Friday, September 15, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: A Teacher Challenged

When my father arrived in Lansdowne House in mid-September 1960,
he was frustrated, mixed-up, and apprehensive.

He had just endured a confusing one-day orientation in Sault Ste. Marie
followed by more confusing days stranded in Nakina.

He was about to face unexpected challenges that would have had some teachers
on the shortwave radio at the Hudson's Bay Post chartering a flight back to Nakina ASAP.

Flying to Lansdowne House for the First Time
My father wrote on the back of this photo:  
"This is a picture taken from the Norseman just as we were crossing the Albany River
which is about halfway between Nakina and Lansdowne House.
You can see the Albany River down to the right."
September 13, 1960
Photo by Donald MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

During his "indoctrination" by officials from the Education Division
of the Indian Affairs Branch of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration,
my father was informed that he would likely be teaching
twenty to thirty Ojibwa and a few Cree children
from Kindergarten through Grade 6,
many of whom could speak no English ~
But all this would have to be confirmed after his arrival in Lansdowne House.

He found out that he would likely be staying
with the Roman Catholic teacher at the Roman Catholic mission
or possibly living by himself at the Department of Forestry building ~
But all this would have to be confirmed by the Indian Agent after his arrival in Nakina.

My father also learned that his school was located on the "Mainland,"
which was really the tip of a long peninsula sticking out into Lake Attawapiskat;
and, if he boarded on the Father's Island at the mission,
he would have to commute by canoe between the two ~
Fortunately the Department of Indian Affairs would pay for him
to rent a canoe from the Hudson's Bay post if that proved necessary.

The Lansdowne House Mainland and the Father's Island, 1935
Credit: Canada. Dept. of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Library and Archives Canada / PA-094992

Lansdowne House Today
Northern Ontario, Canada
Imagery:  DigitalGlobe, Landstat/Copernicus
Map Data:  Google 2017

When my father left Sault Ste. Marie by train for Nakina,
he anticipated waiting a day, two at the most,
for a chartered plane to fly him into Lansdowne House.

Instead, a series of unfortunate events stranded him in Nakina for four nights:
bad weather in Nakina, followed by bad weather in Lansdowne House,
followed by his pilot breaking his leg playing baseball.

My father spend much of his time
waiting on the weather and on a new pilot from Sudbury
trying to track down the Indian Agent
who was supposed to arrange his flight and his accommodations.

While marking time in Nakina, my father played chess with at the telegraph office,
socialized with a teacher from the nearby Aroland Reserve,
and talked to a number of Indians.

The Telegraph Office
Nakina, Northern Ontario, Canada
Photo by Father Ouimet
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

He dug up more information about his new position,
some of it conflicting:
No, he would not be teaching Ojibwa children,
he would be teaching Cree children.
He would have only twenty-one students
from Kindergarten to Grade 4.
But maybe fewer ~
His students could be heading for the winter traplines
because no teacher had shown up.

My father found the news on the mission encouraging:
It had both electric lights and indoor plumbing,
whereas the forestry house had neither.
He fervently hoped he would land at the mission,
for he had begun to dread the thought
of living alone in the forestry building. 

And land at the mission he did, off-loaded
from a cargo canoe on a strip of sand
by a fringe of bush on the Father's Island.

The Father's Island
with the Roman Catholic Mission
Uno's and Dad's "Cottage" is the brown, white-roofed building 
between the church and rectory (middle right)
Photo by Father Ouimet
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My Father's Baggage 
Off-Loaded on the Beach
Photo by Don MacBeath
September 13, 2016
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

A French Canadian Oblate brother emerged from the bush
to help my father drag his trunk and baggage up to his new home.

My father wrote of his new home:
"We have a nice unpretentious little two-room cottage to live in.
The front room we use for a living room,
washroom, cloakroom, and general store room.
The back room we use for a bedroom, a library, and study." 


  Nice and Unpretentious:  Back Room (left), Front Room (middle),
   Dad in the Bedroom/Library/Study (right)
    Photo by Uno Manilla
    © M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
      All Rights Reserved

  Dad's Shack on the Father's Island
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue 
All Rights Reserved

And of his new roommate:
"My roommate, or rather my bunkmate companion for the winter,
is a very nice chap by the name of Uno Manilla.
You will probably think the same as I thought at first,
that he is either Italian or Spanish.
Actually, he is of Finnish extraction.
He is very young, but he has taught Indians before."

Uno and Dad with Baby Duncan
on Uno's Side of the Bedroom/Library/Study
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

In 1960 Northern Ontario had 54 Indian schools 
scattered across its wilderness of rock, lake, and muskeg.
My father's was one of the 38 single-classroom schools
and one of three new Indian schools built that year. Table
Imagine my father's dismay at walking into that school and finding it empty.

My father wrote:
"They have a beautiful new school, but there isn’t a stick of furniture in it.
No desks, no chairs, teacher’s desk, or what have you.
I immediately got on the radio and contacted
the Department of Indian Affairs at Nakina to ask them what I was to do.
It is utterly impossible to teach school with no furniture in the school."

The Church of England Indian Day School
The Mainland, Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Fall 1960
Photo by Don MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The best the Department of Indian Affairs could do
was promise to fly in desks and chairs in several weeks.
My father, more frustrated, but doggedly determined,
started hunting up anything he could find to furnish the school temporarily,
and the people in the community rallied to help him.

Father Ouimet lent him old handmade desks stored in his attic,
and my father hired Indians to ferry them over to his school
in Father Ouimet's 18-foot freighter canoe.

My father made the rounds of the Hudson's Bay,
the Department of Transport, and the Nursing Station 
scrounging card tables and chairs
from the avid, card-playing white community.

A little later he spotted plywood sitting on the DOT dock
that belonged to the Department of Indian Affairs.
Inspired, he had two Indians to carry a sheet up to his school,
and then he borrowed two low sawhorses from Bill Mitchell at the Bay.
The result was a kindergarten table for his youngest students.

After some scrounging and improvising, my father had seats for his students,
but would he have any students to sit in those seats?

On the Water between the Island and the Mainland
with the Department of Transport and Hudson's Bay Buildings 
Photo by Don MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

That was the beginning of a number of challenges
my father had to overcome at his new Indian school.

He could not foresee the problems ahead of him:
shoddy construction, falling ceilings,
malfunctioning and dangerous oil stoves,
and slow and incomplete shipments
of equipment and supplies flown in by bush plane ~
not to mention him having to haul all the water used in the school
and having to periodically hand-pump 400 hundred gallons of oil
from 45-gallon barrels into the school oil tanks.

However, my father quickly realized
that if you wanted to be a successful teacher in the North,
you had to be ready to tackle anything.

Bush Plane with Pontoons for Landing on Water

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

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

1.  Shortwave Radio:
     The only way to talk with someone on the Outside was by shortwave radio.  The one my father
      typically used was located at the Hudson's Bay Post.  The only other means of communication
      was via the telegraph or mail.

2.  The Hudson's Bay Post:
     The "Bay" was a commercial establishment where the Ojibwa traded their furs for supplies.
     Anyone could purchase goods at the Bay.   

3.   ASAP:
      The acronym "ASAP" stands for "as soon as possible."  Its use originated in the US Army. 

4.  The Roman Catholic Mission: 
     The Roman Catholic church had an OMI Mission on Couture Island just off the peninsula
     containing the Hudson's Bay Post and the Department of Transport buildings in Lansdowne
     House.  The mission included a church, rectory, school, recreation hall, sawmill, the "cottage"
     Uno and my father rented, and a graveyard.  OMI means Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
     The OMI fathers and brothers are sometimes referred to as Oblate fathers and brothers.

5.  Department of Forestry Building:  The Department of Forestry building was for use as a place
     to fight forest fires in the area.

6.  The Father's Island:
     Officially the "Father's Island" was called Couture Island after Father Joseph-Marie Couture,
     a Jesuit missionary who traveled the region by canoe and dogsled.  In 1938 the Oblate fathers
     took over the far northern Roman Catholic missions.  The Nipigon Museum Blog 

7.  Father Maurice Ouimet and Brother Raoul Bernier:  
     The Oblate priest and brother at the Roman Catholic Mission in Lansdowne House.
     They were members of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate,
     a missionary religious congregation in the Roman Catholic Church.
8.  White Community: 
     The white community consisted of the Mitchells (HBC), Brian Booth (HBC), Uno Manilla
      (RC teacher), the McRaes (DOT), the MacMahons (DOT), Father Ouimet (OMI),
      Brother Bernier (OMI), Margaret Kelly (nurse) and my father Donald MacBeath (CE teacher).
      The Ojibwa community would not have had tables or chairs to lend to the school.

9.  Liquid Capacity Conversions:
      400 gallons = 1514 liters

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Map of Canada
Highlighting Ontario

Locations of Sault Ste. Marie, Nakina, and Lansdowne House
Map Data:  Google 2017

Location of Lansdowne House
Wikimedia   edited

My father wrote on the back of this photo: 
This is the Norseman that I flew
from Nakina into Lansdowne House.
The company maintenance man  
and the pilot Rudolph Hoffman "Rudie"
(at the extreme right of the picture).
They have just finished refueling,
and we are ready to go.

D. B. MacBeath, September 13, 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


  1. We're just going to sit on the floor and stare at each other... Yeah, desks and supplies are important.
    No surprise the government was a bit clueless as to what they were sending him into. That was brave of him to go not knowing much of anything.

    1. Hi, Alex! I miss the days when things were more unknown and uncertain. I had a friend who went to Europe with an organized binder of every place she was going to visit. She had every day laid out hour by hour right down to where she and her husband would stop for coffee. She made the most of every single day and saw a lot. All I could think was, "What's the fun and adventure in that?" Dad chose that teaching position because of the adventure, and his experiences in the Canadian forces gave him skills to draw on. It was the people of Lansdowne House (white and Ojibwa) who made it a wonderful place.

  2. An interesting read. Your Father put up with a lot. He did well to 'scrounge' the furniture for the new school. It's a shame it's construction wasn't sound! It's good that you have so many memories of your Father, mine left me when I was seven, and I haven't seen him now for about twenty five years - a shame as I still love him.

    Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

    1. Hi, Andrew! How tragic to have your father leave when you were seven! I'm so sorry to hear that! My father died in 1984, and I miss him every single day and will love him always. I hope that you have a chance to reconnect with yours! Have a good one!

    2. Thank you. I have my loving mother to cherish. My father hasn't even seen his great grandchildren - a shame. Sorry you have lost your father, you have my sympathies. You have a nice weekend.

      Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

  3. Sure sounds like he wasn't going to let anything stop him. That would be a bit of a shock. Time to teach. Walk in, no furniture. Whoopsy lol Sure found a way though. The way to be in life, knocks you down, get back up and keep on a moving ahead.

    1. Hi, Pat! You summed up my motto in life! You've got to get back up and keep moving ahead! when you stop doing that, you might as well be dead!

  4. Your Dad was a determined guy for sure! All the obstacles in his way and he still manged through with a sense of humour and a goal.
    Just thinking about all the supplies available to teachers today in fully furnished schools. Your Dad would be in his glory!!
    Have a good weekend in Victoria, Louise!

    1. Hi, Jim! My dad would be in his glory! He loved to teach and was an incredible teacher, no matter the situation. Have a great weekend! I'm leaving to go whale watching in about three hours. In a zodiac! I've always wanted to go out on the water in one! And it's a gorgeous day here!

  5. Whale watching!!! Enjoy.. Yes both my Mum and Dad would be in heaven with today's modern technology. A sewing machine that does so much, a laptop and wireless printer, fully automatic washer, Dish washer( I use mine so very rarely) automatic cars, quad bikes, tractors with a cabin, all destined to make life easy, not to mention the internet that gives us friendships worldwide. Life saving surgery and medications would be right up there at #1 and #2. Your Dad was innovative, inventive, and with thoughts and ideas way outside what any town colleague would even imaging happening. Have a great weekend in B.C.

    1. Hi, Jean! It's been a very busy weekend, so I'm just getting back to the computer now. Whale watching was fantastic. It was a glorious day, and we saw two orca pods and one humpback. We actually saw three orcas hunt down and kill a harbor porpoise. It was sad to see, but also fascinating at the same time. I have so many things I could blog about, more ideas than time. I hope that all is well with your and Hugh and that Hugh is recovering well! Have a great week!

  6. Great post and I love the photos, Louise! I find it sad that there are so many budget cuts today on schools and hospitals. And I love whales! :)

    1. Hi, Linda! I've been running around making the most of the beautiful weather while it lasts. It's been gorgeous here. I had a blast out on the water watching whales. We were fortunate to see two different orca pods and a humpback. We also saw three orcas hunt and kill a harbor porpoise ~ fascinating and sad. I hope to get a post done, but I am certainly time crunched! I hope that things are working well for you. I keep you in my thought and prayers. Sending you love and hugs!

  7. Hey, Everyone! I'll reply to comments and visit your blogs asap ~ after today. Victoria has a free day at many venues today, and I'll be tramping all over town. Definitely taking a Chinatown walking tour and visiting the Robert Bateman exhibit. Have a great day!

  8. Your father was a brave and innovative man.


    1. I'm happy to see your icon pop up, Janie. You've been on my mind a lot! I'll be visiting around all my blogging friends shortly. Take care!

  9. What an awesome read! And of course, I love the pictures that go along with it. What an adventure your father went through. And how it really puts it into perspective that he was just excited to be at a place that had electric lights and indoor plumbing (which we so easily take for granted).

  10. I can't even imagine!!! I agree with Janie, your father was a brave and innovative man! He must have had a very loving soul too!!! Big Hugs

    1. Big hugs back at you, Stacy! I'm glad that I didn't have to deal with what my father did as a teacher!

  11. Challenging, indeed! Your father really pulled up those boot straps and got stuff done. The Indian children were very fortunate to have such a caring teacher to go the extra mile to see they had what they needed for a successful school year.

    1. Hi, Theresa! Dad didn't have much choice, but to jump in and make it work. A wife and five young children to support was a big motivator. It was quite an adventure, and Dad looked back on those challenges fondly. Have a good one, my friend!

  12. I can't even imagine how challenging and difficult that must have been. Good for your dad for persevering.

    I assume these were schools that the students attended by choice, and not the dreaded residential schools?

    1. Hi, J.H.! I'm thankful, as a retired teacher, that I never had to deal with the challenges my father did. The First Nations peoples did not get to attend schools of their choice. These were not the dreaded residential schools that many were forced to attend. The government at that time was making an attempt to educate some isolated First Nations children for the first few years in their own communities, certainly in northern Ontario. Any indigenous student who wanted to go beyond fifth or sixth grade would have had to attend a residential school. At residential schools and day schools like my father's, the goal of education was the same: ultimate assimilation into the dominant white, western culture with the destruction of indigenous languages, cultures, values, and traditions. The implications of this became more and more evident to my father as he worked for the Education Division of the Indian Affairs Branch. Thanks for visiting and have a good one!

  13. Dear Louise your your dear father sounds like wonderful and strong man from fairy tales who did not took any of present challenges as threat and faced every thing with Amazing sensibility and lovingly.

    I used word "lovingly "because i believe that it is only one thing which turns impossible into possible miraculously and this is "Love"which creates passion in one to make mess a flourishing happening.

    Your description of school where your father had to teach is scary and i am very impressed with his will power and strength.

    1. Thanks for your kind words about my father, Baily. I've often though about my father as wonderful and strong, bigger than life. But I never thought of his actions from your "lovingly" perspective. That is a deep and wise insight on your part, and it opens my eyes to a richer way of thinking. Thank you dear friend! XOXOX

  14. Wow, quite challenging. Your father must have had a lot of patience! The elements alone were enough to deal with. Who needed all these messes?

    1. Definitely not an easy way to start the school year, Martha! It's amazing what teachers will do for their students. Have a wonderful week ~ sending you big hugs!

  15. I really enjoyed this blog. I worked for both the HBC at Fort Albany and Austin Airways at Moosenee in the early 1960's which was likley the carrier that brought your father to Lansdowne House. The photos are so typical of the era.


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