne Letters: Requisitions ~ Argh!

Teaching Indian children in the remote village of Lansdowne House
in the wilderness of Northern Ontario over fifty years ago
was a challenging undertaking for my father.

During the time I have been sharing his letters on my blog,
I have written about the challenges he faced.

Don MacBeath
Graduation,  Acadia University, 1950
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

He headed North to teach Indian children
for the first time after a one day introduction course
he attended in Sault Ste. Marie.

My father later said of this experience in a handbook he wrote:
"Far from being encouraging and informative, the introduction I received
was a veritable nightmare of half-truths, outright falsehoods, rumours, 
and misrepresentation of facts which, instead of being informative, helpful,
and reassuring, left me so mixed up, frustrated, and apprehensive
that I almost resigned then and there."

When he reached Lansdowne House after a multi-day weather delay in Nakina
and looked at his belongings off-loaded on Father Ouimet's beach,
my father realized that he was truly on his own.
His new job would test him in ways he had never been tested before. 

On His Own
The Beach on the Father's Island
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Some years later my father wrote a short handbook for northern teachers
while attending St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.
At that time he planned to return to the North and resume
his education career with the Department of Indian Affairs.

My father hoped to publish the handbook and use it with all teachers
working for the Sioux Lookout Indian Agency.
If the handbook proved a successful instrument,
he hoped it would be adopted by other Indian agencies as well.

However, life for my father took a different direction,
and regrettably, the handbook was never published.

My Father's Handbook
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

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

I refer to my father's handbook often when I am writing,
because it contains information about what my father thought
and felt about his teaching experiences in the North.

Curiously, in the handbook, he never addressed his school's physical problems
that he constantly had to solve - from the lack of furnishings, to the falling ceilings, 
to the cantankerous and dangerous oil stoves.
My father'new school, I might add,
because the previous one had burned down the year before.
He also didn't refer to the constant battle he had to wage
trying to move the government bureaucracy to action.

My father rarely complained and usually made light of his problems.
His following terse letter says so little and so much. 

Thursday, January 12, 1961 
My father wrote to our extended family:

This has been a bad week, 
and I am going to have to make this letter short also.  

Tomorrow is mail day, and I have just discovered 
that I have to make up several requisitions 
and submit a couple of reports in tomorrow’s mail.  
I promise that I’ll have a much longer letter next week.

I have been having a lot of trouble with my school, stoves, and oil supply, 
and I have to make out a detailed report, 
so Mr. Foss can act on it for me and get things fixed for me if he can.

Bye now.  I will start a nice long letter tomorrow 
and have at least seven pages next week.

My Father's School
Church of England Day School
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I think what kept my father from resigning on the spot in Sault Ste. Marie
was that he had a wife and five young children dependent upon him
and the position paid more than a teaching job on the Outside.

Whatever his reasons, I am grateful that Dad went on to Lansdowne House.
My experiences there had a profound and lasting impact on my life.
Some of them were wonderful and others were devastating;
but they were all enriching and unforgettable.

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 who visited the two Indian schools
      (Anglican and Roman Catholic) in Lansdowne House two or three times a year.

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Aerial Photograph of Lansdowne House
The Mainland and The Father's Island (Couture Island), 1935
You can clearly see the Father's beach where Dad's luggage was offloaded from a canoe.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of Indian Affairs and Northern Development / Library and Archives Canada / PA-094992

Original of Above Photo
Credit: Canada. Dept. of Indian Affairs and Northern Development / Library and Archives Canada / PA-094992

A Quick Sketch of Lansdowne House by My Father
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Lansdowne House, Ontario


  1. No matter how many times I read your posts with your dad's letters and more, the isolation and his determination always seem to be uppermost. He stayed because of his family, what fierce inner spirit.

    1. Hi, Jean!
      My father had his demons, some of which I share, and the more I understand about him and about myself, the more I realize how hard he struggled to provide for us and to reach his goal (and Mom's) of we five graduating from university. I am awed at what he all managed to accomplish, and it's in his actions that I feel so much love for Mom and his children. Have a lovely weekend!

  2. People of that generation were raised not to moan, whine, bitch and complain. Because they knew from the experience of two World Wars and a Great Depression that things could always be worse.

    1. You've got that right, Debra! People were really impacted by what they had experienced during those events. I remember things like my maternal Great Aunt Nan insisting throughout her life on drying out and reusing paper towels that weren't too dirty. My mother's family was very poor, but they survived because my grandfather built their home out of an old carriage house, their huge garden, their cow, and clams, fish, berries, and other things they could gather. My father's family was much better off, but it was impacted with tragedies including members killed in both wars. We've had it much easier, thanks to all the sacrifices of those who came before us. Have a great weekend!

  3. It might not be relevant now, but that handbook would be interesting from a historical point.
    He did what he had to for his family. Something not all men do these days.

    1. You can bet I have plans for Dad's handbook! I'm considering adding it as an appendix to my memoir. One of the fascinating things in it (to me) is a suggested initial food and supply order sufficient for one person for six weeks. It includes many items that remind me of my father and his preferences. I laugh every time when I read: "Candy ~ at least four dozen candy bars." My father had an infamous sweet tooth, and he ploughed through many difficulties and hardships fueled by candy bars.

      Since he often had a large stash under his bed, I occasionally helped myself ~ very rarely though, because he usually knew exactly how many candy bars he had. You didn't mess with Dad's candy; and, in his defense, we each had allowances, starting with me at six.

      That happened because I discovered the magic words "Charge it!" I managed to buy $5.00 worth of popcorn balls at the store in one month when I was six ~ a serious hit to the budget when my dad was making $75 a month! He was not happy when he went to settle his grocery bill at the end of the month! LOL The popcorn balls came in a package of three wrapped in three different colors of cellophane: red, yellow, and blue. I can still see them and taste them. To his credit, he didn't lose it with me, saying obviously I was ready for the responsibility of an allowance of 25¢ a week. But he warned me that I'd be in big trouble if I charged things without permission ever again.

      Have a great weekend, my friend!

  4. Louise, your father was a very determined man and didn't give up easily. How wonderful that you have such treasures...his letters. Thank you so much for sharing them.

    1. Hi, Linda! Thanks for your continuous support! It so encouraging to me. Dad's letters mean more and more to me as time goes on. Dad entrusted them to me when he became very ill. Since he couldn't write about the North, he hoped that I would. I was the "writer" of the family. There are actually three of us who write, but I was the eldest and had the most memories of our time in Lansdowne House. It gives me great pleasure to know that you and others enjoy reading my northern post.

      I've had quite a week. I was shut out of my Google account because I sent too many emails to one of my friends. I was trying to get all the photos I took of her son's wedding to her and her husband. I was sending nine per email, and I got shut out when I sent the 10th or 11th email. Live and learn.

      Meanwhile we had the outside of our house painted, the deck refinished, and we're dealing with honey bees that moved into a pillar supporting our deck while we were in Hawaii. Plus I've been cleaning and organizing the garage, going through everything. I am ready for a little down time this weekend!

      I hope you have been enjoying your summer solstice days! Have a wonderful weekend, my Montreal friend! Sending you hugs!

  5. Reports are never fun, especially when stuff is needed asap like it would be up there. The handbook would have been of great use I'm betting.

    1. Reports, the bane of my existence! I'm betting that you have had to write your fair share, Pat! I'm so thankful that I rarely have to write one now! It's fun to be able to write what I want and nothing else! And congratulations on your 100th book! What an accomplishment! Have a great weekend, my friend!

  6. I find your father's experiences exciting and incredible (and I'm a bit jealous)

    1. My father did have a lot of adventures in his too-short life, Sage. He had a gift for landing in them. He was fortunate to have my mother as his wife. She knew how to roll with the punches and kept Dad grounded. Thanks to my parents, I've had an adventurous and unusual life which suited the romantic spirit I was born with. Enjoy your weekend, Sage!

  7. It's too bad that your dad's handbook was never published. I'm sure it would have been invaluable to the new teachers who took his place. It doesn't seem that he got a lot of help considering the hard work and dangers he faced. He was a special man.

    1. Hi, Peggy! The help my father got was from the people in Lansdowne House, white and Indian. The area was truly remote; in fact, it still is today. Government people like the Indian Agent, Mr. Gowans, and the Indian Schools Inspector, Mr. Foss, had huge territories to cover and many responsibilities. Most places could only be reached via bush plane. Communication was by mail or over short wave radio. It took a special breed of people to thrive in that environment. One fought the bureaucracy and created situational solutions to make things function. Thanks for always being supportive.

  8. That generation were brought up to be strong and to withstand anything that may confront them. that was just the way it was. You father, Louise, was of that generation and he 'held it together' for his family..... very admirable indeed.
    I am sure his kids carry this determination with them as well today.

    1. Hey, Jimbo! I'm at Parkway with two glasses of wine behind me. I am so looking for to seeing you two! It will fill my soul!

  9. He left you a wonderful legacy and I'm sure so much first-hand information. What a resource!

  10. An Absolutely wonderful read. Thank you


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