Friday, September 9, 2016

The Lansdowne Letters: Changes

That northern time, when my father wrote his Lansdowne Letters,
can feel as close as a breath I took a moment ago;
and then, suddenly, an ordinary sentence or two of my father's
can slam me with the weight of a half century of change.

Winter Night, Northwestern Ontario
Flickr:  Jeremiah John McBride   License

On Thursday, January 19, 1961
My father wrote to his extended family:

Hi There:
I can never seem to get a good edition off on Thursday,
because I usually have so much official correspondence
to do that night.  This Thursday is no exception.  

However, I think that this week’s output is quite respectable
considering the curse and everything.  
It's not every editor that works with such a handicap, is it?

I’ll have to beg off tonight though,
because I am swamped with correspondence.  
If I had my own typewriter,
I might be able to write more, because I could
bang out my correspondence on the typewriter.
I can really rattle along on one now.  

However Uno wants to write one short letter on the machine,
so that means that it will be occupied for the rest of the evening.

I don’t see why he doesn’t write his official correspondence by hand.
It wouldn’t take him nearly so long, and they would look a whole lot neater,
considering the amount of mistakes he makes.
Either this, or allow me to type his official correspondence for him.

I type a lot for Mike and even compose his letters for him.
He just gives me a general idea of what he wants to say and sets me loose.

Well Uno is beginning to pace the floor, so I better sign off.
Bye now, till next week.

Love, Don.

Winter Night, Hudson Bay Lowlands 
Flickr:  Emmanuel Milou   License

I type a lot for Mike ... 
Mike was the only nurse in remote Lansdowne House,
and he provided basic medical services for people in the community.
Today it's hard for me to imagine that my father often went
to the nursing station and typed medical letters and records for Mike.

Just this morning I went  to my doctor's office for an appointment. 
I had to sign in on a sticker on a clipboard when I arrived.
That sticker was removed before another arriving patient could see it.
I usually take my medical privacy for granted
and forget how different things were even a few years ago. 

Here was my father typing medical information 
about people he knew in that tiny place.
That's how my father discovered the medical record
of the Indian woman possessed of a Wintigo,
whose tragic story I shared in a recent post. 

Those remote nursing stations scattered across the North
may have operated with a rough-and-tumble casualness,
but they were no laughing matter.

Life was precarious in the far-flung First Nations villages,
and the presence of a nurse could mean life rather than death.

My Father Collecting Water Samples in the Bush
as He Works with Lansdowne House's Nurse
Photo by Mike O'Flaherty
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Just two days ago,
I found a sadly prescient letter of Father Ouimet's,
as I browsed through piles and piles of old papers.
He wrote to my parents in his terse English 
of the nursing station and community 
on December 18, 1982: 

"We lost our Nursing Station -
Government cutting on expenses.
The nurses moved to Fort Hope - 
but they keep a clinic over here -
coming every 2 weeks for 3 days.

"School still going - lots of kids in town.  
A few accidents - 
a girl 21 years old committed suicide 
(Tim W.'s daughter called Lynn).

"Another young fellow was drunk. 
Made too much fire - 
Burnt his home and himself on September 21/82.
He was 29 - Joe S.  Married with a wife and two young kids..."

The Best of Friends:  Father Ouimet with My Father
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Now Lansdowne House has the Rachael Bessie Sakanee Memorial Health Center.
It coordinates health care services through the community's newest nursing station, 
and it provides a variety of physical and mental health services,
including access to specialized medical care via videoconferencing.

From a single nurse with a shortwave radio 
to a nursing station and modern health center with videoconferencing, 
health care has dramatically changed in fifty years.

But all that change doesn't much matter
when someone commits suicide
or has a senseless, alcohol-fueled accident.  

There is still a long way to go to resolve
the complex health issues in the Canadian North.

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.  "Considering the curse and everything"
      My father was cursed by the grandmother of one of his Indian students:  TLL: Cursed.   

2.  "possessed of a wintigo"
     My father wrote of a mentally-deranged woman who lived and died tragically:  TLL: Cursed.

3.  Rachael Bessie Sakanee Memorial Health Center:  

For Map Lovers Like Me:

Location of Lansdowne House
Known Today as Neskantaga


  1. Another wonderful post! I would love to view those Northern Lights. I imagine it to be quite amazing filled with mystery. Health care a real problem in those far away places. Sadly, it still is today in many ways. I think your father's life truly was a journey quest. I cannot help wondering what he thought of in his private moments. I think it might have been hard to digest all that was going on around him. The hardships of the times.

    Have a great weekend!

    1. Hi, Truedessa! Thank yo so much! I would love for you to see the northern lights. I know you would connect with them on a deep level. Seeing them remains some of the most moving moments in my life. It's hard to find the words to describe their unearthly beauty and the way the shimmer and dance across the sky ~ and their buzzing and crackling. For decades scientists dismissed the reports of the noise they make. But I heard those noises as did my father. It's hard to think of a more wonder-filled time in my life than those times I watched the northern lights! Have a wonder-filled weekend!

  2. Another example off how kind and helpful your father was to others. How he longed for his own typewriter. Having to share with Uno was difficult.

    1. HI, Peggy! As you can probably tell, I've had another busy, busy week! You're right, Dad longed to have his own typewriter. I think frequently about how lucky I am. I have almost everything I want at my fingertips. It was much harder for earlier generations. My parents sacrificed so much to give me an amazing start in life.

      I don't care how saintly your roommate is, when you're stuck in a two-room shack, isolated in the Northern bush in winter, you're bound to get a little testy! From the moment I met Uno, I adored him. He was so much fun!!! I hope all is well with you and Don and little Sadie! I'll be over to catch up tomorrow! Sending you love and hugs!

  3. It is amazing how much better medical care is today due to technology. I am sure that those northern towns had their share of tragedy, but the transition from the north woods to the Hudson Bay Lowlands is a magical place (you also get large Rapids as the rivers leave the Candian Shield for the lowlands.

    1. Lucky you, Sage! You've gone canoeing on some of these magical waters! I long to see the North again. Although, I certainly don't miss all the flying critters, I was happy to see you pick up on the map ~ I spent a little time putting it together and thought probably no one will notice that transition between the forest and lowlands, but sometimes I just have to indulge in my own passions! Have a lovely weekend!

  4. What a difference from when your father was there. Can you imagine an accident with no one there to help?
    Your father typing medical records might not have been private, but it got done because there weren't all the restrictions we have these days. Something to be said for that...

    1. Hi Alex! Sometimes I think all the medical privacy stuff is a little overboard, but then I'm an open book. Having an accident, especially during freeze-up or break-up was pretty scary. And Mike blasted the hell out of my brother and me for crazy kid things we did ~ not understanding how bad it could be without access to a doctor and a hospital.

      Later on, when we were living in an Indian fish camp on Lac Seul, my sister Bertie got into our emergency medical kit ~ as a toddler, she climbed up on the counter and managed to drag the kit off a middle shelf in the cupboard. She found the emergency morphine and ate some of the pills. Mom and I walked her up and down the floor of our log cabin for over twenty-four hours keeping her awake. We were completely alone in the bush, and we walked, walked, walked. I can't remember where Fritz and John were (our Metis neighbors), but we were eight miles by boat (which we didn't have) from the nearest neighbor with a short wave radio radio. Fortunately Bertie survived; but I'll never forget it.

      I don't know how my mother handled being alone in Lansdowne House and Lac Seul with five young children ~ but then my mom was my most amazing person in the world! Have an awesome weekend!

  5. Dearest Louise,

    Your father was an amazing man. I think it is great that you have all these letters and memories. Thank you so much for sharing, and I really love the photo of your father and Father Ouimet.

    1. Hi, Dear Linda! I am blessed indeed to have these letters, and working with them makes me feel very close to my father whom I miss dreadfully. I miss my mom just as much. I would give anything in this world (except Terry) to hug them again. But I don't have to explain ~ you understand exactly what I'm feeling!

      I love that photo of Dad and Father Ouimet ~ it's the only one!!! I'm definitely not Roman Catholic, but when I'm especially down, I think of Father Ouimet and I say the words he wrote to me: "God Bless you, dear Louise. Love, Maurice." It's funny, but whenever I think of those words, I can feel God's grace and comfort. Wishing you a lovely weekend, and sending you hugs and much love!

  6. Medicine has come a long long way indeed, but yeah, can't help everything. Neat how he typed up letters for others, knew how to spin words. Even if I had no back space I'd still have to use a type writer, mistakes and all, as my hand writing is awful lol

    1. LOL! I taught handwriting. Pat, to hundreds of children! One of my good friends is a graphologist, and she has quite a reputation here and abroad. She and I regularly bemoan the loss of cursive skills in this modern world! But time marches on, and so does progress! Awful handwriting or not, you communicate very well, and you have published 100 books! Amazing, my friend! have an awesome weekend!

  7. looking at a larger map, were there any other places like Lansdowne House, with wonderful people like your Dad there all those years ago? All modern technology we have today, and health care is still so important. Love the way your Dad waited for his turn to type. Guess you are turning to winter mode up North, down here, spring bulbs blooming, some late snow and frosts, and having coffee by the fire right now.7 a.m. and full daylight.

    1. Coffee by the fire at 7:00 am sounds delightful, Jean! Yes, we are contemplating winter. Terry is desperate to avoid it. After Victoria, we are going house hunting in Vegas and Phoenix. Could be a move in our very near future. Me? I love the snow!

      As for wonderful people in the North ~ I've found them everywhere I've gone. I think that a great many ordinary people are amazing. That's why I love to hear their stories. I think of your mum and dad and you and Hugh, and I am inspired. The encouraging thing about humanity is that there are so many good and decent people everywhere trying to make the world a little better, even if it is as simple as taking in a tiny ginger cat and giving it a loving home. We can't all do BIG things, but many, many of us doing small things can change the world for better! Sending you hugs and love and hoping you are feeling better!

  8. I always love these posts! Your father sounded such an amazing person!

    1. Thank you, dear Kezzie! You always brighten my world! Sending you a big hug!

  9. Yes we have a long way to go, Louise. But fortunately our 'new' Liberal government has taken the proverbial 'bull by the horns' and is making a valiant attempt to make a difference with our aboriginal peoples. It will take time....especially considering how long this neglect has been going on.
    Your father really made a difference I am learning through these letters. I love how everyone pitched in beyond the call of duty to make things work and function as best they can given what they had to work with.
    He may have known 'private things' about everyone else but that's what made it work back takes a village.
    Have a great week, Louise.

    1. Thanks for your wise words, Jim! I am very encouraged by what I've heard about Trudeau. btw, Terry and I are going to be in Victoria for the next month ~ and Will and Kate are coming too!!! I'm hoping to catch a glimpse of them and maybe even Justin too!

      btw Martha replied below, and I think that you mistook her for me!

      I saw "K-19 The Widowmaker" last night. It caught my eye on the movie choices because it was filmed by National Geographic AND starred Harrison Ford. I was watching this "Russian" sub head out to sea and thought, "Boy, that makes me think of Halifax." Well, it was Halifax! Turns out the movie was partially filmed there. Perhaps you and Ron saw that movie. I really enjoyed it, although I'm a sucker for submarine movies.

      Have a great week, too!

  10. We have come a long way and we still have a very long way to go. There is always room for improvement. From all these posts I've read, your father sounds like such a wonderful soul. I imagine you must be so proud!

    1. We saw my father Thursday and he is very well. He is a wonderful soul, Louise. Not many people live to they are 100 and can still carry on a conversation with you about anything. i really don't understand how he did it.....his life was extremely difficult as a child and my mother was ill most of her 87 years. He is special.
      Maybe you will meet him during your next visit.

    2. Hi, MARTHA and JIM! I think something crossed wires here! LOL I am proud of my dad; and from all the posts I've read about your Pops, Jim, he's an amazing person too! And yes, I would dearly love to meet your dad the next time I'm in Halifax! I hope you both have a great week!

  11. The pictures made me cold, but what a lovely couple letters. I remember the days of handwriting everything. I think that would drive me crazy--mostly because I'm notorious for missing one little thing and having to start over again.


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