Friday, June 9, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: Empty Skies

When I heard on the radio that the Air Force was parachuting
food supplies into northern Ontario for the starving Indians,
I ran to the McRaes' kitchen window and searched the bright blue sky.

I was excited to think that my Red Cross Project
had moved the government to help
my Ojibway friends and neighbors.

I hoped that the Air force would
parachute my clothing cartons
into Lansdowne House
along with the emergency food.

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

I could see those cartons hanging from canopies
and drifting lazily down to land on the ice
between the Father's Island and the mainland.

I could see people dashing to the ice, opening the cartons, and passing around
the winter clothing that the people of Smith's Cove had generously donated
to the Red Cross clothing drive at school.

I could see them wrapping coats around themselves 
and pulling on mittens and scarves, 
some knitted by my grandmother's friends in Smith's Cove.
I could hear their excited chatter and laughter. 

Between the Father's Island and the Mainland
At this time my father lived in the brown shack
between the church and the white rectory on the island.  
Photograph by Father Maurice Ouimet, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

That bright blue sky remained empty in all directions.
I searched it for several days, but nothing blossomed to mar that crystalline blue.
I came to the shocking conclusion that some news reports might not be accurate.

Empty Skies Above Northern Ontario
"Neighboring" Webequie
Northern Ontario, Canada, December 1960
Photograph by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Oh, I was aware that the world could be unfair, unjust, and cruel
and that lies, deceit, and evil existed.  But that was Elsewhere. 

Canada's Flag 1957-1965

This was Canada:  
The True North Strong and Free.

As I grappled with a growing sense of disappointment,
my father's worries began to ease. 
Unexpectedly new hope appeared on his horizon.

On Thursday, March 23, 1961
my father wrote to the extended family:

My Father, Donald MacBeath
Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

How's everyone today?
I haven't had too much time for private writing this week,
so this will be a short one.

Well, so far I haven't received any of the expected blasts about press the releases.
In fact, the only official letter that I received last week
was one telling me that my name was being considered for a nice promotion.

I received word from R. F. Davey, Chief of the Education Branch,
that my name was being considered for appointment
as supervising principal for the Sioux Lookout Indian Agency.

In this position I would be responsible for the administration
and supervision of about fifteen schools, most of them accessible only by air.
My immediate superior would be the district supervisor at North Bay.
My headquarters would be in Sioux Lookout.

I would get a good increase in salary, but I would loose my isolation allowance,
so my actual increase would be about $500.00 a year.

I would also be responsible for a crash building program
that the department is undertaking for the next five years.
They plan to replace nearly all the schools with new ones.

It would be just wonderful if I got this job,
because it would mean that I would be in the north
or near enough to indulge in my love for the north;
and at the same time my family would be able to indulge in their love
for the pleasures and advantages of civilization.

Sioux Lookout is a town about the size of Wolfville, N.S., 
and is on the northern CNR trans-continental line about 250 miles west of Nakina.
The town has excellent educational, residential, and medical facilities.

Train Station
Sioux Lookout, Ontario, Canada
Flickr:  Seán Ó Domhnaill   License

I was very favorably impressed with the town the only time I was there,
which was just about Christmas, when I went out as an escort for that sick Indian woman.

Well, I guess you've had it for this week.
It is quite late, and I still have to teach at Lansdowne House tomorrow.
I will try to write a longer letter next week.

The reason I am so pressed for time this week
was that I spent this week making up the annual requisitions.
I only received the forms last week,
and they had to be in by this week's mail.
Since my name is being considered for a promotion,
I couldn't afford to be late submitting them.

Well, bye for now,
Love, Don.

My Parents in More Carefree Days
Dating at Acadia University
Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

It's true.  It never rains but it pours.  
Although my parents kept it carefully hidden from me and my siblings,
they must have been under great stress.

In the middle of the scandal over the press releases,
the hurried trips in and out of Lansdowne House by the Indian agent and my father,
and dealing with the real fear of my father loosing the job they desperately depended upon,
Dad gets a letter about a potential promotion
and has to scramble to get together requisitions for the next school year,
plus pump fuel and carry water.

My parents must have been agonizing over
whether my father would get a promotion or be drummed out
of the Education Division of the Indian Affairs Branch in disgrace.

Meanwhile I was still searching the skies with lessening hope,
and learning the bitter taste of disillusionment.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

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

1.  R. F. Davey, Chief of the Education Division:
     The Education Division was part of the Indian Affairs Branch which in turn was part of the Department 
     of Citizenship and Immigration.  Mr. Davey, the Chief, worked in Ottawa. 

2.  Miles to Kilometers:
     250 miles = 402 kilometers

For Map Lovers Like Me:
with the Provinces of Ontario and Nova Scotia 

Location of Smith's Cove and Wolfville

Communities in Ontario
Wikimedia  edited


  1. You're in trouble! No wait, we're going to give you a promotion. Ironic, huh? Bet that was a blessing and some really good news for your parents.

    1. Hi, Alex! It was really good news for my parents, but the possible promotion letter was already in the mail as the news stories broke. So it was agony for my parents. It never crossed my father's mind when he wrote our extended family about conditions in the North that I as ten years old could cause such problems. But he never blamed me despite all that followed. It's good to have you back. I hope that you had a great break ~ well deserved for sure ~ You do so much for others. Have a great weekend, my friend!

  2. A place the size of Wolfville must seem like a palace after up there. Everything sure got thrown at them at once. Promotion or fired, can't get much further from opposite ends of the spectrum. And the skies stayed bare, that's the media for you.

    1. Hi, Pat! Yeah the skies stayed bare. That was a huge wake-up experience for me, but I had more disillusionment lessons to come. When I went to Acadia in Wolfville, I thought I had arrived big time ~ It was so much bigger than many places I had lived. And then I moved to Orange County, California! Wow! I never realized how small my world was until I moved to southern California. I've been to Parkway, and I've had two glasses of wine, so I'm amazed that I can even type, but Wolfville will always be extra special to me, small or not. Acadia is a special place! Have a good one, my rhyming friend!

  3. I know a lot of Americans don't realize how recent the maple leaf flag is

    1. Hi Adam! I hope all is well with you and Daisy! I remember the great flag debate in Canada. My parents, especially my Mom who had been in the RCAF toward the end of WWII, were especially upset at the retirement of the Canadian Red Ensign for the new Maple Leaf flag. I was sad at the retirement of the CRE; I was 15 at the time; but it had a whole different level of meaning to people who had served under that flag. Both of my parents had; my Mom during WW!! and my father afterwards. Now I feel such pride when I see the Maple Leaf flying anywhere in the world. I feel that pride too when I see the Stars and Stripes. What is it about flags??? Have a great weekend, my friend!

  4. So cool seeing that flag, Louise! I love all the old photos, too!

    1. Hi dear Linda! That flag will always be special to me because that is the flag I remember from the time I was growing up. But I definitely feel proud and happy every time I see the Maple Leaf flying. I will always love Canada from the bottom of my heart. I'm glad that you enjoy the old photos. It's so hard trying to find fresh pictures to illustrate my blog. I think I have 51 photos from Lansdowne House!!! Sending you love and hugs! I'm still catching up with everything in life, but I'll get there. Hope all is well with you!

  5. Oh yes, the bitter taste of disillusionment . . . sorry you had to learn it so young.

    1. Hi, Debra! It was hard to learn disillusionment so young, and there was more disillusionment to come. I'm still an idealist though, always tilting at windmills. Wishing you and your Rare One a great weekend!

  6. Today your father might be protected as a whistle blower--though he really wasn't one. I've always been an idealist. In spite of the disillusionment, I'm still an idealist. I like to see the best in people until they reveal they don't have a best.


    1. I will die an idealist, Janie! Despite all that seems discouraging in the world, I believe that we will bumble through. There are many, many good people in the world, and we will prevail. Sending you hugs and love, my friend!

  7. How hard for your Dad? will I be staying or going? And you waited and waited. This is like being there, when I read your words. And I wonder, did you and the others ever feel REALLY cold? And how did your Mum get laundry dry apart from hanging it in front of a fire? Did she have a copper and tubs and a hand wringer? We take so much for granted these days, and think now, if you were there, the modern technology, would there be internet as well? Another wonderful Friday post.

    1. I'm glad that my words resonate with you, Jean. It's very difficult to be objective when I write because I am caught up in it emotionally ~ and with me everything is filtered through emotions. I didn't really feel cold up North most of the time. We were buried in layers of clothing, and often the wind didn't blow. The astounding thing to me was the sunshine. The air was so cold and dry that the cold didn't get through to your bones, and after a lifetime (10 whole years!) under grey damp winter skies, the brilliant sunshine of the North was enchanting. The snow sparkled like diamonds, and the sky was so bright and blue ~ It was mind blowing. My Mom had clotheshorses to dry clothes on, and she had a hand wringer. Somehow she managed. My mother was amazing! Later on when we went to the fish camp on Lac Seul, she scrubbed our clothes off rocks in the lake and hung them out on a line to dry. My mother was AMAZING! That's a tale for later posts. Now Lansdowne House has internet, and all season air port, motor vehicles. Much changed! I hope you and Hugh have a lovely weekend! Stoke up that fire! Love and hugs!

  8. Beautifully arranged and instructive post, Louise. I learn so much here about a part of the world remote from my childhood but familiar in the way of wringer-washers and dedicated parents. Sometimes the difference is overwhelming and we find ourselves scattered into a strange new world --best solution is to do what you do here, by example, teach people how to have a past. It is valuable what you do here.

    1. Thanks, Geo! Your comment made my day! By the time I finish one of my posts, I have no objectivity. All I can do is hit "publish" with a prayer and send it out. Encouragement like yours keeps me going. I'll be by shortly; crazy weekend, but I'm hoping for a quieter writing week! Take care!

  9. So, nothing came?? And, your father got a promotion?? What a story!! Big Hugs!

    1. Hi, Stacy! Well at this point we don't know what's going to happen, only what hasn't and what might be. Time will tell ~ hope all is well with you!

  10. As children, we often don't know what our parents worry about, but it seems you are insightful. Looking to find out how this plays out.

  11. I picture you looking up and up and your disappointment when nothing arrived. You were an activist then not thinking that it would cause you father a problem. I knew your father would be recognized for the great teacher he was. Will he get the job? I'll have to wait for the next installment to find out. I want your dad to be played by Tom Hanks in the movie but he might be just a little too old by now. Your writing is delightful Louise. I so look forward to Fridays.

  12. Definitely, your parents were remarkable people. You must be so proud. They made a difference while struggling to take care of a family and still do their duty. I love your stories so much. Makes me proud to be your friend.

  13. It's crushing to a child to experience disillusionment. Part of innocence is forever crushed.


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