Friday, June 2, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: No Skip, No Lie!

After my father left for Nakina on March 16, 1961 
in an effort to calm down Mr. Gowan the Indian Agent 
and save his own job, a wall of silence regarding
“The Starving Indians of Lansdowne House Incident"
dropped down around me.

It was as if all the white adults in the community had agreed
to say nothing about it in my presence.  

Living in a remote northern community
as a ten-turning-eleven-year-old meant
that the world largely ceased to exist beyond the horizon.

My family had no telephone and no television.
Without an aerial, the only transistor radio reception
we had was intermittently via atmospheric skip.
The newspapers and magazines that came
in by plane were at least two weeks old.

My only contact with the Outside was by letter.
So there was little opportunity for me to find out more
about the cartons of clothing my class had gathered
for the Ojibway people in Lansdowne House.

Duncan McRae in Isolated Lansdowne House
Looking Toward the Father's Island
Northern Ontario, Canada, Winter 1961
Photograph by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Life rolled along, and no one would ever guess what was happening
by reading Mom’s newsy letter to Nana:

On Thursday, March 23, 1961
my mother wrote to her mother-in-law, Myrtle:

My Mother, Sara (MacDonald) MacBeath
Circa 1948
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Dear Mother:
Most of the birthdays are over now.
The children all loved the things you sent.
The blouses were lovely.
The overalls you sent for Roberta
will come in very handy.
We will save them for special occasions.

My Grandmother, Myrtle (Pratt) MacBeath
Circa 1958
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue

All Rights Reserved
Roberta has gained a pound since we arrived.
She doesn’t want to stay in the house at all.
Every day she brings her boots and coat for me to put on her.
She roars if I won’t.

She spends the whole morning outside,
and after her nap, the rest of the day.
She has learned to walk in her boots.

Duncan Jr. came over and spent the day with us today.
Roberta and Dunc had a great time together.
However every once in a while,
Roberta would take his boots and coat to him
as if to say, “It’s time to go home now.”

Baby Dunc and Baby Bertie
Lansdowne House 1960 and Montreal 1961 
   Photo of Duncan by Donald MacBeath
Photo of Roberta by Dawn White
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
© Dawn White
All Rights Reserved

Louise had a three decker birthday cake,
two layers chocolate and one white.

Louise made a white cake for Barbara.
Of course, they both had flashy icing.

My One Birthday Photo
Mom with Me (center)
Sister Donnie (lower right)
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada 1956  
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Don and I went over to the school last night,
and Don worked on his inventories.

We went to Dunc and Maureen's for coffee.
Anne, Mike, and little Kathie were there.

When they were getting ready to go home, they put her in her tikinogin.
Kathie loves it, and no wonder.  It’s lined with fur and a flannelette blanket.
They can stand them up and rock them or lay them down like a bed.
They are much better than a baby carriage.

Ojibway Woman with Baby in Tikinogin
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada, 1960  
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

All in all we’ve had a very peaceful week.
Donnie and Roy also enjoyed the things you sent.
The girls like their barrettes and wear them all the time.

Maureen is going to shampoo and set Louise’s hair with a Toni, I think.
Louise is spending Friday and Saturday with them.

Maureen is going to teach Louise how to sew and use a sewing machine.
They are going to make a skirt for Louise out of a pretty floral grey and blue material.
I must close for now and get at the grocery order.

I hope you and Aunt Maude are both well.  We all miss you.

With love,

P.S.  The plastic panties will certainly come in handy.  
        Thank you for your thoughtfulness.

Roy, Donnie, and Barbie
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My mother’s letters remind me always of the happy childhood I had,
and it’s fun to hear her anecdotes about us as children.

Fortunately for Bertie, who loved playing outdoors so much,
every Ojibway adult in the neighborhood kept a sharp eye on her.
Once Bertie learned to walk, she covered territory fast.

If she stumbled in her boots, they came running with a stick of wood,
a shovel, anything they could grab in case the Indian dogs went for her.

They made sure she didn’t wander too far from the back door.
I remember one time in the spring when she started off
on the path through the bush to school with her dolly.
An Ojibway man found her sitting in a puddle and washing her dolly
and immediately carried toddler and dolly back to Mom.

This letter vividly brings back my overnight stay at Duncan and Maureen’s home.
Maureen, even though she was married and the mother of Baby Dunc,
was only ten or eleven years older than I.
Since there were no white girls my age in the village,
she took me under her wing and spent many hours with me sewing,
baking cookies, and talking so that I wouldn’t feel lonely.


Maureen McRae Pulling Groceries on a Toboggan 
Father's Island, Lansdowne House, Winter 1961
McRae Home, Mainland, Lansdowne House (right)
Photos by Donald MacBeath 
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

But the things I remember most from that weekend 
were the radio which played constantly thanks to the DOT aerial
and the astounding news report I heard.

The broadcast which came out of Winnipeg
reported that the situation among the starving Indians
in northern Ontario was so dire that
the Air Force was parachuting emergency food supplies
into the isolated communities. 

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.  Mr. Gowan:  As the chief administrator for the Department of Indian Affairs in Nakina,
     the Indian Agent managed the lives of all First Nations people in his jurisdiction
     which included the native people in Lansdowne House.

2.  White Adults:
     As a white girl turning eleven, I had little occasion to interact with Ojibway adults other than at the weekly
     movies or if I crossed paths with them around the community. 

3.  Atmospheric Skip:
     "In radio communication, skywave or skip refers to the propagation of radio waves reflected or refracted 
     back toward Earth from the ionosphere, an electrically charged layer of the upper atmosphere. Since it is not
     limited by the curvature of the Earth, skywave propagation can be used to communicate beyond the horizon, 
     at intercontinental distances. It is mostly used in the shortwave frequency bands.

     "As a result of skywave propagation, a signal from a distant AM broadcasting station, a shortwave station, 
     or—during sporadic E propagation conditions (principally during the summer months in both hemispheres)—
     a low frequency television station can sometimes be received as clearly as local stations.  

     Most long-distance shortwave (high frequency) radio communication—between 3 and 30 MHz—is a result 
     of skywave propagation. Since the early 1920s amateur radio operators (or "hams"), limited to lower transmitter
     power than broadcast stations, have taken advantage of skywave for long distance (or "DX") communication."

Skywave or Skip hf / Shortwave Propagation

4.  Duncan, Maureen, and Duncan Jr. 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.
     Their infant son Duncan "Duncan" Jr. (about 11 months old) often played with my sister Bertie
     (almost 24 months old).

5.  Mike, Anne, and little Kathie:  Mike O'Flaherty was the nurse at the Nursing Station.
     Anne was his wife and Kathie their daughter (about 5 months old).
6.  Toni Hair Home Perm:  What every straight-haired young girl longed for.

7.  News Report:
     This was one of two media reports I heard or saw at the time.  The other was a newspaper clip I saw
     on a table at a later time at the McRae house.  The newspaper clip also reported the parachuting of supplies
     for the starving Indians into Northern Ontario.  I don't know what newspaper the clip came from.

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Route Map for Austin Airways, 1985
with Lansdowne House west of James Bay

Location of Lansdowne House and Nakina
Wikimedia  edited

Lansdowne House
Sketch by M. Louise Barbour


  1. Hello Louise,
    It must be so rewarding to write about all these wonderful and unique souvenirs and your very special childhood! Its a huge undertaking that I wouldn't have the courage to get into myself!
    How lucky you were to have such a loving mother :)))
    Looking back and comparing our old photos and what we look like now... well, as they say "similar but not the same! LOL!!!
    Huge hugs and enjoy what ever you're undertaking ;-)))

    1. Hi, Noushka!
      Thank you for your insightful comment! I always knew that I would write about my family's time in the North, but the idea was daunting and my career demanding, so I never took on the challenge until I retired. The godsend has been blogging, because it got me going. I was able to work through some difficult emotions, gain some perspective, and tackle things in small pieces ~ the old saw of eating an elephant one bite at a time.

      "Similar, but not the same, for sure, Noushka! LOL I'd love to have that gorgeous thick straight hair back now, not to mention the smooth skin and firm body.

      Right now I'm undertaking a rare time at home and enjoying every minute. As of last night, we've been back three weeks, the longest period for me in at least a year. Three times we've had overnight guests in three weeks. So you can imagine that I have been very busy catching up. I love traveling, but one of the best things it's given me in the past year is an appreciation of just how wonderful being at home is.

      Huge hugs right back at you! Have a great weekend!

  2. Oh and PS:
    MANY THANKS for your wonderful and supportive comments, truly much appreciated :))))

    1. You're welcome! I love your amazing blog and the intimate and lively look it gives me into the natural world!

    2. Many thanks for you input on the cuttlefish and gull dear Louise,
      It means a lot to me that my efforts at finding interesting info AND translating it into french is rewarded by comments such as yours :))))
      And thank you for your lengthy reply here, I also find that travelling is a great cure to our emotional stress and settling down at home for a while is better appreciated also.
      Much love and take good care :)

  3. Oh my! Everyone was so careful not to mention the story around you and then . . . what's the first thing you hear on a rare radio broadcast? . . . hahahahaha!

    And jeez, Toni Home Permanents! How well I remember those -- and the smell of them! Not terrible but so unique. Nothing smelled like a Toni while it was being applied!

    1. Ironic isn't it, Debra! Kind of like the president being unable to control the narrative. As a teacher of children seven to nine years old, I know just how much children know about what is going on at home, even when their parents try to keep things hidden.

      I was trying to remember having the Toni, and I couldn't. But the moment you mentioned the smell ~ bam! ~ the memory came flooding back. I was sitting on a chair in Maureen's kitchen, draped in towels as she combed and parted and applied the permanent to my hair. She had shampooed my hair over the kitchen sink. Such a luxury because she had running hot water, electricity, and a radio that played all day. "Moon river" was popular, and I can remember it streaming from the radio and filling their tiny home with gorgeous sound.

      Have a lovely weekend with your Rare One!

    2. My mother gave us Toni home perms. We were the frizziest-haired girls in the state of Kansas.

    3. LOL, JJ! I desperately wanted curls, and my hair was straight and fine-textured! Meanwhile my sisters Donnie and Barbie had gorgeous curls! My mom did take me to a beauty parlor for a hot wave perm when I was nine ~ I was frizzy-haired and happy, but she thought my hair looked awful!

  4. As always, interesting and fantastic writing. I love the photos, but you only have one birthday photo of you? You are stinking cute in that photo.

    1. Thanks, Teresa! Yes, I only have one birthday photo. As our family grew, there was rare money for buying and processing film. Most years my parents managed a few Christmas photos, but that was about it. We only began to have a few more photos when I began taking pictures. Most of my babysitting money went into film, flashbulbs, and processing. When my dad realized how much I loved photography, he gave me his Brownie Hawkeye. But then I was usually behind the camera rather than in front of it.

      I didn't understand it when I was growing up, but my family didn't have much money and my parents struggled from paycheck to paycheck. They sheltered me from the financial insecurity they endured, and since most people I knew were as poor or poorer than our family I didn't realize that we weren't well off. We had never been exposed to the extremes of wealth and poverty in like in the US. But my home was rich in love, books, conversation, and games.

      The living conditions of the Ojibway in the North were shocking to me as a ten year old. They opened my eyes to a world in which people truly struggled to survive, a world that I was learning was unfair, unjust, indifferent, and cruel. I have never lost sight of the facts that I am among one of the most fortunate females ever to have lived and that I live in an illusory cocoon of peace, safety, and security that many people in the world do not.

      Have a great weekend!

  5. lmao radio blew their carefulness out of the water. Whoops!

    Looking back on a good childhood is sure a win too. Even in a small place, sure found things to do.

    1. Whoops! The truth will eventually come out, even when people try to hide it! Kids are endlessly creative. That's one of the things I enjoyed about "The Connective" ~ the sheer brashness of kids who tackle the world around them and who see the inconsistencies and flaws in the adults in their lives.

      Have a good one, my friend!!! Favorite pats to Cassie and Orlin!

  6. Louise, another fantastic post, and I shed a few tears, too. Beautiful photos and memories here. You are indeed blessed! Oh, by the way, my search for my cousin Ian Dunbar has come to an end. He passed away in 1998 at the age of 53...however, good has come from this search. I am now in touch with his daughter on Facebook and through her will hopefully also be in touch with his other child, a son, who is a police officer in Calgary. As well, two grandchildren! Just thought you would like to hear this. So now my search is complete, but is never really complete, as there are always photos, memories, etc., to be shared. I hope you have a fantastic weekend. Love and hugs to you. :)

    1. Linda, how awesome it is to hear that you tracked down your cousin Ian! But it's sad to hear that he died so young. It must be fun to learn that you have two grandnieces and/or grandnephews. I wish you much joy and enlightenment in sharing photos and memories! Sending you lots of love and hugs! Enjoy a great weekend!

  7. Spending time with you probably lessened Maureen's loneliness, too. You are adorable in your birthday photo.


    1. Thanks, JJ! And you are right, I'm sure that Maureen was a little lonely too! I met her once again many years later. She still had the peanut butter recipe for the cookies which we used to make together. Even though it was decades later, she didn't have the heart to discard the recipe from her recipe box. Oh, so many questions I could have asked! Why do we learn these lessons too late? Wishing you a happy weekend!

  8. So you learned to sew, Louise! Have you kept up that skill? I remember watching my mother and sister whip things up for themselves and my siblings. i also picked up a few pointers from them that came in handy over the years.
    OMG....I can't imagine living under the pressure of fearing the dogs will run off with a baby if the circumstance arose! You're parents were special people...but you already know that.
    Hey, you know what? Maybe you were the original/first person to sound the alarm on the plight of our First Nations peoples! I couldn't imagine an adult doing that at the time....too risky and they would be ostracized by white society. Only a child's naivety and innocence could succeed in getting the ball rolling.
    Have a great weekend. Our best to Terry.

  9. I love reading your posts. You create such great pictures with words, and include so many wonderful old photos. We readers are fortunate that your family had so many pictures. Wow! You must spend hours putting together each post. I am in awe!

    1. Thanks, Dreaming! I'm glad that you enjoy my posts! Yes, each post takes hours, but it is truly a labor or love. Have a great day, my friend!

  10. I only have to see the word Toni and I can smell it. Then my eyes immediately begin to water. Thanks for the memories. Honestly your posts are so wonderful. I love your mother's letters. I love how they tried to protect you from the world. Today that's impossible to do. I'm so glad you have all these family heirlooms. Life goes by far too fast.

    1. Hi, Joylene! I've been thinking about you and wondering how your recovery is coming along. Thanks for your kind comment and understanding comment. I've really been feeling the speed of life lately. I just have to make the most of every day! Take care, my friend!

  11. Louise, I love your posts so much! I never had a Toni perm, but my mom used to put my hair in rollers all the time. Even when I was in grade 8! LOL! I still can't believe how you heard about everything on the broadcast! I'm still proud of you!! Big Hugs!

  12. I had to laugh with that radio broadcasting! HAHAHAHA That was funny. And the Toni Home Permanents. OHMYGOSH... I haven't thought about those in years. My friends and I used to do them regularly throughout our high school years. So much fun.

    What an amazing childhood you had. These stories are priceless. And you are adorable in these photos. Such a ham and so full of beans!


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