Friday, March 17, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: Ablutions and Indian Dogs

Without a doubt there is one thing we four MacBeath children
who attended my father’s school in Lansdowne House remember,
and not with fondness:  the daily government health program. 
We all, including my father, disliked it for various reasons.

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

My father wrote of this program in Indian schools throughout Northern Ontario
in his unpublished handbook for northern teachers:

“Another problem faced by the Indian teacher,
and incidentally, a constant source of irritation and frustration,
is the modification of the normal school program
which is necessary to accommodate the health program
being carried on by The Indian Affairs Branch
and The Department of National Health and Welfare.  

The Indian children rarely wash before coming to school,
and they quite frequently do not have breakfast before school.
The Indian families do not have regular meal hours like white people do.
In a lot of families, it is rare for the whole family to sit down together for a meal.
Something is usually boiling on the stove,
and the members of the family just eat when they are hungry.

Because of the irregularity and haphazardness of the eating habits,
and the fact that the children do not wash too frequently,
our health programs are practical rather than theoretical.

The teacher is expected to do his best to clean and nourish the pupils in school.
In the morning after the opening exercises, the pupils have a period
when they wash their hands and faces and brush their teeth.
The soap, towels, and toothbrushes are kept in the school,
and it is responsibility of the teacher to see 
that the various toilet articles are kept reasonably clean.

In addition to the ablutions period, the teacher has to dispense
powdered milk and vitalized biscuits twice a day to the children,
usually before the morning and afternoon recesses.  
The vitalized biscuits and the powdered milk are provided
in quite ample quantities by the branch to be dispersed by the teacher in school.  

It is quite a nuisance having to mix up the powdered milk twice a day 
and to make sure that the utensils and drinking cups are kept clean.  

It is very time consuming too, 
but when you see how much the children like the milk,
especially the little ones, 
it seems to be more than worth the effort.

Some of Dad's Little Ones
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The biscuits, on the other hand, cause you very little trouble
but are not very popular with the children.
I think the main difficulty with the biscuits is their appearance.
They are sort of like a better grade dog biscuit.

They remind me of the biscuits that my father used to feed to his foxes
when we had a large fox ranch back on Prince Edward Island.
They are flat, hard, light brown in color with a slight cinnamon taste,
but as nourishing as all get out.  

One or two biscuits constituted a very adequate supplement to any diet, and
six biscuits were sufficient to maintain health and strength over quite a period of time.
The children were not too fond of them, but I always made sure
that each child ate at least two biscuits a day.

There was one boy by the name of Soloman
who had me puzzled for quite a time.
He would take all the biscuits that I would give him.  

One day just to see how many he would take,
I let him take as many as he wanted.  
He took sixteen biscuits.  

I asked him why he liked them so much,
and he told me that he did not like them, he hated them; 
but his dog loved them.  
Oh well, at least the dog was well nourished.”

My Father's Handbook
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

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

What my brother Roy, my sisters Donnie and Barb, and I remember
with intense dislike is the wretched lumpy powered milk.  
The biscuits were edible, but the milk was ghastly.  

My father expected the four of us who attended school 
to model everything for the Indians.  
So we too had to wash our faces, brush our teeth, 
eat the biscuits, and drink the milk.  
Getting the milk down was doubly hard because 
we always ate a good breakfast before school, 
usually hot porridge with more powdered milk.

At some point during the first two or three days, Dad realized
I was helping my mother bake bread and prepare meals at home.
He decided I was capable of mixing up powdered milk twice a day.
He showed me how, and one of his irritating chores became mine.

There was a small room at the back of the classroom 
where our coats hung, the oil stoves sat, and supplies were stored.
Twice a day I dragged a cardboard drum more than half my height
out of its storage area, dug out cups of milk powder, 
and dumped them into two five-gallon buckets of water.  
Then I stirred and stirred, trying to squash all the lumps 
on the sides of the buckets until that milk was frothy.  

The overpowering smell of several cubic feet of milk powder 
in that drum threatened to upend my stomach as I prepared the milk.  
No wonder my father pawned that chore off on me!  
I was always thankful to secure the cover on the drum and stash it away.

Dad's Children in His Classroom
The storage room was behind the white wall.
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Then the Ojibway children and my less enthusiastic siblings lined up 
with their cups, ladled out a serving, and headed back to their desks
to eat their biscuits and drink their milk.  

All of us were welcome to go back for as many servings of milk as we wanted
until the buckets were empty, and extra biscuits were available on my father’s desk.  

We four would force down our milk; 
Roy glugged, Donnie stalled, Barbie pretended and shared, 
and I gagged my way through the dreadful, blue-white liquid. 
At least the biscuits had a better flavor.

Soloman’s dog was not the only Indian dog getting fatter.  
A number of times I saw my two younger sisters
slip government biscuits out of their pockets and toss them 
to the dogs hanging out near our back door step. 

The Four of Us Who Attended Dad's School
Back:  Roy and I
Front:  Barbie and Donnie with Gretchen between their feet.
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Our school did not have running water.  
Dad had to carry the water for mixing powdered milk
and cleaning the buckets, cups, and toothbrushes 
from the nearby DOT waterhole or from our home.  

He strained the water through cheesecloth 
and purified it by adding a few drops of chlorine bleach, 
because the lake water was dangerous for human consumption.
The nurse Mike O’Flaherty had confirmed this fact 
after he, Dad, and Duncan McRae collected water samples 
from around the peninsula and those samples were tested.

Dad crosses the peninsula on a water-sampling excursion. 
Photo Likely by Mike Flaherty
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue 
All Rights Reserved

Dad went through a short period when he had Mom boil 
the school’s water on our kitchen stove, and he hauled
the heavy buckets of boiled to school twice a day.  

Soon he conscripted Roy and me to haul the water after lunch 
from home to school for the afternoon powdered milk.  
The path though the bush was long and narrow, 
and we slopped more water than we managed to carry to school.  

Boiling and lugging water so far proved to be onerous and time-consuming, 
so Dad soon reverted to straining lake water through cheesecloth
and purifying it with Javex.     

All classrooms have their daily routines,
but this government health program in the Indian schools took the prize.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Boars Head Lighthouse
Tiverton, Long Island, Bay of Fundy
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Lansdowne House, Ontario, Canada

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

Lansdowne House and the Father's Island, 1935

Credit: Canada. Dept. of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Library and Archives Canada / PA-094992


  1. I'm sure even boiling the water didn't get rid of everything in it. The powdered milk sounds awful. At least the dogs liked the biscuits.

    1. I would bet that you are right, Alex! It's a half century later, and the new village site of Lansdowne House or Neskantaga has been under a boil order for over twenty years. It's been all over the Canadian news for having the longest-standing boil-water advisory in the country (since 1995). We survived the experience with no ill effects, thank goodness! Have a great weekend!

  2. Dogs enjoy poop, so they are well satisfied most any time lol That sure would have been annoying to go through indeed. My ocd would have a fit haha

    1. You would not have enjoyed living in the North back then, Pat! LOL It was beyond germy. Bad germs ~ influenza, measles, chicken pox, TB. Have a great weekend!

  3. Powdered milk . . . bleagh! I've always kept some around the house, but not to drink. When we lived in areas where blizzards struck, I kept the real milk for us to drink and mixed up the powdered milk for baking. It seems as if your dad was pretty smart about pawning off jobs on you. Ah, well, it made you the magnificent woman you are today.

    Janie (your biggest fan)

    1. You're so sweet, Janie! Thank you for the kind words! We always had powdered milk in the house when we were growing up ~ for bad weather or if we ran out and couldn't get to a store. I was 15 before my family had two cars, and we were often somewhere remote. Have a great weekend! Sending hugs!

  4. Oh, it all sounds just too, too dreadful.

    1. It was! LOL Wishing you and your Rare One a happy St. Patrick's Day!

  5. What a beautiful childhood photo of you, Louise! Love your posts. Thank you so much for sharing, and Happy St. Patrick's Day to you, my cherished friend. :)

    1. Aloha, dear Linda! Thank you for your kind comment, as always! You are a sweetheart! Enjoy the remainder of a last winter weekend. Sending you hugs and love!

  6. More good stories. Powder milk is great for cooking... I did drink it when I backpacked the Appalachian Trail, mixing it with a breakfast drink mix when I could get cold spring water!

    1. Hi, Sage! I'm hearing from a number of people that powdered milk is good for cooking. Maybe I shall try that. When we were up North we made ice cream out of condensed canned milk, but that was a rare treat because it cost more than powdered milk to ship. How awesome to have backpacked the Appalachian Trail. You have great adventures big and small! Have a good one!

  7. We used powdered milk when we lived about 45minutes from a shop. But I found the low-fat variety mixed up lots better than the full cream. At my primary school, in the 1940's,YES all that long time ago, milk was delivered in bottles that had a cardboard top, with a little circle in the centre, punch it with the straw, and drink it all.I am guessing it might have been outside till playtime, summer and winter. Funny, as most of us came off farms, and could have all the milk we wanted. But guess it did some good in my growing days as the knee X-Ray shows no arthritis ( does milk keep it away?).Enjoy any real milk from any real chilled part of any real store.

    1. Hi Jean! Thank you for the lovely birthday wishes on Facebook! I always enjoy hearing your memories of growing up. I had the same kind of milk in bottles in school during the 1950s and even into the mid-1960s. "Milk count" was part of the morning beginning routine in a number of schools I attended. I drank about of quart of milk every day growing up, right through university. To this day there is nothing I enjoy more than milk and warm chocolate chip cookies.

  8. First off Ms. Louise a HAPPY BIRTHDAY to you!! Your plans for today sounded perfect! And what a tradition to keep going!!
    Powdered milk! I also grew up with it. As my parents had 9 kids to feed and quench, they/and we older ones had to mix it up every day. We did however mixed it half and half with regular homogenized milk.....PHEW! It was a little better.
    Lucky you to have been chosen to mix it twice a day back then.....but here you are sharing this with all your readers many years later. I LOVE your story, Louise, as so many others do.
    Now get off this computer and go for a swim, will ya!! lol

    1. LOL, Jim! I did get off my computer and go swimming. While we were hanging out on our float rings in the Waikiki waves, we started chatting with another couple. The lady was from Clementsport, N.S. and she and her husband currently live in Parkers Cove on the Fundy Shore. This area is lousy with Canadian snowbirds!

      I'm glad that you love my story, Jim. It's comments like yours that keep me plugging away.

      It seems like lots of people in our generation had powdered milk during our childhoods! Such happy memories ~ BIG LOL!

      Have a good one, my friend!

  9. I grew up on a dairy farm so I never tasted powdered milk until our home economics teacher in high school made us try it. It was awful! The things teachers are expected to do is a never ending list but at least modern teachers don't have to do all that.

    1. Hi, Susan! I'm sorry I'm so late replying. Blogging fell apart for me my last few days in Hawaii and during my first few days at home. I took home economics too. We didn't try out powdered milk though. I still use a cranberry tea bread recipe that we baked in home economics in Grade 9.

  10. You have to check out this blog--of a 20-something who is teaching in the arctic today!

    1. Hi Sage! Thanks for the interesting blog recommendation. I will check it out. The mounds of laundry, mail, papers, and unpacking from being away basically since mid-October are gone, and my internal clock is back on track, so I can finally think about blogging again. I hope all is well with you!

  11. I'm always so impressed by your posts. Will you be pulling these all together to create a book? Your descendants will thank you, methinks.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Donna! Yes, I am simultaneously working on a book. Have a good one!

  12. The powdered milk was horrible. I was one of the lucky ones. We had fresh milk from a cow every day. Blessings that I wasn't aware of until I grew up. Thanks for another wonderful story. Your father sounds like a true hero.

    1. Thanks, Joylene! It's funny how many things we realize were blessings in our childhood ~ after we've grown up. I hope all is well with you!

  13. How strange that Indian children were sent to school without any proper preparation and breakfast.
    i belong to a small village [35 houses only] but our manner of life were quite decent and organized .

    your father dealt with that hard situation with high sensibility .
    i loved your childhood photographs. How interesting to have father as your teacher.
    your sharing is captivating my dear friend,keep up the lovely job!
    lots of love and best wishes to you and family.

    1. Thanks for your encouraging words, Baili! I'm so glad that you enjoyed the photos and my memories. It's hard to understand how the Ojibway Indians lived then, but it was a very difficult time for them as a people. Their traditional way of life as hunters and trappers was rapidly vanishing with nothing to replace it, and the government was attempting to assimilate them into a white population by eliminating their culture and language. The Ojibway people lived in an isolated and harsh environment on the edge of starvation, and they had almost nothing. The way that they looked at and experienced the world was completely different from white Canadians. It was a time of clashing cultures and sudden change, but they survived it.

  14. I first have to say, hi, nice to meet you! Thanks for coming by my blog, after you read about me, from Alex's blog! That was very kind of you!
    What an experience of you and your family! I think it's horrible for what you went through and for what the poor Indian children did too! I really enjoyed your pictures and reading everything! Thank you!
    Are you Canadian?
    Big Hugs!

    1. Hi Stacy! It has been nice to meet you! Seeing your crow icon put a big smile on my face. Thanks for your kind words about my pictures and writing. I'm Canadian by birth, but I'm currently an American citizen living in Colorado. So I have two countries. Hugs back to you!

    2. Very interesting!!! Big Hugs!


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