Friday, May 26, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: A Difficult Day

Thursday, March 9, 1961 must have been a quite day for my parents.
They went from an uneventful and enjoyable evening
playing bridge with Bill and Rhea Mitchell the night before
to the "Starving Indians of Lansdowne House" story
exploding in their lives on the 9th.

Events happened quickly, and I have been trying to piece them together
based on my parents' letters and my fragmented memories.

A Rare Photo of Our Parents with Us (before Bertie)
Ready to Ride on the Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls, circa 1958
Dad and Mom (back) with Donnie, Roy, Louise (Me), and Barbie
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

As best as I can reconstruct at this point, 
Mr. Gowan, the Indian Agent from the Nakina Agency Office, 
flew into and out of Lansdowne House that Thursday morning
to question the community's two teachers, Uno Manilla and my father,
about the newspaper articles hitting the Canadian press.

Upon returning to Nakina a confused and frustrated Gowan
then read a newspaper article naming my father
as the Lansdowne House teacher writing letters
about the deplorable living conditions of the Indians.

My father said in his March 16th extended family letter
that Gowan immediately dispatched a "real snarly letter" to him.
In his unpublished handbook my father wrote
that Gowan got on the air and blistered the airways
because Gowan's opinion of him was "certainly not of the highest."

Since the only way to immediately dispatch a letter
to Lansdowne House at that time was by telegraph,
I'm guessing that Gowan fired off his letter by telegraph to the Hudson's Bay post
and followed it up by a blistering shortwave radio call to my father at the post. 

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

That prompted my sometimes fiery-tempered father
to write his own "snarly" and "sarcastic" letter
to Gowan which, fortunately, he decided not to mail.

I imagine him at his desk at school
hurriedly scratching it down on paper 
in his characteristic, almost unreadable handwriting,
then balling it up and pitching it into a wastebasket.

At that point he returned home to find out if his wife could shed any light
on how the content of his personal letters had landed in the press.

My mother was correct when she raised the possibility
that the "Starving Indians of Lansdowne House" story
had its origin in my fifth grade Red Cross Project
in tiny Smith's Cove Elementary School in rural Nova Scotia.

The realization was staggering to my parents.
They called me in from playing outside,
and in their panic they hit me with a barrage of questions:
"What did you say?  What did you do?  Who did you tell?"

My agitated father paced back and forth in our tiny kitchen,
unable to contain his nervous energy,
while my worried mother stood by the kitchen counter, 
her dark eyes large in her pale face.


My Parents' Graduation Photos
Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, 1950  
    My mother did not actually graduate until 1967 
because of the sudden death of Dad's father and my arrival.
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Their dismay was palpable, and I knew that something bad had happened,
something that shook my parents' confidence and could upend our lives.

"The Indians, what did you say about the Indians?" my father barked.

"In your speech to your class, during your Red Cross Project,"
my mother added more calmly.

My mind rocketed back to that first week in January
when I had won a prize in school for giving the best speech in my class,
that speech that initiated my Red Cross Project,
that speech that mentioned the starving baby in the tikinogin,
the one with a distended belly and matchstick arms and legs.

"I just raised clothes for the starving Indians,"
I cried, dissolving into frightened tears.

Drawing on the unfathomable reservoir
of strength and courage
she possessed throughout her life,
my mother went to me
and folded me into her arms.

"It's okay, Weesie.  
It's going to be okay.  
You've done nothing wrong."

Her soothing words calmed
my father down enough
that we were able to sit
at the kitchen table
and sort out what had happened.

Sara Margaret (MacDonald) MacBeath
Acadia University, Wolfville, Circa 1950
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I had been sharing my father's Lansdowne Letters in my class
at school throughout the fall and winter. 

I gave a speech about the starving Indians in Lansdowne House in early January.
It impacted my classmates and teacher enough 
that we decided to help the Indians as a Junior Red Cross project.

We wanted to collect food, but my teacher Miss Sidey suggested
that clothes might be more practical to donate to the Red Cross
because they wouldn't spoil and were easier to transport.
We organized a clothing drive and gathered
five huge cartons of winter clothing for the Indians.

Meanwhile Dad had obtained permission
from the Department of Lands and Forests 
for us to live in their house in Lansdowne House 
and suddenly we were on our way North,
just as my teacher was arranging to send the cartons of clothing
to the provincial Red Cross headquarters in Halifax.

Immigrant Children with Red Cross Port Workers
at Halifax's Famous Pier 21
Nova Scotia, Canada, 1948

With all that my mother had to do to pack and to prepare
to travel to the North with five young children,
she never had a chance to talk with Miss Sidey before we left.
My parents weren't sure how the press got the story,
but it must have been through my teacher Miss Sidey.

Dad returned to the Hudson's Bay post to talk the situation over with Bill Mitchell
while Mom got my brother and sisters inside and fed.
That was my mother, comforting and serving food while weathering any storm.

When Mitchell suggested that Dad fly out to talk to Gowan personally,
he must have hitched a free ride on an Austin Airways flight
that happened to pass through Lansdowne House later that afternoon.
My mother wrote that the pilot flew low over our house
to bid us good-bye as the plane headed for Nakina.

A Modern DeHavilland DC-6 "Twin Otter"
The North Relied on Bush Pilots and Their Bush Planes

I think the way people rallied around my father
and helped our family during this difficult time
was a measure of how well-liked and well-respected he was.

They all pitched in:
from Mitchell and Austin Airways,
to Mike who came to light the kerosene lamps for us that evening,
to Maureen who watched Bertie the following day while my mother taught,
to Mike, Duncan, and Milt who were ready to bring water to us 
if Dad were delayed by bad weather in Nakina.

While Dad spent an anxious night at the Nakina Hotel,
Mom put Barbie and Bertie to bed
and organized Donnie, Roy, and me to write letters to Nana.
Then she kept her promise to Dad and wrote a letter to his mother
sharing the family news, but never mentioning why Dad had to fly to Nakina.

Anticipating her first time teaching she wrote to her mother-in-law:
"I am teaching school tomorrow morning, perhaps in the afternoon too.  ...  
It will be quite an experience for I imagine the Indian children won't talk to me.
All the Indians here are very friendly."

In my Lansdowne Letter posts, I've shared much more about my father than my mother,
largely because I am working with his letters, papers, and photographs
and because he was the Indian teacher with the career
and she was the one at home running the household.

My Mother and Father Leaving Smith's Cove Baptist Church
in a Rain of Confetti after Their Wedding
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia, September 4, 1948
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

But, like many mothers around the world, my mother was remarkable.
In Lansdowne House she faced challenges from poor health,
to financial insecurity, to managing a home with with no running water or electricity.
Yet through it all she sheltered us in an environment rich with love, security, and happiness.

From the moment she told me, "It's okay, Weesie.  It's going to be okay," 
she acted as if it were, hiding all the worries swirling inside her.
She distracted us with letter writing, even as she anticipated walking into
a multi-grade classroom filled with Ojibway children and four of her own ~
with no training, no experience, and no time to prepare. 

The gift she gave me
that day was reassurance.

I was able to return to
more appropriate pursuits
like anticipating my birthday party
and tobogganing outside,
rather than worrying
about the newspaper scandal
and jeopardizing my father's job.

A Small Moment of Happiness
My Mother and Me
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada, Summer 1952
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My Parents, Don and Sara MacBeath (right)
with Unknown Friends
Acadia University, Wolfville, Circa 1948
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Meanwhile "my" five large cartons had traveled
to Red Cross Headquarters in Halifax.
Unsure what to do with them, the Red Cross
contacted the RCAF Maritime Command in Halifax.

Because of the apparent urgency of the situation in Lansdowne House,
and because my father was a former officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force,
the Commanding Air Officer of Maritime Command
authorized the airlifting of the cartons of clothing to RCAF Transport Command
in Trenton in southern Ontario en route to Lansdowne House.

Modern Royal Canadian Air Force
Boeing CC-117 Globemaster
a military transport plane on approach to Canadian Forces Base, Trenton, 2009 
Note:  To see an RCAF Maritime Command plane of 1961 vintage click here.

To be continued ...

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

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

1.  Bill and Rhea Mitchell:
     Bill was the manager of the Hudson's Bay Post in Lansdowne House and married to Rhea.

2.  My father's unpublished handbook:
     The Northern School Teacher:  A Hand Book To Be Issued To All New
     Entrants To The Teaching Profession In The Indian Schools In The Sioux Lookout Indian Agency, 1966.

3.  Telegraphs and Shortwave Radios:
     To the best of my knowledge, the only place that had both a telegraph machine and a shortwave radio
     in Lansdowne House was the Hudson's Bay Post.  Because of its nature, Bill Mitchell would have gotten
     the telegram to my father immediately. 

4.  Prize Winning Speech:  The Lansdowne Letters: Disappointing News
5.  My Red Cross Project:  The Lansdowne Letters: Keepers and Burners
7.  Miss Sidey:
     Miss Isabel Sarah Sidey, my fifth grade teacher at Smith's Cove Elementary School.  Obituary

8.   Mike O'Flaherty:  
      Mike was the nurse at the nursing station in Lansdowne House and a good friend of my parents.

9.  Duncan and Maureen McRae:
     Duncan worked for the Department of Transport, and one of his duties was running the weather
     station in Lansdowne House.  He and his wife Maureen were good friends with my parents.

10.  Milt MacMahon:
      Milt MacMahon was the other DOT employee in Lansdowne House.

11.  Airlift:
      Information from The Digby Courier article:  "Smith's Cove Residents Aid Family in the North,"  March 16,

12.  Accuracy:
     I am not a trained historical researcher, but I am doing my best to track down accurate and corroborating sources.
     If there are any mistakes in facts I've presented in this post, they are mine alone.

For Map Lovers Like Me:

Route Map for Austin Airways, 1985
with Lansdowne House west of James Bay

Location of Smith's Cove and Halifax

Location of Canadian Forces Base Trenton
MLA 7th Edition:  Haycock, Ronald G.  Canadian Forces Base Trenton.
  The Canadian Encyclopedia.  Toronto:  Historical Canada, 2006.
Web 8 Feb 2006.

Canada   Wikimedia

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: A Surprise for Daddy

My A Surprise for Daddy tale will unfold in several posts
as the events happened in real time.
That means that my account will be interspersed
among a few other normal events posts
as I follow the chronology of my family's time 
in Lansdowne House in 1961.  

What happened forever changed my outlook
on life, my parents, and government,
and launched me from credulous childhood into adult reality.

Roy and I as Babies, Christmas 1951
Photographer Unknown
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


On Thursday, March 16, 1961
my father wrote to our extended family:

Hello There:
How’s everyone this week?  
Sorry that I didn’t get around to writing my weekly blurb last week.
I was out to Nakina on business connected with the department
and certain releases that have recently been appearing in the nation’s press.

The Nakina Hotel
(where my father always stayed)
Nakina, Northern Ontario, Fall 1960
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

And thereby hangs a tale for all to read, ponder, laugh about, 
and finally conduct one’s self accordingly.  
It really is a case of the tale (tail) wagging the dog,
only in this case the dog was The Department of Citizenship and Immigration, 
which is quite a sizable dog and very adverse to being wagged.

It all happened so innocently as to be laughable,
if it weren’t for its serious implications.
I just hope that it will all turn out to be laughable in retrospect.

In one of my earlier editions of the Letter, or perhaps in several of them,
I commented on the conditions of the Indians at Lansdowne House.

A Lansdowne Letter
Tales of the North
Photo by M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

This was strictly for family consumption, 
but thanks to my precocious energetic eldest daughter and her boundless initiative,
the contents got outside the family and hit the Canadian Press.

Poor Louise; 
she read about what I had written
about the need for clothes
and about the poor food
that the Indians have to eat sometimes,
so she decided to surprise Daddy.

School Photo, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


She was the president of her classroom Junior Red Cross group, 
so she gave a talk in class about the Indians of Lansdowne House.
This resulted in the group organizing a drive in Smith’s Cove
for clothes and other forms of relief for the Indians.

I don’t know what happened then, so I can only surmise,
but I imagine that one of two things happened.
Either a reporter for the Digby Courier got wind of the whole thing,
interviewed Louise’s teacher, and exaggerated his findings,
put it in the paper from where it was picked up by the Canadian press,
or Louise’s teacher reported the whole thing to Red Cross headquarters in Halifax, 
and they released it to the papers.  

Several articles, partially true, partially false, and wholly exaggerated, 
appeared in The Toronto Globe and Mail, in the Port Arthur Chronicle, and several Ottawa papers.

Naturally press releases of this nature can be very embarrassing to the government,
and they were quite disturbed about it.
They were frightened that the CCF would pick it up
and question the Minister on the floor of the house.
So far, thank God, nothing like this has happened.

Center Block, Parliament Hill
Ottawa, Canada

The day before the first article appeared, someone in the department got wind of it,
but only knew that it was written by a teacher from Lansdowne House.

Mr. Gowan, the Indian Agent in Nakina, chartered a plane and flew in to investigate
and to find out who had written the offending letter.
Naturally Uno denied all knowledge of the matter;
and so, embarrassingly for me, did I.  
Who’d ever think of a letter written to one’s wife and family
as being connected with an article in the Globe and Mail?

Two Teachers in Lansdowne House
Under Investigation
Uno and Dad with Baby Duncan
(the only photo I have of the two of them)
Photographer Unknown
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


Poor Gowan!!!
After a very tiresome and expensive trip,
he returned to Nakina no wiser than when he came in.
The first thing he did when he got home was read his paper,
and there was the objectionable article, big as life,
and my name mentioned in it several times.  

What could he think, except that I had told him an outright falsehood?  
He immediately dispatched a real snarly letter to me,
in which he accused me of being a liar and worse.

My initial reaction to this letter proved that I was a blood relation to my Uncle Chester.  
I immediately composed an equally snarly and far more sarcastic letter of reply to Gowan.  
However, upon reflection, I decided not to mail it, 
thus proving that I may have inherited some of my uncle’s good sense 
as well as his fiery temperament.

I talked the whole thing over
with Bill Mitchell at the Bay, 
and he advised me to go out to Nakina
and talk to Gowan personally.  
This is why I was out at Nakina last week
and was unable to write to you all.

Bill Mitchell, 
Hudson's Bay Manager
Lansdowne House, Fall 1960
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


Austin Airways flew me out for nothing and in for half price, 
so it only cost me $15.00 for traveling instead of $60.00.  
Sara taught school for me on Friday, so I won’t loose any pay.  
The only other expenses were for hotel and meals while I was out.

I succeeded in convincing Gowan that I didn’t intentionally deceive him, 
and we are good friends again.  
His last word on the subject was to assure my daughter 
that she surprised a lot more than Daddy 
(or rather to ask me to assure her).

I most likely haven’t heard the last of this yet.  
I fully expect to receive letters from Foss and from several department officials
blasting me for my indiscretions.  

In fact, I am looking forward to a very interesting mail this weekend
and fully expect to spend most of next week 
writing letters of explanation to various irate officials.

Now, for goodness sakes, don’t show any of my letters 
to anyone outside the family 
and caution everyone to keep quiet 
about whatever I have written to you 
about the Indians of Lansdowne House.  
I don’t think that either Gowan or I could stand
any more press releases of this nature.

Writing Letters Not for Public Consumption
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Fall 1960
Photo by Uno Manilla
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


Well, so much for my troubles, 
and now for a little news about the family.

Sara has put on about ten pounds since she arrived, most of it on the face and tail.  
Seriously though, she looks wonderful since she arrived.
The North must agree with her, 
for in spite of the fact that she is working harder here 
than in the Cove and is quite tired when night comes, as we all are.
She is gaining weight and is more relaxed.  
I guess the cod liver oil is helping her.  

If she continues to put weight on the latter of the aforementioned areas, 
we’ll have to get a girdle for her.  
I never thought I’d live to see that day.  
It is really wonderful though to see her looking so healthy and happy again.

A Rare Photo with Mom
Mom, Bertie, and Me (back)
Roy, Gretchen, Donnie and Barbie (front)
Sioux Lookout, Ontario, Christmas 1961
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


The children are all enjoying Lansdowne House immensely.  
They are outside all the time instead of watching TV, 
and their cheeks look so rosy that you’d suspect that they were wearing rouge.  

You should see Barbara; she is just plastered with freckles.  
She looks so cute with them.  
Louise and Roy are a great help to me carrying up water.

Poor Louise is rather down in the lip right now, 
because she won’t be able to have a large birthday party for her birthday this Saturday, 
but I guess she will get over it.  
We are just going to have a family celebration for her.  

Of course, being Louise, she had great plans 
for inviting all the Indians at school to a party, 
but I had to squelch that, for it could lead to complications.  

Up here, whenever you invite one member of an Indian family, 
you automatically invite the whole cotton picking family, 
from the grandparents to the newest baby.

I have to sign off and write a couple of official letters.  
Bye for now,
Love, Don.

An Even Rarer Photo with Dad (back)
Me, Bertie, Roy, Donnie and Barbie (front)
Sioux Lookout, Ontario, Christmas 1961
Photo by Sara MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


As my father anticipated he hadn't heard the last of it yet.
But that's for future posts.

My father came home late from school visibly concerned 
after Mr. Gowan's hurried trip in and out.

In a small house it's hard to hide emotions and have a private conversation,
so like many parents of that time,
Dad hustled we five children outdoors "to play."

While we were outside my father told my mother
about the Indian Agent's surprise visit
to track down the teacher who had reported
the dire living conditions of the Indians to the press.

My father told my mother that Gowan had first raked Uno over the coals,
but Uno had vehemently denied any knowledge of the matter.
Then Gowan had questioned him, but he was equally vehement in his denial.
A frustrated and confused Gowan had flown back to Nakina without an explanation.

Imagine Daddy's surprise when my mother raised
the possibility of my Red Cross project gone awry!

I remember my father coming to the backdoor
of our house and calling, "Louise, come here!"
His tone was not encouraging, and I went inside mystified
and worried that I was in trouble for what I had no clue.

My panicked parents, who had just realized that Dad could very well lose his job,
came down on me like a ton of bricks.
"What did you say?  What did you do?  Who did you tell?"

"I just raised clothes for the starving Indians,"
I cried, dissolving into frightened tears.

To be continued ... 

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue.

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

1.  The Department:
      My father visited the the Indian Agent, Mr. W. G. Gowan, in the Nakina Agency Office in Nakina, Ontario.
      The Indian affairs Branch of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration directed the agency office.

2.  Indian Agent:
     As the chief administrator for the Indian Affair Branch in Nakina, the Indian Agent managed
     most aspects of the lives of First Nations people in his jurisdiction which included the aboriginal people in
     Lansdowne House (mostly from the Fort Hope Band with a few from the Ogoki and Martin Falls bands).
     (My father's unpublished handbook:  The Northern School Teacher:  A Hand Book To Be Issued To All New
     Entrants To The Teaching Profession In The Indian Schools In The Sioux Lookout Indian Agency, 1966.)

     Mr. Gowan's power to regulate all the administrative, political, and economic business of the bands in
     Lansdowne House came from the amended Indian Act of 1876.
     ( p. 12)

3.  "Strictly for family consumption":
     My father entrusted his letters and northern papers to me with the understanding that I intended to write a
     memoir of his and our family's time in Lansdowne House, including the Red Cross Project fallout.  While I
     regret that he and my mother will not read my final draft, they both read an early draft called Human Refuse
     which I wrote for an advanced composition course at Cal State Fullerton in 1978.

4.  CCF:
     I think my father was referring to the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, a social democratic party
     founded in Canada in 1932.  In August 1961 the CCF joined forces with the Canadian Labour Congress
     to form the New Democratic Party (NDP).  Its purpose was to make social democracy more popular among
     Canadian voters.

5.  The Minister:
     My father was referring to The Right Honourable Ellen Fairclough, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.
     in 1961.  Fairclough served as a member of the Canadian House of Commons from 1950 to 1963, and she was
     the first woman to serve in the Canadian Cabinet.  She was also the only woman ever to serve as Acting Prime
     Minister of Canada (from February 19 to February 20, 1958).

6.  The Digby Courier:  
     I have had a difficult time trying to locate the original newspaper articles, although
     I do have a copy of the account that appeared in the Thursday, March 16, 1961 edition of The Digby Courier.
     My father wrote the letter in this post on the same day, but he did not know about the Courier article at that time.

7.  Mr. Gowan and Uno:
     Mr. Gowan questioned Uno first because he never thought that my father, a former officer of the Royal
     Canadian Air Force, would be guilty of such an indiscretion.
     (My father's unpublished handbook:  The Northern School Teacher.)

8.   Mr. F. Foss:  
      Mr. Foss was the Indian Schools Inspector who worked for the Education Division of the Indian Affairs Branch.
      Mr. Foss would visit each of his various schools, including in Lansdowne House, two or three times a year.
      ( p. 6)

9.  Accuracy:
     I am not a trained historical researcher, but I am doing my best to track down accurate and corroborating sources.
     If there are any mistakes in facts I've presented in this post, they are mine alone.

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Map of Canada
Highlighting Ontario

Location of Lansdowne House and Nakina
Wikimedia   edited