Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: Big God, Little God, and Our New Life

Within days of arriving in Lansdowne House in late February, 1961,
my family was comfortably settling into life in the bush;
in fact, we were thriving,
and it was wonderful to be together under one roof again!

Each day was a blend of the familiar and novel,
and our parents and we children were embracing our new life.

The Only Image I Have of Our Home 
The Forestry House, Lansdowne House, 1961
Drawing by Donalda MacBeath
Text:  Dear Nana, This is a picture of our home.
Note:  Indian "Gods,"  Buckets of Meat Hung from the Eaves, 
a Box of Groceries on the Roof,
and the Weather Vane on the Chimney
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The Artist and Letter Writer
Donalda, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, March 2, 1961 
My father wrote to our extended family:

Hello There Everyone:
I am afraid that I will have to change the name of this publication
from The Lansdowne Letter to The Lansdowne Memorandum,
as I find that I don't have the time to write a daily edition anymore.  

My time is fully taken up with my daily chores,
chores such as hauling up the daily water supply,
hauling in the oil for the stove, filling the lamps, carrying out the garbage, etc.
However, it is so wonderful to have my family with me,
that I would gladly do twice the amount of work and not complain.

No, I am afraid that the daily letter is a thing of the past.
You will have to consider yourselves lucky to receive a weekly letter.

We have been having a wonderful time since Sara came up here.
We are entertaining like crazy.  
Last night we had two tables of bridge at our house.
We had the Mitchells, the McRaes, and the MacMahons
over for the night, or rather for the evening.

The night before, we had the Father and the Brother
over for the evening and had another rip snorting bridge session.
The Father and I beat Sara and the Brother,
though not by too much, only about 700 points.

Father Ouimet with My Father
The Roman Catholic Mission Kitchen
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Brother Bernier with My Father
The Roman Catholic Mission Kitchen
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The Father and I won the event on the last hand of the evening,
for we got over 800 points on this one hand.
The Father bid and made five hearts doubled,
and by doing so clinched a fast rubber to boot.

The children are settling down to school,
and life in the bush is most in a most satisfactory manner.
They are also getting along just fine with the Indian children.

I find it a unique and very rewarding experience
to be teaching my own children in school.
Most parents are never lucky enough to be able to get to know
their children as well as I am getting to know mine.
It is very interesting to see just how they get along with other children. 
It is also a rather strange experience to see them through the eyes
of a teacher, instead of through the eyes of a parent.

My Father's School
Church of England Day School
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I don’t want to brag too much, but Louise is a very intelligent child.
Not the most intelligent that I have ever taught,
but I would certainly rate her among the four or five
most intelligent that I have ever had as pupils.
She is a thinker, and that is a rare product
of today’s rather insipid educational system.

Roy is smart too, but very careless in his work.
He is also just like his father, in that he can’t spell worth a damn.
His writing also bears a remarkable resemblance to mine in its illegibility.
I think that mine is a bit more readable than his though,
so that doesn’t speak too highly for his, does it?

Roy and I, Often Together
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia, 1953
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Barbara and Donnie are a great help to me
in reaching my pupils in kindergarten and grade one.
I have made more progress with this group
since they joined them than I usually make in a month.

Barbara is a great favorite with all the older Indian children.
I guess it is because she is so fair, so young, and so cute.
They are always helping her to get dressed at recess
and undressed when she comes in after recess.

A couple of times, I have had to take Barbara to task for something,
and all the Indians rallied around her and comforted her
and glared at me most reproachfully.  

Once, when I had to shake her, I just about had a mutiny on my hands.
I just hope all the attention and near adulation she is receiving don’t spoil her.

I think that in the long run, both my children
and the Indians are going to benefit from the arrangement.
The Indians are going to see just how 
curious white children from outside react to school.
Already I have noticed that the Indians are becoming more responsive
in class and are showing more interest in their work.  

My children are also going to get a lot of benefit from associating with the Indians.
The Indians do much neater work than white children and are more artistic.
They are also better behaved and more kind to each other than white children.
They are also more self reliant and honest than white children.
Perhaps some of these qualities will rub off on mine.

To Be Continued…

My Father's Newest Students
Barbie, Roy, Me with Gretchen, and Barbie
Margaretsville, Nova Scotia, 1958
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Sometimes sharing my father's words are uncomfortable for me.
However, I promised myself when I started this journey that I would be honest, 
and while I might edit my father's spelling and punctuation,
I will not edit his words.

The protective daughter and teacher in me come out
when I see my father's struggle with dyslexia;
and I think of him, my sister Barb, and one of my nieces,
all brilliant people, but bedeviled by the dyslexia
that clings to our family tree like lichen on a black spruce.

So, yes, I'll edit the mechanics of Dad's writing, but not the content.
And yes, it was difficult to type Dad's assessment of my intelligence
because I don't like to blow my own horn any more that my father did.  
My four siblings are every bit as intelligent, driven, and accomplished as I am.
Even more so, truth be known.

And yes, it was difficult to type about Dad shaking Barbie in school.
A half century ago parents shook children sometimes
to get get their attention or worse.
Hopefully it happens much less now,
because now we understand the dangers of shaking children.

Of the five of us, Barbie was the one who stood up to our father the most,
and some of their standoffs are legendary.

Barbie was also the one most like our father in personality.
It's one thing to see your strengths and positive traits reflected in a family member,
but it's quite another to see your challenges and weaknesses mirrored in your child.

Dad may have been  Kitche Shemaganish
or Big Soldier around the village,
but sometimes his fair, young, cute daughter 
would give him a run for his money. 

A rare photo of Dad and Barbie: 
Dad was usually the photographer
and not the subject.
Alymer, Ontario, 1958
Photo by Sara 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.   Indian "Gods," Buckets of Meat Hung from the Eaves,
      a Box of Groceries on the Roof, and the Weather Vane on the Chimney:  
      My sister Donnie recorded the Indian dogs that hung around our door step and our unusual
      food storage system.  Because it was so cold, Dad stored all our frozen meat in buckets hung
      from the roof.  Sometimes groceries that could be frozen went up on the roof in a box.

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Aerial Photograph of Lansdowne House
The Mainland and The Father's Island (Couture Island), 1935
You can clearly see the Father's beach where Dad's luggage was offloaded from a canoe.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of Indian Affairs and Northern Development / Library and Archives Canada / PA-094992

A Quick Sketch of Lansdowne House by My Father
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Lansdowne House, Ontario


  1. I love your honesty and the fact that you are true to your father's thoughts. It must seem strange to be an observer while you also lived that life as a child. This memoir is precious and I know your family will appreciate it greatly. I never want to see it end. I have enjoyed coming on your blog and seeing the story develop. So much planning must have gone on to get everything in sequence and research the maps and pictures. They add so much to the story. And you know...your dad was right. You are smart!

    1. Thanks, Peggy! It does take a lot of work and time to get a post together, and the pictures and maps are the hardest to gather. I have about 50 photographs from Lansdowne House, and I've had to scramble to keep the images coming. And maps ~ They're mostly copyrighted, so I've had to create some of my own. It's all great fun, because I am doing it first for my family and friends and then for The World! LOL ~ I'm just grateful that there are wonderful people like you who keep me going! Sending you hugs and love!

  2. "She is a thinker, and that is a rare product of today’s rather insipid educational system." -- I wonder what your father would think of our educational system now, 55 years later?!

    1. I wonder indeed, Debra! I'm drawing on my experience as an American teacher, but I think there is a lot that would truly bother my father, like the intrusion of politicians into the classroom and the emphasis on high stakes testing. I think that he would be saddened by how difficult it is for young people and the challenges they face today.

      My father was a wonderful teacher, and I was fortunate to have him again as my teacher in high school. His greatest strength as a teacher was the rapport he built with his students. He genuinely cared for them, and he had an aptitude for bringing out the best in them. Rapport is as critical now as it was then, for without rapport one is hamstrung as a teacher. I think today he would have done everything he could to to make our current educational system work for our current students.

  3. He thought highly of you.
    That was great you blended so well with the Indian children. I bet you did teach each other many things.

    1. Yes, my dad did think highly of me, Alex! But he was proud of all his kids. I just wish that he had lived long enough to see me become a teacher. He would have been very proud of that, for he believed teaching is a high calling. My Ojibway friends in Lansdowne House, Lac Seul, and Sioux Lookout taught me far more than I ever taught them, lessons I've never forgotten.

  4. Sometimes standing up can clash indeed haha sure thought a lot of you. Each learning from one another is something rarely done anymore.

    1. We sure live in a different time, Pat! We're too focused on our differences and not enough on our commonalities. We need to start listening to and learning more from the amazing people all around us.

  5. What joy to be together as a family again.. your Dad's words say so much. Love the maps,and his words, and yes, what would our parents think of today's education standards, schools, and my Mum, about my sewing machine and the choices for fabrics, and my Dad, the machinery available.

    1. Thanks, Jean! The technological advances are mind boggling. As individuals we can do so much more than people even one generation ago. And life is certainly more comfortable and convenient. I loved my childhood, but I'm quite happy to be living in today's world.

  6. Hi Louise, I always knew I was shaken not stirred ha, ha. I do remember Dad's disciplinary methods but mostly I remember his love and pride in his "young pups". Dyslexia can be very frustrating - more so how people react to someone who struggles to spell and structure a sentence properly but of all the challenges people face in this world, it is rather a minor one. Love your posts your sister Barbie

    1. Shaken, not stirred! Good one, Barb! I love your sense of humor, and also your willingness to let me write about our family in such a way. Oops, Jon and Terry just drove up, so I've gotta run to a movie!!!

    2. Just got back, Barb. We went to see "Hidden Figures." Phenomenal!

  7. Thank you for the honestly of this post, Louise. It really shines a light on that time period in the early 60's........and I think we all survived it all pretty well.

    Having worked with kids who have dyslexia I know first hand the struggles they deal with on a daily basis. But with the help of early intervention and sensitive/educated teachers there is no reason why they can't function like everyone else.

    Have a good weekend.

    1. I absolutely agree, Jim, on both counts. We survived it all pretty well, and the right education can overcome the challenges of dyslexia. I'm looking forward to my first Hoe Down tomorrow night! Yee Haw! I'm not sure what to expect, but it should be interesting! I wish I had some cowboy clothes, but oh well. You and Ron have a good weekend too!

    2. Go to a thrift store (if there are any such places in Vegas)....they have a few items that would be suitable.

    3. Thanks for the suggestion, Jim! I ended up wearing a cute little Broncos collared, cap-sleeved shirt I have for football games. I figured at least it had a horse on it. Everyone wore pretty much what they usually wore, but with the addition of a cowboy hat. One short, slender man wore a huge, blue foam cowboy hat complete with a Texas star festooned with do-dads. It was the hit of the night! LOL Going to dances here in Bullhead City is like being back in Westport, White Bay, Newfoundland, which means that it's down-to-earth great fun! I hope you're having an enjoyable weekend!

  8. All this and you haven't set eyes on yours truly yet. Who would have known ~ not I, Louise that your world was so full.

    Ron here!!

    1. Good to see you, Ron! So many things that you don't know about me, Ron!!! LOL Have a wonderful weekend, Boyfriend!

  9. Louise, I so much appreciate the time and energy you put into making your blog so inviting, I love how you let us in to your childhood world at Lansdowne House and make us feel welcome there. I grew up in rural West Virginia and find myself reliving similar feelings and experiences you describe in your blog. You see, my mom taught in the same school I attended (although she made sure that I wasn't in her classroom), had a 14-year-old student in her 4th grade classroom (glad for today's school support with struggling students), cut male students' hair during recess (using an upside down bowl as a guide), dealt with certain male students eating ramps (a very strongly scented wild onion) for breakfast so that their stench would cause them to be immediately sent home, etc. And, then, there was the time my mother had to shake me for something I had done while we were visiting friends--she was so remorseful afterward. As a kid, I didn't realize how much she had cared about students and had gone out of her way to help them until many years later when a former student of hers (who was contacting me about our 50-year class reunion) told me of how he would have failed 4th grade had my mom not spent so much time helping him after school and how he would never forget her for that kindness, along with the self-esteem it brought him. Guess we had pretty neat parents, eh? Enjoy your well-deserved weekend!

    1. Thanks for your kind comment and sharing your childhood, Susan. Our parents were pretty neat, both as parents and teachers. The boys and the ramp onions cracked me up. No matter where they are, some boys will work the system! LOL! Your mother was a dedicated and caring teacher, just like her daughter.

      The schools I went to were sometimes so small that I couldn't escape being in my parents' classes. I had Mom as my 9th grade homeroom teacher and Dad as my 11th grade homeroom teacher, as well as Dad as my principal throughout my entire time in high school. That led to some serious issues for me socially, but if I had to do it over again, I'd still want to have my parents in my life as I did.

      It was great to talk with you yesterday! Have a good one!

  10. Ok, I am not sure if I am to comment here or not as there was an oops..(smiling) you know I enjoy reading these installments. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Truedessa! This version is the final draft, thank goodness! The one I accidentally published was pretty rough!

  11. Your father's letters are always so interesting. And this one had a lot of humour in it, too! It is hard to acknowledge the things our parents did, many things that are completely unacceptable today, but that's what was going on in their time, and it was considered normal. I appreciate your honesty. It makes for a much more interesting and realistic read.

    1. Hi, Martha! Sometimes it's so hard to be honest, but it is the right thing to do! Take care!

  12. Louise, I love your stories. I could read them all day. One day I'm hoping you make an audiobook. Your great granddaughter will love your stories too. They are more valuable than I think you realize. ...Joylene Louise.

    1. Hi, Joylene! Thanks for your encouragement! The stories will have to be for my great grandnieces because I wasn't able to have children. I continue to move forward, albeit it slowly. Have a great day!

  13. i truly love your writings dear friend!
    there are so many things of a beautiful normal life expressed in a magnificent way and go deep into one's heart and make realize that life is beautiful!
    relationships are precious and family is reason to stay alive and be grateful!

    My father was an orphan and never went to school but inspite of being in hard situations he learnt so much without going school .he used to have amazing collections of history and philosophy books .he used to read us stories from old times and taught us so much about life through his wise precious words ,
    what made me to say about him was his writing which was strange uneasy to read but not impossible!
    I never found someone who had worse hand writing than mine and sometime i think i inherited it from my father but i cannot rely on this reason because when i write something wrting is better but when i continue it and after ten minutes my hand start aching and letters get worse .

    i adore you chose to teach your kids as teacher !
    i do this too and i do this because i am quite possessive about them.i am little afraid of the outside environment from which my kids may be can somethings that can ruin their innocence as i see other kids around who speak bad words and do some acts which are advance for them so though i send my kids school but when they get back i supervise them in their studies for four hour daily alongwith it unlike their friends i do not allow them to wander outside until they be eighteen so can vary right and wrong ,same i did with my eldest son and though he was annoyed when i was strict to him but now when he hold good position in words through he says that it is all because of my care for him .
    my youngest like your ray though has good brain but very careless and hubby says that it is my fault because i pampered him as he is youngest one of house.

    i wish you much happiness and peace in life dear friend .
    enjoy your time with family and take great care .
    big Hugs and much love to you!


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