Friday, July 14, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: Everyday Lessons in Our Common Humanity

When my father taught at the Church of England Indian Day School
in Lansdowne House in 1961, he met the Ojibwa people for the first time.
During his time in the isolated northern community,
my father came to know the local Ojibwa well
and appreciated them for the wonderful people they were.

Church of England Indian Day School
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

When my mother and we five children joined him in the North,
we were the only white children, except for three other white babies.
My father encouraged us to become friends with the Ojibwa children.
On our first full day in Lansdowne House,
my father chased all five of us outside to make friends with
and to play with the neighborhood kids.

Neither of my parents had any problem
with us visiting our Ojibwa friends in their homes;
and we were warmly welcomed, especially Barbie and Donnie
because they were so young and cute
and the Ojibwa love children dearly.

The Five of Us in the Summer of 1961
Barbie (left), Me (Louise) with Bertie, Roy, Donnie (right),
and Lake Trout 
Lac Seul, Northern Ontario, Canada
Photo by Sara MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

In school my father treated us the same as his Ojibwa students, 
with the exception that he had to provide 
my brother and me with a more advanced curriculum
because we were academically ahead of his students;
and in my case, I was the only student in Grade Five.

He went so far as to enroll
my four-year-old sister Barbie in kindergarten,
so she could become friends
with her fellow kindies and first graders.

He hoped that she would help him
teach his young Ojibwa students more effectively
by talking with them in English
and by modeling what he wanted them to do.

Sioux Lookout, Northern Ontario, 1961
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

At recess he expected us to go outside and play with our classmates,
and he left us on our own to work out any squabbles and problems that arose.

There was no special treatment
because we were white and my father's children.
We used the same outhouse behind the school,
and we drank the same wretched powdered milk
and ate the same yucky nutritional biscuits
that the government required the Ojibwa children to eat daily.
We had to wash and brush our teeth along with our classmates.

When the nurse came to treat the students with a louse-killing, powdered drug,
my father made sure nurse Mike O'Flaherty deloused me first.
Lord help me, I think it was some form of DDT, 
and Mike thoroughly applied it to my scalp before tackling any of the others.

Some of Dad's Ojibwa Students
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My father's one concern about the Ojibwa was something he hadn't anticipated.
The Ojibwa girls were a little unsure about me as an older, assertive white girl
(likely I was the only one they had ever met),
and they preferred to play with Barbie and Donnie who were younger and oh so cute.

So with the exception of our next-door neighbors, Fannie and Nellie,
I played with the boys.
As a matter-of-fact, I found the Ojibwa boys fascinating,
much more so than the boring, regular white boys I had known.
My parents were quickly deciding to send me out to boarding school the next year.

Our Neighbors, Fannie and Nellie
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My father considered the Ojibwa and other "bush Indians"
cheerful, loyal, faithful, and honest.
But the quality he considered their most delightful
characteristic was their sense of humor.
The following anecdote was one of my father's
favorite stories about Ojibwa humor:

"When I was at Lansdowne House,
I lived with the Catholic teacher at the mission,
because the Protestant residence had burned down the previous year.
The mission was on an island, and my school was on the mainland.
It was therefore necessary for me to commute by canoe
four times daily across about six hundred feet of water.

This was quite a chore for a person who had never seen a canoe before.
I must confess, my daily commuting was remarkable,
not for the skill which I displayed in canoeing,
but for the frequency and variety of accidents and mishaps
which were the result of my abominable canoemanship.

The Strip of Water My Father Had to Commute Over by Water
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario
Photo by Father Maurice Ouimet
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The population used to take great delight
in gathering on the shores every morning
to see what new trouble Shawganish could think up for himself.

Shawganish means soldier or policeman,
and the Indians bestowed this name on me for the following reason.
I had just been released from the R.C.A.F.,
and I frequently wore air force battledress and greatcoat
in an effort to save my other clothes.

When I left Lansdowne House, Old Costar Wapoose, the chief,
was down to the plane to see me off and to say goodbye to me.
He spoke through an interpreter, and I was quite flattered
when he said that I was the first teacher who had been able to show him
and a lot of the other Indians many things which they had not known previously.

I was actually getting a swelled head, until Old Costar said
with a twinkle in his eye and a grin on his face,
"Teacher, during last fall and this spring my people and I
learned nineteen new and different ways of upsetting a canoe."

A Rock My Father Grounded His Canoe On
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Later when my family lived in Sioux Lookout, Ontario,
I was shocked by the way the First Nations people
living in the town were treated with a damaging and demoralizing prejudice.
That was not how we had been taught to treat any people anywhere.
The stunning unjustness and unfairness of what I saw has never left me.

I have shared a lot about my father's thoughts on the Ojibwa people,
but very little about my mother's.
My mother spent many, many hours during my upbringing discussing with me
the inherent value and dignity of people around the world,
no matter their race, culture, religion, education, work, or sex;
the only difference is, I don't have a written record of her thoughts.

I do, however, have many memories of the Ojibwa-White Métis man
who became my mother's lifelong friend in the summer of 1961. 
Their mutual friendship and respect spoke volumes 
about the common humanity we all share. 

I have always been proud of my parents for teaching me by word and by example,
that all people are equal, deserving of respect,
and should be treated as we ourselves would wish to be treated.

My Mother and I
Stanhope Beach, Prince Edward Island, Canada, 1951
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Boars Head Lighthouse
Tiverton, Long Island, Bay of Fundy
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


1.  Bush Indians:
     My father used this term to collectively describe all the First Nations people who lived in
     Northern Ontario, the largest groups of whom were Ojibwa and Cree.

2.  Dad's Recounting of Chief Costar's Good-bye:
     Recorded in Dad's unpublished 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, pages 30 and 31.

     I know that my father had seen a canoe previously; in fact,  I know that his father had given him
     canoeing lessons on St. Peter's Bay in Prince Edward Island when he was young.  I'm not saying
     that my father was a liar, rather that like all good raconteurs, sometimes he fudged facts a little
     to improve his story.

     In my draft of his handbook, he admitted that "in writing to Sara, I gave complete freedom to my
     descriptive talents, and perhaps even exaggerated on occasion, for effect ... ."  I've taken this
     quotation out of context, but it is true of my father as a story teller.  The number of canoe
     upsettings slowly grew over the decades as did the distance  he had to commute by canoe
     between the island and the mainland.

My Father's Handbook
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

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

3.  Prejudice Against Indians in Sioux Lookout:
     This is not just my memory and opinion.  The situation was well-documented in the book 
     "Ethics and Indians:  Social Relations in a Northwestern Ontario Town" by David H. Stymeist
      (Toronto, Peter Martin Associates Limited, 1975 (1977 printing).  I stumbled across this book
      in the Cal State Fullerton bookstore in 1978, and it took me a nanosecond to realize what town
      "Crow Lake" was because I had lived it and my father had worked at the Sioux Lookout Indian
      Agency as an Indian Affairs Branch Supervising Principal.  My copy is dog-eared, marked up,
      and falling apart.

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Lansdowne House, Ontario, Canada

Lansdowne House
Surrounded by Water
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Lansdowne House and the Father's Island, 1935

Credit: Canada. Dept. of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Library and Archives Canada / PA-094992


  1. You got a priceless education when you were young. I'm grateful I lived in so many places as a child, including two foreign countries. I think that really helps a person get a wider world view. And learn the value of other cultures and people.

    1. Hi, Alex! Your comment about your childhood isn't surprising to me. I expected as much, on reading your Cassa series which are space operas, but are very much about the human heart. I loved that aspect of your books, but I must also say that I found the many "fighter scenes" compelling and realistic. But then I was an air force brat during part of my childhood.

      I wouldn't have changed my childhood for anything! The opportunity I had to live in so many unique and different places growing up was priceless, and like you, I am grateful. Much of my education was about the human heart. I was born and remain a flaming idealist ~ which has led to some unusual choices in my life, some enriching, some difficult, and some heartbreaking, but I can't change who I am.

      My four siblings and I all have the travel bug and love meeting people around the world. I think our childhood experiences made us more open to and accepting of those who are different from us. Enjoy the weekend with your wife, my friend!

  2. All should be treated the same indeed. If only more parents instilled that in their kids. It's who you are, not what you are, that decides whether I like one or not. haha you must have been having lots of fun if they were contemplating boarding school.

    1. You are so right, Pat!!!!! It's who you are, not what you are that is most important in life. My parents were worried because they knew I was a precocious and idealistic girl who might be forming my first complex and emotional friendships with boys at that point, but who would all-too-soon be interested in boys for other reasons. They were already trying to shelter me from heartbreak, but try as parents may, they can't stop children from growing up and learning some of life's toughest lessons. I hope you have a relaxing and rewarding weekend, my friend!

  3. Another wonderful memory. You had wonderful parents and what an experience!

    1. Thanks, Sage! I was fortunate indeed. Ironically, in spite of my love of the North and it's people, I was destined to spend my adult life in America. btw, I don't know if I've mentioned this to you before, but you would likely enjoy the book "Alone Against the North: An Expedition Into the Unknown" by Adam Shoalts, a Canadian explorer. Adam is currently on a solo five-month journey across Canada's mainland Arctic to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday. Have a good one, my adventurous friend!

  4. I enjoyed reading about your Mom's teachings to you as a child as well. Your parents were a true "team."

    1. Hi, Debra! I'm glad that you enjoyed reading my Mom's teachings. In many ways my mother had a bigger influence on me than my father. My parents were a true team, and despite many ups and downs and challenges, they maintained a close, complicated, and deeply emotional relationship throughout their lives. Wishing you and your rare one a happy weekend together!!

  5. I love all the photos, Louise, and your sister Barbie, how adorable! I cannot stand favouritism, everyone deserves to be treated kindly, and with respect. Beautiful post, thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Thanks for your heartfelt comment, Linda! I started writing this post early last night with a vague idea of Chief Costar's story and Ojibwa humor in my mind, and the post just took over and went in its own direction ~ which was what my subconscious was mulling over. I don't know if that makes any sense, but that's the best that I can express it right now. And I never know how people will react, so I am always grateful when people like you "get" it.

      I was thinking when I added our family portrait with trout that Barbie looked more glowering than cute. Even at newly five she was already exhibiting an intense and questioning intelligence, and I would love to know what she was thinking at that moment. I had to balance that photo of her with a cute one of her taken about six months later. Even then she railed against a "Barbie doll" image. She became a force to reckoned with. Okay, I'll stop!!! Have a wonderful weekend, my cherished friend!

  6. Hi Fundy, another great post. I note you failed to mention my absolute failure as a model of good behavior ha, ha. Dad also learned that the majority will win out - I believe my Ojibwa was quite good by the time we left :-) See you Thursday! your sister Barb

    1. Your comment had me laughing so hard, Barb. I seriously considered including the facts you noted in your comment in my post, but I felt it was slightly off the intent of what I was writing. You were always confounding Dad! And don't worry, those facts are in my manuscript. LOL! Thursday can't come fast enough ~ but OMG I have so much to do! I'm joining you, Blair, Sue, and Roy on the wine tour!!! Big hugs to you.

  7. The teachings of your parents has brought tears to my eyes. I hope I have raised my children in the same way.


    1. Happy Saturday, Janie! Thanks for your kind comment, as always. I'm sure you did a great job with your children. You have a kind heart! Take care, my friend!

  8. A childhood some would only dream about. Hardships, massive, love, family values, truthfulness and honesty above all. And yes, children all grow up to be teenagers then adults, and as a parent we can only do our best at all times. I look back at what I would call my failures, and realise I tried my best even then. Now, if I had a second shot, would do it all so differently. Wonderful family photos.

    1. Wouldn't we all do some things differently if we could, Jean? What I have found over many years of working with kiddos, is that children are resilient and that the vast majority of them grow up to do just fine. I used to tell anxious parents that in parent-teacher conferences, and most of my school kiddos are doing well today. All we can do is try our best and hope that we have given our kids the skills they need to deal with adult challenges. Because we are all tested! I think that overcoming difficulties and surviving sorrow makes accomplishments and joy all the more meaningful.

      Thanks for your kind words about the family photos. I laugh when I see the one of Mom and me. I was about 16 months old and look like a little Yoda. I was born serious! LOL That's one of my favorite photos of Mom and me.

      I'm wishing you and Hugh a happy day. As I sit here drinking my morning coffee I imagine that you are doing the same, only for you it is my tomorrow! Sending you a big hug!

  9. "My mother spent many, many hours during my upbringing discussing with me
    the inherent value and dignity of people around the world,
    no matter their race, culture, religion, education, work, or sex;
    the only difference is, I don't have a written record of her thoughts."

    I hope you'll write down everything you remember!

    1. Hi, Sandi! Thanks for your encouraging words. I'm currently writing a memoir ~ or perhaps I should say writing a book while trying to figure out how to write a book ~ LOL Have a great day!

  10. Hi-ya. I've been reading... and enjoying... your comments on Geo's blog for quite some time, so I thought it was time for me to crash your blog to say hello.

    I picked a great time to visit. Maybe ALL of your posts are this good, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. The experiences you had and the lessons you learned first-hand through your upbringing are priceless. Hats off to your parents! (My father was an Archie Bunker wannabe, so I had to learn to be a bleeding heart do-gooder liberal on my own. HA!)

    It's very nice to meet you. Count me in as your newest groupie.

    1. It's nice to meet you, Susan! Thanks for visiting. I'm so glad that you enjoyed my post. I am very slowly working on a memoir about my family's time in the North. I just love Geo's blog! I'm hopping over to visit yours now. Have a good one!

  11. No better way to learn anything than by example and your parents were exemplary.

    1. I was one lucky kid, wasn't I? I can't wait to see you and Ron and Sophie!

  12. Wonderful, wonderful post!!! Your parents were amazing!! Truly love all the photos! Big Hugs!

    1. Thanks, Stacy! The photo of my siblings and I with the lake trout is my favorite family photo of all! Have a good one!

  13. I am amazed with graceful thinking of your amazing parents my dear friend!.

    It is a saying that a first school for a child is lap of his mother and you were so fortunate to have such a rich and nurtured school in lap of your mother who taught you the lesson of equality by practicing it front of you .

    I adore your dear father for his sublime way of upbringing of his children who turned you into a wonderful and magnificent person today.

    your writings a inspirational and thoughts are light dear.

    loved the all precious photos thank you for sharing the glory of your past dear friend!!!

  14. Your kind words mean so much to me, Baili! Thank you dear friend!

  15. This was so heartwarming to read, Louise. I truly believe that the home foundation is an important stepping stone to who we will become and how we will treat others. Your parents taught you well.

  16. Another wonderful memory. You had wonderful parents and what an experience!



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