Friday, October 7, 2016

The Lansdowne Letters: A Grandmother's Worries

Things were moving quickly as my family prepared
to travel North to Lansdowne House in February, 1961.

I don't remember all that my mother was doing
as she packed for our unknown adventure.
Nor do I remember her worrying about the trip
and Dad's delayed government paychecks.

Our Last Family Photo
Before Going North
Louise (with Bertie), Barbie,
Roy (with bean plant), and  Donnie (with Gretchen) 
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved 

I was ten years old and my imagination was on fire.
I was immersed in thoughts of living in the wilderness,
of Indians and snowshoes and wolves,
a priest and a brother (Just like in my history book!),
northern lights and bitter cold, ice holes and bush planes.
I was beside myself with anticipation.

The Wild North
Northern Ontario, 1923

But I was still a fifth grader in Smith's Cove,  
immersed in performing in a play,
writing my first lengthy story,
wrapping up my Red Cross project,
and memorizing Longfellow's The Wreck of the Hesperus

I was thrilled that we weren't leaving before Valentine's Day!
I had recently discovered boys,
and the romantic mystery of the legendary North 
was not my only romantic interest.

I was excited about whose valentines would land
in the valentine boxes we were crafting at school.
My poor mother, on top of everything else,
had to hunt down shoe boxes for the three of us in school ~
not to mention, help us make valentines.
Valentine's Day was not so commercial then.

Meanwhile, Dad's mother,
my Nana MacBeath in Charlottetown, P.E.I.,
was worrying about real and imaginary dangers
which Lansdowne House posed for her grandchildren.

I'm sure my Grammie MacDonald, in New York City, was equally worried;
but her letters surely fed the fire in the battered oil drum
at the edge of her field in Smith's Cove.

On Friday, February 3, 1961
My father wrote to his mother, Myrtle:

Dear Mother,
I can’t understand what may be happening to the letters I send to you.
I guess perhaps I had better just stick to the regular mail (after this letter),
for otherwise, I can just rely on the memory of the pilots
to mail the letters I send out with them.
I am inclined to suspect that a few have gotten lost,
or someone has mislaid them.

For instance, I thanked you for the snap you sent to me
in at least one, and I think two, different letters.
It was lovely, and I was glad to get it.
I have only one criticism.  It’s too posed.
I like them better when they are candid snaps.

I am sending you the negatives of the two island snaps
that you liked so much.  In fact, I’ll send you all the negatives.
You can develop what you want and return the negatives to me.
I wouldn’t mind you keeping the snaps,
if it wasn’t so hard to get copies of them up here.

I am sending two photos in this letter,
one of Uno and Brian Booth playing cribbage,
and one of Brian and me.
Both snaps are posed actually.
Brian is the clerk at the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Uno Manilla and Brian Booth
in the front room of the two-room shack Dad and Uno shared
Lansdowne House, Ontario, Canada
Photo by Don MacBeath, Winter 1961
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved 

The letter of Sunday, January 19th,
which just arrived today
is full of a lot of worries about the children,
so I’ll proceed to try to set your mind at ease.

First, regarding fires, there is no more danger from fire
in the forestry shack than in your apartment building.  

Less in fact, because the shack is equipped with a “Selkirk Chimney,"
which is a special type of insulated metal chimney designed especially
for use in wooden buildings in northern climates.

Also, there is a new oil burner and a new propane range.
Besides, if a fire ever did break out,
all the windows and doors are easy to get out of,
and all within three feet of the ground.
However, we won’t leave them alone in the shack.

My Father and Brian Booth
in the front room of the two-room shack Dad and Uno shared
Lansdowne House, Ontario, Canada
Photo by Uno Manilla, Winter 1961
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved 

About their education.
Naturally I don’t intend to keep them at the level of the Indians.
I intend to let them progress as rapidly as they are capable of doing,
with proper testing to see that they are learning everything.
And I won’t roar at them.  

I also plan to be a better father and give them more of my leisure time.
Togetherness is going to be the mantra of the MacBeath family.

Don’t worry about the water holes.
They are all covered by heavy covers.
Besides only the DOT water hole is large enough to fall into,
and it is protected by a shack with a locked door.

As for bad ice in the spring,
I promise to lay down very strict rules
regarding the ice at breakup and the lake in the summer,
if we are here.

Sara has instructions as to what to bring in the line of clothing.
Actually the real severe cold weather will be over 
or just about over by the time they arrive.
The winter is pretty well shot by the time March rolls around,
even if the ice hangs on in the lake till June,
and they won’t be arriving till 20 Feb.

I don’t see why the possibiity of visiting Lansdowne is too remote.
Aside from the flight in, which only takes 1¼ hours,
it would be no worse than coming to Alymer.
Besides, I thought you were adventuresome
and didn’t mind air plane trips.

Northern Bush Plane on Skis
Flickr:  James Tworow   License (Photo Edited)

I will write a letter to Mr. Mitton inquiring about
regular quarterly Sunday School papers and lessons,
and I plan to have family worship every Sunday.
The McRaes and the McMahons all do.
It should be a very rewarding experience for us.

I think that by and large,
the children should benefit from their northern experience.

Well, this is about all I have to say right now.
I am very busy at school and preparing for Sara’s arrival.
Both projects are progressing favorably.

My weight has been stationary for several weeks at 192,
but this week, darned if it hasn’t shot up to 195.
I am going to have to really struggle to keep it below 190 ~
in fact, to even get it down to that level.

I am afraid Dr. Leigh was correct when he told me
that I was a heifer, and there was really nothing I could do about it.

However, I am getting rid of the paunch pretty well,
and I won’t let that come back.
If I do get big again, at least I’ll be in good shape,
and I’ll be big like Grandpa Pratt or Uncle Alex, stout, but not fat.
However I am going to make a real effort to keep the weight down.

I have had to discontinue the Lansdowne Letter again,
as Uno’s typewriter is not working too well,
and I don’t like using it too much.

Besides, he has started using it more,
and I find it hard to get a chance to use it.
I am still waiting for mine.
Sara sent it to Yarmouth for an overhaul,
but it hasn’t come back from there yet.

Well, I must sign off now and get to bed. It is quite late,
and I have to get up early and pump oil into the school tanks.
I have 450 gallons to pump.

I have to have all the oil drums empty
in time to send them back on the next tractor train.
Pumping oil is a pain in the tail end.

It takes about 10 minutes to pump a drum, and I have ten drums.
However it is quite cold standing still just pumping,
and I have to go inside and get warm
(especially my feet) after every drum or two.
However it shouldn’t take me more than three hours
or 3½ hours to finish it.

Bye now,
Love, Don

An Early Tractor Train
Date and Location Unknown
Nor Can I Determine Copyright
Google   Source???  

I realized as I wrote my introduction to this post,
that I had reached a major turning point in our northern story.
My voice and memories are starting to overtake my dad's.

I smiled as I typed my father's words
because I know how things turned out
and how well his plans were realized.
He tried to predict what would happen,
but he was wrong on many points.
One shocking and unimaginable event for my parents 
was already gathering momentum and beyond their control.

Ten-Year Old, Grade Five Me
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved 

Meanwhile I remember that valentine box
covered with white construction paper, 
loaded with red valentines,
and sporting a pink cupid with a heart and arrow
and that all important slot into which valentines would fall.

remember standing in front of my schoolmates 
and wearing grownup clothes to perform in the play,
but nothing of what the play was about.

Most of all, I remember standing in my classroom
and dramatically reciting The Wreck of the Hesperus.
I was that frozen maiden lashed to a drifting mast,
my hair floating about me like seaweed on the waves.

At the height of my young infatuation
with daredevil Richard Halliburton and passionate Lord Byron,
I was ready for my first real adventure in the wild.  

He cut a rope from a broken spar, And bound her to the mast.

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.  Recitations:
     I went to school in a place and time when poetry recitation was still in vogue.
     In addition to reciting Longfellow's The Wreck of the Hesperus to my class (poem),
     I had previously recited Noyes' The Highwayman to them (poem).
     During my elementary teaching career, I occasionally assigned short poems to memorize
     as homework, something neither my students or parents embraced with enthusiasm.

2.  Adventuresome:
     Dad's mother had traveled to Europe and Morocco as a young, single woman.
3.  Mr. Mitton:
     In 1954 Rev. Harold Mitton became the pastor of Charlottetown Baptist Church which my family
     attended when we lived in Charlottetown from 1952 to 1956.

4.  Weight Conversions:
     190 pounds = 86.1 kilograms
     192 pounds = 87.0 kilograms
     195 pounds = 88.4 kilograms

5.  Liquid Capacity Conversion:
     450 Imperial (Canadian) gallons pounds = 2045 liters

6.  Tractor Trains:
      Drums of oil, heavy equipment, and large orders of food and other supplies were transported to
      remote places in Northern Ontario by tractor trains.  Bulldozers or "cats" hauled sleighs loaded
      with supplies across the frozen muskeg and lakes during the winter to reach these communities.
      I'm guessing that my father saw some of the last tractor trains, because they were already
      disappearing in the Canadian north, replaced by trucks traveling on winter ice roads.

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Location of Smith's Cove

Smith's Cove on the Annapolis Basin

Location of Lansdowne House
Known Today as Neskantaga


  1. As you head north, only natural your voice grows stronger, as you experienced it.
    Your father's mother was worried about a lot of things, wasn't she?

    1. Hi, Alex! Yes, my grandmother was a worrywart, and she had good reason to be because a lot of bad things could happen in such an isolated place. They hadn't even considered the Indian dogs
      and how eatable my youngest sister would look. Have a great weekend! Thanks for visiting!

  2. Can imagine she was worried about all the dangers, but he had an answer for everything haha way to be. Ugg to the drums, pumping that would sure be annoying.

    1. Hi, Pat! You're right. My father did have an answer for everything. He was brilliant at it, much to my consternation growing up. Pumping drums was no fun. I did my share of it ~ although it was in short spurts, usually pumping just enough furnace oil to get through the night. But, oh were empty oil drums fun to play with! Have a great weekend!

  3. I love all the photos here, Louise! And I so enjoy your posts. Seeing your photos and looking at the sofa with the blanket on it reminds me of days gone by. We didn't have much back then but we had all we needed, and we appreciated the little things. Sometimes the little things can be big things (such as love, kindness, helping one another), you get what I mean. And interestingly enough, these little things are the most important things, as they are the ones that last. I hope you have a great weekend, my cherished friend. Hugs. :)

    1. Thanks, Linda! I was tearing my hair out trying to find any new visual, so I really appreciate what you said about the photos! As you say, love, kindness, helping one another are far more important than anything material. In the end they are the only things that truly matter. Hugs back to you, dearest Linda!

  4. It's a shame children don't learn memorization today. It trains one's mind. When I was in high school, I had fifteen lengthy works memorized for piano competitions. My teacher was quite proud of me when I went from ten to fifteen. You were cute as a bug's ear and still are. Grandmas are worriers. My mother and mother-in-law fussed about everything. I am excited and afraid to learn what you and your family will encounter in your new home in the north.


    1. Thanks for your kind comment, JJ! I've been thinking of you as Matthew works its way up the coast. I do hope that you are doing well!! I absolutely agree with you: It is a shame that children don't learn to memorize. I think it is an important skill. Kudos to you for remembering all those musical scores. Wow! I'm really looking forward to sharing our story! Take care!

    2. We lost power for twelve hours and have a lot of small branches down. We got off easy.

    3. I'm glad to hear that you came through all right. Losing power for 12 hours is definitely no fun, but it's not live threatening! Take care!

  5. I, too, as an older parent, would be so worried about the unknown, the remoteness, the cold, the ice, and more. And the logistics of visiting. I read your Dad's words and imagine him sitting there typing away, sharing the typewriter, and standing there pumping the oil. No insulated boots in those days. Waiting for next Friday's instalment. p.s. down here it is spring, 5 C, and the fire is lit at 6 a.m. Saturday!!!

    1. Hi, Jean! I have the heat on in our little hotel. I envy you your cozy fire! I understand now why my mother and grandmothers were worrying so much. The North truly was a dangerous place, and accidents and other bad things could easily happen.

      Sometimes I think we survived to adulthood because we were lucky. I think that's true of a lot of kids growing up. We've all done stupid, crazy things as children, and all those adults had done crazy things as kids. Like my mother, at twelve, crawling under a stopped train at a station, and barely getting out from under the wheels before it suddenly started. Why did she do that? Her sister and first cousin dared her!

      Thanks for sharing that you can see my dad typing and pumping oil. I see him all the time through his words, and it makes me feel very close to him. It's nice to know that others can see who he was too!

      Stay warm!!! Hugs to both you and Hugh and ear scratches to all the kitties!

  6. Only natural for grandparents to worry, I think. They are hoping their 'kids' learned what they needed to know to have kids of their own.
    You are taking right along with you, Louise, on this adventure. And I LOVE how you toss us a hint, 'one shocking and unimaginable event', about to happen!! You tease!!
    What a grade 5 cutie!!
    Your eyes show excitement, adventure, curiosity and I bet you have been told you had 'the devil in your eyes' many a time........rascal/mischievous.
    Have a great weekend where ever you are!

    1. Thanks, Jim! I am teasing a little. I think the technical term is foreshadowing!!! I have several of my earlier report cards with the words "mischievous" written on them by my teachers! LOL

      We saw a labradoodle today that immediately made us think of Sophie. It was sure fun to see Ron's last post with her frolicking around with the younger dog.

      We're having fun here in Victoria, although I'm glued to the tv tonight ~ well I'm not going dignify what is going on by naming it, but I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. Have a good one! Sending you all big hugs!

  7. Another great installment! I can certainly understand your grandmother's concerns; it seems perfectly normal. And your excitement, too. For a young girl it was an adventure. The line "Togetherness is going to be the mantra of the MacBeath family."...I love that! What a wonderful thing for your father to write. Your posts are so well done and in addition to the writing, I love the photos you share! I hope you are enjoying a lovely weekend.

    1. Thanks, Martha! I truly appreciate your encouraging comment. I always try to make my posts the best they can be. Blogging has been great, because I have learned so much about writing through the process of putting posts together. And, like you, I love photography and playing with photos. I think my camera is fusing to my hand; It's always there. You would have a blast in Victoria with its wonderful and varied array of things to shoot, Martha.

      We are enjoying ourselves this weekend. It was raining yesterday, so I spent the day writing and examining the amazing mammoth exhibit at the Royal BC Museum which is just steps away from our hotel room. Today it's all about football and brunch at the Sticky Wicket and the election spectacle at home. I hope you and George have a great Sunday too! Sending you a big hug!

  8. Hello very dear friend,
    Just dropping by to tell you I think of you much and love your comments on my blog.
    Unfortunately I truly don't have the time at this point to read all your text.... always running, but I hope I'll manage to eventually catch up one day!!! LOL!
    Warm hugs and thoughts and keep well :)

    1. I'm often thinking of you, especially if I see birds (alive or artistic) or I'm taking a photo. Don't worry about being always on the run and short of time. That's my perpetual state! And there is so much wonder to experience in this short time we have here. I frequently get behind in my blogging world. Sending you love and hugs!

  9. The idea of moving to Alaska terrifies me. I can't imagine how awful it would have been back then--like sending your family to Siberia. The cold. The dark for so many months... But I know it's beautiful and rugged too. (Keep in mind I write this while living in Florida.)

    1. The North is a special place, Crystal. Florida terrifies me: all those sharp, pointy bushes, gators, rust and mold, lizards ~ Just kidding ~ LOL Have a good one!

  10. Sorry I'm late to the party this week! Just got back from Manitoba where I visited my mom for Thanksgiving. That was a fascinating point you made about your own voice and memories now being in a position to overtake your father's. And boy, you believe in leaving us on a cliffhanger, eh? That's good storytelling!

    1. We didn't have to memorize poems for school recitation, but I memorized some just for fun when I was a kid. I can still recite "To a Mouse" by Robbie Burns, LOL!

    2. I hope that you had a nice Thanksgiving with your mother, Debra! I'm sure that it meant a lot to your mother to have you visit. It's not an easy time as our parents get older and frailer. I love that you memorized poems for fun when you were a kid. I checked out "To a Mouse" because I wasn't familiar with it. My tongue is tired and daunted at the thought of trying to say the original version! LOL Have a good one!

  11. I can feel Mother's worry as she contemplates life in the frozen north for her grandchildren. She knows the challenges that have to be faced. But your dad is a survivor and anxious for his wife and children to join him and make life less lonely and more tolerable. But as a mother I have to laugh at him encouraging his mother to visit. I'm sure that's the last thing on her mind.


Thank you for your comments! I appreciate the time and energy you put into making them very much.