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


  1. How one good deed could spiral out of control so fast. Had your mother said the letters from your father were never to be revealed? Then it wasn't your fault - you were trying to do something good.
    I'll be curious to see how it all played out...

    1. Happy weekend, Alex! My mother let me take Dad's letters to school and share them. She was behind me in my Red Cross Project. No one anticipated that a kid in rural Nova Scotia could stir up such a ruckus. It was inconceivable. Besides both Mom and Dad were overburdened with worries and the responsibility of five kiddos while being apart. This was over half a century ago, and my parents were struggling to find money for stamps at 5 cents each. Mom had never even mentioned my Red Cross Project to Dad ~ because it was a surprise and no one thought it would go anywhere.

      Btw, amazon delivered my Ayreon "The Source" CDs Wednesday, and I LOVE it! Wow! Thank you for mentioning it enough times that I got curious and bought it. Awesome!!!!! Have a good one!

  2. Oh Louise, you,scamp. I can understand how you were trying to help and it backfired. Is Tom Hanks to old to play your dad in the movie? Again I must tell you how I am loving this saga. I look forward to Friday's always to hear more of this fascinating true story.

    1. Thank you for your encouraging comment, Peggy. I worked so hard on this post!!! It was a labor of love, and it means everything to me if even one person enjoys the posts. Have a wonderful weekend, my dear friend!

  3. haha wow, that would have been one big birthday party if you got all the kids in class and their families tagged along.

    Look at you causing a nationwide stir up haha no wonder you travel so much, you don't want those men in black suits to track you down. Oh, life on the run. What a good deed can do.

    1. Haha! On the run for sure, Pat! Actually I had a gigantic second grade birthday party for the very same reason. I invited my school classmates to my party, and their whole families came by the truckload. My poor Mom was making peanut butter sandwiches and running to the next door country store to buy canned beans and cookies. Our house was mobbed. I was a little disappointed though because I blew out all my birthday cake candles at once, and I wished for Superman to fly down and take me for a flight around the area. He did not show up. I waited and waited on the backdoor step, until Mom realized who I was waiting for and explained that Superman was obviously busy saving people somewhere. I was such a believer! LOL

      Have a great weekend my friend!

  4. Louise, you little shit-disturber! Hahahahahahha, oh this made me laugh, although I'm sure at the time it was very upsetting for all concerned. And I loved reading the reference to the CCF too -- that really anchors the story in another time and place, a by-gone time. One of my cousins ran for the CCF in the 1950s and got his ass royally kicked.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Debra! It really is a by-gone time. Kudos to your cousin for running. We all try to change our little corners of the world for better. Wishing you and your Rare One a happy weekend!

  5. LOL Louise!!! Thank you so much for sharing this, you made me laugh! And your photos bring me back to simpler times...much needed. Love and hugs to you, my cherished friend, thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Thank you, dear Linda, for your continued and encouraging support. I'm happy that this post made you laugh. It was not funny at the time, let me tell you!!! I did a lot of growing up quickly. Wishing you a lovely weekend! Sending you hugs and love!

  6. Whoops! I guess no good deed goes unpunished, huh? Thanks for sharing those wonderful photos.

    1. Thank you, Tamara, for your kind comment! I'm glad that you enjoyed the photos! Have a great weekend!

  7. Good one Fundy! needles to say I've been waiting for this part of the story to start to unfold. You really are a great story teller. Hugs your sister Barb

    1. Hey, Barbie! I'm smiling as I think of your freckles. Dad thought it was from your being outdoors. I think perhaps you were kissing boys! LOL! Thanks for your encouraging words! It means a great deal coming from you!!!

  8. and that was "part one". what a story, and as you did this with such good intentions, they should really be thankful, rather than trying to lay the blame. Maybe too afraid they would lose respect. Even now governments world-wide or departments would hate to be shown up about their neglect or mismanagement of anyone in their part of the world. Your words take me right there, as I imagine the disbelief, worry, and amazement as it all unfolded. Stay safe as that snow blows over, a huge dump from what I have read.

    1. Thanks, Nancy! Perhaps I'm doing a little better with memoir than fantasy! LOL the snow is mostly over now, and the good thing is that it was melting quickly ~ I want to get into the park tomorrow when the sunshine returns. I swear the grass has been growing and pushing up through the snow. I'm hoping that flowers will start popping out along Piney Creek. Hope all is well with you and Hugh! Sending lots of hugs!

  9. You were kind and compassionate even as a child.


    1. Thanks, Janie! What a lovely thing to say! It means a lot to me! Wishing you a happy weekend!

  10. you were blessed with generous and beautiful heart my friend.
    it is courageous and daring to act in such responsible way.
    you were a mature even as kid.
    amazing story !!!

  11. What a story! I can only imagine the confusion you must have felt at that time Louise. There's so much here on which one can comment/infer.
    What I mostly took from from your story was the governments if they didn't want the public to hear about the atrocities for which they were responsible. This tells me of their complicity for so many decades. Oh my. So much that this innocent act of a child could have caused.
    Have a wonderful weekend, Louise and I hope all the snow melts.

    1. Hi, Jim! The snow has completely disappeared and the grass is bursting. I'm going down to the park in a bit and check it out. Complicity for sure! I have plenty to say!!! I'm trying to coordinate Nova Scotia dates right now. Will be in touch with you soon about that! Have a great weekend!

  12. Smiling big here as I imagine this whole story unraveling with you in the center, the heart of innocence. You just wanted to help. How could you know it would catch national attention? I think the government wanted to hush up the "truth". As a child you were compassionate and saw the injustice in the world around you.

    Bless you for being you!

    1. Hi Truedessa! I'm sorry that I am only replying now. I had an eventful week which kept me away from my computer and blog. Definitely the government wanted to hush up the truth. that's one thing I learned from all that happened. I hope that you are enjoying a lovely day!

  13. I love these letters and the photos are so adorable and meaningful.

    1. Hi, TPC! I'm glad that you enjoyed the post. I'm sorry that I fell behind on replying ~ a lot happened this week. I hope that you are having a relaxing and meaningful Memorial Day Weekend! Take care!

  14. Hello Louise!
    What a story and you've only started it!
    A real adventure this life up north!
    Off again on a trip or quietly at home??!!
    Warm hugs and enjoy your week :)))

    1. Hi, Noushka! I'm quietly at home ~ finally after a busy, busy week! After all the change and excitement of the past year of traveling, a quiet Memorial Day at home is just what the doctor ordered! Beautiful warm sunshine broken only by the singing of birds. I hope all is well with you ~ Have a great week! Sending you love and hugs!

  15. Good for you Louise! I'm proud of you!! You were trying to do good!!! Can't wait to read more! Love the photos! Big Hugs!

    1. Thanks, Stacy! I'm glad that you enjoyed the photos! They mean so much to me, and I'm happy to share them. My life is an open book ~ LOL Wishing you a happy and healthy week! I'll be by very soon ~ I've had a busy, busy week, so it's wonderful to have a little down time. Take care! Sending you a big hug!

  16. Finally today i was able to sit and finish your beautiful post dear friend.

    Finally today i was able to sit and finish your post my friend .
    the more i read your amazing land shore letters story the more i feel thrilled and eager to read .
    thank you for making us part of your adventurous childhood.
    i loved the photos so much.
    your parents are graceful and handsome couple.
    i can imagine how would you feel when your anxious father called you to inquiry.
    hope all went fine with you as your intentions were so humble and innocent .
    i feel proud of you that in such young age you were as caring human-being and daring child .

    wishing you all the best for you travellings my friend.take care ,lots of love !

    1. Thank you for your kind words in both of your comments on this post, Baili! It means a lot to know that people are enjoying my posts. Writing a memoir is a scary challenge, and people like you keep me going. I am anticipating a slower week ~ Yay!!! ~ and I hope to get some good solid work on my memoir in. I do hope that you are feeling better and strong and in less pain today. Sending you lots of love and a wish for strength and energy.


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