Friday, March 10, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: A Spin on a Little Ski-Dog

The first time I saw a Ski-Dog, 
it came racing along ice-bound Lake Attawapiskat, veered sharply, 
and roared up the snow-covered hill in front of our school,
stopping abruptly near the steps.
Father Ouimet hopped off and dashed inside the school
to visit my father before recess ended.

Father Maurice Ouimet with My Father Don MacBeath
Photo Probably by Uno Manilla
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

All the Ojibway children on the playground
immediately crowded around the strange object
laughing and chattering, including my siblings and me.
It was an unknown thing to We Five MacBeath Children,
but not to the Ojibway children who had become very familiar
with Father Ouimet’s marvelous machine.

I had no idea at the time, but this strange apparition
was about to take the north by storm.

View from the Edge of the Playground
with Lake Attawapiskat and the Hill in the Background
Photo Probably by Uno Manilla
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Have you ever raced over snow and ice on a Ski-Doo?
Felt that exhilerating rush of cold air and spray of snow?

Rotax powered Bombardier SKI-DOO XRS 800

I have, and chances are I did it before you!

When Father Ouimet returned outside from visiting my father,
he offered me a chance to ride on his Ski-Doo.

Of course I didn't pass up the chance,
but I'm not sure which made me more nervous,
to ride on a motorcycle with skis
or to wrap my arms around a Roman Catholic priest and hang on tight.

We flew down the hill and made a big, looping circle
out on the frozen lake, bumping over mounds of snow
and throwing up roosters of white.

The snow sparkled in the brilliant sunlight,
and the cold air stung my face and watered my eyes.
I'm sure my siblings and the Ojibwa children watching
from the top of the hill could hear my delighted shrieks
and Father Ouimet's laughter above the growl of the engine.
It was one of the most exhilarating events in my life.

All too soon we flew back up the hill, 
and my brother Roy took his turn behind Father Ouimet. 

Okay, granted the first Ski-Doos were manufactured in 1960,
and I didn't ride on one until early March 1961,
but I rode on the very first Ski-Dog!

"Ski-Dog?" you might ask?
Yes, Ski-Dog.

Were it not for a publisher's error in a sales brochure,
Ski-Doos would have been Ski-Dogs.

Joseph-Armand Bombardier invented the Ski-Dog, 
a small, lightweight snowmobile 
designed to replace the dog teams used for transportation 
by hunters and trappers in remote areas of the north.

He had previously developed large tracked vehicles
that could hold up to twelve people.
In fact, Bombardier gave one to Father Ouimet in 1949.

But what was really needed in the north was a machine for one or two people,
something that would make Father Ouimet's work easier in his northern parishes.
Ouimet suggested this to his friend Bombardier,
and from this idea Joseph-Armand created the Ski-Doo. 

This is a late wood-bodied Bombardier B-12 snow bus,
similar to the early one Father Ouimet had and slept in.
Circa 1951

In 1958 Joseph-Armand built a wooden prototype of a small snowmobile ~

You Tube ~ Ostieguy

And in the winter of 1959 Joseph-Armand hand-built the first two Ski-Dogs.

In April, 1959, he personally delivered one of them by bush plane
to his long-time friend Father Ouimet in Lansdowne House.

As readers of my northern posts may remember,
my family and I were life-long friends with Father Ouimet.

Little did I know when I rode with him on his Ski-Dog
that I was riding on an invention that would change the north
and launch a new winter recreational sport.

1960's Ski-Doo Clips
Racing in Kirkland Lake, Ontario 
Birth of the Snowmobile
You Tube ~ Leo C.

Father Ouimet reminisced about these vehicles 
in French radio program about his life:  
Here is my rough translation: 

"Imagine I am the first ski-doo owner in the world!

Mr. Armand Bombardier of Valcourt gave me a snow mobile
that could seat 12 people in 1949. 
It was amazing but too heavy and very difficult to transport in our regions. 
I suggested building a device for a passenger of my height. 
This idea caught on ...

... Mr. Bombardier came by plane to bring my snowmobile on April 15, 1959. 
This fast means of transport has impressed the Indians."
(with the help of Google Translator and some dictionaries)

Very Similar to the Large Snowmobile
Father Ouimet Had
You Tube ~ Yvon Beaudet 

This novel form of transportation fascinated the Ojibway community,
and Bombardier presented Father Ouimet with the Ski-Doo
which he went on to thoroughly field-test in Lansdowne House
during the following winters.

A four-stroke Kohler engine powered this first Ski-Doo, 
and a single rubber track as wide as the machine propelled
its steerable wooden skis. 

In 1960 Bombardier Limited manufactured 225 Ski-Doos in Valcourt, Quebec,
and fourteen years later it produced its one millionth!

Unfortunately Joseph-Armand Bombardier died in 1964
and did not live to see that one millionth machine,
but his wife and Father Ouimet were present
for the celebration of this milestone in August, 1973.

Joseph-Armand Bombardier (1907-1964): 
Getting Around in the Winter [philatelic record]:
 Joseph-Armand Bombardier: vision et détermination
Library and Archives Canada

Father Ouimet's personal Ski-Doos were important to his priestly
and missionary duties in the remote Oji-Cree villages west of James Bay.
He and I corresponded over the years, 
and sometimes he mentioned his Ski-Doos.

On December 18, 1982
Father Ouimet wrote to me:

"Well, I am still in this world.  
Still in good shape, but getting older every day ~
Pretty near 71 years old.
Should be retired ~ but no way ~ nobody to relieve me.

I am alone in charge of 5 missions:  Lansdowne House,
Fort Hope, Ogoki, Webique, and Summer Beaver.

Travelling a lot.
Last winter I covered 8,258 miles by snowmobile.
That's a lot of fresh air."

On January 11, 1986
Father Ouimet wrote to Terry and me:

"Still living, only 74 years old, still a young man.  
Like ever, I am running on a snowmobile.
I have a very nice machine in fact,
a Christmas gift from my friend ... Bombardier."

Father Ouimet's first Ski-Doo, the one I rode on,
was obtained by the The Museum of Ingenuity J. Armand Bombardier in 1969.
Sled Magazine 

Father Ouimet was honored for his role in the history of the Ski-Doo
by carrying the Olympic Torch for the 1988 Calgary Winter Games
on a 1988 Bombardier Ski-Doo.

Calgary Herald
Sled Magazine 

This was the first time the Olympic Torch was carried by snowmobile.
Father Ouimet led off the snowmobile contingent near Shanty Bay, Ontario on its 1,740 mile snowmobile journey from Shanty Bay to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

For a photo:  click here 

No Snowmobile for My Father,
Only His Trusty Snowshoes
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, 1961
Photo Probably by Duncan McCrae
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The last time I rode with Father Ouimet,
it was under much different conditions.
My sister Barbie and I had braved a frigid night
to cross the ice to the Father's Island 
to watch the Saturday night movies in the rec hall.

When it was time to leave, the temperature had plummeted way below zero,
the Indian dogs were howling in the bitter cold,
and the wolves were answering from the ice.

Father Ouimet stopped Barbie and me on our way out
and told us that he thought he should run us home on his Ski-Doo,
the night was so cold, and it was too dangerous
for the two of us to cross the ice alone.

So we waited and watched as Father Ouimet,
in his black cassock with a roped Crucifix hanging from his waist,
rewound the film reels and slipped them into their metal shipping cases,
banked the fire in the stove, and tidied the hall.

The Ojibway were long gone by the time he was finished,
and we followed Father Ouimet over to the Mission
under a sky filled with bright stars and weaving, dancing lights.
The sounds of the dogs and wolves were primal,
and Barbie and I were glad of the ride home.

Barbie clung to Father Ouimet, I held on to both of them,
as the little Ski-Doo left the Mission and roared across the ice to the Mainland.
We all were wrapped against the bone-gnawing cold,
but the frozen air burned our lungs and eyes.

Yet again, all too quickly, our ride was over,
and we hustled into our toasty kitchen with Father Ouimet.
Our appreciative parents fortified him with a cup of hot tea
before he disappeared into the northern night.

As long as I live I will not forget Father's Ouimet's wonderful Ski-Dog!

Weaving Dancing Lights
Flickr:  Emmaneul Milou  ~ License

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Bay of Fundy out of Westport, Brier Island
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


1.  Transcript of an unidentified, undated radio show:
     Mémoires du Père Maurice Ouimet o.m.i. 
     (Monastère des Pères Oblats Cap-de-la Madeleine)
     Thanks Jean-Claude Gilbert O.M.I. Superior

2.  Miles to Kilometers:
     8,258 miles = 13,290 kilometers
     1,740 miles =   2,800 kilometers

3.  Joseph-Armand Bombardier:
     For more information about the inventor of the Ski-Doo and other machines check out this link:
     Musee Bombardier

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Lansdowne House
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Lansdowne House, Ontario

Original French Transcript:
"Imaginez que je suis le premier propriétaire de ski-doo au monde.  M. Armand Bombardier de Valcourt m’a fait cadeau d’une snow mobile
qui pouvait asseoir 12 personnes, en 1949.
C'était épatant mais trop lourd et très difficile à transporter dans nos régions.
Je lui ai suggéré de construire un appareil pour un passager de ma heuteur.  
Cette idée a fait son chemin ... (omitted sentence below.)

... M. Bombardier est venu par avion me porter ma moto-neigge le 15 avril 1959.  
Ce rapide moyen de transport a épaté les Indiens."
(Mémoires du Père Maurice Ouimet o.m.i.)

Omitted Sentence:
Le 28 mars 1949 je couchais an arrière de mon ski-doo.
(On March 28, 1949, I slept in the back of my Ski-Doo.) 


  1. First I've seen this kind of snow bus

    1. Hi, Adam! I think the heyday for snow buses like the Bombardier B12 was from the '40s through the '70s. The B12 seated 12 people, was tracked in the back, and had skis in the front. They worked best on flat terrane and could get up to 30 MPH. They were used as school buses, for mail delivery, and for emergencies. I remember seeing Father Ouimet's B12 a few times, but it was less practical than the smaller Ski-Doo.

  2. He owned the first Ski-Doo and carried the Olympic torch - what an honor. I've never been on one, so yes, you rode it long before me.

    1. Father Ouimet was quite a character and was well known in Northern Ontario. He meant a great deal to my family, despite the fact that we were Baptists and he was RC.

  3. What a fascinating post, Louise! It's so cool that you rode on one of the very first ski-doos and that Father Ouimet is so bound up in the history of that invention! When my brother was born in January 1950 in the midst of a prairie blizzard, he and my mother were brought home from the hospital by someone who had one of those enclosed wooden, tracked "Bombardiers" as they were called -- pronounced in anglicized form as Bom-ba-DEERS, of course, lol.

    1. Of course, Bom-ba-DEERS! Every time I hear Bom-bar-Dee-ay on tv, my ears hurt! How cool that your brother arrived home that way! What a memory for your mother. I spent some time digging to verify that it was Father Ouimet's Ski-Doo that was in the Bombardier Museum, and I have it from several sources. When I flesh out that part of my book, I'm going to submit a formal request with the Bombardier Museum; and, the museum has a photo of Father Ouimet and his Ski-Doo that I would like to use in my book. It's no longer visible on the museum's new website, but one of their researchers said the museum still has the photo. Cheers to interesting Canadian winter memories!

  4. What wonderful memories (even though I have mixed feelings about snowmobiles. I remember reading a memoir of an early pastor in Southern Utah who had been in New York for a denominational meeting. He talked about walking or taking a horse from Cedar City to Parowan, for services (it was a 15 mile trip, each way). A church there, hearing of this, sent him a Model T (this was a few years before WW1). Generosity is a wonderful thing as this Model T served as an ambulance on many occasions.

    1. Thanks for sharing your memory, Sage. I've been back and forth between Cedar City and Parowan many times, but not by a Model T. The Bombardier family was very generous over the years to Father Ouimet. I, too, have mixed feelings about how the snowmobile is used today as a recreational vehicle; but it was and remains indispensable as a replacement for a dog team. How I wish Father Ouimet was alive today, and I could ask him a million questions! Have a great weekend, my friend!

  5. Such a fascinating and amazing post, dear Louise! That ski-doo is quite something, and I love all your photos and memories. Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. Thank you, dear Linda! I was thinking of you as I tried to translate portions of the French Canadian transcript. I did get a little help from a French Canadian who has been staying in this hotel over the past 45 years. I was thrilled to learn that I had worked it out orrectly. Google translator will give you the most common translation, but it doesn't provide the subtleties. I hope that all is well with you, and I wish you a lovely weekend! Sending lots of love to you!

  6. That's so funny about the typo and the name change. I have heard of a Ski-doo before. Wasn't there one in Stephen King's The Shining?

    1. Hi, Tamara! I love the story of the printer's mistake which I heard first from Father Ouimet. It's been quite a while since I've read "The Shining," but a Ski-Doo makes sense. I'll have to go back and read the book again. I never dreamed when I read it that I would end up living in Colorado! Have a good one!

  7. Hi Louise, I remember that night and the howls of the dogs and the wolves - I was so scared! I was wondering when you would mention Father Ouimet's connection to all things Ski-doo :). Hugs your sister Barb

    1. Hugs, Barb! You were only four years old, so no wonder you were scared. I was a little scared, but not once Father Ouimet said that he would drive us home. It was pure wonder and adventure for me. But oh so cold! Donnie may have claimed bragging rights for her Halloween haul in Greenwood, but you and I have them for wolves, dogs, and ski-dogs. Although Roy has the best story about wolves, an ax, and Dad. That was Sachigo though. I'm going to hound Roy about writing up his memories of Sachigo. I've got all Dad's letters!!!

      Miss you! Wish I could be with you here! Last night I was hula dancing on Waikiki behind the police substation. They have a group that meets on Thursday and Sunday nights just to jam with ukuleles and other instruments. And people hula. It was like being back in Newfoundland. They were doing All Around the Circle ~ I swear. Lots of fun! Have a good weekend! Don't work too hard! Sending you love and hugs!

  8. What a great story! Wolves and dogs howling at each other in the frozen night! I wouldn't have guessed that a priest had a Ski-doo. I've never ridden on one.


    1. Hi, Janie Junebug! Father Ouimet had long wished for a personal vehicle that would make getting around as a priest easier. Up there in the remote north, there were no roads. You had your feet and snowshoes in the winter and your feet and canoes in the summer. There were tractor trains that crossed the frozen muskeg and lakes in the winter bringing supplies and materials to the northern communities. Other than that it was bush planes or dog teams. A very different time for sure. It's quite a thrill to ride on a Ski-Doo, and the Sea-Doo is a whole different adventure. Have a good weekend! Love back at you!

  9. You sure beat me to the punch, wasn't even born yet and still never rode one at my sea haha A good way to get around though up there I bet. I thought Ski-Dog was a typo at first, turns out Ski-Doo was the typo. A fact I never knew but now do.

    1. I live to educate ~ LOL! You're just a young pup, Pat! You might be able to hitch a ride on a Sea-Doo. That's the water version of a Ski-Doo. The Ski-Doo revolutionized the north. To climb from 2 in 1959 to 1,000,000 in mid-1973 is humongous. Have a great weekend, my friend!

  10. That invention must have been so life-changing, much like a quad-bike on the farms down here where some places are not tractor-friendly. What an honour, the Olympic torch, and your ride home, standing in cold air is cold.. but moving through it is chilling, I can imagine your frozen face and running eyes. Thanks again so much for sharing all this today.

    1. Thanks, Jean! Father Ouimet really enjoyed that snowmobile ride. You can see how his face is shining in the Olympic Torch photo.

      It's funny how life-changing, work-changing things like the quad-bike or Ski-Doo get co-oped for recreation. I haven't ridden a quad-bike, but I rode its less stable precursor, the three-wheeler, in the desert in a number of places in Southern California. But that was for fun. Have a lovely weekend. Hope that knee is coming along! Sending you and Hugh love and hugs!

  11. Fascinating blog! Loved the videos and photos! Wonder how much the Ski-Doo weighed and if it was difficult to turn it over on its side and, then, to right the thing again?

    1. Thanks, Susan. I don't think I ever told anyone at Sunrise about my riding on the first Ski-Doo in the north! I'll have to research the weight. It was low and more stable than a motorcycle, and it had the skis to help balance it. Hope all is well with you. I'll be home soon, and we've got to get together! Take care, my friend!

  12. Incredible story, Louise! And very well presented too! Geez, am I a teacher or what!? lol
    What an honour for you and your family to have met and gotten to know this Canadian icon of sorts,

    1. Thanks, Jim! I'm glad it was well presented! I was tearing my hair out over it. The piece fought me all the way. Father Ouimet was a very special person, and I'm so glad that he was part of my life. Have a great weekend with Ron and SD!

  13. Replies
    1. Thanks, Dreaming! I hope all is well with you and Mr. Dreamy!

  14. What a story Louise! To think that you were one of the very first to experience a ride on a snowmobile which would gain such popularity later. We even had one in our younger days. Your northern tales are so interesting and it is amazing that you remember all those little details.


    1. Hi, Peggy! How lovely to see you! Some experiences are branded on my brain, especially from Lansdowne House and Lac Seul. My experiences were all so different from the life I had known that they are unforgettable. I hope all is well with you, Don, and little Sadie. I'm slowly getting around ~ hard to get time and access where we are in Honolulu. Sending love and hugs!


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