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


  1. I'm glad the cataract surgery went well, both yours and Terry's. I imagine you'll be getting the other eye done soon. Imagine how well you'll see THEN! Happy Thanksgiving, Louise!

    1. Thanks, Debra! We had a lovely Thanksgiving with friends, then fun with a friend visiting from Alaska, and then more fun with Terry's family on the weekend. So between celebrations and letting my eye recuperate, I haven't had much time to get on line. Terry is planning on getting his eye done in January, after we return from Arizona, and I'll get mine done in April after Hawaii. I can't wait!!! I hope all is well with you and your Rare One! Have a great week!

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, Adam! I hope that you and Daisy had a good holiday too! Take care!

  3. Having peeping Indians everyday would sure put a kink in things lol I've been in a small plane, but never one that could land on water. Can imagine that they thought the day was a bit nuts. Like, Don't people eat every day? lol Eye sight back to the world, now you'll want to travel more and see things anew.

    1. Hi, Pat! Seeing everything anew has been amazing! And you're right ~ We're hitting the road early tomorrow morning. LOL Terry is chomping at the bit to play pickleball in warm weather. I hope all is well with you, my friend!

  4. And if your second eye gets the fix as well, you will be even more amazed!! Hugh is so happy now both eyes have a new lens each. The surgeon explained how it was all done!!! The island, isolation, mail twice a year, running cold water!!! I guess having running water was a huge blessing, was there a tank stand and water tank to collect rain off the roof?And I have wondered for a long time, how did your Mum get the laundry dry? Enjoy the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend.

  5. Greetings Louise. Glad you and your partner had your eyes done and that you're seeing much more clearly. I'm nearly fifty and haven't flown on a plane yet! I always go by boat when I travel! I wouldn't fancy travelling on a small plane landing on water or snow! You are braver than me! Glad your father struck up a few friendships with the local Christians. I've had a few good friends who were priests, which I appreciated. I like Christians, as most have a sound, religious morality. Blessings to you. Enjoy the rest of your day.

    Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

  6. Glad to hear your surgery went well and you had a good Thanksgiving. I have never flown in a plane that lands on water--that sounds interesting and a little terrifying.

  7. Sight is a gift. I remember when I got my first pair of glasses when I was in the third grade. Suddenly I could read what was on the chalkboard in the classroom and see street signs. Amazing!


  8. Wow...another wonderful post!!! I love them! :) Teeth-rattling plane rides are NOT in my future lol...I'm no good at flying at all. If ever I had to take a plane anywhere, they'd have to knock me out for the duration I think. I'm so happy that the surgeries went well for you and your hubby. Take care Fundy Blue! :)

  9. Happy Thanksgiving! I am happy to hear that your surgery went well and you are seeing things crystal clear now. I sometimes think my eyes are good, then I put my glasses back on and pow. The world is more in focus.

    I have never been in a small plane. We were going to do helicopter tours over the Grand Canyon, but they sold out before we arrived. I think that might be for the best since I am terrible at flying. I would be terrified to land on water, I would think.

    I think that's funny that the Indians were so curious they were peering through the window. Probably not funny for your father when he wanted a little privacy though.

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  10. I am so HAPPY for your successful eye surgery dear Louise!!!
    so glad that you both are feeling better .
    I can imagine the sense of deep gratitude shining through your words my friend eyesight is something stay much connected with the beauty and blessings of this world we have around us!

    I been suffering with eye weakness since more than 10 years and doctor has given me only a cheap eye drop on my insistence only .but glad that i am finding it useful.

    hope you feel even more better soon dear!

    loved reading the tasks and thrills of your father's life with which he dealt excellently .
    curiosity is main thing which teased indians to peek through the window and wanting curtain to sustain the sense of privacy is obvious thought .

    I saw such planes only on t.v ,sound so thrilling and little scary to me .

    Thank you for wonderful images which show the first thanksgiving in Canada and America .Happy thanksgiving to you and family dear Louise!

  11. Well, congrats on being able to see more clearly :)

    I've never been in a plane that small, and not sure I'd want to be, lol. That account just sounds scary. Your father wrote with a light heart. His days were quite interesting.

  12. Hi, I hope you are recovering well from your eye surgery?Take it easy for a few days.

  13. I'm glad the cataract surgery went well, both yours and Terry's. I imagine you'll be getting the other eye done soon? I hope your Thanksgiving was great! Thanks for another amazing post!!! Big Hugs!

  14. Just catching up on your posts..what a busy time of year. My husband flew in a plane landing on a lake in eastern Canada for a fishing trip. He was dropped off and they didn't come back for a week. When I was told that I really worried. Especially when it was fall and he had to ride in canoes with the water almost freezing. If it would have tipped he would have hypothermia in a very short time. I rode in the small plane in our local airport and it was an experience. You have been a very busy, busy gal but I'm glad to see things are all working out for you now. Isn't it amazing to get "new" eyes?


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