Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Lansdowne Letters: So Far North

Can anything be more thrilling as a child than to go
on a long trip to an unimaginable place?

Looking back after a lifetime spent exploring the world,
my brother Roy wrote:
"Imagine what I felt when my mother told me 
that we were leaving our cloistered existence in rural Nova Scotia
to go to northern Ontario and live with our father
in the great northern wilderness with the Indians.  
There was even a name for it:  we were going to live in the "bush",
hundreds of miles from any town of any size - in Indian Country.  
I knew all about Indian Country from watching Rin Tin Tin and Fort Apache.
My scalp tingled.  I instinctively moved a bit closer to my mother.  
The enormity of the change that I was to experience,
as that cloistered nine year old, is almost impossible, even for me, to fathom."

I, myself, was almost sick with excitement as we drove
to the ferry terminal at the wharf in Digby.
The familiar, comfortable places in Smith’s Cove passed by in a blur
from Kinsman’s Store to Great Grammie’s
to the Hedley House and Mountain Gap Inn. 
Digby, with its basin-side buildings raised on piles over the shore, soon followed.

Then suddenly there she was:  S.S. The Princess Helene,
the ferry that would carry us through Digby Gut out of the Annapolis Basin
and onto the treacherous Bay of Fundy waters.

Pre-1963 Postcard of The Digby Scallop Fleet 
with the S.S. Princess Helene Docked at the Wharf
(gold and black smokestack)
Digby, Nova Scotia, Canada

Roy and I were veterans at crossing between Maritime provinces by ferry
and came prepared for the voyage with “lucky pebbles” stuffed in our pockets
to drop to the bottom of the bay halfway between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Mom shepherded my three younger sisters, Donnie, Barbie, and Bertie
to the railing on deck where they could wave good-bye to our uncles and aunts.
Roy and I hung over the railing above the opening to the cargo bay.
We couldn’t believe our luck when we saw Gretchen being loaded on the ferry.
Our poor dachshund traveled all the way to Nakina, Ontario
by boat and train in a large, dark-green toy box.  
“Gretchen, Gretchen,” we shrieked as we watched her travel
up the gangway and disappear into the hold.  
We wouldn’t see her again until we caught our flight north five days later.  

Roy and I were supposed to watch our younger sisters,
but we escaped to run around the decks
and up and down every set of stairs we could find.  
It was a thrill to pass through the Gut, a gap Roy and I were convinced
had been blown open by an exploding volcano.
The familiar Victoria Beach and Point Prim on opposite shores of the Gut raced by.  

Out on the water we searched for returning fishing boats 
with their streamers of screaming seagulls
and spotted porpoises and dolphins following our boat.
It was windy, cold, and grey, but we didn’t care.
Let Mom and our three sisters stay inside,
we had a vessel and an ocean to explore.

A Fishing Boat Heads for the Gut and Home
Bay of Fundy near Point Prim, Nova Scotia
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

About an hour out on the Bay of Fundy,
we dropped our pebbles overboard
and argued over whose would reach the ocean floor first.
I have no idea how we came up with the idea 
that this was a “lucky” thing to do, 
but it was our “secret” ferry tradition.
To this day, I drop a pebble overboard on a ferry crossing
honoring the memory of the adventure-loving boy and girl Roy and I were.

Then with our faces and hands burning from the cold,
we dashed inside to warm up, have something to eat,
and give our mother a break by watching our younger sisters.
I’m sure my mother was relieved to have a quiet cup of coffee and a cigarette.

Our baby sister Bertie loved the ferry rocking on the swells,
and  she raced up and down the passenger lounge on her unsteady feet.
I’m also sure my mother was delighted with that,
because she wanted Bertie to sleep on the train overnight.

In St. John we boarded a Canadian Pacific Railway train bound for Montreal.
A Red Cap carried our luggage to our compartment,
and a gregarious black porter made up our beds
while we had dinner in the train’s dining car.

Over and over Roy and I raced from car to car,
stopping to rock in the jerky connections between cars,
our laughter as loud as the roaring wind and the clacking wheels on the track.

Donnie and I slept up top in one overhead bunk,
Roy and Barbie shared a second,
while Mom and Bertie slept below.   
Roy and I hung over the edges of our bunks watching the night country fly by
until the rhythmic clickety-clack of the train lulled Roy to sleep.
But I lay awake for long hours,
afraid that the bunk would snap shut, 
quick as a clam in the mud.

A Train Porter
Flickr ~ antefixus21   License

Uncle John and his new son-in-law Art met us 
in a cloud of steam at the frigid Montreal station.  
Uncle John took everyone to his home to see Auntie Esther,
our married cousin Dawn,
and our three younger cousins, Faye, Sandy, and Baby Joanie.  

Our three-night stay in Montreal flew by in a whirlwind 
of shopping, sight-seeing, and a birthday party for Donnie.
I alone got to spend the nights at Dawn and Art’s.
Dawn and baby Randy went to bed early,
but Art and I stayed up late watching scary movies like the “Invisible Man.”
Art was the coolest of cool, pre-dating The Fonz by a decade or more.  
We left after feasting on Auntie Esther's turkey dinner
with the whole family seeing us off at the station.

Baby Randy and Baby Bertie
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Thanks to My Cousin Dawn MacDonald White for This Photo

We met Dad’s cousin Barbara on a platform along the way
and spent a second night sleeping on a train.  
Bertie found her train legs and kept trying to escape from our compartment,
while Roy and I followed a new and friendly porter around,
badgering him with questions about how everything worked.  
Again Roy and I sat up late watching the moon-lit,
snow-covered country pass by like a dream.
We had told anyone who would listen that we were going so far north
that when we got to Nakina the train had to turn around
because it couldn’t go north anymore.

Nakina Train Station
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

In Nakina three Austin Airways employees met us
and herded us onto a Norseman for the final leg of our journey.
Gretchen practically wiggled herself inside out when she reunited with us.

We had never seen a plane on skis,
let alone taxied in one to take off on ice.  
Racing down the ice with roosters of snow flying off the skis
was exhilarating and the lift-off stomach-flipping 
as we rose steeply into the air and banked for the wilderness.

A Norseman on Skis
Flickr ~ NOAA:  Rear Admiral Harley D. Nygren   License 

Those were the days of unheated cabins and bone-rattling engines
that made conversation impossible.  
We huddled in the sub-zero temperatures, 
our breath hanging in the air like fog on a still day.

My fingers and toes tingled in spite of my thermal underwear,
woolen socks and mittens, warm clothes and parka.
Gretchen sat on my lap throughout our flight, shivering with anxiety and cold,
her little black forehead wrinkling as she yawned in the thinner air.
Her tiny boots and coat, sewn out of a cast-off jacket, 
were useless against the bitter cold.
I sat by a window and watched the alien landscape slide away,
the shadow of our tiny bush plane skimming over the ground far below.  

Mom wrote of the experience, 
“I never saw so many spruce trees in my life.
They are so close together that their branches go
straight up in the air instead of spreading out.
We flew over miles and miles of desolate country,
lakes and trees.  It is very beautiful.”

And beautiful it was:  
The trees and lakes locked in ice, with no sign of life
in the frozen wilderness which stretched to every horizon.  
The winter had drained all color from the land
leaving only the stark black brittle trees and the dazzling white of the deep snow.  
The sky glowed an electric blue, assaulting my eyes with its clear brilliance.

And then out of nowhere a wide stretch of ice, 
a long peninsula, a small island, a scattering of tiny buildings, 
and ant-like people scurrying for the dock,
shadows long and blue-black in the late, late afternoon. 

The Northern Bush Near Lansdowne House
Google Net News Ledger

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Crossing Petite Passage
Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia
Photo Copy by Roy MacBeath 
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Digby Gut Through Which the S.S. Princess Helene Sailed

Lansdowne House
Map Data:  Google


  1. Dear Louise, your post and photos has evoked many childhood memories for me. Especially your mention of Montreal. Thank you so much for sharing, and I wish you a fantastic weekend, my cherished friend.

    1. Hi, Dear Linda! Thanks you, yet again, for your kind comment! I finally have somewhat regular access to the internet at a library a few minutes walk from where we are living for now. I had to publish late last night, because I don't know if blogger publishes a scheduled post if the blogger's computer is not on line. I shall have to experiment! We are exploring the desert towns of Laughlin, Nevada, and Bullhead City, Arizona. They are separated by the Colorado River. They are in different times zones, and our phones keep resetting to one or another, so we're often not sure what time it is where! I'm going to catch up on all my comments here, and later I will visit your blog and others. I forgot my power source, so I can't be on-line too long. I'll get this figured out ~ LOL! You have a wonderful weekend too! Sending you love and best wishes, my special Montreal friend!

  2. Oh Wow!!! I can be right there, a true test of any writing!!! Wonderful family photos,and another really good map. I love your words, photos, stories and maps.

    1. Thanks, Jean!!! I always appreciate your encouraging words, and I'm thrilled that you could be "right there" with me. I'll be by your blog to catch up later ~ no power source, forgot it! At least I can get on line here by visiting a library! I hope all is well with you, Hugh, and the kitties! Sending you love e and hugs!!!

  3. What an adventure of a journey. I never thought about planes not being heated back then. I can see you and your brother running all over that ship and train.

    1. Hi, Alex! I'm still running everywhere ~ much to Terry's consternation because he's never sure what kind of trouble I'm going to stumble into. Around here it might be a scorpion or a rattlesnake!!! I'm watching for those! I've been rereading the IWSG's "Parallels", and I am enjoying it even more. I'll be catching up asap ~ my battery power is dropping quickly. The challenges of working on the move! Have a lovely weekend with your wife!

  4. You sure recalled it all wonderfully. But then yeah, how can you forget such an adventure, freezing limbs and all haha

    1. Thanks, Pat!!! It's funny, but when you're writing about memories, things come back. It wasn't until I had been working on the writing for this post last night that I remembered being scared about that upper bunk snapping shut and how Gretchen's head wrinkled when she yawned on our flight. Thanks for always being supportive. I'll be playing catch-up again; always a challenge when one is on the move. Take care, my friend!


  5. Does make you wonder how many trees there are in the world

    So Far North, that's where many Americans want to go right now after our country showed it was far dumber than previously thought.

    1. How lovely to see you, Adam! I've been largely absent from the internet these past few weeks because we've been traveling, and many places we stayed did not have free, secure wi-fi. I'm now lugging my computer to a nearby library. My sister Donnie and her husband offered us the guest room in their house in Nova Scotia when it became apparent that Trump was winning on Tuesday night. It's taken me from them until now to get over the election shock and recover my optimism. Wednesday I didn't want to get out of bed or leave the house. We shall see what happens, but I'm really concerned about a lot of things! I hope that you and Daisy have a lovely weekend! I've wondered about the number of trees myself! And the mosquito count that would be much higher! LOL

  6. Oh my Lord, I am speechless. I was there with you, looking out the window of that too-small plane! What an adventure. I can't wait to hear more. You are going to tell us more, right?! Please do. I'm your captive audience. I've been north, so I understand partially what you must have felt. I remember wondering why the trees looked like toothpicks, not realizing it was because the land was so cold, the wind fierce. Haha, I always freeze onboard a plane!

    1. Thank you, Joylene! You give me hope and resolve to keep plugging on! Of course there will be more. I'm getting to the fun part, finally. I loved your description of the trees looking like toothpicks ~ What a perfect comparison. I've loved the north all my life; actually, I thought I'd live there. I never dreamed I'd end up in the USA. The Arizona desert where I am right now is completely different from Lansdowne House. I just shake my head at the unexpected turns life takes. I will be visiting your blog asap; I'm getting on-line at a library right now and I forgot my power cord at "home." Have a great weekend!

  7. The excitement of this journey, Louise, is so well-expressed with Roy's and your enthusiasm!! What a wonderful experience....and at that age for you!!

    The 'lucky pebble' drop overboard was one of those childhood secret rituals which were so important, eh? Your family's excitement is very evident in your writing, Louise. What a magical childhood you much to be grateful for.

    OK...left hanging and looking forward to the next installment.

    1. You are always so uplifting, Jim! Thanks for your kind words ~ sorry to leave you hanging. actually, no I'm not! It's a serial writer's trick! LOL I hope you and Ron are off to a great start of the weekend. I got out on some rocks today! The geology around here is wild! Lots for me to learn. Have a good one. Love and hugs to you all!

  8. Nancy J said it for me: "I love your words, photos, stories and maps."

    For example. "Racing down the ice with roosters of snow flying off the skis was exhilarating and the lift-off stomach-flipping as we rose steeply into the air and banked for the wilderness." Wow! Makes me feel like I was right there with you, experiencing all the nuances of the ride. Love it!!!!!!!!!

    1. Thanks for your encouragement, Susan! I am so glad that you are enjoying my posts! It's people like you who keep me going, my special friend! Sending you love and hugs!

  9. Hi Fundy, I love this post. I have 3 real (I think) memories of this trip. Gretchen in her toy box being lifted onto the ferry, My bunk on the train and sitting shivering on the plane with the roaring sound scaring me. Hugs, your sister Barb

    1. Hugs back at you, Barb! Thanks for sharing! Believe me, I am storing all your memories away as "fodder" for my book. btw ~ I've got Roy (when he can) writing down his memories and Donnie shared what she can recall. If you have any you want to shoot my way, I'd appreciated it. Lansdowne House or Lac Seul!!! Love you!

  10. That was such a wonderful story. It made me feel warm inside just reading your recanting of the tale. Thank you. :)

    1. Thanks, Robert! What a nice surprise to find your comment this morning ~ sorry I'm late replying. I have to go to a library to access the internet right now. Have a good one!

  11. Beautiful memories. And I love your “secret” ferry tradition.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Lynda! Have a good one!

  12. I love the idea of a secret ferry tradition too! What a great story and wonderful pictures.

  13. What a fascinating story. Thanks so much for opening your heart and sharing it with us.

  14. What an exciting journey, especially in the bush plane!

  15. I love this! Sounds so exciting. And so much adventure for children. I'm just catching up on your blog. Can you believe it? I refuse to read some blog posts until I have the necessary time to dedicate to them.


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