Friday, September 2, 2016

The Lansdowne Letters: Teaching the Non-English Speaking Student

I've spent a lot of time since I retired from elementary teaching
thinking about my father as a teacher and a principal.
In Lansdowne House over fifty years ago,
he was intuitively doing many of the things
ELA teachers do today, but with no training or direction.
He was a gifted and a forward thinking teacher.

I say this, not because I'm his daughter,
but because I've worked with hundreds of students
over my teaching career who were ELA
or English language Acquisition students.

I've been trained in strategies and techniques
that I experienced him using as his student
in Lansdowne House so many years ago.

He did everything he could to help his Indian students learn,
even going so far as to put my four-year-old sister Barbie
in kindergarten with his youngest Indian children,
so that she could model and explain in her way what to do.

Donnie, Bertie, and Barbie (right)
A Few Months Before Going North
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada, 1960 
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Not that that always worked the way he had hoped,
because Barbie was strong-willed and a scamp.
My most vivid memory of her in Dad's classroom 
(aside from the fact that the Indian girls adored her)
was her stuffing an eraser up her nose
and having to be rushed across the field to the nursing station
so Mike could extract the eraser.

On Wednesday, January 18, 1961 
My father wrote to his extended family:

Hi There:
I hope you are ready for the daily blurb, because here it comes.  
It will be a short one though, for Uno wants to use his machine, 
and I don’t feel too well.  
Hope the old girl’s curse isn’t starting to work.  

I will be so glad when my typewriter gets up here, 
so I don’t have to use Uno’s any more.  I
feel guilty, and besides, there are often times 
when I feel like typing and Uno is using the machine.

My One Photo of Dad and Uno together
with Baby Duncan
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada, 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

It is awfully hard to teach children when they only understand
about a third of what you are saying to them.
I nearly drove myself up the wall today trying to teach one
of my beginners to recognize the largest of a series of numbers and to mark it.

I just couldn’t get it across to her what I meant by big and small.
I finally got it across by using about three sheets of foolscap
and putting down about twenty-five series of numbers.  

Alongside each number, I would put a group of dots corresponding to the number.
After I finished each series, I would count the dots after each number
and cross out the number having the largest group of dots.

After each series, I’d draw another series and see if she could do it;
and if she couldn’t do it, I’d repeat the whole process.
She finally caught on to it at the twenty-third series of numbers.
By this time I was really seeing dots before my eyes.  

I wonder how many series I’ll have to draw next week when I
attempt to teach her to recognize and mark the smallest number.

Some of My Father's Younger Girls
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada, 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The weather is quite cold today.  
It was about 34 below 
when I was passing the nursing station.

When I went down to the water hole, 
there was about two or three inches of ice.
This formed in only about 18 hours.  

Oh yes, as I was drawing the water out of the hole, 
I spilled another half bucket down my right overshoe again.  
I’ll have to figure some way to stop that, 
because it is down right uncomfortable.

I weighed myself today, and while I’m not making any 
spectacular progress, I am holding my own.  I
haven’t reached my goal of 190 pounds yet, 
but I have only two pounds to go.  That’s not too bad – 
239 to 192 in about three and a half months.  

I have been up here longer than that, 
but I have only been working on losing weight 
for about the time mentioned.  
Nothing I own fits me now.  
Maureen will have a large job taking in my pants.  
I have lost about five inches or more in the waist.

Well, I must sign off now, 
as Uno is getting impatient
to use the machine.
Bye now,
Love, Don.

Dad Typing His Lansdowne Letters
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada, 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Lansdowne House was not the only place
I was fortunate to have my father as my teacher and principal.
He was my principal throughout high school,
and my home-room teacher my senior year
when he taught me history, economics, and current affairs.

He was also the Supervising Principal of Indian Schools
when I lived in Sioux Lookout.
It was so odd to stand with my classmates 
and say, "Good morning, Mr. MacBeath,"
when he came to observe my teacher Mr. Keast
working with my Indian classmates.

I've had a lot of teachers and professors over the years.
To me, my father was always the best of the bunch.

My Favorite Teacher and I 
at My Graduation
Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, 1971
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

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


1.   Mike Flaherty:
      Mike was the nurse at the nursing station in Lansdowne House,
      and he provided basic medical services for the White and Ojibway people
      who lived in the community.

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.   34 Below:  -33º F. = -36.6º C.
4.  Weight Conversions:
      190 pounds =   86.1 kilograms
          2 pounds =     0.9 kilograms
      239 pounds = 108.4 kilograms
      192 pounds =   87.0 kilograms

5.  Inches to Centimeters:
     2-3 inches =  5-7.6 centimeters
        5 inches = 12.7 centimeters

6.  Maureen McRae:
     Maureen was the wife of my father's best friend Duncan who worked for the Department
     of Transport in Lansdowne House.  She sometimes helped out Uno and my father who rented a
     small cabin at the Roman Catholic mission in Lansdowne House by sewing for them.
     Maureen and Duncan were the parents of Baby Duncan.


For Map Lovers Like Me:
Location of Neskantaga (Lansdowne House)
Human Rights Watch Report on the Safe Water Crisis 
in First Nations Communities in Ontario


  1. That you enjoyed having your father as your teacher in high school is amazing. You two must've had a great relationship.
    She stuffed an eraser up her nose. You can't make stuff up like that, can you?

    1. Having my father as my teacher and principal was one of the best experiences of my life. It wasn't always easy with my peers, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat! My sister Barb (who grits her teeth, if I forget and call her Barbie, haha) has done a lot of unbelievable things over the years, proving the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction. Have a great holiday weekend! Our leaves are already turning here!!!

  2. Calm, serene and untouched natural beauty define Lansdowne. The nearest hill-station from Delhi, Lansdowne is an ideal retreat destination, away from the maddening crowds and pollution of city life. Before planning a trip, do check out weather in Lansdowne and plan accordingly.

    1. Hi, Anjali! How much fun it was to find your comment this morning and to learn about another Lansdowne with Indians on the other side of the world! I have heard of the beauty of India's hill-stations, and I know that my Lansdowne with Oji-Cree people must be very different from yours, but beautiful in its own way. Thank you for sharing. Have a great weekend!

  3. What a great picture of you and your dad at graduation.How proud he must have been of you, especially knowing that you were going to be a teacher like him. I had an important educator in my life too. My neighbor who was the principal at my elementary school. He eventually taught at the college I went to and I took classes from him. He is the one who encouraged me to go back to college after I had to quit to take care of my family who had been in an accident. I am forever in his debt.

    1. Thanks, Peggy! I love that picture of Dad and me, even if I had that 60s hair covering half my face and I looked a little wan after the pre-graduation celebrating the night before! Thank you for sharing the anecdote about your inspiring elementary principal. What a loss it would have been to so many students if you had not become a teacher! It's hard to quit university to care for family and then get back into school. Kudos to you for doing so, and kudos to that inspiring, encouraging mentor in your life. Happy Labor Day weekend!

  4. lol did she just want to see if she could make it fit?

    I think I'd find it neat and a tad weird to have a parent as a teacher. He sure went the extra mile indeed.

    1. Lord knows what my sister was thinking, Pat. Maybe it was a dare! She could find trouble, and trouble could find her! It was neat and weird to have Dad as a teacher; but doubly neat and weird, because I also had my mother as a teacher too. She was my homeroom teacher in grade nine and taught me Language, Literature, and Geography in high school. Mom was a wonderful teacher too, but she didn't have the marvelous sense of humor that permeated my father's teaching style. Have a great day at your bay!

  5. That's a lovely grad photo of you and your Dad.

    My Mom did not speak any English when she started school in Saskatchewan during the Depression. Her family had emigrated from Switzerland and spoke only German at home. So she had to pick up English at school. She hated teachers and school from that experience.

    1. Thanks, Debra! Thanks for sharing the story about your mother's experiences. I can imagine how traumatic her beginning experiences in school must have been. One of my friends is an ELA teacher who fled from Hungary with her family in 1956. She landed in school in Denver speaking no English and was placed in special education classes, although she was very smart. She sometimes talks about what a horrible experience that was. It's surprising how much resilience some people have, like your mother and my friend. They rise above difficult challenges and achieve meaningful lives.

      btw, I'm reading a novel right now. It's set in Great Falls, Montana and in the fictional towns of Partreau and Fort Royal, Saskatchewan in 1960. It's quite a yarn, but with a detailed setting that gives you a real feeling of place. Those people had to be tough and resilient!

      Have a good one, my friend!

  6. Your dad was a wise man. What an excellent teacher. I worked with some college students for whom English was a second language. When they had to write essays, they often didn't understand that they couldn't simply copy what the found in a book.


    1. Hi, Janie! How lovely to hear from you! I hope that you are enjoying a great Labor Day weekend. I tutored MBA students at Cal State Fullerton many years ago. They could speak English just fine, but they sure didn't like grammar! LOL! Have a good one!

  7. Louise, your father was a wonderful man! I love your graduation photo, you both look amazing! Your post reminds me of this...I know a family that came here to Montreal to live and work. They are from Egypt and came here in 2007. Since they were next door neighbours at the time I got to know them quite well. They have (who was then) a 6 year old daughter, now 15! They asked me if I would teach her English, as she only knew Arabic when they first came here, and she went to a French school, so she had learned French. They paid me to spend time with and teach her English and I did this happily! She is now trilingual, going to high school and plays the piano so well! :)

    1. Hi dear Linda! Thank you for the kind words! You must have gotten a great deal of satisfaction from helping this young Egyptian student! Have you ever thought about doing more of that? I would love to be trilingual ~ but I'm monolingual. I do want to take up studying French again. If I ever get through organizing all my papers and photos, I'll have time to add some language study into my day. I hope that you have enjoyed this Labor Day weekend! Sending you a big hug and lots of love!

  8. I think as adults we all realise what talents our parents had, and passed on to us. My Dad was so able with words, without the advantage of a high school education, the college was too far, his family could not afford to send him several hours away and pay board. My Mum was a, so called then, "Mental Nurse" and graduated with top marks throughout all of New Zealand. I inherited her sewing skills, her love of reading, and also a wonderful way of writing, not sure of mine is as good? my Dad's way with words, and their sense of values, and am so thankful for all these.Both your parents made huge sacrifices, and for your Dad to be at your graduation, would have been such a delight and he would have been so proud.

    1. You're so right, Jean! We have to become adults to fully realize how much our parents passed on to us. It must have been very difficult for your father to not be able to go to university, especially when he was gifted with words. So many intelligent, talented people never got the opportunity to pursue higher education. And your mum was obviously intelligent and capable too!

      I acquired a love of English and writing from both my parents. I've written so much more about my father, but that's largely because I have so many of his letters. My mother is the most incredible person I've ever known. She was writing stories when she was pregnant with me, and she encouraged me to write and to do so many other things throughout my life. I miss both of my parents all the time!

      Hugs and love to you and Hugh and ear scratches to the kitties!

  9. This is soo cool. I have been teaching english for a long time but to kids and it's super rewarding :)

    1. Thanks for stopping and commenting, THSGG! Teaching is a wonderful way to spend your life. I taught young children for 25 years and loved it so much! Have a good one!

  10. Love that graduation photo!!! Your father's teaching and being a principal reminded me of my educator mother's experiences in the depressed coal mining area in West Virginia about 60 years ago, but she had different hardships which weren't as severe as your dad's. The local elementary school's principal had quit his job right before the new school year was to begin, and a replacement couldn't be found. My mother, who was teaching 4th grade at that school, volunteered at the last minute to fill in as the new principal for that school year AND teach 4th grade at the same time! Plus she had a 16-year-old student in her class who was a challenge on many levels. (There were no special programs way back then to help support individual student needs.) I'll never forget how hard she worked at school and after hours at home and how much my sister and I missed having her attention the way we were accustomed to. So . . . I can sort of empathize with your dad's enormous, but important, job and your family's sacrifices as a result.

    1. Hi, Susan! Thanks for sharing about your mother's experience! My father combined teaching and being a principal for many years. Each position is tough enough on its own. Your mother was certainly a dedicated educator, and I can relate to how you felt about missing her attention! So many people who are not in education don't understand how hard educators work and how much they care about their students. We may have less of our parents' attention if they are educators, but we certainly learn a lot observing them as they work. I hope that you have enjoyed this lovely weekend, Susan! Sending you a big hug and lots of love!

  11. I always find these stories so amazing. Your father taught with a heart of compassion. A truly amazing journey and I am glad you have taken the time to share his story and yours. I have been to the reserve in Ontario. I had a wonderful day with friends.

    Have a wonderful weekend.

    1. ps - I can see the love beaming in the graduation picture.

    2. Hi, Trudessa! Thank you for your encouraging words! I have been having the best weekend, although I'm behind on my blogging. I hope that you have enjoyed your Labor Day weekend too! I don't think I'd have the courage to keep working on my Northern posts and memoir if it weren't for the wonderful people like you that I've met through blogging! Have a good one!

  12. That was quite a challenge for your dad! I can't imagine how much patience was needed. I love the photo of the two of you. He looks so proud in it, and I'm sure he was. How did you end up with all these letters from your father? I'm not sure if you've mentioned it somewhere along the way; I honestly don't remember!

    1. Thanks, Martha! In the beginning of his time in the North, my father had his mother and other family members saving his letters. He originally planned to write some magazine articles about his experiences teaching in the North. Then something happened that really changed that goal of his and impacted me profoundly. The unexpected event that the two of us shared is coming up chronologically, and it is the pivotal event that made me determined to share my family's northern story in a memoir.

      I'm a saver of letters and photographs, and I have hundreds and hundreds from my father, mother, grandmothers, friends, siblings. I'm slowly organizing them, but OMG what a job! I'm going to write this best seller (LOL) and gift the papers somewhere where they will be preserved.

      I certainly hope that you and George have had the best Labor Day weekend! Sending you a big hug!

  13. Wow, that's a lot of weight to lose in the winter when I would think you wouldn't be very active. I love these interesting insights into a world that I doubt exists.

    1. You're right, Sage. This world no longer exists which is why I'm sharing these letters and preserving the history of that time and place. My greatest worry is that I'll run out of life before I accomplish what I'm trying to do.

      Living in the North was physically grueling, and it was easier to watch one's calories there. My father was snowshoeing across the frozen lake to and from school twice a day. He was also hauling water, pumping fuel, carrying wood, and lugging everything around by foot. There were only two people in the village who had a ski do ~ which I'll be writing about in a future post. My father definitely was not one of them. There was no place to get food other than at the Hudson's Bay post or at the Indian co-op besides what you had flown in for yourself from an outside store in Nakina. No alcohol, no lattes, no restaurants ~ a lot less temptation. Hummm! I should head North! LOL I hope you've had an awesome weekend!

  14. Louise, how sweet is this?! Your dad would be SO proud of you now as he was back then!!
    I had to laugh out loud when he was describing the way he taught that little girl 'small to large'!! And the dots!! He must have had a good sense of humour! He truly needed one to do what he was doing!!
    Thanks for this as always.
    Great job.

  15. Loved this post, Louise. You sure were lucky to have the example your father set as a teacher and a good person. So much patience, which is, of course, the hallmark of good teaching. Is Barbie still a scamp?

    1. Yes, Barbie still is a scamp! She will always be a scamp! I'm very grateful that I had my father as a teacher! Have a great evening!

  16. Really Louise! Really!! you had to tell the eraser story didn't you ha, ha. That is the second time in one week I had to hear about the eraser up my nose. Great post and really demonstrates what a wonderful teacher Dad was. I just spent a week in Wesport NFLD where so many people told me stories about how wonderful Dada was as a teacher - he sure impacted a lot of lives. Hugs your sister Barbie

    1. Hugs back at you, LOL! You know, Barbie, some experiences have lifelong consequences ~ especially when you have sisters with long memories! I would have loved to hear the Westporter stories about Dad. He was loved and remembered by his students and their families wherever he taught. I miss Dad and Mom so much! Burn up those trails in Nova Scotia! sure glad that I don't have to tackle Cape Split right now!


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