Friday, September 16, 2016

The Lansdowne Letters: It's a Go!!!

Well, here I am, temporarily writing from a new place,
smaller than my father's shack in Lansdowne House,
but with many more amenities than his fifty plus years ago:
Starting with awesome communication and hot running water!

Helm's Inn
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
September 15, 2016
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

In addition to the usual edition of his Lansdowne Letters,
my father sometimes wrote additional letters beyond his regular circle,
like to his cousins in Prince Edward Island.
This is one such letter ~
Forgive me if it includes some things written about in previous letters ~
But I've been traveling, plus celebrating our arrival in Victoria
with pizza and drinks at the Sticky Wicket ~
so this is the best I can do tonight!

Our Substitute for Parkway Bar and Grill
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
September 15, 2016
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

And it revealed something about Father Ouimet that I had long forgotten.
Father Ouimet was an iconic figure in my life,
and I will love and admire him always. 

Saturday, January 21, 1961
My father wrote a group letter to several of his cousins:

Hi There:
It has been quite some time some time since I have been doing any writing to you.
The typewriter went on the fritz just as freeze-up started,
and I just received the necessary replacement parts about two weeks ago.
I have spent the ensuing two weeks catching up some
very pressing official correspondence that I had to attend to.

During the time I was without a typewriter,
I confined my letter writing to Sara, Mother, Sara’s mother, and Aunt Maude.

The reason for writing to the first on the list should be obvious
and to the second should be understandable.
As for the third, I am one of those lucky and unusual characters
that is on good relations with my mother-in-law.
Besides, I enjoy writing to and receiving letters from Mrs. MacDonald.

I see that I am still suffering from hoof and mouth disease
(every time I open my mouth, I put my foot in it),
for I have inferred that I don’t like writing to
and receiving letters from you, which is not the truth.
The thing I am trying to say is that Mrs. MacDonald is really
a member of my immediate family, like my mother.

Oh hell, let’s drop this subject - 
I really shouldn’t have started it in the first place.
I think you all know what I am trying to say anyway.

As for writing to Aunt Maude, she has been very sick,
and letters are as beneficial to her as medicine.

I think that the big news in the MacBeath family
is that we are going to be reunited in the near future.
Sara and the children are coming up to Lansdowne House
to join me on 18 Feb 61.

I have managed to secure permission to occupy a house at Lansdowne House
which belongs to the Department of Lands and Forests.  It is small, but adequate.
It has two bedrooms, a nice kitchen and living room, and a bathroom.
It is completely furnished, including a propane range,
a kerosene fridge, and a gasoline washing machine in the kitchen.

The Forestry Shack
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
Sketch by Maureen McRae
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I don’t have to pay any rent for it,
and the Department of Indian Affairs will supply the oil for the furnace.
The only thing I will have to pay for is the cost of the propane gas,
which should come to about $15.00 a month.

The house has no electricity or running water,
but I have arranged to get a line run over from the nursing station.
This will give me 110-volt power in the living room.
I should be able to use an electric kettle, iron, and a tri-light.

I’m wrong about the running water.
It does have running water – whenever I run to the lake after some.
However, everybody in Lansdowne House is in the same boat.
When they build my new teacherage next summer,
there will be running water and electricity.
There will also be three bedrooms in the house.

Incidentally, I like this place so much that
I’m going to stay up here for several winters.
I had a visit from the school inspector,
and he was most pleased with my work.
He said that I was a very successful Indian teacher,
and he would be delighted to have me stay
at Lansdowne House for as long as I wish to stay.

He told me that he has visited all the schools in his district
and that my pupils have made a showing equal to all of them,
and better than most.  He also told me that my pupils were speaking
more and better English than most of the schools in his district.

Freeze-up was quite an experience for me.  
It was the first time that I had ever been cut off from civilization,
and cut off we were.
The only way I could have gotten out during freeze-up
would have been by dog team.
It would have meant a trip of over 150 miles
and would have taken over a week.  

I never saw water freeze over so quickly in my life as it did up here.
On a Saturday afternoon or late evening around the first of November,
I went across from the island to the mainland and back in a canoe,
and on the following Monday morning, I walked across the same stretch of water.
And I didn’t venture across till I saw a rather heavy Indian
cross it with a four-dog team and a heavily laden sleigh.
Most of the Indians were walking across on Sunday night.

I suppose that with a rapid freeze like this, you are wondering
why the freeze-up last for four or five weeks.
It is all on account of the airplanes.
They have to have either open water or nine inches of ice to land on.

It only requires two inches to support a man walking.
The first two or three inches form very rapidly,
but as the ice gets thicker, new ice forms more slowly.
Snow, of which we had several heavy falls,
also hinders the formation of ice.
We had a week of just perfect skating up here before the snow came.
All the whites, except Bill Mitchell who is an old country Scot
who never learned to skate, were out trying out their skills.

These skating skills ranged
all the way from mine,
which is almost non-existing
to the Father’s.

The Father had a chance,
before he became a priest,
to become a professional hockey player
with an N.H.L. team.

Father Maurice Ouimet
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

However in spite of my limited ability, I enjoyed myself a whole lot.
One afternoon, after school, I skated about five miles
down the lake and back.  It was wonderful.
There was no wind and the temperature was about five below.
It was just a perfect day to be alive.

A couple of paragraphs back I mentioned a dog team;
and now, I would like to relate to you something very funny
that I saw involving one poor Indian and his dog team.

This dog team was evidently just newly broken to the sleigh,
or the Indian was inexperienced at handling a team.
For sure, as you will shortly see, there was something amiss.

I watched the Indian load his team at the co-op store
on the island and head his team toward the lake.
Between the store and the lake there are twelve trees,
and each dog investigated each tree.
This made for 48 stops before they hit the ice.  

After they got out on the ice, each dog decided to defecate,
and each one did it at a different time.  This meant four more stops.  
After this, there were a couple of more stops,
caused I think, by fights among the dogs.

The Indian must have been pretty exasperated by this time,
but when the team got up by my school, real disaster struck,
in the form of a female dog in heat
who happened to cross the path of the team.
The team must have been composed of young healthy males,
for the whole shebang took off hell-a-whooping after this poor little female.  

The Indian 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 deepest part of the bush -
dogs, sleigh, Indian, and everything.

I heard later that it was several days before that poor Indian
finally got his team rounded up, his sleigh repaired,
and was able to resume his trip to the traplines.

Dog Team Running on the Ice

I was quite amused watching an Indian training a young dog to the sleigh the other day.
The pup didn’t take too kindly to the whole thing,
and the Indian had one hell of a time getting him hitched in the team.
The Indian hitched him in the middle of an experienced team.
The pup was quite stubborn though and lay on his back
and stuck all four paws straight up in the air.
This didn’t hold up the team though, and they started off
at a real fast clip and dragged the pup about a half a mile on his back
before he managed to get his feet under him.

That cured him of that habit right quick.
For although he still runs away if he sees the Indian coming with the harness,
once he is in the team he behaves himself and pulls his share of the load.

I have not managed as yet, to drive a dog team,
but I have hopes of accomplishing this feat before too long.
When I do, I’ll let you all know about it.

I have, however, had my initiation on snowshoes,
and find that they are a novel means of locomotion to say the least.

Novel Locomotion
Dad on Snowshoes
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, 1961
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I went out one Sunday with the nurse (male)
and one of the DOT boys taking water samples.
We only walked about five miles on snowshoes,
and although the temperature was 25 below,
I was soaked with perspiration by the time the afternoon was over.
I happened to weight myself before the trip started and after it was over.
I lost three pounds through perspiring.

Talking about weight, I have lost over forty pounds since I came to Lansdowne House.
I weighed 239 pounds when I arrived here, and I only weigh 192 pounds now.
Not bad, eh?  I feel an awful lot better for it.

Well, I guess I have to sign off now and write a letter to Sara.
This has been one of my multiple letters (three copies),
and I hope the people who get the carbon copies can make them out.
I am including a map of Lansdowne House with this letter.
It is only a rough map, but the proportions are fairly good.
It should give you some idea of our fair community.

Bye now,
Love, Don.

Hi Don and Anna:  
Hope you can make out this carbon copy.
I do believe that my typing is improving, eh what?

Winter Night, Hudson Bay Lowlands 
Flickr:  J.H.   License

I think the main reason I used this "summary-of-past-events" letter
my father wrote to his cousins is because of his mention
of Father Ouimet's skating abilities and his path not taken
to a career as a professional hockey player.  
This was a new piece to the "mystery" of Father Ouimet, 
for I had not read this letter before.

I've never understood the concept of being called to serve God,
not having experienced that pull myself.
I simply accept that some people have this powerful feeling
that overrides so many things most of us can't imagine living without.
The more I learn about Father Ouimet, the more I am intrigued by him.  
I wish I could talk to him and ask him about what compelled him
to devote his life to a small Indian community in a very remote place, 

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Not on the Bay of Fundy!
Victoria, Brisitsh Columbia Canada
September 15, 2016
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

For Map Lovers Like Me:

Location of Lansdowne House
Known Today as Neskantaga

One of My Father's Sketched Maps of Lansdowne House
#15 is the location of our future home in the forestry shack.
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, 1961
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue

All Rights Reserved


  1. Oh My, I have read it all, and as it is late, for me anyway, I'll read it all over again tomorrow, Enjoy wherever you are, internet and hot running water, guess that means electricity too, that's all a girl needs to be happy. Loved your Dad's writing.

    1. Oh thank you, Jean! And I'm so glad that you loved my dad's writing! Electricity is definitely a plus! This girl's got to have her curling iron, even if her curls fall out in humid Victoria!

      You honor me by saying you'll reread Dad's letter. It was long, but it was next in the series, and it contained that surprising fact about Father Ouimet ~ So I went with it. Besides, I was too tired from traveling Wednesday, walking for miles all over Beacon Hill Park and the Dallas Road Waterfront Trail, and watching the New York Jets/Buffalo Bills game at the Sticky Wicket yesterday to figure out if and how to shorten it. You're probably thinking, "She's still too tired to condense her comment!" LOL True!!!

      So I'll stop and say have a wonderful day! Sending you and Hugh big hugs and well wishes!

  2. The Father could have been a pro hockey player? Wow, now that is following the call of God completely.
    Two bedrooms for many people and no running water. I can't imagine living like that. And yet I bet you have many fond memories of that time.
    Safe travels!

    1. Hi, Alex! You picked up on why I included this letter in the chronology. It was because of Father Ouimet's powerful call to serve as an Oblate missionary in the remote north.

      Unfortunately I was too tired last night to even come up with my ending "bookend" for my post. But I woke up this morning with the ending words running through my head and went straight to my computer to add them. One of these days I'm going to get ahead enough not to be on the edge of disaster most weeks! I'll finally channel my inner Pat Hatt, although it will be a weaker version!!! Eight or so months ahead just isn't me!

      Oh yes I have fond memories of living in the forestry shack. We five children were crammed into two sets of bunkbeds in the smaller bedroom: Roy and I had opposite top bunks, Donnie was below me, and Barbie and Bertie shared the one below Roy. I could reach out and touch the edge of Roy's bunk from mine.

      As for Dad's remark about running to the lake for water ~ Ha! That lasted long enough for Dad to realize Roy and I could do it. But Roy was often sick (Mastoiditis) until he had an operation in Sioux Lookout the following year, so I did a lot of the running. Can't forget my determined four-year-old Barbie who often accompanied me on her short little legs with a little pot to help carry me water!

      We are now comfortably tucked into our tiny "suite" in Helm's Inn in Victoria and enjoying all things "Victorian!" But the mammoth exhibit at the Royal BC Museum just across the parking lot is calling to me. Tomorrow it's going to rain, and I'm headed right for that exhibit.

      Oh my ~ I love listening to Canada's Business News Network. Right now the commodities anchor, Andrew Bell, is talking to Philip Metzger of the University of Central Florida about mining in space ~ the future you and I imagine in our scifi dreams WILL happen! We just don't get this type of thorough commodities discussion on US networks ~ warms this geologist's heart!

      Have a good one!

  3. Enjoy your time in Victoria. I continue to enjoy your father's letters.

    1. Thanks, Sage! I'm really happy that you find my father's letters enjoyable. It's comments like that that keep me moving forward and believing in my memoir. Certainly I want to preserve my father's "history" of a turning point time in the Canadian north. Have a great weekend!

  4. Hey, I was at the Sticky Wicket pub the last time I was in Victoria! Enjoy your time in that beautiful city!

    1. I love Victoria, Debra! We enjoyed our month in the city so much last September that we returned this year ~ of course it helps to have Helm's Inn to stay at (which is kitty-corner to Beacon Hill Park at the corner of Superior and Douglas).

      I love the Sticky Wicket! Its Thursday night pizza special and its NFL games draw us. And of course, we'll be there to watch the Broncos play the Colts on Sunday ~ while trying to ignore the Seahawks on the really big screen! That's the team the locals usually cheer for and the team Broncos fans love to hate. That said, the locals were very welcoming to these Broncos fans last fall.

      But then Victoria has lots of great restaurants and pubs, so we'll be exploring a number of them. Have you ever been to the BC Legislative Dining Room at the parliamentary building? It's a great place for a relaxing meal! And the service is wonderful (so are the cheese scones)!

      Have a great weekend with your Rare One!

    2. No, I've never eaten there but I will make a point of doing so next time on your recommendation! We had High Tea at the Empress though, LOL! Hey, do you know where that wax museum used to be on the waterfront kind of kitty-corner from the Legislature? Now it's become an art museum of Canada's greatest nature artist, Robert Bateman. I'm dying to see it next time we're in Victoria! Oh, this whole post of yours just makes me want to get back to Victoria again! Have fun while you're there! FAN TAN ALLEY!

    3. Robert Bateman?!!! I'm going to hunt it down! And yes, I've been to Fan Tan Alley, and I will go back! and when my sister Donnie and her husband join us, I'm going to get Donnie to go with me for High Tea at the Empress ~ not Terry's cup of tea! LOL

  5. had to laugh at the running water remark. Not having it would sure make me run away. That's great his class was above the rest too. Hope you are enjoying your vacation away from your zoo.

    1. I'd probably run away now too, Pat! Somehow carrying water doesn't see as adventurous as it once did. I am loving being in Victoria, and I'm planning on getting some good writing in. Lord, I'm retired, and I still have to get out of Dodge to kick back! LOL! I'll probably never change!

      Have a great weekend!

  6. I love your home away from home, Louise! :) I hope you are having a great time. And I love your photos, I love to see hotels, store fronts and such from various parts of the world! Enjoy your time, my cherished friend. :) And I, too, had a chuckle at the running water comment. LOL! :)

    1. Hi, dear Linda! I plan on getting back to some non-Northern posts while I'm here, and I will be sure to include those hotels and store fronts. Victoria is a fascinating place! Sending you much love and a big hug!!! Enjoy your weekend!

  7. Love your father's sense of humour, Louise......'running water'!!
    I have often wondered what inspired/drew people to give their lives in the 'service of God'. Some believe it is their calling to do so, and others are/were encouraged from a young age. Not knowing Father Ouimet's background, I suspect he was from Quebec where, at the time, it was a very religious/Roman Catholic province and the 'call' to a be a priest or a nun was very strong and sometimes expected in most families. But who knows, eh? He does sound like an interesting character. Was he running from or running to something. You will figure it out I am sure!
    Enjoy Victoria and regards to Carol Carson when you see her and Bill.

    1. Hi, Jim! We just got back from having tea and goodies at Murchies Tea & Coffee. It's been in operation here in Victoria since 1894. Then we stopped by Munroe's Books, equally wonderful, right next door.

      Father Ouimet does hail from Quebec, but I can't remember from where off-hand, and my info is at home. That's always what happens ~ LOL

      Aren't you glad you weren't the designated "son for the church" in your family? That must have been a lot of pressure on a young boy.

      Have a great weekend!

  8. This was such a fun read. "Oh hell, let’s drop this subject..." HAHAHA Your dad had such a wonderful sense of humour. I imagine that really helped living in a remote area and under such difficulties at time. It seems he took things in stride. It sounds like Father Ouimet has his own intriguing story. Did you ever learn other things about him? His name is French. Was he originally from Quebec? I'd wonder, too, what led him to the path he took. Looking forward to the next post!

    Have a wonderful time in Victoria!

    1. Thanks, Martha! Dad did have an awesome sense of humor. And he could tell stories and jokes all night long ~ literally! And yes, Father Ouimet was originally from Quebec. I can't remember where exactly, but I have that information at home. I'll have some more interesting facts popping up here and there about him! So far it's been a blast in Victoria ~ Tonight we had our favorite chowder from Red Fish Blue Fish, a waterside restaurant with outdoor seating and a kitchen in an old cargo container! The time is already flying too fast! You and George have a great weekend too!

  9. Hello dear Louise,
    I have difficulties following your dad's adventures as I blog so little!
    But every time I read about him I am quite impressed with what he had to put up with.
    Father Ouimet is certainly quite character and I guess more than anything, passion drives most people, maybe God is not the only pull in his motivations.
    Many thanks for your very special comments, I really enjoy reading them :)
    Much love and take good care :)

  10. Does the TV cause noise when you are writing or do you like it?

  11. I read a couple of your posts, these letters are fascinating. I enjoyed the descriptions of the dog teams and training the young dog to pull, and how the team ran off after the female dog. Quite exciting.


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