Friday, August 12, 2016

The Lansdowne Letters: Forerunners

I'm sure that when my father wrote this letter in January 1961
he couldn't possibly imagine what was to happen
to the people of Lansdowne House in the coming decades.
I don't think anyone could have imagined.

Beautiful Lake Attawapiskat
Photo by Don MacBeath, Spring 1961
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved 

It's not my purpose in this post to address the violence, 
the strife, the despair, and the worsening poverty 
into which the community descended 
as its traditional lifestyle 
was replaced by government dependency.

Nor am I going to write about the long, difficult struggle 
of its aboriginal people to attain self-determination
and to preserve their culture, traditions, and values,
a struggle that continues today amid dire living conditions
and a persistent suicide crisis among its youth.

But I will comment on a recent occurrence
that has the potential to dramatically improve 
the standard of living for the people of Lansdowne House
(now known as Neskantaga) 
and other remote aboriginal villages in its vicinity.

My father had no idea, when he chatted with two visitors at Father Ouimet's,
that they were forerunners of others whose work
could change this part of Northern Ontario irrevocably.

Sunday, January 15, 1961
My father wrote to his extended family:

Hi There:
Today was one of those days that just didn’t
seem to get off the ground till sometime after supper.  

Actually I got up quite early (for Sunday that is),
and although I seemed to be as busy as a beaver
I didn’t seem to get a hell of a lot done,
except carry in wood and write a long letter to Sara.
I slept all afternoon.

There were two prospectors who came through Lansdowne House today,
by air, and they stopped at the Father’s to hire an Indian as a guide.

Another Evening, Another Prospector
Father Ouimet's Kitchen
Pilot Chicago Bill, Uno Manilla, Father Ouimet, Brother Bernier, Prospector Mr.  Baker
Photo by Don Photo MacBeath, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved 

Of course, I can’t remember their names,
but they said they were working for an outfit from Toronto,
and I asked them if they knew Herbert Cox.  
They didn’t know him personally,
but they said their boss was a friend of his.  

I asked the name of their boss, but they declined to tell me
because they were up on a rather hush hush project;
they wouldn’t tell us where they were going,
or for what for, or who sent them.

There is a lot of activity about these parts.
They are developing quite a large strike at Fort Hope
which is only about fifty miles southwest of here.

I think it is a copper mine,
and I think that it is Anaconda that is doing the development.
I’ll check on this with the Father tomorrow, and let you know.  

In addition to this activity at Fort Hope,
the bush of Northern Ontario is lousy with prospectors.

Tonight Uno and I were invited to a nice turkey dinner at the Flaherty’s.  
It was Anne’s birthday.  Duncan and Maureen were there also.

I must have eaten too much turkey,
because I feel definitely uncomfortable now,
four hours after the meal.  

You know, I have been spelling that name wrong
for quite a time.  Actually it is O’Flaherty.

I think that I had better sign off, as it is late.
I am dead on my feet, or to be more exact, on my seat,
and I want to get up early and get a good start for the first of the week.

Bye now,
Love, Don

After checking with Father Ouimet,
my father added on his copy to his mother-in-law, Ella MacDonald:

Dear Mac:
Re:  Fort Hope and mining development.
Not too accurate at this.
It was gold, not copper,
and there are three companies in here:
Hollinger, Dome, and Pioneer.

Thanks so very much for the books you sent.
They will be greatly appreciated by all concerned.

Bye now,
Love Don.

Another Evening, Another Letter
The Bedroom in My Father's Two-Room Shack
Lansdowne House (Neskantaga) Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved 

In 2007 all those decades of prospectors tramping around 
in the Northern Ontario bush paid off big time 
with the discovery of one of the world's largest chromite deposits, 
now known as The Ring of Fire mineral belt.

These deposits contain an array of other valuable minerals, 
including copper, zinc, nickel, platinum, vanadium, and gold.
Estimates of the value of the minerals vary wildly,
ranging from  tens of billions to over a hundred billion dollars.

Lansdowne House (Neskantaga) is one of nine Ojibway and Cree communities
that belong to a group called the Matawa First Nations.
This group is impacted by the location of the mineral belt in its traditional lands.

These communities recognize the economic potential
of the mineral-rich Ring of Fire,
but they are also keenly aware of the environmental threat
that mining poses for the wetlands and forests.

The Ring of Fire extends from the boreal forest into the Hudson Bay lowlands,
two vast and biologically diverse ecosystems
largely intact because of the remoteness of the region.

Hudson Bay Lowlands
Flicker ~ Ted and John Koston   License

The Matawa Nations maintain that they have the right
to be consulted about development on their traditional lands,
that they must give written consent before that development can proceed,
and that they must share in the economic benefits of that development.

They have opposed the construction of a north-south access corridor
that would cross three major river systems, including the Attawapiskat,
cutting through the heart of their ecologically sensitive lands.

They are currently studying a possible east-west road
that would link the Ring of Fire, Lansdowne House (Neskantaga)
and three other first Nations communities to Pickle Lake,
the most northerly community with year-round access by road.

If the necessary infrastructure is approved and built, 
it would dramatically improve the living conditions
for these First Nations communities by providing them
with potable water, cheaper food, fuel and supplies,
and grid electrical power.
And jobs!

It would also provide mining companies with the access
they need to develop the mineral resources in the Ring of Fire.

Unfortunately, everything is a standstill for now with plenty
of blame to go around:  legal battles, environmental protests,
lack of infrastructure spending, government ineptitude,
mining policy, and a commodity slump.

I am no expert on the Ring of Fire and the complex social, environmental,
economic, and legal issues surrounding its potential development.
But it is my hope that when the Ring of Fire is developed,
the First Nations peoples of Northern Ontario will prosper,
living in sustainable communities in the land they love
and preserving their rich culture and heritage.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

On the Shore of the Annapolis Basin
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada
July 24, 2016
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


1.  Father Ouimet:
     He was a member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate,
     a missionary religious congregation in the Roman Catholic Church.

2.  Herbert Cox:
     Herbert Cox was the stepson of my father's Aunt Maude.
     I know almost nothing about him.  Herbert's father, Harry Cox had died well before this time.
3.  Uno Manilla:  
     Uno was the teacher at the Roman Catholic Day School at the mission.
     He shared a two-room shack with my father.

4.  Mike O'Flaherty:
     Mike was the nurse at the nursing station in Lansdowne House.
     He was married to Anne (Garrick) O'Flaherty.

5.  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.

6.  Chromite is essential in the production of many metal, chemical, and manufactured
      products, especially in the manufacturing of stainless steel. 

7.  Matawa First Nations: 
     The Matawa First Nations is a tribal council consisting of nine Ojibway and Cree First Nations in
     Northern Ontario, including the four communities closest to the Ring of Fire:  Neskantaga
     (Lansdowne House), Nibinamik (Summer Beaver), Webequie, and Eabametoong (Fort Hope).

8.  Ring of Fire:

     I read dozens of articles and papers on the Ring of Fire before writing the above summary;
     some of the most helpful were:
     Wawatay News  12/01/15    The Sudbury Star 3/8/16    The Globe and Mail 4/21/16  

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

For a map showing the location of the Ring of Fire:  Click here

For a map showing the location of the Matawa First Nations:  Click here   
It gives one the sense of just how much surface water covers Northern Ontario.


  1. Dear Louise,

    It is my feeling that writing is a great talent in your family and I so enjoy your posts. I love Father Ouimet's kitchen! I also love the reflections in the first photo! It is like taking a step back in time for me as I looked at Father Ouimet's kitchen, because my parents had a refrigerator like that. I think most of the models looked like that back then! Oh, and the daunting task to defrost the freezers, too! I am so thrilled and relieved with my frost free one today! Thank you so much for sharing. :)

    1. Thank you as always, dear Linda, for your continued encouragement! Getting positive feedback on the writing I struggle with every time I write keeps me going.

      Again I was up into the wee hours finishing this post because I'm a stickler for accuracy, currency, and detail and everything has to flow right according to my inner ear and outer eyes. I always seem to stumble on something or several things that I have to chase down before I can finish on Thursday night.

      So this morning I am sitting here, bleary eyed and groggy, clutching my coffee cup and sipping energy. Your wonderful comment lifted my spirit, let me tell you!

      I remember those fridges very well, and like you I am so glad that I don't have to defrost them any more. When we lived later in a fishing camp on Lac Seul our fridge was an icebox. No defrosting, but every time the block of ice melted, it was a run down to the fish house on the dock to get a chunk of ice for the icebox. No defrosting, but a lot of running! LOL!

      Have a lovely weekend, my Montreal friend! I hope you have something planned that fills your soul! Sending you a big hug and lots of love!

  2. This post really hit home. In the sixties an Indian treaty with the Senecas dating back to George Washington was broken to allow a dam to be built to control the water flow to Pittsburgh. It flooded the Indian land and they were forced to move making their territory smaller. They took their protest all the way to the Supreme Court but lost. Today the lake is about twenty minutes from my house. When you are ready to put this all into a book I recommend Bookemon. It makes it so easy to take it from a blog. Your dad's legacy needs published.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Peggy! The history about what has happened to North America's aboriginal people is heartbreaking and beyond criminal, and your words about the Senecas is so typical.

      This week I've been rereading a fabulous book called "The Inconvenient Indian: a Curious Account of Native People in North America." It's written by Thomas King, an American-born Canadian of Cherokee descent. It outlines in a funny and poignant way the abominable treatment of aboriginals by whites in North America. The title, "The Inconvenient Indian" is brilliant and underscores two major arguments in his book. He is now a professor emeritus at the University of Guelph where he taught English and Theatre. I highly recommend it, if your are interested in aboriginal affairs.

      Thanks for recommending Bookman; I will check into it. My memoir cannot be just a recounting of our wonderful time in Lansdowne House. I have to write about what came after, and that's not memoir, it's a painful history. That's why it's taking me so long! And I agree, my father's legacy has to be published, even if I pay for publishing it myself. Thank you for believing it and encouraging me to keep at it.

      Have an awesome weekend. I'm waiting to see how those cement leaves turn out. Your creativity amazes me! Sending you a big hug!

  3. I hope they do get to benefit and the mining doesn't destroy the land. Their proposal does seem like the best plan.

    1. Thank you, Alex, for hanging in there with me as I write. You have no idea how much your support means to me!
      The results of the government-funded, Ojibway/Cree-consulted study on the east-west infrastructure plan is due to be released, maybe in the next few days. Even if the development of the resources is on hold now, the Ring of Fire mineral belt will inevitably be mined. The world needs chromite, and China is especially hungry for it.

      The hard work of the Matawa First Nations, although frustrating to government and mining companies, is mitigating some of the environmental threats. Hopefully this will all shake out with the least damage to these valuable ecosystems; but let's not kid ourselves, mining will drastically change things.

      Have a great weekend! btw, while I was in Nova Scotia I visited and photographed a spot that I may use as a setting for the anthology contest. Waiting for September to see if my story idea will fit the contest requirements ~ more like will the contest fit my story requirements! LOL Have a great weekend!

  4. Hopefully everyone will benefit if it ever gets done indeed. Be interesting to be in a time when anything was hush hush haha the internet doesn't allow that much now.

    1. Haha indeed, Pat! The internet has given ordinary people access to power and leverage that is unprecedented in history. That's why repressive governments are trying to muzzle the internet. The development of the mineral resources will happen. Sooner or later, hopefully with the least environmental destruction possible to the region. I have to live a long time, so I can see how this all turns out.

      I keep thinking about the guest post you did on someone's blog where you commented about keeping the setting of your book very open and general, letting readers fill in the details. In many ways, I think that's genius! And a hell of a lot easier in my estimation! I'm drowning in research and details! I continually shake my head at your productivity, determination, and progress as a writer, Pat! You are an inspiration! Thanks for hanging in there with me! Have a great weekend!

  5. This post really got to me, Louise. It makes me horribly sad what has happened to the First Nations. They have been mistreated and used and abused. Their land and their lives have been disrupted. The history is tragic. I would love to see them benefit from this and prosper.

    1. Thanks for sharing that, Martha! If I were to go back to university now, I'd like to do a masters in Aboriginal studies focusing on the Matawa First Nations people in Northern Ontario. What amazes me about the history of Aboriginal people in North America is that they have survived as a people and are surmounting their cruel history. I think governments from a couple of hundred years ago thought the pesky Indians would be exterminated by now. Yes, they have intransigent problems today, but I strongly believe they will overcome them. I am inspired by people like Chief Peter Moonias of Neskantaga. Have a great weekend, my special friend!

  6. Oh goodness, it's all so complex, isn't it? I read this and felt a very heavy heart. I agree with Martha above. I have a minor in Anthropology and I took a course called "North American Indians". It was so completely depressing to me and I couldn't wait for the semester to end. Just to hear how all these groups have fared up to the present with alcohol levels off the charts and suicide rates to just made it hard to sleep at night. It is interesting to hear your Dad's experience so thank you, as always, for sharing. Have a nice weekend, Louise! XOXO!

    1. Hi, Audrey! It's awesome to hear from you! I wish we lived nearer to one another so we could meet in person!

      I've never taken a course in Anthropology, the closest I've come is Paleontology. But I am fascinated with the stories of the dispersal of people and their survival. It's always horrific to learn about what happens when one group with superior warfare abilities and technologies move into a territory inhabited by others and go after their resources, especially the rationalizations they use to get rid of inconvenient people.

      I have a niece starting a Masters in Anthropology at the University of Victoria in a few weeks. Her area of focus is Cuba, and I can't wait to see what she works on. I'm still bugging her for a copy of her Cuban project that she just completed to graduate from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. This is the niece I've written about who is so gifted in languages. She just earned the university medal in French, but she's also fluent in Spanish and spent part of her academic year in Havana last year. Terry and I are headed to Victoria again this fall so it will be fun to see her again.

      I hope that Sophie and Clara are looking forward to the school year. Here in Colorado, the kiddos are already back. It is such an exciting time of year, and I hope your girls learn lots and have fun. May you, Alain, and the girls enjoy a great summer weekend! Sending you a big hug and lots of love!

  7. Hi Louise. I am hoping with our present liberal government's initiative to look into the needs, desires and survival of our first Nations peoples, that this mining company will be observing and respecting First Nations' needs. It is far overdue for the federal government to take steps to finally do something positive, effective and lasting to assist our aboriginal people.
    Yes, I bet your father had no idea of the sad outcome that was to affect the native peoples of North America.

    1. Happy Saturday morning, Jim! I enjoyed our conversation about Trudeau and the Aboriginals when I was in NS very much. I hope Canadians like you keep the pressure on the Trudeau government to deal with this water crisis. I laugh when the press talks about Lansdowne House having a boil water advisory in place for 21 years. Lansdowne House had toxic water problems when I was there in 1961. I experienced carrying water and purifying it almost every day. I had to strain my five gallon buckets of water through cheesecloth and then add Javex to our water barrel in the kitchen to kill the germs. Granted, Lansdowne House (Neskantaga) moved to a new site from where it was; but having to deal with bad water is not a 20-year problem; it's a 55-year+ issue. And in a wealthy country like Canada, rich with fresh water resources, it's unconscionable.

      I had a discussion with my brother Roy about why Dad ultimately left the North and his career in the Department of Indian Affairs. One of the main reasons was his disagreement with what the DIA was doing with the Indians in the North. Kind of like when I realized I had to get out of mineral exploration as a career, because I found myself hoping that my teammates and I wouldn't find the minerals we were looking for on company claims. I knew and know perfectly well that the world needs minerals and that I personally benefit every day from mining. But my heart wasn't in exploration and development, so I left it to others who had the passion.

      As for the history of Lansdowne House ... It's coming, albeit slowly!

  8. Had not heard of this Ring of Fire development before, so thanks for the info! Let's hope everyone ends up benefitting.

    1. Happy Saturday, Debra! I hope that you are enjoying volunteering at the international swim meet in Edmonton this weekend! Maybe everyone will be inspired by all the amazing Olympic swimmers!

      I'm not surprised that you haven't heard about the Ring of Fire development before. It's located in a very remote region, and most people aren't geologists and crazy about rocks. And if someone hears the phrase "Ring of Fire" on a radio or television in the background, he or she probably jumps to Johnny Cash and his famous song. In fact that's where the name of the mineral belt came from. It's discoverer was a longtime fan of Johnny Cash and named the mineral discovery after the song.

      Even geology buffs might think of another "Ring of Fire" which is the name for the volcanically active zones that ring the Pacific.

      Have a great weekend! Don't get too wet!

  9. I would hope it turns out well, but if the government depts. are anything like our local councils down here, they have the final say.Keep warm, as summer leaves your part of the wolrd,and we say goodbye to winter.

    1. Hi, Jean! I'd say happy Saturday to you too, but happy Sunday is probably more appropriate. Whatever time it is where you are, I hope that it's a good time!

      Fortunately for the First Nations people in Canada, their rights are in Canada's constitution, and the higher courts are ruling on the side of Aboriginal rights. Not that I'm knowledgeable about all these things, but I have it from my sister Barb who's a lawyer and works in oil and gas law.

      I was thinking of you when I visited Jim's shop at MacDonald House in Nova Scotia. He and Ron showed me all his lovely quilts that were on display, including an old quilt from Prince Edward Island made by members of a church congregation. The squares were embroidered with the names of the church members and ministers, and it looked like the names were the reproductions of the peoples' signatures. You would so love meeting the guys and Miss Sophie Doodle in person!

      All the best! Sending you a big hug!


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