Friday, August 11, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: The Occasional Dog Fight in the Kitchen ...

The forestry shack that our family rented in Lansdowne House
was smallest place we ever lived in,
with the exception of a tiny log cabin at a fish camp on Lac Seul.

In one way the house was well ahead of its time, 
for the kitchen opened into the living room
forming a kind of great room that is so popular today.

Not that it was great ~
when we were not sleeping in the two tight bedrooms,
our family of two adults, five children, and one dachshund
crammed into a living space crowded with a kitchen table and chairs,
a 25-gallon water drum, an oil burner, a couch, a coffee table, a daybed,
and a bookcase, perhaps all of 500 square feet.

The Forestry Shack
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, 1960
Drawing by Donalda MacBeath, Age 7

Text:  Dear Nana, This is a picture of our home.
Note:  Indian "Gods" (Dogs),  Buckets of Meat Hung from the Eaves, 
a Box of Groceries on the Roof,
and the Weather Vane on the Chimney 

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

Inside the Forestry Shack
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, 1960
Sketch by Maureen McRae 
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Everyone was on top of everyone.
If Mom was teaching Roy and me to play Bridge at one end of the kitchen table,
Dad was at the other typing while our three younger sisters
played around the couch and coffee table,
and Gretchen found a spot wherever she could.

In mid-April 1961 the approach of break-up on Lake Attawapiskat
prompted my father to dash off a series of personal and professional letters
before the ice became too weak to support mail-carrying bush planes from the Outside.

In an excerpt from an April 16th letter, 
my father wrote to his mother Myrtle
about our "semi-disorganized" life in the heart of our home.

Father Ouimet, Dad, and Brother Bernier (left)
Myrtle Pratt MacBeath (right)
Lansdowne House and Charlottetown
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Apart from the possibility of the new job in Sioux Lookout,
the nearness of the break-up, and the occasional dogfight in the kitchen,
life in the MacBeath household is proceeding in its usual semi-disorganized manner.

The last mentioned occurrence was something that usually happens to me,
but darned if I didn’t sleep through the whole thing.
I guess that Sara told you about it.

Apparently, she was in the kitchen working, when the door burst open
and in ran a dog closely pursued by a dog team of four other dogs,
intent upon committing mayhem on the body of the first dog.

A Dog Team on the Yukon River
NPS Photo, By Ranger Josh Spice

The dog team was in turn closely followed by the driver of the dog team,
and a more embarrassed Indian you never saw in your life.
For a time life in our kitchen was complicated, crowded, and exciting to say the least.

I wish I had awakened, for I bet it was amusing.
However Sara won’t tell me too much about the whole thing.
If I had seen it, most likely I could have written several pages on the subject.

Incidentally, the dog team mentioned earlier was complete with sleigh and load,
including a large pair of snowshoes, and our kitchen is not very large.

I don’t see how they were going to find room to fight,
but this little consideration of space didn’t seem to worry the dogs too much.

Dog Team on the Ice
Location Unknown, 2017
pxhere   Creative Commons CC0

Sara is trying to start Louise and Roy at Bridge.
The first lesson is in session right now.
I don’t know just how successful the attempt will be, 
but I don’t think it hurts for anyone to learn this game as soon as possible.
Louise for certain is ready for the game, and I think that Roy is too.

If nothing else is accomplished,
I hope that we can get them started playing together
and perhaps do something towards overcoming
the intense rivalry that seems to have grown up between them.

Right now they don’t know what cooperation means.
It would be wonderful if they learned to cooperate through Bridge
which is a game requiring cooperation between partners.

Early Rivals
Three-year old Roy laughs as the photographer tells four-year old me
to pull down my skirt because my underwear was showing.
Living Room, Our Apartment, Charlottetown, circa 1954
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Sara is glaring at me right now
(the Bridge lesson ended in a fight between Louise and Roy),
and now she wants me to get away from the table
so we can have our dinner.
I will finish this after dinner...

I think the only person
besides Dad who doesn't
remember the dog team
plunging through
our open kitchen door
is my baby sister Bertie.

Bertie in her cousin's home
Montreal, Quebec, February 1961
Photo:  Thanks to Dawn MacDonald White

It was all Whitey's fault!
The dog team belonged to our Ojibway neighbors the Jacobs,
and the lead dog on the team was Whitey.
On this day he looked healthy and fattened up,
but that was not how he looked when we first met him

I don't know what the Jacobs called "Whitey."
That was the name we kids gave him.
He was one of the scrawny Ojibway dogs that bedded down
in the snow near our house,
the "little god" Donnie drew in her letter for Nana.

Our mother and we children were terribly distressed
when we first moved into the forestry shack 
and saw how malnourished the Ojibway dogs were.
Whitey was the runt of the bunch, and he often lost out
to the bigger dogs when scrambling for scarce food.

We made Whitey our special project by driving off the bigger dogs
and feeding him the choicest scraps left over from our kitchen.
We fed the other dogs too, but we made sure Whitey got the most.

When Donnie and Barbie went to the door to scrape off their lunch dishes,
they had no idea that Dad's student George Jacobs
would be heading off to the bush with his family's dog-team.
It was muskrat season, and he was leaving for the traplines.

Whitey took one look at my sisters on the doorstep and raced for the door,
dragging the rest of the team and George behind him.
The other dogs knew exactly what was going on,
and they rushed for their share of the leftovers.

Donnie and Barbie fled into the kitchen
toward my mother who was washing dishes,
as the snarling, viciously-snapping dogs exploded into the kitchen
and squeezed between the water drum and kitchen table.
Roy dove over the couch, and I jumped up on the daybed
as the fully loaded sled tangled up in the kitchen chairs.
Bertie and our dachshund Gretchen scattered.

With the growling and yapping and shouting and screaming
of dogs and people and the crashing chairs and smashing sled,
it's a wonder that Dad didn't wake up from his nap;
but then, my father was a master napper.

A frantic and cursing George managed to unhitch
the dogs and drag them out the door.
Then, mortified and apologizing, 
he untangled the sled from the pile of chairs,
yanked it out the door, and disappeared.

George on the left, Simon on the right
in Dad's Classroom
Photo by Don MacBeath 
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Fortunately for George, by the time he returned
from the trapline with his family,
the pandemonium had died down ~ but was not forgotten!

Meanwhile Roy and I continued our own dogfights
in the kitchen, on the school grounds, and around the village.
To this day we battle fiercely over cards,
every game of which is meticulously recorded in
the diary of my generation's answer to Samuel Pepys, 
my brother Roy.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Crossing Petite Passage
Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia
Photo Copy by Roy MacBeath 
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My Three Younger Sisters:
Donnie with Bertie and Barbie
Grammie's Backyard, Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia
Summer, 1960
Photo by Sara MacBeath 
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

1.  Unit Conversions:
     325 square feet = 30.1 square meters.

2.  Muskrat Season:
     George Jacobs was one of my father's older male students.  In mid-April 1961 he was expected to go
     to his family's muskrat traplines as break-up approached.  Ojibway fathers often considered their sons'
     training in traditional hunting and trapping skills more important than attending school.  The Ojibway
     primarily trapped muskrat and other small fur-bearing mammals for their furs which they traded
     for supplies such as flour, sugar, lard, and tea at the Hudson's Bay post.  Sometimes the animals' meat
     supplemented the Ojibway's food supplies.

3.  Samuel Pepys:
     Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was an administrator in the navy
     and a Member of Parliament in England.  He is famous for the
     private diary he kept from 1600-1609, with its detailed accounts
     of the Great Plague of London, the Great Fire of London, and
     the Second Dutch War.  Pepys' Diary is an important primary
     resource for the English Restoration period.  Wikipedia 

     My brother Roy has consistently kept a daily journal since the
     mid-1960s.  Roy takes great delight in recording events big and
     small, and he often writes in his meticulous small script in his
     latest leather-bound journal while enjoying a glass of scotch or

     I am happy to report that I beat everyone playing Thirteen
     in the one game I played while in Calgary recently.  Thirteen
     is a great card game that Roy and his wife Susan learned
     while traveling on the Mongolian Steppes last summer.
     I know my brilliant win is recorded for posterity in Roy's
     current journal.  Pepe's Portrait:  Wikimedia

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Map of Canada
Highlighting Ontario

Location of Lansdowne House
Wikimedia   edited

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

Rough Sketch of Lansdowne House
by Donald MacBeath, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

This sketch shows the Father's Island and the tip of the "Mainland" peninsula
that contained the community of Lansdowne House.         
                                                                    #23 My Father's Church of England Indian Day School
                                                                    #15 Forestry Shack (Our Home)
                 Black Dots ~ Indian Homes


  1. That was sure some excitement for a few minutes as the dogs burst on through. They wanted those leftovers indeed. Nothing wrong with a little competition, unless it truly turns into a dog fight too haha Wow, I think my last apartment was bigger than that house.

    1. Happy Friday, Pat! I'm sorry to say that Roy and I got into a physical wrestling fight a few times in Lansdowne House. Despite the odd fisticuff and dustup growing up, Roy and I have always been close and love each other deeply. It was devastating for me to have to cancel my trip to Nova Scotia, because Roy and I had lots of plans. Now he is back in Kuwait , and I won't get to see him quite a while. Have a good one, my friend!

  2. Congratulations on your win at Thirteen. When Roy's journals are published, the whole world will know of your brilliance. As for the size of the house, I guess I have to stop saying that we were crowded into a small house when I was growing up. Amazing that your dad could sleep through a dog fight.


    1. LOL ~ Janie! I see now from Pat's comment and yours that I didn't make myself clear on the size of the house. The kitchen/living room area was about 325 square feet, so with the bedrooms it was about 500. Yes, it was amazing that my father could sleep through a dog fight. Unfortunately, I did not inherit his napping skills. I can't nap for anything. Have a great weekend!

    2. I forgot to ask if you still have to be told to pull your skirt down because your undies are showing.

    3. LOL! I rarely wear dresses or skirts now ~ taking no chances!

  3. The first thought I had when the dogs came bursting through was the scene from A Christmas Story. At least dad's dinner didn't get swiped by one of the pups amidst the chaos like it did in the movie!

  4. Hi, Teresa! I haven't seen the movie "A Christmas Story," but you've made me curious, and I'll have to look for it! Have a good one! Thanks for visiting!

    1. It's one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies. We were able to visit the house the movie was filmed at while we were traveling through Ohio last year. It was definitely one of the highlights of our vacation.

  5. That was such a great post to read!!! I love the photo of you on the boat :) Very funny story about the dog sled can that happen to anyone? Very unique and definitely worth telling! :))

    1. Hi, Rain! Thanks for visiting and leaving such an uplifting comment. I've been working on a memoir of my family's time in northern Ontario, so this was the latest post in a series. I can't wait to try your frittata recipe that Martha raved about. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

  6. I have been meaning to get back to your posts because I enjoy them very much....BUT.... that old BUT,
    I get deep into work projects and have trouble pulling myself free. The sled dog incident reminded me of a young man I met who is in the rain gutter business. "How can the two be related," you may ask. He grew up in Alaska, ran the Ididarod (sp) twice but moved to civilization after he married and had kids. He bought a rain gutter business in Helena and my old farm house badly needed gutters.

    He gave me his book he had written when sled dogs were the main focus of his life. So..... sled dogs have been on my mind lately. LOL
    Interesting post, Fundy Blue.

    Nice to connect with you again.

    1. I so get "But," Belva! I can't stay on top of it all either ~ especially with life being so complex! Thanks for sharing the story about the rain gutter guy and his sled dogs. Running the Iditarod is quite an accomplishment, and he did it twice! Have a great rest of the week!

  7. Pull your skirt down girl! LOL! I love coming to your blog so much! The stories and pictures are amazing! Thank you for sharing it all!
    Louise, I have to thank you for noticing my picture!!!! I felt like an idiot! Saying I hung it vertical, but I hung it horizontal! I am surprised no one else said anything! They must have thought I was drinking! LOL! But, thanks to you, it is hanging properly now!
    Big Hugs!

    1. Thanks, Stacy! You made my evening! Big hugs back at you! Happy to help! LOL Have a good one!

    2. Thanks, Stacy! You made my evening! Happy to help out ~ LOL Sending big hugs back to you. Have a good one!

  8. I really enjoyed reading this. Look at him smile! Dad's island... how about that...


    1. Nice to see you, Blue! I'm glad that you enjoyed this! Have a good one!

  9. Oh dear this shack sounds quite "smaller" than your needs.

    but let me share with you dear louise that after marriage when i suddenly moved from big house of native town in to a small two rooms house of this small city and lived there for 16 years was not as bad .
    but it was easy for three people though ,me ,hubby and our eldest son as you know my both younger sons came in my world after ten and 13 years late than their eldest brother.

    your writing have ability to project the whole situation front of my eyes .
    the dog fight was scary but enjoyed reading about your and roy's forghts a lot.
    i have only one sister who is 6 years younger than me and we hardly fought over anything be cause i was 6 year elder and had feeling for her as a responsible big sister so whenever she was scolded by mom for some mistake i used to protect her .
    after my marriage i brought her with me and she finished her high school from here . now she lives in islamabad and her children born in America so they will move there after few years

    1. Hi, Baili! I long ago learned that it's not the size of the house that counts, but the love among the people in it. And it's obvious there is a lot of love in your family! Thanks for sharing your memories. I had responsible big sister attitude toward my youngest sister Bertie. From the beginning she was my living doll. I loved helping Mom with her, dressing her, combing her hair, taking her with me everywhere. While Roy and I fought a lot and competed constantly growing up, we always stood up for each other if anyone gave either of us a hard time. Now we cheer each other on and are very close. I was interrupted last night when reading your blog, so finishing catching up is at the top of my agenda today. Sending you love and hugs!

  10. Hilarious that he slept through that!

    Love your map. Ontario is huge! I am on there too...the thumb of Michigan is where I grew up. :) We're like neighbors.

    Important question: who put the baby on the fridge??

    1. Hi, Sandi! Hilarious, for sure! I wish I could nap like my father. I can manage a nap only if I'm really sick. My zany cousin Art put Baby Bertie up on the fridge. We were visiting my mother's brother's family in Montreal on our way north to join our father in Lansdowne House. Art had recently married my cousin Dawn, and he was a character, very cool, funny, liked to push the envelope. My parents would NEVER have put Bertie or anyone else on top of the fridge! Have a good one!

  11. Oh my gosh, Louise! You have the most unique stories. LOL Who else has this type of history in their family about a dog sled team? HAHAHA

    1. My childhood was not typical, Martha! I'm driven to preserve these stories for my family. It was a great relief in the emergency room last Sunday morning, when I thought I was having a heart attack. I feel I was meant to write this memoir, and that I will live to do so. I'm okay ~ quite certain that my chest distress was a result of antibiotics ~ the gift of the dental emergency that keeps on giving! LOL

  12. Replies
    1. It is funny, Roth! I wish I had my father's ability to nap! Have a good one!

  13. Really a beautiful blog.It is very astonishing and marvelous design.



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