Friday, July 15, 2016

The Lansdowne Letters: Laundry and Levity

When my father arrived in Lansdowne House to teach in 1960
the white population rose to a total of fourteen.  

With the departure of nurse Margaret Kelly and the arrival
of nurse Mike Flaherty, his wife Anne, and baby daughter,
the white population surged to a grand total of sixteen.
Three were babies under the age of one.

As winter in the remote bush of Northern Ontario
wore on with its extreme cold and extended darkness,
things got a little testy between two roommates sharing 
a tiny, two-room shack with a cantankerous wood stove
and cold running water at a certain Roman Catholic mission.

Something as simple as the arrival of the weekly mail plane
or getting together to talk over coffee could lift spirits and break 
the monotony of the long northern winter and the bleak isolation.

And sometimes, well sometimes, my father just had to laugh!

Northern Nights in the Bush
Flickr:  J.H.   License

On Saturday, January 14, 1961 
My father wrote to his extended family:

Well, here I am again:  
I did one hell of a big wash today.  
It took me most of the day.  
We do one a month up here.
It is so much trouble to set up the washing machine and everything
that we wait till we have a good big wash before we do any.  

I can assure you that today’s wash had no trouble meeting this specification.
Actually, the last time I washed was somewhere around the end of November.

It’s a good job that we have lots of clothes, or we would be
pretty strong by the time that wash day came along.

Uno and I originally had agreed to do the wash turn about,
but the only time he did it, he made such a mess of it,
that I have done it every time since.

Line-Drying Clothes
Flickr:  Zhu  License

I have also taken over the stoves exclusively.
Uno just can’t seem to be able to handle them at all.  
Whenever he handles them, we either freeze or roast.

I wonder if that sob messes these jobs up purposely to get rid of them.
No, he’s not devious enough for that.
That sounds more like a MacBeath or a Pratt trick.

Roommate's Revenge
Uno falls asleep reading his mail.
Photo by Don MacBeath, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved 

The mail didn’t come in till Saturday this week, 
so as soon as the wash was over, I went over for my mail.
Uno came too, and we ended up at Dunc’s for coffee and a gabfest.

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

Maureen told us all the news
of the outside world
and all about Duncan’s operation.

I saw the baby too.
He looked a little bit
the worse for wear and tear,
but he acted and sounded
just like his old self.  

Maureen was telling me that the cyst was about the size of a golf ball.
I know that it must have been quite large,
for it was quite prominent on the child’s neck.
In fact, for a while, they thought he had the mumps.
The doctor assured Maureen that there was nothing to worry about.

This evening Mike and Brian came over, and the four of us,
including Uno, went to the show in the hall.  
I don’t go to shows too much up here; 
in fact, I don’t even go too much outside, 
but when you have been up here as long as I have, 
you’ll go to almost anything for a change.  

The show tonight was a real poor one,
even by Lansdowne House standards.
As far as entertainment goes,
this was the absolute last resort.
The title was Prairie Rustlers,
and I am sure it must have starred Tom Mix
or even someone back farther than him.

Buster Crabbe and Al St. John, Stars of Prairie Rustlers, 
in the Movie Shadows of Death, 1945

Well, this is all that happened to me today,
so I will devote the rest of this issue to a dissertation on dog teams.
I have yet to drive a dog team, but I hope that
not too much times passes before I accomplish this feat.

Flickr:  Bud Glunz   License
Credit:  Bud Glunz. National Film Board of Canada. 
Photothèque. Library and Archives Canada, e010962320 /

I think one of the funniest things that I have ever seen in all my life
was the troubles that a poor Indian was having one morning
with a new team that apparently hadn’t been broken to harness too long.
Either that, or they were a bunch of dogs that hadn’t been
worked together as a team too long.  

He loaded the sleigh at the co-op store on the Island
and headed them toward the lake.
From the store to the lake, the road passed twelve trees.
Each dog investigated each tree,
so the whole team made 48 stops on the way to the lake.

After the team finally got out on the ice,
each dog decided to defecate;
and, of course, each one did it at a different time.
Four more stops.

By this time there was a terribly frustrated Indian driving them. 

Flickr:  Jamie McCaffrey   License

There were one or two other stops
before they had gone half a mile,
caused I think, by disagreements among the dogs;
but by the time they got in front of my school
real disaster struck in the form of a female dog in heat.  

Apparently all the dogs were young virile males,
for the whole shebang took off hell a whooping
after this poor female dog.

The driver couldn’t hold them back at all,
and the last I saw of the outfit it had left the ice
and was heading into the thickest part of the bush -
dogs, Indian, sleigh, and everything.

I think it was several days before the Indian finally got
his sleigh repaired, his supplies gathered up, his team rounded up,
and was able to resume his trip to the trapline.

Love, Don.

I feel real sympathy for Uno and the wash.
My dad had been in the military
and took military pride in his appearance.
He could have given Marie Kondo
lessons on socks in drawers. 

One of my earliest memories, in Charlottetown, P.E.I.,
was peeking in Dad's top bureau drawer
and seeing rows of socks neatly lined up,
standing tall like soldiers on a parade ground.  
I was memorably impressed, because none of the socks
in other bureaus in the apartment were so disciplined.

Equally vivid is another memory I have from the same time,
certainly from before I started kindergarten.
My mother was putting crisply starched and folded shirts
in my father's shirt drawer in just so piles under my watchful eyes.

"Why do Dad's shirts have paper in them?" I asked.

"Because they come from the Chinese laundry," Mom answered.

"Why do Dad's shirts come from the Chinese laundry?"

"Because I don't iron his shirts."

"Why not?"

"Because Daddy doesn't like how I iron them."

"Why not?"

"Let me tell you a secret," Mom said.  
"I don't like ironing men's shirts, 
and the first time I had to do your father's, 
I made sure I did a lousy job.  
I did such a bad job of ironing his shirts 
that he never let me do them again."
She smiled and added, "And so you see,
now I don't have to iron his shirts - ever!"

It seems that the MacDonald side of our family
had a few tricks of its own.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

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


1.  Doing Laundry at the Mission:  
     Whenever Dad did the laundry, he had to gather it all up and lug it over to Father Ouimet
     and Brother Bernier's residence.  Then he had to start the pumping engine for water.  If there
     was no wind to turn the wind charger, then Dad had to start the gasoline generator so as not
     to run down the storage batteries.  Once the laundry was washed, then it had to be hung outdoors
     on a clothesline to dry.  No fun in the winter at 30 below.  Finally, it had to be lugged back to the
     shack and draped on the furniture to defrost and finish drying.  Dragging in stiff, frozen clothing
     is an experience you don't soon forget.

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.  MacBeaths and Pratts:
     Dad's father was a MacBeath, and his mother was a Pratt;
     both were from Prince Edward Island.

4.  Duncan (Dunc) and Maureen McRae:  
     Duncan worked for the Department of Transport in Lansdowne House.  He and Maureen were the
     parents of Baby Duncan.  Maureen had just returned from a difficult trip by bush plane to
     Winnipeg with Baby Duncan.  His cyst was removed at a hospital there and found to be benign,
     much to the relief of his parents and the community.

5.  Mike and Brian:  
     Mike Flaherty, the nursing station nurse
     Brian Booth, the Hudson's Bay post clerk

6.  The Hall:  
     The Hall was located in the Roman Catholic mission on the Father's Island.  Father Ouimet
      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.

7.  Prairie Rustlers:  Movie  
     Father Ouimet could not afford to fly in current films, so he rented earlier ones
     like Prairie Rustlers that was released in November 1945.

     Buster Crabbe, not Tom Mix, was the star of Prairie Rustlers.   Crabb acted in 36 westerns, and
     and his sidekick Al St. John appeared in most of them.  Wikipedia

     Here is a summary from Google which appears verbatim in a number of on-line reviews,
     so I'm not sure of the original source:
     "In a small town, the sheriff is murdered, and Deputy Fuzzy Jones (Al "Fuzzy" St. John), a diner
      owner by day, must take over the slain lawman's responsibilities. The leader of the cattle rustlers
      who killed the sheriff is named Jim (Buster Crabbe), and he bears a striking resemblance to
      Fuzzy's friend Billy (Buster Crabbe), much to the deputy's confusion. Billy comes to town, and,
      to help Fuzzy and vanquish the rustlers, he must face Jim, his cousin, who still holds a grudge
      against him."

8.  Trapline:
      At that time many aboriginal men earned a living in the fur trade by trapping fur-bearing animals
      such as beaver, muskrat, and otter.  Trappers would set traps along a route and travel repeatedly
      over that route to check for animals.  Typically the Hudson's Bay Company would advance them
      credit to buy supplies for their trip to the winter traplines and for other needs.  When the
      aboriginals traded their pelts at the Bay, they were then able to settle their debts.  This
      traditional lifestyle was beginning to disappear when my father arrived in Lansdowne House.
      It's now long gone.

9.  Marie Kondo:
     She is an organizing consultant and author of four books on organizing, including the widely
     popular The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and
     Organizing (2011).

10.  Chinese Laundries:
       When I was a child there were many Chinese laundries and restaurants in the Maritimes.
       What I didn't understand was the brutal history of Chinese immigrants in Canada and why
       so many laundries and restaurants were owned by the Chinese.

       Chinese men first came to Canada as laborers in the late 1770s.  They began to come in large
       numbers around 1858 to work in the goldfields of British Columbia.  When British Columbia
       joined Confederation in 1871, the Canadian government was required to build a railroad linking
       B.C. to Eastern Canada.  Chinese laborers were hired to build the railroad because they were the
       cheapest labor.

       Once the railroad was completed, Chinese laborers couldn't find work and many couldn't afford
       to return to China.  Some of those remaining migrated to the Maritimes where there was
       less Anti-Chinese discrimination.

       Chinese in Canada faced increasingly onerous taxes and immigration restrictions from 1885
       to 1923.  The continuing anti-Chinese fervor led to the passing of The Chinese Immigration Act
       (also known as the Exclusion Act) of 1923 which essentially eliminated Chinese immigration
       to Canada and barred the existing immigrants from most occupations.  Working in restaurants
       and laundries was open to the Chinese because white Canadians didn't want to do such work.
       Saltscapes and Wikipedia 

       Canada's Parliament repealed the act in 1947, in recognition of the efforts of Chinese
       Canadians during WWII.  Wikipedia

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Location of Lansdowne House
Known Today as Neskantaga


  1. Clever way of getting out of ironing. I think my wife used the same trick because I don't let her iron anything of mine now.
    Funny story about the sled dogs. He could have carried his supplies faster.

    1. Haha! A lot of wives don't like to iron men's shirts, especially those that have to be starched. I don't iron my husband's dress shirts either. I didn't even bother with subterfuge; I went straight to the laundry. Ironically, I actually enjoy most ironing, especially if I'm not in a hurry. I find it soothing and gratifying. It was my father who taught me how to iron, mend a seam, replace a button, and shine shoes. I always smile when I think of that conversation with my mother. It's funny what sticks in your mind over the years. Have a good one, Alex!

  2. lol that was a great trick to not iron. I guess when dogs have to sniff and go, they have to sniff and go. Having enough clothes sure sounds like a must up there.

    1. I may have been a small child when my mother and I had that conversation, but I got it, and never forgot. LOL for sure, Pat! Having lived in the North, I still can't shake the compulsion to have lots of clothes, especially underwear and socks, and a well-stuffed larder and first aid kit. Some early lessons are hard to shake. Have a great weekend, Pat!

  3. HAHAHAHA! I laughed out loud with your mom's ironing story. That's something I would have done because I CANNOT STAND IRONING. Loathe it, really. My blood pressure rises any time I have to do it.

    I love these stories, Louise! What an incredible family history you have. So much fun.

    1. I smile every time I think of that early incident which certainly made an impression on me, Martha! I am one of those rare, odd people who enjoys ironing ~ at least when I'm not in a hurry. This sounds really crazy, I know, but it's relaxing for me. I park my ironing board near the tv and catch up on the Y&R while I iron ~ I'm such a Maritimer! LOL

      It makes me happy to know that others enjoy my stories. I'm finding my voice and a way to balance it with Dad's after floundering around for so long.

      Have an enjoyable summer weekend, my friend!

  4. The dog team story made me laugh out loud!

    P.S. I have disciplined socks too.

    1. Hi, Debra! I'm so glad that you enjoyed Dad's dog team story! My socks are disciplined, too! Although my sock drawer will never quite match Dad's. He was a true perfectionist! Have a good one! These summer weeks are so fleeting!

  5. I always wonder how well those dogs are treated.

    1. Hi, Adam! The dogs were not treated well, and I'll be sharing a letter of Dad's addressing that in the near future. I hope you and Daisy have a great weekend together!

  6. Another fascinating and wonderful post, dear Louise! Your father's mention of the laundry brings back fond memories for me. My mother had a wringer washer when I was a little girl and one day, while I was helping her, my arm got stuck in the wringers. Thankfully there was an emergency latch, which my mother quickly used and managed to free my arm. No harm done, just scared me. My mother would even iron sheets and pillowcases, and I just don't iron anything! (unless I really need to, of course). Technology today is far advanced in that we have the perma press setting on dryers and even if we air dry our clothes most of the time there is no need for ironing. Now, if I worked in an office and wore a suit or skirt and blouse, O.K., I would be doing some ironing, but thankfully I don't, so... LOL! :)

    1. Hi, Linda! I am very familiar with wringer washers, and as a kid, I had horrors of getting my arm caught. Thank goodness you weren't harmed when your arm got caught! Some wringer washer users weren't so fortunate.

      And they were much easier than a scrub board in a tub, which we had to use sometimes. In the summer that we lived at the Indian fish camp on Lac Seul, I actually helped Mom do our laundry by hand squatting on rocks just offshore in the lake. Now I can't believe what we have to make our lives easier. And we have it so good in Canada and the USA.

      My poor sister-in-law, currently living in Hove, England, has a much harder time with her tiny combo washer/dryer in her tiny kitchen. When she does the laundry, it's back to clotheshorses all over their small flat to finish drying it. And then the ironing ~OMG! Don't laugh, but I often iron our pillowcases and at least the edges of sheets. What can I say? I find ironing so satisfying; it's one corner of my life where I feel in control and not like an untied balloon zipping around randomly as it loses its air! LOL Sending you a big hug!

    2. Louise, if you find ironing to be therapeutic in some way, I say, go right ahead and enjoy it! If I did I sure would! :)

    3. We've all got to find therapeutic help where we can! LOL

  7. Can I just say....your Mom is my kind of woman! I told Alain straight out of the gate that I would NEVER iron his shirts. Ugh, I can't imagine anything more awful. Alain is so European and thinks everything has to be ironed. So I let him iron whatever he wants! Anna Quindlen is one of my favorite authors/people and I once read that she didn't even own an iron or board and I've been striving to be like her ever since! Ha ha...

    1. Haha indeed, Audrey! I'm glad you made your intentions crystal clear right up front! Terry knows that his shirts will go to the laundry ~ when I get around to it. I think a lot of woman have put their foot down over ironing shirts!

      I remember when I was in first grade stopping in at a beauty shop in our village's main area. Mom must have gone there because I was quite comfortable stopping in there alone as a six-year old. Anyhow, a beautician in the salon was getting married, and I stopped in to see her shower and wedding gifts which she had on display at the salon.

      She was excited because someone had given her an ironing board and an iron! She was really looking forward to getting married, not having to work anymore, and to being able to iron during the day listening to her favorite radio programs. I was quite fascinated obviously, because that has stuck in my head ever since. I can still see that iron board and its iron, piled with dish towels, linens, and bathroom towels. I thought it must be wonderful to be grown up and getting your own place, a thing that seemed impossibly grown up and far off to a first grader!

      I hope you are having lots of fun with your growing girls ~ these summer days go so fast. I keep checking your blog to see if there's a new post. I so appreciate that you take the time to come here. Sending you a big hug!

    2. My Clara starts Kindergarten in a few weeks so I'm hoping I might actually get to put out a blog post or two from time to time with all my new-found freedom. Ha ha! I can promise you I won't be ironing (much)! Haha! BIG HUGS!!!

  8. I read Marie Kondo's book recently, and decided her way was not for me. i.e. the socks need to be laid together, so they can breathe, not with one turned inside the other to make sure pairs are together. Hugh's get turned in together and jumbled into a drawer. That lady would shudder in horror.And getting washing dry in winter, even here on a calm winter's day, it doesn't dry. and I am so thankful for a fire and clothes racks. I once read of a family living in Central Otago, South Island, NZ., where it gets quite cold, probably about -18 Celsius, and she went along the line to whack the ice of the cloth nappies, but they were so brittle, they all had a huge split in them!!! Again, I need to say how much I so enjoy your Friday Letters.

    1. Hi, Jean! I'm laughing as I read your words about Marie Kondo's book. I read it earlier this year, and she inspired me to keep ploughing ahead decluttering. I can't declutter in big chunks, because I find it overwhelming, but I can do it a drawer or five files at a time. My sock drawer is awesome now, but I'm using a hybrid of Dad's and her methods! LOL

      I find myself doing odd things in my non-decluttering activities, like appreciating that spark of joy when I touch something I really love or thanking things for their service!

      One thing reading her book really helped me with was giving Terry a special Valentine's gift this year. I decided to fulfill a longing of his which was for me to get rid of my massive National Geographic Magazine collection. It was very hard, and they went out the door over a period of months accompanied by tears and poignant electrical storms of sparks of joy. Counter-Mondo, but I decided it had to be done. They did not fit the essential test of "Will they fit in my tiny room in a nursing home?"

      And her folding methods have really helped me when traveling! I like to fold as well as iron! I know, I'm sick! LOL

      And I agree, drying clothes in the bitter cold is awful. I have no doubt that the lady split her nappies when she whacked them! The clothes don't really dry on the line, but they get a start on it. What's funny is they're stiff and brittle, and some pieces can even stand up on their own. I found that entertaining as a kid; Mom not so much.

      Thanks for encouraging me to keep working on my memoir and posting letter by letter! Have a lovely weekend my friend!

  9. I just can't wrap my mind around how isolated your dad was. Just sixteen people. And very little to occupy your time. I got a laugh from your mother's attitude. I overheard my son once telling a friend over the phone that the first time your wife asks you to do the laundry put something red in the wash. He said you may ruin a load of clothes but you'll never have to do laundry the rest of your life. I just shook my head.

    1. Hi, Peggy! I loved hearing about your son's comment over the phone! Too funny! And oh so human! Terry and I both do the laundry, but rarely together, because each of us thinks that we do the better job and finds it hard to accept the other doing it the wrong way. Part of the fun of being married for thirty-one years!

      I so enjoyed your lake house photos, It's really special to get together with family. I'm off to Nova Scotia to see mine next Saturday. I can hardly wait!

      Have a great weekend! I hate how summer is flying by!

  10. Well I guess my love of ironing doesn't come from my 'MacDonald' branch of the family!!
    Your mother sounds lovely, Louise! No messin with her!
    I can totally understand your father doing all the wash and care for the stove.....making sure it was done the right way!
    The dog sled story is PRICELESS!! lol

    1. Hi, Jim! Someone else who loves ironing! I'm so glad to know that I am not alone in the universe! LOL I get a kick out of that story every time I think of it ~ glad to hear that you enjoyed it! See you soon!!!!!

  11. It's interesting to take a step into a time and place unlike our own. It sounds like your Dad has some serious adventures.
    And, I would have done that with ironing if my husband didn't start buying "no-iron" clothes.

    1. Thank goodness for no-iron clothes, Tyrean! My father did experience things many Canadians never did. I was fortunate to go North a bit later and experience some serious adventures of my own. Thanks for visiting! Have a good one!

  12. Dear dear Louise, the last part of your post about your mom finding a wise way not to iron your dad's shirts got me really laughing!!
    On the other hand, living and spending winters up in Northern and bloody cold Ontario makes me shiver, despite the 30° C we are having today (close to 40 yesterday!).
    How brave your father and his mates were.... WOW!
    House-holding is not mu cup of tea as you can imagine, but thinking of laundry and stove duty for your dad in these circumstances plus all the other chores, gosh... poor man!
    Many thanks for your lovely comments.... much appreciated, my dear friend!!
    Keep well and take good care!
    Warm hugs :)

    1. I'm so glad that you value photographing wildlife and sharing your incredible photos with the world rather than worrying about house-holding, Noushka! And I'm quite certain certain you'll stay far away from Northern Ontario, especially in the winter! LOL But if you ventured there in the summer, guaranteed, you would find an endless assortment of fascinating, bloodthirsty mosquitos to photograph, from no-see-ums to ones that could carry off dragonflies! I hope you are hanging in there as you settle in your new place. Don't work too hard! Sending you much love and hugs!


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