Friday, December 23, 2016

The Lansdowne Letters: Surprise!

Well, the surprise is on me!
Just when I had everything worked out with technology,
and I thought I was good to go with me and posting,
I had an unexpected development!

Presents Under the Christmas Bush
Mojave Desert Near Oatman, Arizona
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved 

Santa came early on Tuesday and gave me
the best Christmas present I've ever received!

McCarran International Airport,
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved 

Christmas in Calgary with my family for the first time this century!!!
So I've been packing and traveling, and here I am,
not in the middle of the Mojave Desert, but in snowy Calgary.

Out the Front Door 
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved 

Sometimes you just can't fight the universe!
Fighting the universe landed me in Bullhead City,
which to my consternation, is growing on me!

So I signing off posting until January 4th, 
unless I find a pocket of time!
But I will get around and read your posts as much as possible!

In the spirit of Christmas in Lansdowne House,
I'm sharing my all time favorite Christmas carol,
The Huron Carolalso called Twas in the Moon of Wintertime.
Click Here  (You Tube is not letting me add it to my post.)

It was written by Jean de Brébeuf in 1643.
Jean de Brébeuf was a Jesuit missionary among the Hurons in Canada.
The original title is Jesous Ahatonhia,
but I first knew it as Gitche Manitou,
a traditional Algonquin name for God.
Gitche Manitou is Canada's oldest Christmas song.

This song means a great deal to me 
because of the time I spent in Northern Ontario 
among the Ojibawa and Cree Indians when I was a young girl.

Wishing you and yours the best of Christmases
and a very happy new year!

Northern Nights in the Bush
Flickr:  J.H.   License

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

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

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Lansdowne Letters: How!

When my mother and we five children joined my father in Lansdowne House,
in February, 1961, the white population swelled from sixteen to twenty-two.

Thirteen adults and three babies climbed
to fourteen adults, four babies, and four children.

The lack of older white children in the remote Ojibway village
was a concern for my parents.
Baby Bertie would have plenty of playmates
in babies Duncan, Kathie, and Glen.
Donnie and Barbie, at newly seven and almost five, had each other
and were not accustomed to ranging far from home to play.
But Roy and I were a different matter.

Good Buds, 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

At nine and ten, Roy and I had diverging interests and a love-hate relationship.
Only fourteen months separated us in age, and we were serious rivals,
forever trying to outwit and outdo each other in everything.
We were accustomed to visiting our friends and relatives all over Smith's Cove
and roaming its woods, fields, and shores together and separately.

Our parents had tried to prepare us for a very different reality,
where we were unlikely to make friends among the Ojibway children
and where we were unable to go far from home in the dangerous and unforgiving bush.
We would be on our own and without school and church activities,
telephones, or television (not to mention electricity and running water).

Sibling Rivalry
Roy (3) laughs as the photographer tells me (4) to pull my skirt down
so my underwear won't show.
Some things you don't forget, ever!
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada, 1954 
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

So that first morning when we awoke in Lansdowne House what did our parents do?
After breakfast and cleaning up, and with no school for the day, 
they shooed us all outside to fend for ourselves.

The day was brilliantly cold, as only the North can be,
with a vibrant blue sky, stark black spruce,
dazzling white snow, and deep blue shadows.

Winter Morning
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, December 1960
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

As we took a few tentative steps beyond the back doorstep,
the snow squeaked loudly and the Indian dogs scrutinized us.

It was bitterly cold, but calm,
so the subzero temperature was bearable in the bright sunlight.

-20º,  -30º,  -40º ... ?
I don't remember; when it's that cold, it doesn't matter.
It's flat out, brutally cold.
Our mother had hustled us into thickly layered, warm clothes 
so we moved with sausage legs and arms.

The silence was overpowering when we stopped and looked around.
I could almost hear the sparkles dancing in the snow.
The only signs of life were the wary Indian dogs
and the smoke rising from the nearby log cabins.

"Go on!  Go play!" our father encouraged,
firmly shutting the back door behind us;
and so, we ventured into the empty space between
our home and the silent Indian log cabins.

A minute or two later,
around the corner of the nearest cabin
two young Ojibway girls appeared:
Fanny and Nellie Kitchejohn.

Likely Fanny on the left
and Nellie on the right ~
Blame my half-century memory.
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

We approached them, encouraged by the shy smiles of the two girls
with their beautiful copper skin, flashing eyes, and dark hair.

I raised my right hand in greeting and said, "How!"
followed by "Me, Louise" as I patted my chest.

"Me, Roy," added my brother solemnly.

"Speak to them in proper English" bellowed my father
from the back door he had cracked open surreptitiously.

After that my memories are less distinct.
I wrote in a letter to Nana about ten days later
that we had spent that first day "trying to talk with the Indians."

We learned their names, and they learned ours.
Somehow a toboggan appeared.
It may have been the one that usually stood against the forestry shack,
or it may have been one that belonged to the Kitchejohns.

Regardless, we were soon taking turns pulling each other
around one of the log cabins on the toboggan.
We did this for a long time, until we were frozen sausages.
The two Ojibway girls especially loved pulling our younger sisters around.

We even dashed briefly into their log cabin to warm by the wood stove. 
Small, dimly lit, sparsely furnished around the edges, it was deliciously warm,
and their mother welcomed us quietly, despite her reserve.

Sleighing Toboggan
Historical Photo, Canada 
Photo by Alexander Henderson (1831 - 1913)

Our parents were shocked and pleased when we finally went inside our home.
They had worried about nothing, it seemed.
They had forgotten that children naturally speak in a universal language
when they approach each other with openness and friendship.
They had also neglected to consider the love of First Nations people for children.

Within a couple of weeks, my younger sisters had made the rounds of the village.
Donnie with her long curls, Barbie with her blonde hair,
and Bertie determinedly tottering around on her unsteady legs
were welcomed warmly and with shy curiosity everywhere.

Roy and I were also treated with warmth and respect,
but we were invited into Ojibway homes less often.
As older children, I think we were more intimidating;
whereas Donnie, Barbie, and Bertie were irresistibly cute.

I, in particular, was a conundrum.
As an independent and outspoken girl,
I didn't fit into any recognizable female role.
Neither child nor adult, I had to find a niche I could occupy.

Siblings, Going Their Separate Ways
Canoeing on Lake Attawapiskat, Spring 1961
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© 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.   20 Below = -28.8º C
      30 Below = -34.4º C
      40 Below = -40.0º C

2.   A Personal Note:
      I'm sorry about the irregular publishing of my Northern posts the last few weeks.  After a lot of
      time and frustration, I've resolved my computer and internet problems.  No more library!  Unless 
      there is a snafu when we move to another trailer shortly.  Terry is a happy guy as he cheerfully
      announces the subzero temperatures and snowy weather in Colorado, then prances out the door
      to play pickleball in the Arizona sun.  I have to admit that the warm sunshine and dry roads are
      lovely.  Bullhead City is turning out to be quite a nice fit!  I'll be making the rounds to visit your
      blogs asap.

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

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Lansdowne Letters: @#$%!

I am experiencing technical issues:
Still limited internet access, until Suddenlink sorts it out.
Photos crashing ~ too many and out of memory.
Can't back up ~ no room on external drives.
No new four terabyte external drive, 
because Amazon screwed up guaranteed delivery while I was in Colorado, 
and I'm still waiting on late delivery here in Arizona.
Been traveling, so little access to my library internet onramp.
Hopefully things will work themselves out in the next few days.
See you next week (or maybe sooner)!

Meanwhile I'm still on the hunt for wild burros ...

Wild Burros
flickr:  James Marvin Phelps   License

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Lansdowne Letters: A Lesson Learned

I was tired when we finally arrived in Lansdowne House,
but I can't imagine how worn out my mother must have been.
As a young girl, I took her energy and optimism for granted; and especially so,
because she sheltered my siblings and me from her challenges, big and small.    

My mother had a core of steel and powered through life with an unbelievable will.
No matter how difficult it was, she faced life with a courageous optimism.

Some women might have looked around on arriving in such a remote place
and taken the return trip to Nakina with the pilot.  
My mother looked around and embraced the positive.

My Mother, Sara (MacDonald) MacBeath
Studying at Acadia University
Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada, 1947
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

On Friday, February 24, 2016 she wrote
to our extended family in her unassuming way:

When we landed I expected the Indians would look at us blankly.
Instead they were all smiling and seemed to love watching the children.
We went to Maureen’s and Dunc’s and they gave us dinner.
Then Don and I came to visit our house.

Don said the house was small,
so I was quite amazed to find it spacious.
It has lovely cupboards and drawers in it,
seven drawers and four sets of cupboards.
There is a lovely dinette set in it.
Best of all, though, is the lovely gas range.

Love to you all, 

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

My mother was not a Material Girl.
The only things she truly wanted in life during my childhood
were her husband and children close, healthy, and safe,
and if that came with a gas range thrown in she was delighted.

My father returned from the forestry shack and collected us from the McRae's,
leaving my mother behind in her new home for a few rare minutes alone.

By then it was dark, and brilliant stars filled the sky like I had never seen before.
The starlight cast spindly tree shadows on the deep snow,
as we trudged through the bush to our home on the other side of the peninsula.

It was the coldest cold I had ever experienced;
and when I breathed in, my lungs burned.
I remember wrapping a scarf around my face to cover my nose and mouth.
Within a minute or two the front of my scarf was a sodden mess,
the inside warm and wet, the outside already stiff and freezing.
My moist breath froze on my eyelashes,
and my eyes watered making it hard to to see in the dark.

Half blind, I stepped off the packed down snow.
There was a reason the narrow path through the bush was well-trodden.
The moment my foot veered off the path, my leg sank in the snow to my crotch,
and I was down on my left knee struggling to pull my right foot out.
It came, but with no boot.

"That will teach you," my father laughed,
as I retrieved my boot and banged the snow out.
He was a big believer in experiential learning.  

I managed to haul my stiff boot on my icy foot and stumble along the path,
peering through upper and lower eyelashes now frozen together.

Later in the spring, as the snow melted away,
everyone tottered around on those frozen snow paths
that stood above the muck like slippery balance beams.

It was the strangest sight,
but so much fun for veteran rail-walkers like Roy and me.

But very soon, the well-trodden snow paths melted too,
and we were all slogging through the mud,
in a world alive with the sound of trickling, running water.

Winter Sky

We came out of the bush and into the open.
On our right was a long, dark, log church; and on our left,
a cluster of log houses spilling dim light through the odd window onto the snow.
Directly ahead was our new home, and home looked really good!

Nothing stirred around us as we rushed for the door,
except for the Indian dogs bedded down in nearby snowbanks.
A few rose to their feet and stared at us with hungry eyes.
We didn't have to be warned to be wary around them.

Sled Dog
Wikimedia ~ edited

The kitchen was lit with two softly hissing kerosene lamps,
but the rest of the house lay in shadows.
Dad lifted one lamp off its hook in the kitchen ceiling,
the shadows swinging wildly as he carried the lamp to show us around:
from our water supply (a twenty-five gallon drum with a wooden cover)
to our bathroom with its chemical toilet (a low seat over a bucket in a tiny room),
to the bunk-crammed bedroom we five children would share.
Our parents had a second bedroom just big enough to squeeze in a double bed.

Last was the small living room with a big window that looked out into darkness
beyond the pool of light from the kerosene lamp.
I'm sure if you made a beeline from there to the North Pole and beyond,
you wouldn't have encountered a single light in the vast, empty bush.

Before I knew it, we had found our pyjamas, brushed our teeth,
tried out the chemical toilet, and claimed our bunks.
Roy and I were on the top, with Donnie below me
and Barbie and Bertie toe-to-toe under Roy.
Roy was close enough that I could lean across the space
between our bunks and poke him (and him me).

We lay on our stomachs in our top bunks and stared out the  window,
me on the left and Roy on the right.  It was a moonless night,
but the Indian homes stood out starkly against the starlit snow.

We whispered excitedly in the starlight gleaming on our pillows.
We couldn't believe it ~ 
We were finally here:  in the mysterious North! 

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

1.  Photo:  For the view from our front window, click here.  This is summer in 1956 before the forestry shack was built.  The Indian tent is pitched just to the right of where I went down to our waterhole on the frozen lake.  The tip of the Father's Island is in the middle right of the photo.

2.  Rail-Walker:  
Walking the Rails
Flickr ~ Rafael Clemente   License 

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Map of Canada
Highlighting Ontario

Location of Lansdowne House
Wikimedia   edited

Lansdowne House
Sketch by M. Louise Barbour
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Peninsula and Island
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario
Credit: Canada. Dept. of Indian Affairs and Northern Development 
Library and Archives Canada:  PA-094992

Rough Sketch of Lansdowne House
by Donald MacBeath, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

This sketch shows the Father's Island and the tip of the "Mainland" peninsula
that contained the community of Lansdowne House.
                                                                    #18 McRae's
                                                                    #16 Anglican Log Church
                                                                    #15 Forestry Shack (Our Home)
                 Black Dots ~ Indian Homes