Friday, July 1, 2016

The Lansdowne Letters: Difficult Times and Not Just for My Father

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

When I read my father's letters
from over a half century ago,
I find it intriguing to see what
my father shared with different
members of our extended family.

When he wrote to his mother Myrtle,
he was at his most revealing.
Some of his deeper feelings
and insecurities often surface.

His mother saved most of my father's letters
that he wrote from the North,
right down to the stamped envelopes.

Many of the letters he wrote to his wife Sara are missing,
but based on those that I have, my father sheltered my mother
from some of the more difficult things he experienced.

I have mentioned in the past that my father had his demons
and that I share some of those demons.  
The most difficult one we share is depression.
Depression runs unbroken through generation after generation
of my father's maternal line.

I know how I have suffered with black periods that can overwhelm me, 
and I have watched my father suffer periodically throughout his life.

The more I read my father's words and understand him from an adult perspective,
the more I am in awe of how he managed to do as well as he did.
Having experienced the family curse, I read between the lines
and I find my love for my father expanding, bursting. 

On Saturday, January 7, 1961 
My father wrote to his mother, Myrtle MacBeath:

Dear Mother:
Well, it’s a long time since
I have felt like writing to anyone.  
I have been very dispirited lately- dreadfully discouraged and lonely,
but I’m snapping out of it now,
and I think I have it licked. 

A Young Myrtle Jane (Pratt) MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved 

Actually, I had to snap out of it or come home, 
for if I had carried on in the direction in which I was heading, 
I would have had a breakdown.  

It is not the easiest thing in the world to be separated 
from your family, and especially your wife and children.  
However, I have it licked now and am again my own happy self.

It has been very cold up here lately.  
For the last ten days the temperature has held
pretty steadily at about thirty below.
It has dipped lower, and one very cold night it hit fifty-one below.
When the temperature rises to about ten below and above,
we think it is quite warm here.

Winter in the Boreal Forest
Northern Ontario

Uno went out for Christmas, and he hasn’t come back yet.  
He is a week overdue now, and everyone is worrying 
that perhaps he won’t be coming back.  

I know he sure took off out of here like a scalded dog when he left,
and he certainly wasn’t the happiest boy in the world
for about a month before he went home.  

I hope he doesn’t decide to quit though, 
because it will be lonely in the shack without him.  
I’ll go foolish without anyone to talk to.

Uno, Skunked at Cribbage by Brother Bernier
Kitchen, Roman Catholic Mission
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved 

I imagine that you will have received the latest edition 
of the Lansdowne Letter before you get this, 
so you will know that the part for Uno’s typewriter arrived.
am typing this on his machine.  

I will be glad however when my machine arrives, 
as I have never liked using someone else’s belongings for too long.  

I am glad though that I can get into practice again with any typewriter, 
because I was just at that crucial stage where I was either going to become
a good typist, or I was going to slip back to my former state of typing inability.

I weighed myself yesterday, and although I am losing weight very slowly now,
I am still taking it off.  I now weigh 193 pounds.
That’s 46 pounds that I have knocked off since I came up here, 
and most of it off the pot.  

When I started this diet, I had my sights set on 190 pounds; 
but now I think I’ll try for 185 pounds, 
and if I reach that successfully, I’ll try for 180 pounds.  

I don’t think I’ll have any trouble holding this weight,
for I’m not exactly starving myself now, 
and I’m still losing ½ to 1½ pounds a week.


I am starting to look
more like my father now,
and my height is becoming
more apparent all the time.  

Actually I am becoming
a rather fine figure
of a man now.  

Of course, I’d have to be
if I was to look anything
like Father.

A Very Young Donald Blair MacBeath
with his Father, Royal Stewart MacBeath
Prince Edward Island, 1926
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Maureen had to take Baby Duncan out to Winnipeg for a minor operation.  
Do you remember when I wrote and told you that they thought
that Duncan had the mumps?  
It was a cyst on one side of his neck, just beyond the jawbone.  

They removed the cyst this Thursday, 
and now Maureen and Duncan Sr. are waiting rather anxiously
for the result of the analysis of the cyst.  
They are worried that it might be malignant, 
although the chances are against this being the case.  

Poor Duncan is both lonely and worried right now, 
but Maureen and the baby are expected back
next Friday on the mail plane.

I think I’ll go to the movies in the hall.
I’ll continue this when I come back.

Baby Duncan and Maureen
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Winter 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved 


Well. I’m back from the show, and it was one
of the foolishest shows that I have ever seen.  
Actually, to be grammatically correct, I should have said most foolish, 
but anyway, I think you understand that it was a foolish show. 
It was a combination musical and love story.  
A very poor combination.

It is a real cold night tonight.
The snow squeaks underfoot when you walk,
and whenever I open the door of the shack, 
great clouds of condensed warm air are formed, 
when the warm air from inside mixes with the cold air from outside.  

I haven’t looked at the temperature, 
but I’d guess that it is at least thirty-five below
and going down steadily.  
To use a reverse paraphrasing of that foolish song 
that was popular last summer, “It’s thirty-five below and falling.”

I had hoped to have some pictures to send you
of Santa’s visit to my school,
and a visit I made with one of the outlying camps, 
but the film didn’t come back this week.  
I’ll send them to you as soon as I receive them, and
when you are through with them you can send them to Sara.

Santa's Visit on the Ice at Webequie
Major McKinney, Commanding Officer U.S.A.F. Base, Armstrong, Ontario
donated most of the gifts for the Indians at Webequie.  December, 1960
Note:  Woman with tikanogin on her back (middle left)
Photo by Don MacBeath (shadow)
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved 

I’ll tell you how cold it is right now.  
There is a strong wind blowing, and in spite of the fact 
that I have a real good fire in the shack, 
the storm windows are all frosted over,
the inside windows are also heavily frosted over,
and there is frost on the window shades.  

Not only that, but all the nails in the woodwork
around the windows and the doors are covered with frost.  
Also the hinges and doorknob of the door are covered
with a thick layer of frost.  

However, I have a good fire on, and it is quite comfortable, 
as long as I keep the fire stoked up.   
The temperature would drop pretty quickly though, 
if the fire ever went out.  I know just how cold it would be.  
I’ve had it go out on me during the night and have waked up freezing
and have had to get up and light the cotton pickin thing.
It’s no fun – I can assure you.

My Father's Bed and Uno's Typewriter
in the Two-Room Shack
He Shared with Uno
Photo by Don MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved 

Well, I guess I had better sign off now and get a few more letters written.  
I have to write today’s installment of the Lansdowne Letter, 
and I also have to write one to Sara.  

Oh, could you send me up another typewriter ribbon, please?  
You have all the particulars.  The smudges you see in the two lines above 
were caused by my having to turn the ribbon upside down.  
I feel that I should at least buy ribbons for the typewriter, 
because I do about 99% of the typing that is done on it.

I could also stand some more stamped envelopes, business size.  
I keep asking everyone to send me envelopes,
because you can’t buy business-sized envelopes,
stamped or otherwise up here.  

Perhaps Aunt Maude could send me some
since she is in receipt of the Lansdowne Letter too.  
Mrs. MacDonald doesn’t send me stamped envelopes
because she lives in the States, 
but every so often she sends Sara some money
especially to buy stamped envelopes to send to me.

A Long-Ago Stamped Business Envelope
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved 


Stamps are the only thing that you can’t charge up here, 
and since I live in a moneyless world, I nearly always have no money
and have to go scrounging around among my friends
to see if they have any money, if I happen to run out of stamps.  
However, I’ve loaned money for stamps just as often as I have borrowed it, 
so I don’t feel too ashamed.  It is just the inconvenience.

It’s amazing, but no one carries money up here.  
The whites write cheques, and the Indians operate on credit from the Bay.  
They get their supplies from the Bay, and then they sell their pelts to the Bay.  
If they have any over after their debts are paid, 
they usually spend it all immediately so they never have much money either.

Well, as I started to say quite some time ago, I must sign off.

Bye now,
Love, Don.

My Father Snowshoeing Across the Ice
to His Shack between the Church and Wind Charger
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

We all have our demons. 
What matters is how we face them.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

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


1.  Temperature Conversions:  
      -10º F. = -18º C.
      -30º F. = -34º C.
      -35º F. = -37º C.
      -51º F. = -46º C.

2.  Uno Manilla:  
     Uno was the teacher at the Roman Catholic Day School at the mission.
     He shared a two-room shack with my father.

3.  Weight Conversions:  
      46  pounds = 20.8 kilograms
     180 pounds = 81.6 kilograms
     185 pounds = 83.9 kilograms
     190 pounds = 86.1 kilograms
     193 pounds = 87.5 kilograms

4.  Duncan and Maureen McRae:  
     Duncan worked for the Department of Transport, and one of his duties was running the weather
     station in Lansdowne House.  He and Maureen were the parents of Baby Duncan.

5.  The Hall:  
     The Hall was located in the Roman Catholic mission on the Father's Island.  Father Ouimet,
      the priest, had films brought in on the weekly mail planes.  He would show these at the hall
      on Saturday, and sometimes, Wednesday evenings.  The Indians especially enjoyed The Three
      Stooges and westerns with cowboys and Indians.

6.  Outlying Camp:  
     My father accompanied Santa Claus to the village of Webequie to deliver Christmas gifts to the
     Ojibway people who lived there.

7.  Mrs. MacDonald:  
     This is Dad's mother-in-law, Mom's mother, Ella MacDonald.  She worked as a nursing
     companion in New York City, and we lived in her home in Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia.

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Northern Ontario Communities

Location of Winnipeg, Manitoba


  1. I lOVE your maps, a quilting blogger friend a while ago wrote that she had gone up to Flin Flon from Dauphin. So good to see it there. Your Dad, a brave, sensitive, caring man, sharing with his Mum, keeping from his wife, and trying always to keep warm.I do enjoy your Friday Letters always.

    1. Thanks for your kind words about the maps, Jean! I'm getting better and faster at editing the blank Ontario map. It took me a while to figure out how to do it. As for the Manitoba map, I got lucky. It's hard to find a map that I can use because most have copyright restrictions. I'm a stickler for following copyright laws, and becoming more so all the time. So your few words make the work and time worth it, especially for this map lover!

      Thanks also for your kind words about my father. To me he was all of those things, but it's lovely to hear that other people so distant in time and space from him can see that in him!

      Have a great weekend!

  2. Another interesting letter. Depression is no fun anywhere, but I am sure it is even more daunting up north like that.

    1. Thanks, Sage! Daunting is a good word to describe the prospect of depression! wishing you a bright, happy day!

  3. I imagine anyone would feel depression after a while, but even worse for someone who suffers from it.
    And no money. That would actually be nice.

    1. Hi, Alex! There weren't any credit cards then either. I rarely use cash now, because when I use a credit card I have a record of what I spent. Not that I spend a lot, and I am fierce about paying it off every month. That said, I always like to have a few dollars in my pocket ... just in case I need them! Have a great weekend!

  4. No money would be interesting indeed. Yeah, it would sure weigh on one from time to time being so isolated.

    1. Hey, Pat! Most of my father's money was spoken for; he had very little discretionary money to spend. Money was tight throughout my extended family, hence the big deal about stamps and money. Dad's bulky Lansdowne Letters wouldn't fit in a personal envelope, and they were costly for my father to mail each week. Fortunately the relatives all kicked in stamps and envelopes when they could.

      When I was growing up, I never realized that we were relatively poor. We had a warm home, adequate clothing, and good food (Although to this day, I always ask my husband after dinner if he had enough to eat; I can't shake that habit!). We were always surrounded by people who had it harder than we did, so I was always appreciative of and grateful for what we had. I can't believe how much more I have now, and most of it really isn't necessary. I buy a medium regular coffee at Starbucks and realize that was probably the cost of the stamps my father used in a month, but that was a big deal for him and it's so casual for me. Times certainly have changed!

      Have a good one, my friend! I've finally finished "Empire" and am looking forward to reading your mystery book!

  5. No kidding, you are so lucky to have these letters to gain insight into this period of your father's life. I think most people have an encounter with depression once in a while. This must have been difficult for your family, since it seems hereditary. Oh, and by the way, I always ask my family of seven if they got enough to eat at the meals I prepare. I agree. It can become a habit. Thanks so much for sharing this with your followers. All the best!

    1. Thanks, Victoria! Dealing with depression throughout the generations has difficult; thank goodness today we have better treatment available. There is still a lot of stigma around depression and other mental disorders, but I think it's important to speak out about it. I hope you are beginning a lovely weekend! Take care!

  6. Hello dear Louise,
    Many thanks for all your comments on my blog!
    I have been trying to post once in while but I have cut off the net for a few days, quite a complicated situation to deal with.
    I feel really sorry about this depression running through your family, I can understand what it means since I suffer from Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) myself and it is a permanent fight against pain and to get going with daily chores.
    How difficult it must have been for your dad so far up in the north, in cold winters with so many responsibilities...
    I hope you are well and planning your next trip!!
    Warm hugs and enjoy your week :)

  7. Noushka! What a delight to hear from you! Yes, being cut off from the internet is trying! I'm always running into internet cut off situations when we travel, especially this last time when I didn't bring my computer. My fat fingers, older eyes, and iPhone incompetence don't do too well on line, and of course, I could only use my phone where we found free wifi.

    I'm really sorry to hear that you have CFS. I've watched a friend of mine struggle with it for a couple of decades now. It is a miserable thing to have to contend with. Constantly fighting pain is so hard! I hope your move hasn't caused a flareup that's even worse then normal.

    Yes, I am well! And finally, after a decade of working with my trainer, I can do extra strength training after my session with her! She has brought me back from zero (sitting in a chair and lifting a one pound weight) so many times. I'm a true believer in never giving up, and the best me is still attainable. I am catching far fewer bouts of flu and colds too, now that I'm retired. So I'm feeling better than I have in decades!

    I'm leaving for Nova Scotia in less than three weeks. I'm very excited because I get to see my three sisters, my brother, their families, and lots of cousins and friends. I'll be able to stay in Halifax and see Ron and Jim and Sophie Doodle too! The visit with my family is always a highlight of my year. Terry isn't coming with me this year which is too bad, but I'll have tons of fun anyway.

    Take care, my friend! Sending you warm hugs and a big wish for energy and health!

  8. Battling depression takes a lot of inner strength and courage, so cheers to you and your Dad. I smiled at your grandfather's name -- Royal Stewart MacBeath -- now THAT'S a real Scottish patriot's name! And I remember those "long-ago" blue Queen Elizabeth stamps from my childhood, LOL.

    1. Hi, Debra! It's really hard to hide your heritage with a name like that! It's my brother's name too. We sisters had such fun with his name as a kid. We'd call him Royal Instant Pudding and Facelle Royal (which really set him off). Of course he fought back. It was rarely quiet in our home. Haha. I think those blue QE stamps were one of the prettiest ever. I can tell from the Sioux Lookout post office stamp, that Dad gave the letter to a bush pilot from SL to mail for him. Have a great day, my friend!

  9. Oh, Louise! I forgot to mention this! There is a street here in Montreal by the name of Lansdowne! It is located in one of the richest areas of Montreal, too...Westmount. :)

  10. My goodness, I think Blogger ate the long comment I just made. :( Oh well. LOL! I just said that your father's mention of the laundry brought back some childhood memories for me when my mother had a wringer washer. One day when I was helping her do the laundry my arm got caught in the wringers but my mother was quick to use the emergency lash, releasing my arm. No harm done, I was just a little shaken by it. My mother used to iron everything from sheets and pillowcases to tablecloths. I don't iron anything these days unless the need is really there. Another wonderful post, my cherished friend, thank you! :)


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