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


  1. How! lovely that you made friends immediately. Were you really so well bundled up that no one feared you'd freeze fingers, toes, or noses? That's awfully cold.


    1. Hi, Janie! Thanks for hanging in there with me as I resolved my computer and internet problems. We were well bundled in clothes for the northern climate starting with thermal underwear (long johns) and double mittens, double socks, hats, and scarves. In the sunlight it wasn't so bad, and we kept moving. Also, it was calm and the air had very low humidity, so that helped. We regularly played outside at 40 and 50 below. There was only one time in our years in the North that we were allowed into school early and had an inside recess. That was in Sioux Lookout, and it hit -62º F. I missed a ride to school, and instead of telling my mother, I decided to walk to school. I thought I would die! I cut through a roundhouse, jumped railroad tracks, crossed between cars on a train at the train station, thawed out in the train station and in the post office, before I finally made it to school. Had the wind been blowing, I would have been in serious trouble. None of us every got frostbite as I recall, but to this day my fingers and toes start to burn quickly in the cold. Have a great weekend! Sending you hugs!

    2. My mother grew up in Minnesota. She said that on the walk to school they would stop inside a gas station to thaw out their cheeks.

    3. Oh, yeah! I remember the feeling of frozen cheeks only too well! Not really frozen, of course! Have a good one!

  2. Children sure do become friends rather easily no matter the language. haha I'd have laughed at my sister too if she was told to pull her skirt down.

    1. Children have to learn to be prejudiced and unkind. I am always fascinated with watching toddlers and how they interact. Brothers! They're all the same! Have an awesome rest of the weekend, Pat!

  3. I love children and animals, seniors and the disabled...well, I love people and animals. :) So nice to see your post, Louise, and I hope your internet issues stay resolved. I have missed you.

    1. Like you, Linda, I love all kinds of people and animals! I've missed you and my other blogging buddies too, Linda. It was a frustrating and depressing time for me, but it's behind me now. I'm going to pop by all my friends' blogs and see their most recent post, then try to keep up. I am so happy to be reconnected! Sending you lots of love and hugs!

  4. That's a different kind of Santa's helper

    1. Hi, Adam! I guess clowns were more popular in 1960. Or more available. I hope that all is well with you and Daisy and that you are looking forward to an enjoyable Christmas with your family and loved ones!

  5. Happy Holidays, Dear!
    I`m following ur blog with a great pleasure via GFC
    Please join me
    Sunny Eri: beauty experience

  6. I suppose you and your brother picked up from movies and TV the expectations of "how to talk to Indians." Shows the power of the media, doesn't it? And reinforces why realistic and fair portrayals of all groups in society is an absolute must!

    1. Hi, Debra! I cringe a little when I think of how I actually said, How!" But that's the way I thought you spoke to Indians, compliments of Rin Tin Tin, Wagon Train, and Gunsmoke! I'm sure that Fanny and Nellie must have been across to the island to see Father Ouimet's movies in the rec hall which regularly included really dumb western movies, so they were probably familiar with "How."
      The girls didn't hold it against us, though, and remained the best of our friends while we were there. Have a good one!

  7. Im so glad your internet is up and running and I can continue your adventures. As I read it's hard to imagine you out in such cold. But then again my childhood was the same way bundled up in snow suits and outside no matter what the weather. And I loved it. There is something restorative about being out in nature...then and now. Being snowed in now makes me miss getting outside even more. I wish you such a happy holiday season my friend.

    1. It's lovely to see you, Peggy! I am really happy to finally have my computer and internet working. I was so frustrated and discouraged, but I finally got everything worked out, the last piece being the internet. I less inclined to go outside now in the cold, no matter how warmly dressed I am. But when it's cold and nature combined, I'll make myself get out. Like last Christmas in Breckenridge when it was dropping below zero at night. No danger of being snowed in here in the Mojave Desert, although the Christmas Tree Pass through the Nelson Mountains on the road toward Vegas can get dicy with snow and ice a couple of times a year. I'm wishing you, Don, and your loved ones a lovely holiday. I'll be by asap!

  8. Very true. Children can make friends no matter what. Something us adults should learn to do more often.

    1. Hi, Alex! I often wish that adults could be more like children in many ways! I'll be forever grateful that I got to spend my career in the company of children. They are amazing human beings. I'm playing the big catch up now ~ again, but I'm delighted to see all my blogging buddies! Take care!

  9. Absolutely love to read these posts. Children do speak a universal language and I am sure you found your way in the journey. smiling..have a wonderful week.

    1. Thank you, Truedessa! You put a giant smile on my face this morning! It makes me feel wonderful if even one person enjoys my posts! I hope that you are thoroughly enjoying this run up to Christmas! Take care!

  10. "I could almost hear the sparkles dancing in the snow." LOVE this image, Louise!
    Yes, children have no problem whatsoever to communicate with one another.
    amazing that you have such vivid memories of this time. But then again, it makes sense that you would....who wouldn't remember such an experience.
    You and Roy are very close age wise. You were lucky to have one another....even though it got competitive on occasion.

    1. Thank you, Jim! It's funny how memory works. It just cracks out open sometimes when I'm typing. I had forgotten all about Dad yelling at us to speak proper English, but the moment I typed that Roy said, "Me, Roy!" Dad's voice and those words thundered back into my mind. Some memories are so vivid, and others less so. I've actually considered going to a hypnotist to see if I could recover some memories. Haven't taken the step yet, but I'm thinking about it! Have a great week running up to Christmas. Sending you big hugs! Ronnie and SD too!

  11. Children are able to discern rather quickly if others their age want to be around them. I'm glad you and your siblings made friends. Your memories are such a nice read and Happy Holidays dear.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Sheena-Kay! Happy holidays to you too!

  12. I laughed out loud with the "How". So cute. And your statement "children naturally speak in a universal language when they approach each other with openness and friendship". Truer words could not be spoken! That is the beauty of children. Thanks for sharing another lovely post about your family's history!

    1. Hi, Martha! Thanks for your lovely comment and encouragement! I adore children, and I'm thankful I got to spend so many years with them. They are the purest souls. I'm so happy to be back online with computer issues resolved. I have missed you and my other internet friends! I hope that you are having a happy run up to Christmas and will be enjoying lots of family time together!

  13. wow some incredible photos telling so much and your descriptions were very eye-opening of such a life! I love that you kids got along - if only adults could learn to do the same.

    and thank you for your comments on my Cradle Rock portion at Alex's blog!

    1. Hi, Tara! Thank you for visiting and leaving a kind comment! I wish adults would be more open to and tolerant of people who are different from them. Seeing sentient others as beasts not monsters to put it in Cradle Rock terms. Good luck with your book! Have a lovely holiday season!

  14. Hi Dear!!!

    loved each single expression of your' got huge talent to write so AMAZINGLY because reading you mesmerize the mind and soul .
    with your enchanting description you take us back to join you in your LOVELY childhood ventures .
    i felt peace that finally you met new friends and enjoyed your time with them and how nicely you told about their cabin and their mother 's reserve but kind behavior !
    i think you are being much humble to call others more cute than you [same way i thought in my childhood even till today i believe that my sister was really pretty and smart than me ]
    i loved the photos as they tell lot about your childhood infect they are PRECIOUS.
    loved the first one so much and one with boat that beard two different riders '
    hope your net gets good soon and glad that you enjoyed some sunshine there !
    take good care dear.
    have wonderful and Blessed week and celebration ahead.

    1. Hi, Baili! Thank you for your lovely and encouraging comment! You made my day! The last photo with the two children paddling in the canoe (boat) are my brother in the back and me in the front. Ice still covered a lot of Lake Attawapiskat, and the water was open only along the shore. My husband and I are looking forward to a wonderful holiday week! Hugs to you, dear Baili!

  15. another great story--what an adventure you had to be nine and to live in such a place (it was hard enough for me to move when I was nine and that was just from Virginia back to North Carolina. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi, Sage! It was the adventure of a lifetime, to be sure! Hope all is well with you!

  16. Three days after we left Canada this month, the temperature dropped to -31 C. I'm glad I wasn't there to experience that. Bitter cold when you're a child is different, isn't it? The bones are less forgiving these days. Thank you for sharing these wonderful stories, Anna. They are delightful as usual.

    1. Thanks, Joylene! The bones are less forgiving these days, for sure. My husband surprised me with an early Christmas gift ~ the best ever ~ Christmas in Calgary with my family. We were driving home tonight to my sister's house from a family gathering at another sister's house. It's cold and dark and snowy with terrible road conditions, and I'm thinking "OMG, how did we ever do it?" But it's wonderful to be here, regardless. Wishing you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday together!


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