Friday, January 27, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: Letters in Nana's Mailbox

A half century ago everyone in Lansdowne House
eagerly awaited the mail plane on Friday.
Sometime around midday, a small bush plane from Nakina
would come winging over the southern horizon
bringing mail, supplies, and sometimes visitors.

Santa with Mrs. Mitchell
(The Hudson's Bay Company Manager's Wife)
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
Photo by Donald MacBeath, December 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

This meant that the community's white adults
spent Thursday evening writing letters and supply orders
to go out on the plane's' return trip to Nakina.
Roy, Donnie, and I quickly found ourselves joining
the adults in the Thursday night ritual.

On Thursday, March 2, 1961
my brother Roy wrote to 
our grandmother, Myrtle Pratt:

Dear Nana,
All we have up here is gas lights 
and a gas stove.  
We are having a lot of fun.

February 28th it was 30 below zero.  
Daddy got 40 barrels of gas.

© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


It snowed yesterday and part of last night 
and it snowed all afternoon.  

The snow is three or four feet deep
before you get to the ice. 

The only time the ice is good for skating is in the fall 
and sometimes the ice is eight feet thick.
Love Roy to Nana.

Gas Light (Coleman Kerosene Lamp)

Roy's Letter
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

On the same day, 
Thursday, March 2, 1961
I also wrote to Nana (Myrtle Pratt):

Dear Nana,
I am having a wonderful time up here.
The night I arrived we went
to the McRae’s for supper
and then to our new home.
It is very large and roomy.
We have to use gas lamps!
I sleep in a top bunk.

© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The next day there was no school,
and we spent our time trying to talk with the Indians.  

The next day, however, there was school.
Donnie and Barbie had desks, but Roy and I sat at a card table.    

We did the usual things, 
but we had a couple of hilarious times
in school the next couple of days,
like Barbie putting her coat on upside down. 

I have made two friends.
Unfortunately they are boys.
Their names are Simon and George.

Last night I went baby sitting and had a great time.
The McMahons fixed me a nice lunch,
and in the middle of enjoying it,
the baby started kicking the bed.
Of course, I didn’t know what it was. 

I ran to the kitchen, found a butcher knife
and never let go of it all evening.

I earned two dollars and spent it in two minutes
on a hobby, and that is beadwork.
These are the things I bought:  
yellow, blue, green, white, orange, and blue green beads.
There are seven tubes of them in a different color.
Also special needles and thread. 
Love, Louise.

P.S. Next time I will write a better letter. 

Drawing of Beadwork Supplies
in My Letter
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

While Roy, Donnie, and I sat at the kitchen table writing letters
by the light of the hissing kerosene lamps,
our parents took turns typing theirs on the newly refurbished typewriter.


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

Hi Everybody:
Don insists that I write a line on this letter, 
but when he sees the mess I am making 
he will never let me do it again.  

I have just finished making out a list for a week's
supply of groceries for the week after next.
It is very confusing.  However we won’t starve
for the survey gang left a ton of supplies behind.

© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Louise made two dollars baby sitting last night and was as proud as punch,
but worried when we told her not to even hint at money
for everyone here helps anyone that needs help out.

Poor Louise was practically in tears when she arrived home.
She was afraid we would make her take it back.

She invested her money today in the beads for her beadwork.
She also bought six suckers for fifteen cents.  Quite a change.

The jackets and moccasins
the Indians make here are beautiful.

They trim them with beads
in flower designs and with fur.  

Maureen and Anne were in this afternoon,
or I should say at the door with snowshoes on.

Even the snowshoes were decorated
with puffs of pink and white wool.

Mukluks Wikimedia

The children get along well with the Indian children,
and everyone here is good to them.
Maureen had Louise in helping her bake the other day;
and of course, Louise loved it.
Iona likes Barbie to go over and play with Glennie,
while Maureen loves Donnie and says to let her
go over and play with Dunc Junior anytime.

We’ve had lots of fun playing bridge.
Both times the score was very close,
even though I was on the losing side both times.  

The first night I couldn’t get any cards,
but the last time I had good ones.  
One hand Don took me to task for making a ridiculous bid.
I bid one no-trump, Maureen bid two no-trump, 
so I bid three no-trump.  
They all laughed at me and said that I didn’t have a chance.
I made it without any difficulty at all and with no help from my partner.

Playing Bridge

It is really beautiful here,
and we have been very comfortable.  

We walked over to the Island one evening.
It was a lovely moonlit night
with lots of stars.
It was a nice walk.

Well I better stop messing up this letter.
Love, Sara


One of my vivid memories of Lansdowne House
is the first time I babysat outside my home. 
The McMahons hired me to look after Baby Glen
while they played bridge next door at the McRae's.

I was only ten (almost eleven); but I had had lots of experience
looking after my baby sister Bertie and my younger siblings,
and I arrived at the McMahon's home filled with confidence.

I had snuck a copy of one of my father's
Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazines to read during the evening,
and after checking on Glennie, I settled down to enjoy the stories. 
That was a big mistake for a young girl with an overactive imagination.

Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine 
Vol. 5, No. 11, November 1960

When I suddenly began to hear strange banging noises,
I was acutely aware that I was alone in the wilderness
surrounded by Indians and wolves and worse.

My heart began to pound and the palms of my hands liquified.
I could hardly breathe, and I could hear
something crawling up to the back steps.
I exploded from the couch and raced to the kitchen
to grab a butcher knife out of the drawer.

When I turned toward Glennie's bedroom, 
I could see a shadow on the wall beyond the fridge.
Someone was crouching with a long thin club ready to strike.
Clutching the butcher knife and creeping toward the fridge
was perhaps the scariest thing I had experienced in my young life.

I swung around the fridge with the knife raised high,
only to find a broom leaning against a stack of cartons.
The light from the back porch was casting their shadows on the wall.

When I worked up the nerve to check on the baby,
I discovered that Glennie was kicking his crib.
Talk about feeling stupid!

I made it back to the couch and held the knife the rest of the evening.
I did not read anymore Hitchcock that long night.

The moment I heard the McMahons saying goodnight to the McRaes across the yard, 
I dashed back to the kitchen and slipped the knife in its drawer. 

What I don't remember is my parents' reaction to my letter to Nana.

But I do recall my father telling me not long after 
that you don't stab down with a knife.
Instead you thrust up, making it more difficult 
for someone to turn the knife back on you.
Fortunately, I've never had to test that advice.

Norseman and Fuel Drum
Noorduyn Norseman Ski Plane  
Waldorf, Howard Special Collection 008 Noorduyn Norseman
San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives (SDASM)

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

The Brier Island Nature Reserve 
Bay of Fundy
Photo by Roy MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


1.  Barrels of Gas:
Tractor trains traveled across the frozen landscape to deliver all the fuel that the community needed to run its generators, stoves, and other machines.  The fuel came in 45 gallon drums.   The 40 barrels of gas Roy referred to was for the stoves to heat the school.

Oil Barrels or Drums in the North

2.  Gas Lights or Lamps:  The Coleman kerosene lamps my father used to light our home made
     quite an impression on Roy and me.  Each evening my father would light the lamps, a task we
     watched with keen interest because we never knew when Dad would yell, "Open the door"
     to throw a wildly flaming lamp into the snow.
    The lamps had a fuel container at the base.  My father started by pumping a hand pump to
    pressurize the fuel.  This forced fuel and fumes up into the lantern where they came in
    contact with the mantle.  Then Dad would carefully stick a match inside the lamp and light the
    mantle.  He could adjust the brightness of the mantle glow by increasing or decreasing the fuel
    forced into the lamp.  The You Tube video below shows how a modern, double mantle lamp
    works which gives you an idea of how the older Coleman lamps in our home worked.  I watched
    my father change the mantles in the lamps many times.

You Tube:

And for Map Lovers Like Me:

Location of Lansdowne House
Sketched on Map of Ontario 
from Atlas of North America:
Space Age Portrait of a Continent
National Geographic 1985, pages 166-167.


  1. That is a lot of barrels of gas. Lol one must keep that big arse knife close, you just never know. Playing cards is always a great way to pass the time, especially when it is cold and all that crappy snow.

    1. I'm getting the distinct impression that you are not fond of cold and snow, Pat! LOL Terry told me that this morning that it "feels like" -3º F (-19 º C) at our home in Aurora, and it "feels like" 35º F here. (2º F). Both places are quite windy. He takes great delight in pointing out how much warmer Bullhead City is. He has already left to play pickleball on the outside courts here. Stay warm, my rhyming friend; I think it's been quite cold in the Halifax area!

  2. I remember lighting a Coleman lamp, the kerosene leaked somehow, it all went on fire, this was in a tent, I threw it out, almost panicking. Nothing burnt down!!! And the mantles, how finicky to start with a new one. Cold, our older daughter and their family are in B.C.skiing, snow galore, fantastic ski runs, night skiing, a horse-drawn sleigh, snow tube runs and more. And it is COLD!! -12 Celsius and 94 inches of snow.

    1. Coleman lamps, kerosene or propane, still scare the heck out of me. Actually anything associated with pressurized gas does. While the flaming lamps never exploded in the snowbanks, they were really scary to me, and I always treated them with respect and usually gave them a wide berth. That was one task, NO ONE ever did besides my father. In Lac Seul, my mother used hurricane lamps for light, and they were far less intimidating. I'm glad that your daughter and her family are having a lovely time in B.C. Sending you and Hugh hugs and love!

  3. You grabbed a butcher knife! Too funny. Probably not the best thing to sleep with.

    1. That anecdote is a perfect example of how, no matter how mature and responsible you may appear at ten ~ almost eleven, your judgement is a long way from being fully developed! btw, I just finished reading fellow IWSG member Joylene's book "Matowak Woman Who Cries." It is awesome! Have a great weekend Alex!

  4. Not everyone could go into the isolation of the Lansdowne and make it a jolly place to be but your family succeeded in creating an environment of love and activity as well as excitement. The idea of your parents playing bridge (which I picture as older ladies at card tables with tea afterwards) to pass away the time and create a social event is extraordinary. And you, you were using your creativity even then with the beadwork. I laughed at your episode with the knife but I can see how your imagination would take over at that time. Thanks for the letters from the family to back home. And bravo to however had the insight to keep those precious letters for you to have now.

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment, Peggy! My grandmother MacBeath saved these letters, and there are precious few of them. I became a letter saver myself, and I have hundreds! My brother started a journal about the age of 16, and he has rarely missed a day of writing since then. How I wish I could peak into that series of journals! Roy takes great delight at recording the score of card games where he beats me and others in his journal.

      Many adults played bridge then. I remember my parents playing with a number of couples throughout my childhood. Bridge Mix is still a popular candy sold in Canada. I can't remember if it's available in the USA. Everyone household had a folding card table and four chairs for playing bridge and other card games. I can remember Father Ouimet and Brother Bernier showing up with a bottle of wine for the evening's bridge game. That floored me, because my family was Baptist, and Baptists didn't have wine, even at Communion. I was shocked that a priest and brother would drink wine, and I worried about God sending a bolt of lightening down to disrupt the bridge game.

      Wishing you a happy weekend! Sending you big hugs!

  5. That episode you describe sounds like a Hitchcock thriller itself -- "Babysitter With a Butcher Knife!" And what excellent fatherly advice about stabbing up, not down! LOL (of course, now I remember that your Dad was ex-military, wasn't he)

    1. Happy Friday, Debra! Yes my father was ex-military. He taught me quite a variety of military-based skills, like how to sew on a button, spit shine shoes, make a bed so a quarter bounces on it, rifle shooting, and how to stab up not down! I did not have a boring childhood! LOL Have a good one, my friend! Sending you a big hug!

  6. Oh those 'letter writing' days! We all did it in one form or another,eh?
    My how things have changed in our culture.
    What treasures to have, Louise....especially finding out how your parents were feeling at that same time and commenting about you.
    Did you learn bead work from the Indian kids??

    1. Hi, Jim! I hope that you are enjoying a great Friday. All week long, I've been thinking that it is Saturday. Retirement still takes getting used to. I'm off to play Mexican Poker with some ladies in a few minutes. Yes, our culture has certainly changed over the past half century! I miss sending and receiving letters, but I sure love the way we are connected now! Anne was the wife of the nurse, Mike O'Flaherty. She was the sister of John Garrick, the young man with the lake trout that you were wondering about. I tried the beading which is done on a small loom that sits on a flat surface. The beads are very tiny difficult to work with. I was hopeless at it, and I didn't make much progress. I'd have probably done much better at scraping hides and sewing them together!" LOL! Sending you love and hugs, my friend!

  7. Wow, Louise! The memories do flood! I remember those old Coleman kerosene lamps! And the Alfred Hitchcock magazine...just 35 cents back then! When I was a little girl, my father would buy me comic books from time to time, and they were just 12 cents each back in the 1960's! I love all your photos and posts! Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Happy Saturday morning, dear Linda! I'm happy to know that my post has memories flooding for you! I loved reading comics in the 1960s too! That two dollars I earned was a fortune back then! Have a great day, and thank you for continuing to encourage me! Sending you hugs and love!

  8. i hope you will write a book one day by including these so lovely letters which inspires in so many ways!

    your mom was really very graceful and lovely lady and her writings seem treasure of literature !
    how sweet that you draw bead work design .your writings and actions and the way your dear mother praised you in her writing shows that you were very sensitive and sensible child .
    At ten reading Alfred Hitchcock and being under the spell of his writings is thing that reminded me the English t.v series of dramas that were based on his writings and used to telecast on midnight Saturday .
    we had a black and white T.v but i was not allowed by parents to stay awaken till 11 pm as in village people slept usually at 10 pm after dinner and being students we both sister had to be awake early morning so mom would make sure that we sleep before 9 pm .
    on Saturday nights i often woke up to watch that dramas as they fascinated me through their interesting complicated stories that made my brain think grave .

    Letters in my life took important place as since beginning i used to write letters to a Radio program host who used to run a very popular show and his words and speeches of depth and wisdom inspired lot of people including me.
    My mom used to post these letters for me and for this she had to travel on hills as post office was in a far town then.
    i wrote those letters for more than four years until i left school and tried for government job that i got luckily but could not continue because of my marriage .
    That host gave my letters a special name "Talking Letters" and will you believe that some girls from far area came to see me that i was the writer of those letters it still makes surprised that what was that drove them to see me they were just simple words and nothing else.
    you lived a very beautiful life dear friend and thank you that you preserved it for sharing with your friends!
    wishing you a Blessed happy life my dear friend.
    Take good care of yourself .

    1. Thank you for your lovely "letter," Baili! It occurred to me when reading your comment that if it were written on paper it would be a nice long letter. It's like having an electronic pen pal!

      What a wonderful mother you had during your childhood! From what I have learned about her so far, she was determined to support you and encourage you in your education and interests. I see that determination in the stories you've shared about her traveling over the hills to bring you lunch at school and to carry your letters to the distant post office. Mothers are the genuine heroines all over the world!

      Your mother must have been very proud of you when the radio host began sharing your "Talking Letters" over the air! Even schoolgirls and schoolboys have the ability to make a difference. How wonderful that some of the girls who heard your "Talking Letters" came to visit you! You are still reaching out and sharing your words, only now they travel around the world.

      I'm always delighted to find things that we have in common when we come from such different backgrounds. It strengthens my belief that people around the world have more in common than their differences. I love that you watched Alfred Hitchcock on Saturday evenings when growing up!
      I often sat up on weekend nights watching scary shows with my mother on our black and white tv. before we traveled north to stay with my father. But like you, on school nights I had to be in bed by 9:00 pm. When I was teaching I used to joke that I was going to bed before my students ~ but I'm sure I got up well before most of them!

      Have a wonderful day, my dear friend!

  9. Your father gave you some great advice. Mine would just be shocked I was holding a knife in the first place like that. Love reading these letters.

    1. Thanks, Sheena-kay! My father told me a lot of things when I was growing up, and this was certainly one of the most unusual! Have a great day!

  10. I love your stories. I'm so glad you're recording them for prosperity. These stories need to be read. The fact your grandmother kept the letters says as much about her as her legacy. Reminded me of the time my brother and I babysat for the conservation office in High Bluff, Manitoba, and had to listen to a cougar howling in the distance. I didn't bother grabbing a knife. My brother kept reassuring me that cougar was talking to the night and wasn't interested in a skinny teenager.

    1. Thanks, Joylene! I can't imagine listening to a cougar howling in the distance. Wise brother you had with you! Getting my memoir of this time finished is my major goal. Tomorrow is IWSG Wednesday, and I'm moving and traveling! LOL What is it about the first Wednesday of the month for me? Thanks for co-hosting by the way! Have a fun day tomorrow!

  11. "P.S. Next time I will write a better letter." That cracks me are a TYPICAL writer, critical of yourself even at that early age!
    And remind me not to mess with you, you are too good with a butcher knife!
    OH, and I have seen photos of your mother before, and I might have said this before but it bears repeating- she is gorgeous.
    And the Indian bead work! Just beautiful.

    1. Hi, Kay! LOL! I hadn't even picked up on my self-criticism. Thanks for your kind words about my mother. She could have been a model in NYC, but turned her back on the opportunity so she could go to university and get a degree. Sibling rivalry ~ She was always the "pretty" one in her family, while her sister was always the "smart" one. That drove Mom crazy! She was the first in her family to graduate from university ~ ever.

  12. I laughed out loud with the Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine/knife experience! You certainly did have quite an imagination, which I can totally relate to. I also chuckled with your father giving you advice about how to use the knife. Most parents would be horrified, your dad was practical! LOL... I so enjoy your writing and these memories.

    1. Life would be dull without our imaginations, wouldn't it. LOL My Dad was military for part of my childhood, and he regularly took me to the shooting range. He was quite a marksman. and he was definitely not a typical father. Glad to hear that you enjoyed the babysitting anecdote. I hope your packing is progressing well. We moved out of our trailer this morning, and we are at a hotel tonight. I'm not sure how quickly we'll be getting home. But we are certainly returning with a lot more than when we left. Among other things a Christmas tree. LOL Don't work too hard!


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