Friday, January 6, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: Prejudice

When you were growing up did you ever have to move far away
in the middle of the year and go to a new school? 

My family moved a lot during my childhood,
so I was familiar with having to start anew in another school
at the beginning, in the middle, and sometimes toward the end of a school year.

On the Move Again
Me (left) with Roy and Donnie
This was the year I attended three schools in three provinces as a second grader.
We were visiting relatives in New York State on the way to School #3 in Nova Scotia.
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Moving never became easy for me.
It was always difficult.  
The trauma of leaving my friends and starting over always hurt.

But sometimes the experience was intimidating, even scary.
That was the case when my family moved to Lansdowne House
in late February, 1961.
I approached my strange new school with trepidation,
because I knew it would be unlike any school I had ever attended.

Church of England Indian Day School
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada, fall 1960
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The fact that it was a one room school with multiple grades didn't bother me a bit.
I had been to all kinds of schools in my young life.

The fact that I would be the only fifth grade student didn't bother me either.
I'd been one of two third graders in my one room school in Margaretsville, Nova Scotia, and that had worked out just fine.

The fact that I would have to share a card table with my brother wasn't intimidating.
Rather it raised every territorial and competitive hackle I possessed,
because it was Roy, my brother The Instigator, whom I had to share it with.

However, the thought of my father as my teacher and principal was intimidating.
I remember peeking into his junior high classroom when I was five or six,
overawed by those huge seventh grade boys near the door
and my father's towering, authoritative presence at the front of the room.

Dad hadn't demonstrated a lot of patience in the past
when helping my brother and me with school work,
and my Nana MacBeath wasn't the only person worried about him roaring at us.
We two could bring out our father's inner Military Parade Marshal lickety-split,
but even this didn't scare me.

 Big Soldier ~ Kitche Shemaganish
(The Nickname the Ojibwa People Gave My Father in Lansdowne House)
Most Likely Prince Edward Island, Circa:  1952
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved 

What scared me was the thought of being one of four white children
in a school full of Ojibwa children who spoke hardly any English.
I had never experienced being a minority, 
but I already was familiar with prejudice
and with how children could cruelly target those who were different.
I was about to be the one who was different. 

Some of my Father's Ojibwa Students
Lansdowne House on Lake Attawapiskat in Northern Ontario
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

We were late getting to school that first time in Lansdowne House.
My father had left early to make sure the cantankerous stoves
had heated the school without burning it down during the night
and to haul the day's water supply for the school up from the DOT waterhole.

Mom fell behind the schedule to get us off on time,
surely hampered by the novel task of readying four children
for school with no running water or electricity;
and, it didn't help to have an excited four-year-old Barbie
going off to school for the first time.

We Five Shortly Before Moving North
Roy (left), Donnie, Louise (Me) with Bertie, Barbie
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada
Photo by Sara MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Anxiety preyed on me as we headed across the squeaky snow
and followed the narrow path through the bush to the other side of the peninsula.
We had experienced a warm welcome from Fanny and Nellie Kitchejohn the previous day,
but I worried about what going to a school filled with Ojibwa classmates would be like.

My fear of experiencing prejudice was visceral.  The irony escaped me at the time.
As I trudged up the steps to my new school, I was the living definition of prejudice,
burdened with a "preconceived opinion not based on reason or experience" 
that the Ojibwa children would greet me with prejudice.
(Definition: Google)

I tried to express the strong emotions I had experienced that morning
in an essay I wrote eighteen months later: 

"I felt the ugly fear and uneasiness of prejudice most powerfully 
as I crossed the threshold of my father’s school,
and a sea of coppery faces and coal-black eyes stared at the four of us. 

I could sense the atmosphere of curiosity mingled with fear and shyness.  
My brother, my two sisters, and I could not return an equal feeling
for we were four small white children lost in the midst of thirty some Ojibwa children. 

Never will I forget the feeling in the pit of my stomach, 
my shaking knees, aching throat, and pounding heart.  
I know now what it is like to be on the receiving end of prejudice."

I didn't get much school work accomplished that morning;
instead I tried to blend in and mimic the Ojibwa children's
responses to their familiar school routines.

A chirpy "Here, teacher!" from me during roll call 
earned me a glare from my father and his admonition 
that I should reply with "Present, Mr. MacBeath."

Our father expected we four to model proper school behavior and English
for the benefit of the Ojibwa students, not to mimic them,
even little Barbie on her first day of school ever.

While my younger sisters Donnie and Barbie sat among the younger Ojibwa girls,
Roy and I sat at our card table at the back of the room.
We pushed our papers and books around and observed.

Some of My Father's Ojibwa Girls
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The Ojibwa girls quickly
took our younger sisters
under their collective wings,
guiding them through
the unfamiliar school activities
of brushing teeth
and washing hands.

They comforted and sympathized with Donnie and Barbie
when they had to eat and drink 
the dreadful, government-issued bannock and powdered milk
that targeted Indian hunger and poor nutrition.

They even jumped up to help my sisters sharpen their pencils,
gathering around them in a colorful giggling group at the pencil sharpener.
No one jumped up to help me with mine.

I can still remember that first long walk to and from the pencil sharpener
and feeling all those dark eyes staring at me as I moved across the room.

Our Ojibwa classmates largely ignored Roy and me,
but I caught them sneaking furtive glances at us,
glances they quickly averted if my eyes met theirs.

The minutes to morning recess crawled by, 
and I glumly anticipated standing by myself
behind a corner of the school out of the wind.
Recess and acceptance loom large in the minds of children,
and I was no different from countless others.

The dreaded recess time came, 
and Dad drove us all outside to play.
I suspect he had a quick cigarette and a cup of thermos coffee
to settle his nerves at having the four of us in his classroom.
In fact, we may have had an extra long recess ~ 
one of the benefits of Dad's having his immediate supervisor
located an hour and a half away by bush plane.

I walked over to stand stoically by the swings
where the Ojibwa girls were pushing my sisters
higher and higher into the cold air.
I watched my brother attempting to chat
with a bunch of boys gathered by the steps,
thinking it was going to be a very long and lonely recess.

What happened next I recorded in my long ago essay:
"At recess, a very big Indian boy approached and hailed me. 'Hello, Nouise!'
I rallied round, managed a faint 'Hello,' and our problems were solved.  
Within minutes we were running, jumping, laughing, and shouting with them all."

That was George Jacobs, and he and Simon Atlookan
became two of my best friends among the Ojibwa children.
I am forever grateful for his reaching out
to this suddenly shy and awkward white girl.

George (left) and Simon (right)
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada, Winter 1960
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

For Map Lovers Like Me:

Lansdowne House, Ontario, Canada


  1. Could that you stopped getting the hairy eyeball and had some fun after he reached out. That many schools in one year sure must have been trying.

    1. Good* at least good and could rhyme lol

    2. LOL, Pat! And here I thought you were perfect! The hairy eyeball! I was so conscious of writing about eyes yesterday. When making the IWSG rounds, I read a great post about the rule not to have wandering body parts ~ something I'd never heard of before. It hadn't occurred to me that body parts could wander. I can't remember who wrote the post, but she gave the example of "Their eyes gathered on some trees" ~ something like that. I just couldn't get that image out of my head. So when I tried to write about eyes boring into my back, all I could see was little eyes shaped like drill bits digging into my back. I settled for the bland "staring," groaning at something else to be anal over. Actually I bet you could have a field day writing about wandering body parts ~ LOL Have a great day, my rhyming friend!

  2. To me, this line captures the essence of grade school -- "recess and acceptance loom large in the minds of children."

    I'm sure your experiences as an outsider up north helped to make you the empathetic person you are today, Louise.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Debra! The North had a huge impact on my life in a variety of ways. Certainly I had keen lessons in the injustices in our world and in how the circumstances of your birth can shape your opportunities in life. I have always struggled with how I can have so much and others so little. But I also learned that money does not buy happiness and that those with the least can be the most generous of all. Because of my intense friendships in Lansdowne House and Lac Seul, I realized early on that people everywhere have far more in common than their differences. Knowing that gives me great hope for the future of humankind, despite the extraordinary challenges we face right now. Have a lovely day! Sending you a big hug!

  3. Louise, I agree with Debra and echo her comment. I absolutely love all your photos and always enjoy your stories and photos. Thank you so much for sharing, and I wish you all the best in 2017...and always, my cherished friend.

    1. Thank you, dear Linda! Your support and encouragement keep me going when I feel overwhelmed by writing my book. Not to burden you, though, with that statement! If it weren't for you and the other amazing blogging friends I have met, I would probably have given up this memoir slog long ago. I shake my head at how far I have come through this blog. The best thing about this whole process, besides meeting special friends like you, is that I was able to work through and make peace with the trauma of all that happened to me in the coming years. I buried the ugliness deeply and over the past three years, I've dug it out of the muskeg and faced it. Dealt with it! I'm not 100% there yet, but I've come so very far. I am far kinder and gentler with my younger self. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your inspiring presence in my life! Have a great day, my dear friend, and the best of new years! XO

  4. My dear it is lovely reading these posts. Prejudice looms all over. I'm glad you got to meet wonderful people and your fears didn't come to light. Enjoy your weekend Fundy (Louise).

    1. Thanks, Sheena-kay! Your encouragement means so much! You, as a fellow writer, know how tough and lonely writing can be! I'm truly grateful to have found the IWSG and its wonderfully members. Enjoy your weekend too!

  5. Trust kids to break through any barriers because they usually don't see them.
    I've been in places where I was the minority. Fortunately a smile is universal.

    1. Hi, Alex! Smiles are universal, and my one resolution for the new year is to flash as many of them as I can to the people I meet every day. I was fortunate to spend my career working with children. They taught me far more than I ever taught them. Enjoy your weekend, my friend! I'm sure that after the intensity of IWSG Wednesday and its anthology reveal, you are looking forward to relaxing this weekend. Wishing you a restful, restorative one!

  6. Hi Louise (miss you), I love that picture of you, Roy and Donnie - I don't think I have ever seen it before. I really hated that powdered milk and use to trade it for a piece of bannock - well I don't remember bannock - I remember dry hard biscuits. Hugs your sister Barb

    1. I just spent a half an hour writing you a long, funny comment, and the damn computer ate it! I need a big hug! Now I'll have to see if I can remember and rewrite it! :(

    2. BIG, BIG hugs

  7. I wonder if your Dad ever thought about how you all would fit in up there? Adjustment, change, doubts that loomed so large, and now you write and tell us as if it was yesterday. Love your words today, and when I think back to the first move from primary to secondary school, it seemed huge to me as an 11 year old, the following year to a new High School went so easily. That was 1954, and a friend from then is coming to stay with us on Monday night. Her first visit here.!!! I am SOOO excited. She will miss Hugh's 80th birthday lunch on Sunday but assured me we can do it again on Monday night. Do you have friends now from those days long gone? Hugs from a cool NZ, our summer seems to have forgotten how to play.

    1. Hi, Jean!!!
      We never forget those big transitions, do we? How lovely that you have a long ago friend coming to visit. I bet you and she will have a blast!!!

      And happy, happy birthday to Hugh! 80 is a big one, and how fortunate he is to celebrate such a milestone. So many in our troubled world die too young. I remember when the president of our university turned 80. I was on the staff of the university paper, so I was invited to a special event honoring him. I never forgot what he said. He said that every decade of his life was better than the last and that he was looking forward to the best decade yet! He was grateful for the gift of a long life and enthusiastic about all the good things still to come. I wish Hugh a very happy birthday on Sunday along with health, happiness, fulfillment, and most of all love in abundance!!! Here comes a great big birthday hug for you to catch and give to him!!

      I'm home on a fast turnaround trip, so I've been running around like mad taking care of some things. Tomorrow it's the Genius Bar at the Apple store to see if the geniuses can figure up what's going on with my computer. One way or another, repair or replace, I'll probably be computerless for a week.

      My parents and extended family did worry about how we would fit in, especially Roy and me who were older. I became a problem in several ways as you will learn. My father did write about the concerns that all white families with children working in the North had to deal with. I haven't shared that writing of his yet, because it has a better place in my narrative.

      I no longer have friends from that time. Many have died and others I have lost touch with. Father Ouimet and Fritz and John Garrick (later, from Lac Seul) remained close to us throughout their lives. I came across Fanny Kitchejohn's name as a source in a study of Lansdowne House that was written in the late seventies.

      One of my next steps is to contact the Ojibwa chief at Neskantaga (Lansdowne House). I'm also considering arranging a trip to Lansdowne House, maybe this summer. It's still difficult to get to, and there aren't hotels or anything like that. My sister Barb said she'd be interested in going with me; Terry less so. I think I've told him too many stories about bloodsucking mosquitos and flies!

      Other than a friend from Smith's Cove, Ron and a few of my classmates from Grade 8 are my oldest friends. My family moved so much, and this was a time when my parents worried about the cost of 5 cent stamps to send a letter to their mothers or siblings.

      I'm fortunate to remember a lot. The experiences I had were so different and hit me at an impressionable time, so they really stuck in my memories. Some things haunted me and really shaped my future life. I also have the benefits of my family letters, some scribblings of mine, and a couple of papers I wrote in the past.

      I had a chance to talk with my brother at Christmas. He came to Calgary from Kuwait and I came from the US. His memories of Lansdowne House are not as strong as mine, but he reminded me of acouple of things. He remembers Sachico which happened about three years later. And he doesn't want to tell me, he wants to write his memories for me. Only problem is he has a hugely responsible job high up in a Kuwaiti oil company. I'll have to hope he get them written for me in time for the book!!!

      I find that some memories are returning to me as I write, details, or things that were said. I'm actually playing with the idea of going to a hypnotist to see if I can uncover more memories. I know from past experiences that I am an excellent subject for hypnotism.

      Never a dull moment!!!

      I hope your NZ summer starts to play! Winter certainly has given me a blast here in Colorado. Arizona on Sunday is looking good!

      Sending you and Hugh lots of hugs and love!

  8. The more you write and share, Louise, the better I understand you and how your life has been impacted by your experiences of moving around so much.
    So happy these boys treated you well and accepted and understood your uneasiness on that first day. Kids can be full of compassion whether they know it or not.

    1. Kids are amazing, aren't they, Jim? George and Simon, the others, were very kind that day, and going forward. On that first school day, of course, I didn't realize remarkable their offer of friendship was, nor did I understand how badly and unjustly the First Nations people were treated throughout the North, and the government, religious, and fur trade policies that controlled so much of their lives.

      I hadn't yet had to climb past the "dirty drunken Indians" littering the steps of stores in Sioux Lookout or to observe the virulent racism and prejudice they endured. When I say "dirty drunken Indian," I am not disparaging the First Nations people; had I gone through what they had experienced in their lives, I'd have probably been there with them. Abject hopelessness is a terrible power that degrades and destroys lives around the world. And "dirty, drunken Indians" is how way too many of the white people in Sioux Lookout regarded First Nations peoples and treated them.

      I still had to learn the stories of Simon, John, Fritz, and Bobby and to experience life in Lansdowne House, Lac Seul, and Sioux Lookout to begin to grasp on a gut-wrenching/heart/soul level what was occurring in the North, not to mention other parts of Canada. It was and continues to be Canada's national shame.

      Lots more to come!!!
      Happy Saturday to you both! I'm going computerless for an unknown interval in a few minutes!

  9. A remarkable experience beautifully written. Thanks, Louise.

    1. Thank you, George! You are so kind to continue to comment and encourage me when I have been absent from your blog and so many others. I had hoped to get around visiting you and others, but I have been time-crunched by all I have had to do in the short time I have been home. I'm eight miles high again tomorrow morning, and I'm leaving for the Apple store to deal with my messed up computer in ten minutes. Wishing you and Norma the best of New Years!

    2. really wish you get your computer problem solve dear friend .

    3. Thanks, Baili! After many frustrating hours consumed by computers and internets for weeks, things seem to be working. I was still on the phone with my internet provider late last night, but I'm cautiously hopeful that the tech finally resolved the current problem. The good news is that I didn't have to buy a new computer, nor did I have to leave my current computer with Apple to fix.
      We shall see! Have a good one, Baili ~ wishing you a happy day!

  10. I am so beginning to understand you now reading this post. You were a writer from the very beginning. You have such a way of expressing yourself and describing your world. That is such a gift that I admire. And learning how you moved a lot when you were young helps explain that you are adaptable in any situation and love to travel so much. I knew before you said it that you would not be intimidated by the strange children and I predict that you will become a leader in the group. Can't wait to hear what is coming next in your life.

    1. Thanks for your kind and encouraging words, Peggy! I, too, can't wait to hear what is coming next in my life! I have a reasonably good idea what's happening through the 31st of January, but after that I'm not sure! Last year may have been about "Be careful what you wish for" and "Don't fight the Universe," but this year's lesson seems to be, "Just close your eyes and let go!" I've always been a writer, but my choices in life carried me away from working as a writer. Now I get to fulfill that writing desire ~ like you are finally seizing those dreams that you had to set aside because of life's demands. I'm optimistic that this year is going to be a good one, and I hope that your's is really shaping up to be great too. I'm trying to catch up as best I can visiting my wonderful blogging friends. Got my fingers crossed ~ all of my technology seems to be functioning correctly right now, but my non-technology life needs some work and catching up too! Never a dull moment! Sending you a big hug!

  11. I love your posts and all of the rich history you share with us. The photos are amazing as well and really help bring the story to life.

    1. Thanks, CS! I appreciate your kind comment. I'm glad that you enjoy the photos. I'm so visual that I can't seem to write a post without them! Have a happy day!

  12. somehow i share your experience of new school and fear of being among strangers with harsh and un kind words .
    we lived in a city until my brother died who was four years older than me [i was six then] my parents specially my mom went in deep depression and remained fainted due to medicines .doctors advised my father that she will be fine if we will move to somewhere else and therefore mom decided to get back to her native village and by going against her family she put me to school as our village was very small[32 houses only ] and conservative environment.
    i was first girl who went to school and unlike my previous school new school was place where in beginning i felt hard to understand environment ,girls and teachers but gradually they excepted me [within a month] except one girl who kept bullying and trying to upset me with her really unhealthy psychic nature .for years she did this until one day our principle expelled her from school for being very cruel and unjustified to me in her attitude . Later after eight years when one day she came to my home [she lived in an other village near]and made shock with her soft revolutionary behavior .She apologized for her previous miss behavior and told that what she did to me was just jealousy because she could not bear the love of my teachers and principal for me and specially love of my mom who used to take long walk over the hilly rough way and came to drop me lunch in break as her own mom got married to an other man and did not care for her ever .

    she still exist in my weird memories .
    thank you for your BEAUTIFUL post who took me to my school days .
    i loved your photos and adore your way of sharing a lot !
    have a wonderful new year dear friend !

    1. Thank you for the encouragement you give me and for sharing your story, Baili. I can tell how much your mother loved you by how she insisted that you get an education and by how she brought your lunch to you at school. I'm sure she loved your brother every bit as much, and I can't imagine what she must have suffered when he died at such a young age. I don't know how any parent recovers from such a tragedy.

      I'm glad that the girl who bullied you so cruelly eventually apologized for her behavior. Often bullies act the way they do to cover up their insecurities and inadequacies. Not that that excuses their behavior! I hope that things improved for her, even if she had been mean to you. I always hope that people can change and improve the circumstances of their lives.

      I'm happy for your mother (and you!) that you grew up to be a happy and successful person with a loving husband and three fine sons.

      It makes me happy to know that you are enjoying the story of my childhood and my family photos. Wishing you a happy and fulfilling day tomorrow! Hugs back at you!

  13. Such memories! And I love your photos. Yeah, as a Navy brat, I get the moving thing. It's never easy, even without breaking up the school year, but it can be worse when you're moved in the middle. It's takes time to adjust.

    1. Hi, Donna! How lovely to hear from you! I think any person who had parents in the armed forces when he or she was growing up gets the moving thing. There are many benefits that come with moving, meeting all kinds of people, and seeing a lot of places, but it wasn't always easy to adjust. I wish you lots of writing success in the new year!

  14. What a wonderful story you have told here. I thoroughly enjoyed your words. And I am envious of your old photographs that blend your words together. Thank you for sharing this. Aloha!

    1. Aloha, Hula-la! I'm so glad that you enjoyed my writing and photos. My family photos are my most valued possessions, along with the letters and writing of my parents. Have a great day!

  15. I love your stories. Your honest is so moving. We never moved. I grew up in a little town near the Rez. It wasn't until I attended high school that I realized not every one was like us. Thanks for sharing these wonderful stories.

    1. Thanks for your kind comment, Joylene! It is so fulfilling to know that people like you are enjoying my stories. I believe everyone has important stories and lessons to share, and I am glad that I have a chance to share mine. All the best, my friend! Take care!

  16. Good stories. How does it impact the way you see the world today?

    1. Oops, Sage! Just found this comment. I will be getting to how my experiences in the North shaped my future in coming posts.

  17. There is so much to be learned by your experiences. I would have felt the same way. I imagine that these moments have shaped who you are and have made you a kinder, more sensitive and empathetic individual. I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see what happens.

    1. Hi, Martha! I just found this comment now. What I experienced in the North had a huge impact on my life. The time is getting closer when I will share these.

  18. I have jumped back into the fray sort of/kind of, Nouise! Winks!

    Prejudice, all encompassing from both sides. You learned early which seems to be a blessing in disguise. As you may know I hadn't reached this part of my life until university. Learning swiftly I forged ahead into academia.

    One story from many years ago re:prejudice was when I worked at Digby Pines. I was just coming "OUT" and like all closeted gays was so frightened of being found out. I met a fellow who sparked my interest. His roommate just happened to be non-Caucasian. After dancing around my interest for the fellow I had a fancy for, the roommate thought that I was prejudice because of "what he thought" was my dislike of him. Far from the truth, he was not gay but happened to be non-Caucasian. My sole interests were selfish I know, but I had no idea about prejudice at all. I had never experienced it before.

    The summer came to an end and my "Summer of '72" world faded away as so did my summer fling. However prejudice still has filtered through my thoughts many times since then. I probably won't ever see "the roommate" but still wonder what might have happened if I had the nerve to be truthful at the time.

    Life from the view of a gay person.

    Inspiration from your smooth writing is always so enlightening.


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