Friday, August 18, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: C'est la Guerre

Have you ever experienced dental pain so bad
that you wanted to grab a pair of pliers and rip the tooth out of your jaw?

I have.  Nothing makes me crazier than dental pain.

I recently had to abandon a flight from Calgary to Halifax
and fly home to Aurora because of a sudden and serious dental abscess.
I was lucky.  I accessed expert dental care very quickly.

We take such things for granted today,
but a half century ago in remote parts of Canada people couldn't.

A Last View of Calgary
as I head for Denver instead of Halifax
July 23, 2017
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Photo by Louise Barbour 
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Dental care was a concern and a real problem for people
in isolated communities like Lansdowne House back then,
especially during freeze-up and break-up
when there was no way to get out to a dentist.

When my mother wrote to her mother-in-law
shortly before break-up about Milt MacMahon's dental woes,
it's fortunate she couldn't see into her own future.

On April 20, 1961 she had written:
Milt's teeth were bothering him so much, 
he had to get Mike to pull five of them out.

Mike froze his teeth and pulled them,
and then Milt went over to visit Duncan and then home.
When he got home he passed out.

He had a bad reaction to the needle.
It happens in one case in a million I guess.
He was unconscious for half an hour.

Poor Mike, at one point he thought he couldn't save him.
Milt went into shock, his blood pressure shot up, 
and I guess his heart missed a beat.

However Mike saved him.

My mother had no inkling of her own dental future.

The Only Way in and Out:  by Bush Plane
A Norseman on Skis
Flickr ~ NOAA:  Rear Admiral Harley D. Nygren   License 

On Monday, April 24, 1961
My father wrote:

Hi There Everyone:
As far as can be determined, the last plane
before break-up will be in tomorrow morning.
The ice is still good up here,
but it is getting pretty bad down south in Nakina and Armstrong.

Just in case tomorrow’s plane is the last one,
I thought I would get another note off to you all, in spite of the fact that
my last effort is still reposing in the mail sack down in Mitchell’s office.
Because of this, you lucky people will have to suffer through
two of my efforts, instead of the usual one.

The last of our freeze-up----damn it, I mean break-up order arrived today.
I can’t ever remember having so much food in the house at one time.
We have enough to last for four or five weeks and even for six in a pinch,
although we will hope that we aren’t pinched.

The Hudson's Bay Post
where the departing mail waited and food could be bought.
Clerk Brian Booth
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario
Winter 1960-61
Photo by Don MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I was a bit horrified when I got to see the bills
and discovered that the bills for the break-up order came to $195.00;
but actually, that’s not bad, when you consider that we bought a whole month’s supplies.

We usually have to spend at least this every month on food,
but it is divided over four weeks and doesn’t look so bad.
I’m just not used to buying everything in one swell swoop like this. 

I have lost about half of my pupils for a while.
They have all gone out trapping muskrat.
They won’t be back till after break-up.

Muskrat Tracks:  Wikimedia          Muskrat on Ice:  Wikimedia          Three Muskrats:  Flickr ~ Eric B├ęgin   License

I was worried that this would reflect on me, and I was wondering,
if I had made my school a little more interesting, they might have stayed.

Bill Mitchell and Sara put my mind at rest on this matter though.
Sara surmised, and Bill definitely stated, that this is an annual occurrence
and the Indians have been doing it for generations.

I can’t see why the men don’t go out for the three weeks alone
and leave the mothers and children home,
so the kids could go to school;
but I have found out that Indian fathers are more interested
in their sons becoming good trappers than good scholars
and that their daughters become proficient in curing the pelts.

I suppose when you look at it from the point of view of the Indian,
it is a practical way of looking at things.
After all, this is the way that a great majority of them
will be making their living when they grow to be adults.

Into the Bush, James Bay Area

Poor Sara had to get a tooth pulled today.
It was causing her a lot of agony,
and the dentist won’t be in till June or July.
A dentist could probably have saved the tooth,
while the best Mike could do for her was to take it out.

This is one of the greatest drawbacks to living in the north.
It is so hard to get dental care when you need it.  

Bill Mitchell was saying that if your teeth won’t last
one or two years between overhauls,
then, if you are going to live in the north for any length of time,
you are just as well off without them.
He had his all out a long time ago.

I am lucky.  Mine haven’t caused me any trouble since I came up here,
and the last time I had any work done to them, except for cleaning them,
was before I got out of the Air Force.
Now Sara, on the other hand, had her last dental appointment
just before she came up here.

Mom (Sara)
Before Five Kids and Dental Woes
Dating Dad at Acadia University
Fifteen Years Earlier ~ 1946
Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I was just looking at the amount that I said I spent for food every month,
and I realize that the food we have on hand is a five weeks’ supply;
and actually this works out just right,
for Sara has just told me that we usually spend about $35.00 a week for food up here.
The actual cost of the food is not very much, if any higher than in the Cove.

What costs up here is having it brought in by plane at ten cents a pound.
This is what really hurts.

Well, here I am with a nice clean white page in front of me,
and all of a sudden, I can’t think of anything else to say.

Oh yes, it’s Duncan’s birthday tomorrow, Duncan senior that is,
and we are going over to help him celebrate.
Mike and Anne are also coming over,
so I guess there will be no bridge, but just a nice gabfest.
Oh well, I always did like a good gossip session occasionally.

Dad and Duncan
Northern Ontario, Canada, 1960
Photo by Don MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I have been doing considerable painting lately.
I painted a lovely large picture of the Father’s Island,
18 inches by 24 inches, and I gave it to him for his birthday,

I did another one of the Anglican Church up here and sent it to Mother for Mother’s Day.

I did another one of a small wooded island out in the lake in front of our house,
and Duncan asked me if he could have it, so I am giving it to him for his birthday.

It is a winter scene, and I think it is a pretty good one.
I almost get a chill from looking at it.
I find that painting is a great way of relaxing.

I did another painting of the same island that I did for Duncan,
although it is a different view,
and I believe that it is the best that I have ever done yet.
Sara liked it so well that she claimed it for a birthday gift,
before I got a chance to give it away to someone else.

It’s a funny thing, but once I have finished a picture,
I am no longer interested in it
and can only think of what I am going to paint next.

Well, it is getting late, and I was up late last night trying to beat the break-up deadline,
which I thought was going to be today, so I think I’ll sign off now.

Will be seeing you all via the printed page after break-up.

Bye now, love, Don.

The Father's Island
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Circa 1960
Photo by Father Maurice Ouimet
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My mother's dental ordeal was not over.  
Break-up arrived and so did more difficulties for my mother.

My father discussed the situation in his unpublished handbook
The Northern School Teacher:

"Medical and dental care is a problem in the bush,
for anything serious always entails a trip out by aeroplane.
The government pays the cost of all such emergency transportation
for medical and dental treatment, it is true,
but there are periods when it is just not possible to get out.

I refer especially to the freeze-up and break-up periods,
which usually average about a month each,
but can last as long as seven or eight weeks.

During the break-up at Lansdowne House,
Sara came down with a horrible toothache.
She just could not bear it.

Mike O'Flaherty, the nurse, whose enthusiasm
frequently exceeded his ability,
said he could pull the tooth out for Sara.
Since anything was preferable to the agony of the toothache,
Sara consented.

I accompanied her to the nursing station,
where Mike sat her down on an ordinary kitchen chair
and proceeded to pull the tooth.

After much wincing and crying, swearing and cursing,
and prying and pulling, the tooth was successfully extracted.

Unfortunately, it was the wrong tooth,
and the whole agonizing process had to be repeated.

Once outside we had to get a partial plate to fill the gap in Sara's mouth.
As the French say, "C'est la Guerre."

"C'est la Guerre," indeed!

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

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

1.  Milt MacMahon:
     Milt was one of the two Department of Transport employees in Lansdowne House,
     and his duties included running the weather station.

2.  Mike O'Flaherty:  
     Mike was the nurse at the nursing station and had to handle whatever came up,
     especially when planes could not fly in or out of Lansdowne House. 
     He and his wife Anne had a baby daughter Kathie who was about 5 months old.

3.  Brian Booth:  
     The clerk at the Hudson Bay Post.  He was seventeen when he first arrived at the Bay
     in Lansdowne House.

4.  Break-up Order:
     Typically white families in Lansdowne House ordered most of their food and
     and supplies once a year and had them delivered by tractor train.  The tractor trains
     (sometimes called cat trains) delivered the orders during the winter when it was
     possible to travel over the frozen land, muskeg, and water.

     My parents arrived too late to put in their annual order, so they had to fly everything
     in by bush plane.

A cat train on the move to Tigvariak Island
 Alaska North Slope, Spring 1949

A cat train on the move across the tundra 
carrying equipment and supplies for the construction of the DEW Line.
Alaska North Slope, Spring 1949

5.  Bill Mitchell:  The Manager of the Hudson Bay Post.

6.  Duncan and Maureen McRae:
    Duncan was the other Department of Transport employee.
     He and his wife Maureen were good friends with my parents.

7.  Unpublished Handbook:
     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, page 25.

For Map Lovers Like Me:

Location of Lansdowne House
Known Today as Neskantaga
Hudson Bay Lowlands (green)

Lansdowne House Lies in the Wilderness
West of James and Hudson Bays

Lansdowne House, Armstrong, and Nakina 
Northern Ontario, Canada

To see a map that shows the northern limit of connecting all-weather roads or rain lines, Click Here.


  1. Ouch. All of that and the wrong tooth? Damn, I'd sure be swearing a whole bunch having to repeat the process. Any pain from the neck up is the worst. Hate tooth pain. $195 for groceries might feed one person in a month these days, and that's being very frugal. Once one is done, move on to the next. Sounds like our way at our bay haha

    1. Hey, Pat! I found Bill Mitchell's comment about having all your teeth out in the North quite pragmatic. There are times I've thought the same thing ~ usually out of my mind, crazy with pain. Your latest book just arrived from Amazon last night. I had already blown my book budget for the summer, but I couldn't resist the snowy cover and intriguing plot. I'm going to take it to Victoria to read. Have a good weekend, my friend!

    2. Wow, that got there fast. thanks for blowing your book budget a bit more on me lol and the link to that non rhyming place is up just for thee.

  2. Oh no, the wrong tooth! Your poor mom! And poor you, too -- I'm glad your dental abcess has been treated and resolved, although it's so unfortunate it prevented your trip to Nova Scotia. I remember eons ago that people had much worse dental situations than they did today. It wasn't isolation that prevented good dental care among the people I knew, it was poverty. Partial and full toothlessness was common then. And lots of people had crooked teeth -- no braces in those days!

    1. Hi, Debra! Good to see you! Yes, cancelling my trip to Nova Scotia was hard. Some things you can never get back, and family time becomes more precious when you realize that time is racing by.

      You're right about the poverty factor. That impacted a lot of people. Also, sometimes there were problems in a community's water supply. I am thinking specifically of places in Newfoundland where there was too much fluoride in the water, and people had stained and pitted teeth. I never really thought about crooked, missing, yellowed, or tartar-stained teeth because that was the norm. I still find the perfect snow-white teeth that is the norm today startling. Have a great weekend!

  3. Pulling teeth was a very painful experience, especially back in the 60's! Bless your heart! The photo of the Muskrats on ice made me smile. The old store photo brought back some great childhood memories for me. My favourite store was F W Woolworth, and my parents and I would go to that store every Saturday. We would often eat lunch at the long brown lunch counter (and the food was always fresh and tasty), and then my parents would do their shopping while I happily browsed the store with them. I love your posts, Louise, thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Hi, Linda! I remember F W Woolworth and eating at their lunch counter too. My memories date from Charlottetown when my Great Aunt Maude would take me to the store with her. She looked out for me a lot, and I spent more time with her than my Grandmother MacBeath, who was her sister. Nana enjoyed Roy (as The Son) and Donnie (as the girly-girl) more. She wanted to tame my tomboy tendencies, but Aunt Maude encouraged me to be me. Thanks for always encouraging me in my posts, dear friend!

  4. I only had to have one tooth pulled, I'm hoping it will stay that way

    1. I hope it will stay that way for you, Adam! Have a great weekend!

  5. Oh Louise! I am so sorry you had to go through this but happy things have settled somewhat. Yes, it must have been difficult to cancel your trip to spend time with family. I am sure they missed you as much as you missed seeing them.

    Nothing worse than dental anything in my books! From the start as a 5 year old I remember jumping out of chair and out the door....running down the street with my sister in pursuit!!

    Your poor mother! And all those back then that had to withstand pain from an extraction or lack of money for any dental help.

    Have a great week.

    1. Thanks, Jim!!!! I am feeling much better. My attention is focused on Monday's eclipse!!! I'm off to pick up a pair of eclipse glasses from a wonderful friend. With all that was happening, I didn't pick up a pair in time. But Cheri has an extra pair, and she is going to give them to me. I'm trying to decide if I want to go to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for their eclipse party or if I'm going to go to a nearby spot that promises to be and excellent place to view the eclipse. those special sun telescopes at the museum would be awesome, but it would be almost an hour each way to drive to the museum and no guarantee of parking. We shall see ~ depends on how I feel. The eclipse is supposed to be about 93% totality. Close enough. I missed the 1971 total eclipse of the sun in Nova Scotia. Have a great weekend, my special friend!

  6. Your poor mother. How awful that it was the wrong tooth. Dental surgery is painful even when performed by an oral surgeon who gives one a prescription for pain pills. When my daughter was sixteen, she had her four impacted wisdom teeth removed. The pain pills made her sick to her stomach. She turned into a hobgoblin for several days. The worst pain I've ever been in was when I broke my back, which hurt more than when I had a gallbladder infection, which hurt more than having babies. What if someone had a broken back or some emergency illness? What would have been done? There are some things that even the best of nurses can't fix.


    1. Hi, Janie! Good questions! If some things happened, you were out of luck. I remember stories circulating at the time ~ maybe a kind of urban myth, but northern myth instead ~ about family members doing operations on a kitchen table via a doctor with short wave radio communication. I'm sure that nurse Mike, who had a radio, might have been called on to do emergency procedures with a doctor communicating by radio.

      All families had a major first aid kit that sometimes included morphine. I remember my baby sister Bertie getting into our kit somehow when we were living in a log cabin on Lac Seul. It was on an upper shelf in the kitchen, and we couldn't imagine how she reached it. She ate some kind of morphine pill. I don't remember the details of the dose, but I do remember Mom and I walking her up and down the floor of our log cabin for many hours, just keeping her awake and moving.

      The "boys" ~ the two Metis men at the fish camp were off fishing. I'm don't remember where their Ojibwa mother was. The hearest nearest neighbors were eight miles away by boat which we didn't have. No communication. No nothing. So we kept Bertie moving. Fortunately she suffered no ill effects, but I will never forget how upset Mom was.

      Sending you big hugs!

  7. Oh my gosh yes. I FEAR dental pain like you can't imagine. I fear the pain because (usually) I can't afford the dentist!! I've had teeth pulled because I couldn't afford root canal work. And when I could afford root canal work, eventually the tooth broke and had to be pulled anyway because I couldn't afford a crown...big business now, dentistry.

    I LOVE reading your blog so much! I loved reading your father's's such a great part of history. I felt the pain of the teeth being pulled as I read...lovely story nonetheless! Great photos, especially the Hudson's Bay post!!!

    1. Thanks, Rain! I'm so sorry about your past dental experiences. Unfortunately there are many people who have been in your shoes. Thanks for your kind words about my post! Have a good one!

  8. Wow...what a story. While I can't speak to the matter of dental pain, I have often imagined/wondered what it would be like for me to be the far removed from regular doctors. I'm a chronic pain patient and deal with injections once every one to two months to bring down the overall level of pain plus stronger painkillers immediately after the shot because it makes shit worse for a week. Been doing that for five years now with no real end in sight. Makes me wonder where life would lead if isolated.

    1. My heart goes out to you, Robert! I can't imagine what it would be like to deal with chronic pain. I'm glad that you are close to doctors and care!

  9. I can't imagine being isolated and not having immediate access to medical or dental care. One of my wisdom teeth cracked a few years back and the pain it caused was some of the worst pain I have ever felt. I had to wait 2 days to have it pulled and it was agonizing.

    I can't believe they pulled out the wrong tooth. While that part made me giggle in the story, I'm sure it wasn't funny for them at the time.

    1. Agony for sure, Theresa! It definitely wasn't funny at the time! My poor mother hated that partial plate. She stuck it in a mug in Newfoundland years later, then distracted while doing the dishes and thinking it was chicken bones, tossed the partial plate out in the garbage. Our neighbor even when to the village's dump and searched for hours for my mother. Secretly I think my mother was happy. We laughed a lot over the years at Mike's pulling the wrong tooth and the partial plate. Have a good one!

    2. I'm pretty sure my daughter "accidentally" lost her retainer after she got her braces off. She hated wearing it and claimed that she left it on her dinner plate. The story was her boyfriend's mother must have scooped it into the trash after dinner. Supposedly they looked for it but couldn't find it. It had only been a few hours, so it should have been on the top of the trash pile, but she insisted it was gone. Joke was on her because the next day we went to the dentist and got a new one. Told her if this one got lost, she was paying for the next one. Funny how she still has that retainer to this day.

    3. Sorry ~ just found this comment. What a funny story! It's a challenge to be a parent! LOL

  10. As I was reading this I was reminded how often we take things for granted. I cannot imagine the pain your mother was in and to have two pulled. YIKES!
    I just love reading these posts.

    I also thought it interesting how the students left to go trapping, I guess they had difference ideas on what was important during those years.

    I'm sorry you didn't make it to Halifax, that is on my list of places to visit someday!

    1. Hi, Truedessa! Sometimes I look back and wonder how my parents did that with five young kids. Being a kid, I was blissfully unaware of how much could have gone wrong. I do hope you get to Halifax. It is a fascinating city.

  11. I'm sorry about you having to cancel your trip! I hope your tooth is ok now!
    I have to admit, just from reading your post, my teeth are hurting me! LOL! 5 teeth and then pulling the wrong one! I just can't imagine any of this!! My mom always said, we have it good at the dental office. She almost takes a stroke, every time we go in. She has told me horror stories too. I guess I can't blame her for still being scared! Big Hugs!

    1. Thanks, Stacy! My tooth was crowned on Tuesday, and so far so good. I went through a lot of childhood trauma with dentists, so I always go in with trepidation. Big hugs back at you!

  12. i am really feeling for the pain you had dear Louise!

    but glad that new technology helped it soon and got you out of it .

    when i was teen i saw one of my cousin suffering with tooth ache and she could not not sleep for whole nights her side of mouth where tooth was attached had swelling horribly .
    she cried and i cried with her as her pain was unbearable for me even .
    i was horrified and never wanted to face it in my life but ,few months back it struck and credit goes to hubby who took it serious and took me to the doctor .three quite expensive visits to him and each visit he filled the hole .finally i was relived and till now feeling fine.
    though doctor asked to remove it but hubby prefered the filling option which can work for two years atleast if i avoid sweets( which i eat very rare )
    but your last para shocked me as .is doctor really pulled out the wrong tooth oh my?

    1. Thanks, Baile! I feel so sorry for what your cousin endured, because I know exactly what she was experiencing. I'm willing to bet that she had a bad abscess, and they are so painful. I'm glad that you were able to save your tooth, even temporarily. The poor nurse in Lansdowne House was no dentist, but during freeze-up and break-up, he had to do whatever he could to help the people in his community.

      I have a terrible sweet tooth which means that I really love and enjoy sweets, but I try to avoid them. No store bought sweets for me. If I want them, I have to bake them from scratch at home. That way, at least, I'm using the best ingredients and can cut back a little on sugar. Terry loves it when I bake something ~ So do I! LOL

      Have a great day, Baili! Sending you love and hugs!

  13. Hope you feel better soon ! Love yours post and love your blog ! nice to meet you, I add you to my bay like Pat say!! lol

    1. Thanks, Gloria! Pat has us all rhyming! LOL Nice to meet you too! Have a good one!

  14. I have never had any tooth pulled but I can imagine how painful it must be. Such a wonderful post and a great reminder about not taking things for granted. We live, love and learn each day. Warm greetings to you, hang in there and best wishes.

    1. Thanks, Bloggoratti! And may you never have to have a tooth pulled!

  15. Two things: First, I'm not ready to see this much snow even though it is brutally hot outside right now :)

    Second, oh my gosh, yes! I have had that much dental pain. As someone who gets migraines, you'd think I'd be "okay" with most pain, but there is something about pain in the teeth that is different. Maybe because you just can't reach it. I don't know, but it's terrible. So I can only imagine what it would've been like back then!

    Thank you again for stopping by new blog address. I missed see you around!

    Enjoy the rest of your week!

    1. The rest of my week flew by, Elsie! I'm sorry about my late reply; things got away from me. I'm determined to get on top of my blogging which has been hit or miss for months. Wishing you a wonderful week in the coming days. I really like the look of your new blog address! Take care!

  16. I am interested in history and I've always thought one of the worst things about living in the past must have been the dental problems. I know people ate less sugar in those days but what a nightmare dental pain is. I kind of wonder why we evolved to have it, don't you? I know that in the beginning of the 20th century it was quite common for poor people to simply have all their teeth extracted at the age of 19 or 20. They would then get false teeth and congratulate themselves on having saved themselves a problem in the future.

    1. Hi, Jenny! I do wonder why we have evolved to have dental problems. I keep hoping scientists will come up with a way to stop dental problems and, through our own stem cells, find a way for people to grow new teeth to replace those lost.

      I was fortunate to study paleontology through the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. I saw a lot of fossil teeth there and at other museums. Rarely did I see decay ~ broken or worn down perhaps, but not decayed. One of the things I remember most was a photo of the teeth and jaws of a saber-toothed cat. The photo showed evidence that the cat had died as the result of an abscess at the base of one of its huge canines. I thought about how much that big dangerous cat must have suffered, but I also was thankful that I had been nowhere near it at the time!

      History is fascinating. My brother is amazing for his historical knowledge. He's a professional engineer, but history has been a passion of his since his beginning. I enjoy learning about the past, but I don't have my brother's gift of a powerful memory.

      Have a great day, Jenny!

  17. I cringe just reading stuff like this, Louise. I've had one tooth pulled in all my life and I remember it like it was yesterday. Not really the pain since the area was frozen but that sickening grinding noise of a tooth being pulled out. Makes me feel sick just thinking about it!

    1. I got shivers reading your comment, Martha! That is one of the worst sounds in the world! I'm so glad that you only had to experience it once!

  18. I haven't read all of your post, Louise. That is something I will save for later, because it sounds very interesting, but I do remember those totems in the park in Vancouver when we visited in 1982 (the only time we visited Vancouver, although we've been to Edmonton many times, as my aunt lives there). Will read more later.

    1. Hi, Rosemary! I've been traveling, so I've been going back to check for comments and just found yours. Thank you for your kind comment. I'm in Victoria, right now, and we have Thunderbird Park with its beautiful totem poles very close to our hotel. I find Aboriginal history and cultures fascinating. Have a good one!


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