Friday, November 24, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: Happy Thanksgiving

This is the Thanksgiving weekend in America,
and it is my favorite of all the American holidays.
It's a time for family and friends to get together, 
share a bountiful meal, and reflect on the blessings in life.

Today I am especially grateful for the gift of sight.
Terry and I had cataract surgery on Monday, 
and we are both recovering well.
I didn't realize that my eyes were that bad!
I can't believe how sharp and vibrant the world is
after having just one eye fixed!

Eye surgery has made it difficult to write this week.
Consequently, I am sharing parts of two previous posts
about my father's Canadian Thanksgiving
shortly after he arrived in the North in the fall of 1960.

Flying was on my father's mind as the holiday weekend arrived.
Until he flew into Lansdowne House from Nakina,
my father had never flown on a bush plane.
The small sturdy workhorses of the North fascinated my father, 
and he enjoyed watching them land and take off.
Even more, my father loved talking with the pilots.

The View from a Norseman
on the Way to Lansdowne House
Photo by Don MacBeath
September 13, 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Have you ever flown on a small plane?
I have a number of times.
It's a noisy, vibrating, raw experience,
and the trees, rocks, and water sliding below
look starkly, solidly real.

Taking off isn't the hard part for me.  
It's the landing!

Two skis on ice, two floats on water, or in the belly of a seaplane, 
it's mesmerizing to watch the ice or water racing at you
as the plane closes in to land.

Oh thank you, God! 
always flashes through my mind
when the plane slows in a splash of water or in a rooster tail of snow.

Austin Airways Norseman CF-BSC 

Bush flying can be treacherous,
and I have never forgotten my father's 1960 Thanksgiving letter. 
I think of it every time I fly in a small plane.

Friday, October 7, 1960 
My father wrote:

Hi Everyone:
Here we go on another Lansdowne Letter.  
I hope that it will be more interesting than the last one.

I had a very bountiful mail this week:  
five letters from Mother, five from Sara, 
two from Louise (daughter), and one from Grammie.  
I had a wonderful time reading and answering them.  
I am greedy, perhaps next week I’ll do even better.

Today was wonderful, 
a veritable Indian summer!!  
I went about all day in shirtsleeves.  
The lake was just like glass, not a ripple on it.

I was amazed when I talked to the Austin Airways pilot 
and found out that it is very dangerous to land
on the lake when it is as smooth as it was today.  

When it is real glassy, 
it is almost impossible to tell 
where the air ends and the water begins.  

After I was talking to the Austin pilot, 
I watched Harry Evens, 
a pilot for Superior Airways, landing.  

He glided just about two miles 
about three feet above the surface of the lake.  
Even after a long glide like this, 
he misjudged and landed 
about 2½ feet above the surface.  

This may sound strange, 
but it actually happens.

Norseman Taxiing
Wikimedia  edited

The pilot does everything he would do on landing, 
except actually touching down.  
After he has cut down the motor, etc., 
the plane just drops like a brick 
and bounces several times before it really lands.  

This can really jar your back teeth,
if the pilot lands about ten or twelve feet above the surface.


They had a bad accident last year at Armstrong 
when one of Superior’s pilots misjudged the water level 
and tried to land about ten feet below the surface.  
He went right in!!  

Two days later they managed to get his body 
out of the plane which was at the bottom of the lake.

Northern Ontario Lake

Some more of our furniture arrived yesterday: 
a nice large bookcase. 

Our little cottage is beginning to look quite homelike.  
I would not mind living here with Sara for the winter, 
but it would be pretty crowded if I had the whole tribe up with me.

This is the start of the long Thanksgiving weekend.  
Three whole lovely days with no Indian children to worry about.
As I said in one of my previous epistles, 
I love them all, but at times it is nice to love them from a distance.

I don’t know if I told you 
about Maureen making curtains for us, or not; 
but she did, 
and it is the most wonderful thing to have curtains, 
especially in our bedroom.  

She made cafĂ© curtains for our bedroom, 
and now she is making full- length curtains for our front room.  
We just bought some printed material from the Bay, 
and she whipped them up on her electric sewing machine.

Dad and Uno's Bedroom
Photo by Don MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved 

The reason that we wanted the curtains 
is because of the insatiable curiosity of the Indians.  
They are always looking in the window, 
and this begins to bug you after a couple of weeks.

Considerable difficulty was encountered 
when I tried to explain to the children 
why there was going to be no school Monday.  

They just could not seem to grasp the idea of Thanksgiving.

The First Thanksgiving in America ~ 1621

I took over some of my books
and spent most of this afternoon 
reading them stories and poems about Thanksgiving.  

I told them about the first Thanksgiving in the New World.  
I suppose it is ironic for the poor creatures 
to have to talk and think about Thanksgiving,
because the poor creatures have so little to be thankful for.

The First Thanksgiving in Canada ~ 1578 
Martin Frobisher in Frobisher Bay

Well, I guess that just about ties her up for today.  
Will be back again tomorrow.

Dad Typing His Nightly Lansdowne Letter
Photo by Uno Manila, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All rights Reserved
When my father my father went north in 1960,
he made some wonderful friends.
One of his closest, Father Ouimet, might seem unusual
for someone with strong Baptist roots nurtured in a Green Gables world.

A Prince Edward Island Boy
My Father, circa 1930
(most likely his grandfather's home in St. Peter's Bay)
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved 

St. Peter's Bay
Prince Edward Island, Canada
flickr ~ Steve Elgersma  license 

The teacherage for Dad's school had burned down, 
leaving him with only two options for a place to live
in tiny Lansdowne House.

He could live alone on the mainland
in an empty forestry building,
or he could share a two-room cabin
at the Roman Catholic Mission
on a small island nearby.

Living at the mission cabin 
had advantages over the forestry building:
electricity, cold-running water,
and meals at the rectory;
but, it required commuting
back and forth to the mainland
in a canoe or on snowshoes. 

My father chose the cabin
because he couldn't bear 
the thought of living alone.

The Father's Island with Roman Catholic Mission
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
Dad's cabin is below the wind charger between the church and the rectory (right).
Photo by Father Maurice Ouimet,  Probably 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

So this Prince Edward Island Baptist 
suddenly found himself sharing daily meals 
with a French Canadian Oblate priest,
a French Canadian Oblate brother,
and his Finnish-Ojibway roommate Uno.

The Kitchen in the Rectory
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
Father Ouimet (center), A Sleepy Uno and Brother Bernier (upper left and right)
Chicago Bill (pilot) and Mr. Baker (prospector) 
Photo by Donald MacBeath,  Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Father Ouimet and Brother Bernier belonged 
to a Roman Catholic religious community called 
the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate,
and they welcomed Dad into their home and lives.

The Oblates have been serving in Canada since 1841,
dedicating themselves to working among the poor.
Many, like Father Ouimet and Brother Bernier,
lived in the north among the Aboriginal people.

The steamboat St. Emile:  an Oblate Order Mission Ship
on the Lesser Slave Lake

Dad quickly became good friends 
with Uno and Brother Bernier, 
but the friendship he struck up 
with Father Ouimet was especially close, 
and Father Ouimet remained friends 
with him and our family over the decades.

Father Ouimet was known and respected
throughout Northern Ontario and beyond.
Pilots, prospectors, scientists,
surveyors, stranded travelers, and others 
visited or stayed at his rectory
during his decades in Lansdowne House.

In my research I have tracked down information
about Father Ouimet's hospitality and work,
but it's had to find much about him as a person.

Occasionally my father shared little stories
that showed the human side of this dedicated priest:  
his humor, his interests, and his personal challenges.

Here are several anecdotes written by my father:
I have my Bible up here; in fact, I have two with me, 
a King James Version and a Catholic Bible.
The Father was over to our house the other day
and spotted it right away.  
He was quite surprised to see
a Protestant with a Catholic Bible.  

I told him that I was thinking once 
of being a Baptist minister and thought at the time 
that I should know something about the opposition.  
He got quite a laugh out of this term.
He also was quite amused when I told him 
how I cornered the Bishop at Rotary 
and asked him where I could get one.

We had a rather unusual Thanksgiving dinner at the Father’s.
We had fish and chips, 
but they were well done and were very tasty.  
The fish was deep fried in batter.

The other day we had goose.
The Father was out hunting 
and shot a huge wild goose.  
It was delicious.

The Father made some rice dressing 
for it from an old French Canadian recipe.  
He has a cook, but the Indians don’t know
and won’t learn how to make dressing.

Canada Goose
flickr ~ Heather Paul  license

He has an awful time with this cook and her tea.  
The cook insists on boiling the tea 
and won’t listen to the Father.

Whenever the Father tries to tell her 
how to make tea correctly, 
she gets real huffy 
and tells him that she is older 
and has been making tea longer than him 
and therefore knows more about how to make it.
Things have now reached the stage 
that there are two pots of tea made for each meal, 
one for her and one for us.

Father Ouimet was laughing at my worrying 
about the mail being one or two days late.

He was telling me that 
when he went to the bush 
the first time in 1940, 
he was at a mission on Hudson’s Bay 
and received his mail twice a year; 
once in February by dog team 
and once in the summer, 
about August, by steamer.  

The first year his mail missed the dog team run, 
and he had to wait till August for his Christmas mail, 
including a Christmas cake that his mother sent him.  

The cake was in fine shape though, 
because she had used lots of fruit and wine 
when she was making the cake.

Long after my family left the the North,
Father Ouimet and I exchanged occasional letters.
It has always amazed me that this 
French Canadian, Roman Catholic priest
took time from his heavy duties to write to me.
I wish I had been able to share a Thanksgiving dinner with him.

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

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

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

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: Waiting for the Ice to Go Out

As April 1961 wound down, everyone was on edge anticipating the arrival of break-up,
that anxious interval when Lansdowne House would be cut-off from the Outside.
The only communication possible would be via short wave radio or telegraph.

Break-up was the spring period when bush planes
couldn't fly into isolated northern communities.
In order to fly, a bush plane had to be able to land on ice or water.
As spring advanced in the North, the ice weakened
and could no longer support the weight of a plane landing on skis.
However, thinning ice still covered the lakes,
so bush planes could not land on pontoons either.

Spring Draws Close in Northern Ontario
Flickr:  James Vincent Wardhaugh  License

Planes servicing Lansdowne House and other remote villages 
often flew out of Nakina or Armstrong, towns further south.
Break-up started when bush planes could no longer
take off on the ice in Nakina or Armstrong, 
even if the northern communities had good ice.
Break-up ended in each northern village when planes could land
on a stretch of open water in the individual communities.
No one could predict exactly when break-up would begin or end.

Everyone thought break-up had started on April 25th
when a plane made it into Lansdowne House out of Nakina
with the news that the ice was getting pretty bad down south.
We all hunkered down for the duration.

But Friday, April 28th brought a surprise,
as my father wrote in a quick note dashed off to his mother:

Dear Mother:
An unexpected plane just landed with this week's mail.
I imagine this is almost a record for a plane on the ice.
Surely this will be the last plane!
I guess with a plane this late in the season,
the break-up won't be too long,
not over three weeks at the very outside.

Everyone up here is in good shape.
Sara is feeling well, and the children are happy as larks.
They seem to love going to school to their old man.

Sara knows now what it is like to have twins.
She has been taking care of Duncan Junior all day,
while Dunc and Maureen are painting their living room and hall.
She is just about frantic.
She will be very glad when six o'clock comes,
and Duncan comes to pick him up.

The "Twins"
Duncan Junior and Bertie
Photo of Duncan by Don MacBeath
Photo of Bertie courtesy of Dawn White
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Barbie is sick with a tummy ache, but it isn't too serious.
I am rushing this, so I will be able to get it out on the plane.
Hope you can make it out.

I am glad the plane came in with the mail, 
for now I'll be able to figure out what you mean
when you wired that the house is selling well.

Well, I must sign off now and get this down to the plane.
I won't wire you, because this is the last last plane before break-up.
Bye now,
Love, Don
Happy Mother's Day

A Norseman on Skis
"Taildragger" at the Back
Flickr ~ NOAA:  Rear Admiral Harley D. Nygren   License 

That was the last last plane before break-up 1961.
While the novelty of break-up fascinated Roy and me
and we fancied ourselves the Robinson Crusoes of the North,
our parents worried about having enough food and supplies
or unexpected medical and dental emergencies.

My parents weren't the only ones who worried.
Mike O'Flaherty, the nurse at the nursing station,
carried the weight of the medical and dental health
of the Ojibwa and white people on his shoulders,
especially during break-up and freeze-up.

While he could radio a doctor for an emergency consultation,
Mike had to handle whatever happened on his own
with the supplies and equipment in the nursing station.

The North awakened as break-up arrived, 
the skies loud with the honking of Canada geese
and the bush ringing with the songs of courting birds.

The snow retreated leaving a chorus of trickling, gurgling water in its wake.
Color blushed in the scrubby bushes, and a riot of red, black, gold, grey, and rust
emerged from the melting snow, the detritus of last summer's growth.

A Pair of Gray Jays Feeding Their Nestlings
Algonquin Park, Ontario, Canada

The hard-packed snow of the paths in the village
lingered for several days after the general melt.
It stood up in network of low dykes,
and we all tottered about on balance beams of snow.
Then the slushing dykes succumbed
and sank into thick, black, pungent mud. 

We school children awoke too, engineering the muddy school grounds
into fantastic canaled cities destined for razing by giants.

As the land quickened, so did the worries of Mike and the other adults.
Our Ojibwa classmates were no more immune to spring fever than we MacBeath kids.

It was the older boys who came up with the brilliant idea of barreling,
which had us shooting across the tops of oil drums rolling down a hill.
When Mike spied us out the nursing station window, he raced out and stopped us cold,
delivering his first of several lectures on medical emergencies during break-up.

We MacBeath children were naive about the dangers of the bush,
and the Ojibwa adults kept a watchful eye on us.
One mid-morning my mother opened the kitchen door after hearing a knock
to discover a wet and muddy Bertie riding on the shoulders of an Ojibwa neighbor.
He'd found her on a path in the bush singing and washing her dolly in a large puddle.
With the arrival of spring, Bertie had become skilled at slipping out the door.

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

On another warm day,
my brother Roy and I decided
to climb a tall wooden tower behind
the Hudson's Bay Company post.

We were having great fun running around on the flat top
and peering over the sides
until Mike came roaring out of the nursing station:
"Get down!  Get down right now!
What do you expect me to do if one of you falls and busts yourself up? 
I haven't got enough morphine to stop your pain,  
let alone a plane to fly you out if I can't handle your injuries."

Chastened, we scrambled down.
Not satisfied that we grasped the gravity of the situation,
Mike horrified us with a story or two about nurses 
having to operate on patients on kitchen tables
while following directions from a radio doctor.  
We slunk away.

Many Ojibwa were returning from the winter traplines.
It was a thrilling sight to see them skimming across the still frozen lake,
six or seven dogs straining to pull a loaded sled.
And what a load, for the Ojibwa lashed a canoe on top of their sleds
and squeezed inside it amid food, supplies, and pelts.

I remarked on this strange mode of travel to my father,
and he explained it simply:
If the sled went through the ice, the Ojibwa hauled the dogs on board
and paddled to the next supportive stretch of ice.
I wouldn't have wanted the job of dragging the dogs aboard!

Waiting for the ice to go out
was proving to be an exciting time
for we kids experiencing break-up
in the North for the first time.

Melting Ice
Flickr:  Paul Tichonczuk ~ License

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

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

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Map of Canada
Highlighting Ontario

Locations of Armstrong, Nakina, and Lansdowne House
Map Data:  Google 2017

Bush Plane with Pontoons for Landing on Water