Friday, January 26, 2018

The Lansdowne Letters: A Home with Amenities

Are you a fan of HGTV's Property Brothers, Fixer Upper, 
or one of its other renovation shows?
I often listen to them in the background and tune in for the big reveal.

It amuses me when buyers and potential renovators
discuss the features of the home they're viewing.
They are often critical of the kitchen and bathrooms and say things like, 
"Those cabinets are so outdated.  They'll have to be replaced."
Or, "One sink in the master bath simply won't do."
Or, "We need a bedroom for each child and at least three bathrooms."
They might not have fared so well in the North a half century ago!

The Property Brothers
Flickr:  Mingle Media TV’s Red Carpet Report   License

At that time the Indian Affairs Branch had a difficult time
luring teachers into remote First Nations communities in Northern Ontario.
Typical bait included a good salary, an isolation allowance, and a furnished teacherage with heat and light provided for $40.00 to $60.00 a month.

Unfortunately the teacherage for the Church of England Indian Day School
in Lansdowne House had burned down the year before my father arrived.
The only place for our family to live was the vacant forestry house.

Department of Transport Housing
Lansdowne House
A Teacherage Would Be Something Like This
Photo by Don MacBeath,  Fall of 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The forestry house was small, consisting of four main rooms and a tiny utility room.
Seven of us crammed into, at best, 500 square feet of living space
with no electricity and no running water. 

Our unusual home came with amenities that I have never forgotten.
Take the oil burner for instance.
It sat in a space outside the door to the utility room
and between the doors to the two tight bedrooms.
On cold winter nights it radiated heat and kept the bitter cold at bay.

But that's not what made it memorable.
Yes, sometimes we cranked it up so high I swear it glowed red,
and it was the perfect spot for rising big bowls of bread dough;
but what made it memorable was filling it with fuel.
My father, and sometimes I, had to go outside to the fuel drum,
hand pump the oil into a portable container,
carry the fuel inside, and pour it into the burner.
This was the most fun on -50ยบ F nights with the Indian dogs howling nearby. 

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

No electricity necessitated another amenity, our kerosene lamps.
Lighting these two hissing lamps was the one task
our father never allowed my mother, Roy, or myself to do.
It was too dangerous, and we would watch Dad light them at twilight each day,
holding our breath and wondering what might happen.

Dad always started by checking each lamp at the kitchen table.
He would examine the mantles and top off the kerosene while whistling tunelessly.

If a fragile mantle needed replacement,
he would remove the lamp's glass chimney
and snip off the old mantle tied above the burner.
It often crumbled into a pile of metallic fragments
that he would swipe up with kleenex.

Then he would tie a new mantle above the burner.
The small silk bag with its tiny strings often frustrated my father's big fingers,
and I'm sure having an audience didn't help.

It was fascinating to watch him burn off a new mantle with a match.
It seemed magical to me as I watched the white fabric 
change into a dark and brittle mesh.
I didn't understand that I was seeing rare earth metallic salts
embedded in the fibers oxidizing in a chemical reaction.
The silk burned away, and the salts converted to oxides,
forming a ceramic shell in the shape of the original silk mesh.
Actually, it still seems like magic. 

Next Dad would pump a hand pump to pressurize the kerosene fuel.
This forced fuel and fumes up into the lantern
where they came in contact with the oxidized mantle.
Then Dad would carefully stick a match inside the lamp and light the burner.
The burner flame heated the mantle until it glowed brightly.
My father could adjust the brightness of the mantle glow
by increasing or decreasing the fuel forced into the lamp.

Sometimes things went awry.
Despite my father's care in fueling the lamp,
a little kerosene might spill or fumes linger
and the kerosene lamp would flame.

Other times Dad might turn the lamp too high,
and black soot would fill the chimney.
If he didn't turn it down fast enough, the soot would catch fire,
and the kerosene lamp would flame.

In either case he'd roar, "Open the door,"
grab the lamp with a towel,
and race outside to toss it into a snowbank.
He was always successful, for he never burned the forestry house down.

A Modern Coleman Lamp
You Tube:

Another atypical amenity had its own corner in the utility room
which it shared with a small sink and a gasoline wringer washer.
The sink was nothing more than a basin attached to the wall
that drained into a bucket which my mother emptied several times a day.
The washing machine had intimidating rollers my mother wouldn't let anyone near,
and I have blotted out any memories of how this arcane contraption worked.

However, I've never forgotten the chemical toilet
planted in the corner of the tiny utility room.
It was basically a large bucket under a toilet seat standing on legs.
We called it a chemical toilet because we added chemicals to tamp down the odors.
A family of seven meant it had to be emptied almost daily,
and I couldn't even pretend to like this chore, adventurous though it was.

We had a garbage pit in the backyard where we emptied 
the buckets the kitchen and utility room sinks drained into.
The chemical toilet was another matter.
It had to be dumped into the community pit.

My father often undertook the unpleasant chore of lugging
the chemical toilet through the bush to the community pit.
When he couldn't, I did.

It was mortifying.
Everyone knew what I was carrying;
and I had to slog slowly and carefully,
switching the heavy bucket from hand to hand
as I tramped through the bush
trying not to slop the contents on me or the snow.

The community pit stood apart from the DOT buildings
and was topped with a sturdy wooden cover.
I would open a hatch and carefully empty the chemical toilet inside.
No way I was looking down the hatch.
The smell was staggering, far worse than any outhouse I had visited.
I always hurried home holding the offending bucket at arm's length.

We Five, Shortly Before We Moved North
Roy, Donnie, Louise (Me) with Bertie, and Barbie
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada
Photo by Sara MacBeath,  Fall of 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The forestry house was furnished with the bare basics:
a kitchen table and chairs, a water barrel, a chesterfield,
a small daybed, a coffee table, and a bookcase.
My mother frequently hung clothes to dry
on several clothes horses squeezed into any open space.

My parents had a double bed in one bedroom,
while we five kids shared two bunkbeds in the other.
Our parents slept in sheets and blankets,
but we burrowed into heavy Arctic sleeping bags.
Our close bunks made for intense, multileveled pillow fights
that got Gretchen barking and sent feathers flying.

My mother liked the kitchen cupboards stocked with canned  goods 
and the new propane stove, but the small kerosene fridge not so much.
Dad had to store frozen meat outside in buckets hanging from the eaves, 
out of the reach of hungry Indian dogs.

Seen Through Donnie's Eyes
The Forestry House, Lansdowne House, 1961
Drawing by Donalda MacBeath
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

I carried water from a hole chopped in the thick ice of the lake,
dragged groceries home from the mail plane on a toboggan,
helped my mother bake bread, cakes, cookies, and pies,
and rearranged endless clothes drying on the clothes horses.

Our weekly bath night was a major production that involved
hauling water, heating water, and pouring it into a galvanized steel tub.
We would take turns scrubbing down and rinsing in the small round tub, 
and then Mom or Dad carried the tub out 
and dumped the water into the garbage pit out back.

The forestry house was a tight fit for the seven of us and our dachshund,
and its amenities made it unique,
but it remains one of my favorite homes ever.

We kids were warm, well-fed, and sheltered by protective parents,
and our days were filled with school, outside fun, and indoor games.
We kids squabbled, made up, negotiated, formed shifting alliances,
competed, dared, and tried to outwit each other.
It was the best of times.

Sometimes I look at all the beautiful homes in HGTV shows,
and they seem cold, sterile, and big just to be big ~
And maybe just a little bit boring!

Norseman and Fuel Drum
Noorduyn Norseman Ski Plane  
Waldorf, Howard Special Collection 008 Noorduyn Norseman
San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives (SDASM)

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Beautiful Cove on Long island,
in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Surrounded by Water
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Lansdowne House, Ontario, Canada

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A Walk Along Piney Creek

Before I retired I tried to imagine what it would be like not to have to work.
It was inconceivable, because I had to work,
often sixty plus hours a week at school,
and then there was the second (third?) shift at home.

I don't know how I did it,
I don't know how people do it.

All I know is that I am grateful to be retired,
and I'm thankful for every sacrifice Terry and I made to fund our retirement.
We lived below our means, and we saved throughout our lives.
It was worth it.

On a snowy day, I can burrow under the covers and not come out;

The Canadians are hunkered down in Sunday's snowstorm.
Yes, I know they are Canada geese, 
but my family has always called them the Canadians.
Aurora, Colorado, USA
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

and on a gorgeous winter day like today,
I can walk out the door, worry free, and enjoy the wonder of it all.

Old Lady Cottonwood,
down, but not out.
Aurora, Colorado, USA
January 23, 2018
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

No sooner was I down in the Aurora City Park that winds along Piney Creek,
then four F-16C+ fighters screamed overhead.
How I would love to fly in one of these!
I live a few miles south of the runway for Buckley Air Force Base.

So Hard to Catch!
An F-16 out of Buckley Air Force Base
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I have walked in this park and observed nature for twelve years.
Each time is unique and has its own beauty.

Winter Pond
Along Piney Creek, Aurora City Park 
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Who Walked Here?
Along Piney Creek, Aurora City Park 
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Winter Bullrushes
Along Piney Creek, Aurora City Park 
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

On a winter day, the park is silent,
until you come upon a thicket alive with birdsong.
A flock of sparrows hides among the branches,
and their vibrant voices make your heart sing!

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

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

Well, hello there!
I came across a herd of deer ~
I counted fifteen ~
and I was so excited.
I've watched these deer for over a decade,
but with all the construction in the area lately,
I've rarely see them.

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

Ice and Reflections
Lower Pond along Piney Creek
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Peek-a-Boo!  I See You!
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

On warm winter days, the mule deer like to linger in the sunshine
and browse on dry grasses and the leaves or twigs of shrubs, woody vines, or trees.

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

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

A Buck and Two Does
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Keeping an Eye on Me
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

A Favorite Cottonwood Grove for the Deer
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

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

A Timeless Winter Scene
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The park along Piney Creek is filled with many fascinating things.
I loved this cottonwood, and I cried the day I saw the wind had felled it.
Now I watch its slow death throes, and the life it harbors as it dies.

Old Lady Cottonwood Transforming
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The park is quiet now, waiting for spring,
but on a sunny winter day it fills your heart with promise.

Waiting for New Tenants Come Spring
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

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

The Park Entrance 
from Heritage Eagle Bend, Aurora
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I can't wait to come back and spend time in this special place!
I'm so grateful to be retired!

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

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Lansdowne Letters: A Mother's Touch

What is your most compelling memory of your mother?
For me, it is my mother's soothing touch when I was sick.

I'm thinking of her a lot as I write this post because I may have the flu,
and I'd give just about anything to feel my mother's cool hand on my flushed forehead.

Right now in the USA, we are experiencing the worst flu season in over a decade.
Fortunately I had my flu shot a few months ago.
My symptoms are milder and will prove shorter, I hope. 

A Mother's Touch ~ Always Welcome
On My Birthday
Mom with Me (center)
Sister Donnie (lower right)
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada 1956  
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Whenever I was sick, my mother always cared for me.
She gave me medicine, brought me hot soup and soft custards,
held me when I vomited, changed my sweaty clothes and sheets,
bathed me, and watched me when I had bad reactions to antibiotics. 

My mother did whatever she could to ease my misery;
but the most important thing, the thing I remember most,
was the brush of her cool hand on my forehead comforting me.

When I was twenty and at university, I had an emergency operation.
As I began to regain consciousness, I started batting 
at all these tubes in me, not understanding what they were.
Suddenly there was my mother catching my flailing arms, 
holding my hands in one of hers, and soothing my forehead with her other.

I didn't know where I was,
and I couldn't grasp why she was there,
but that familiar touch calmed me and reassured me
that all would be right in my world.

I later learned that when she got word of my unexpected operation,
she ran out of her classroom, jumped in her car, 
and raced 90 miles (145 kilometers) to be with me
when I came out from under anesthesia. 

My Mother's Greatest Joy:  
Her Children
Mom and I
Stanhope, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Photo by Ella MacDonald
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Fifty-seven years ago medical care in the remote villages
of Northern Ontario was difficult to access.
In Lansdowne House we were fortunate because at least we had a nursing station,
and a dedicated nurse in the person of Mike O'Flaherty.

The nearest hospital and doctors were 150 miles (241 kilometers)
away in Nakina, a small northern rail outpost.  (Source)
However the nearest regional hospital with specialists
was 225 miles (362 kilometers) away in Sioux Lookout.  (Source) 
The only way to reach Nakina or Sioux Lookout was by bush plane,
when weather and landing conditions permitted.

When a bush plane had to fly a critical patient to Sioux Lookout,
a non-medically-trained adult in Lansdowne House
would fly with the patient to Sioux Lookout
and accompany him or her to the hospital,
a task my father undertook more than once.

Austin Airways Norseman CF-BSC 

Flying into Sioux Lookout
Attribution:  Photo by User:  P199 at Wikimedia Commons

You can read about the isolation and remoteness of villages like Lansdowne House,
but I think it's hard to comprehend how remote and isolated they are,
if you haven't flown over the vast emptiness of Northern Ontario.

Even today this region is one of the least visited in Canada,
and, by some measures, is more remote than much of the Arctic.
Even now, more than than half a century after my family lived there,
the First Nations people continue to live off the land
and depend on it for shelter, food, and medicine.
(Canadian Geographic, March/April 2017)

I can't imagine how my mother must have felt,
landing on skis in Lansdowne House with five tired children,
one throwing up, and a shivering dachshund. 
We had flown for well over an hour
across the frozen emptiness from Nakina in a Norseman.

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

One thing I'm sure my mother understood quickly
was the risk of illness in the distant North.
I can imagine her taking stock of our medical kit after arriving,
and worrying about the what ifs as she sorted through
the bandaids, gauze dressings, adhesive tape, ace bandages,
calamine lotion, iodine, tweezers, safety pins, aspirin, and morphine.

I don't know what she thought, for my mother never burdened
me or my siblings with her worries when we were children.
She was the rock on which we could weather any storm.
She surrounded us with safety, certainty and optimism.

Fortunately while we were in Lansdowne House,
we children had only the usual colds and flu ~
Well, except for my brother who frequently had severe tonsillitis
and my sister Barb who stuffed an eraser up her nose
while clowning around in kindergarten with her Ojibwa friends. 

Whenever we were sick, however she cared for us,
the most welcome comfort she gave was sitting by our beds,
tucking our blankets up around us,
and soothing our foreheads with her cool hand.
Under her gentle touch, we knew we would be better soon
and all was right with our world.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

On the Shore of the Annapolis Basin
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada
July 24, 2016
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Map of Canada
Highlighting Ontario

Location of Lansdowne House and Nakina
Wikimedia  edited

Route Map for Austin Airways, 1985
with Lansdowne House west of James Bay
Geraldton is near Nakina.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Lansdowne Letters: Melting Ice and Spring Fever

The days grew longer and warmer as May flew by
in the spring of 1961 in Lansdowne House.
We watched the ice and waited impatiently for it to melt.
Everyone hoped that break-up would be short,
but it dragged on and on.

We hungered for every scrap of news that came about the weather
via short wave radio, our community's only link to the Outside;
and a favorite topic of gossip among the adults
was the state of the ice in the more southern villages.

Every morning my brother and I would wake up and run to the front window,
and every morning we would see the ice stretching unbroken
to the nearby islands in Lake Attawapiskat.

Every afternoon we would get home from school
and dash down the hill to our waterhole with our buckets.
Roy or I would test the thinning ice by  jabbing it
with the end of the long handle of our ice pick,
then inch onto the ice making sure it would still support us.

The Path to Our Waterhole
Painting by Don MacBeath
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
Winter 1960-61
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Chopping Out a Water Hole
Flickr:  Thirteen of Clubs   License  

Near the end of April we still had to chop away any ice
that had covered the waterhole overnight,
but soon only a skim of ice formed during the dark hours,
and then none.
The sheet of ice spanning the lake
became grayer and splotchier as it rotted.

We'd dunk our buckets into the waterhole,
fill them to the brim, and then lug them up the hill to our house. 
Negotiating the steep hill became trickier and trickier
as the snow disappeared and our path became slick with mud.

We struggled to keep our balance on the slippery path, 
because the more water that slopped out of our buckets,
the more trips we would have to make to fill that water barrel in the kitchen.
Sometimes our feet slid out from under us, 
and we drenched ourselves with icy lake water.

It was always a competition between Roy and me.
Who chopped open the waterhole best?
Who climbed the hill fastest?
Who got to the house with the most water?
Who had the biggest muscles from hauling water?
Boy oh boy we had fun!

Early Rivals, Fast Friends
Breckenridge, Colorado, USA
Photo by Susan MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Then a May day came when we couldn't reach the waterhole.
The ice had retreated about ten feet from the shoreline,
and our waterhole had vanished.
We had to wade out and fill our buckets in the shallow water
as best as we could.
That's when the cheesecloth covering the water barrel
in our kitchen proved its worth by catching debris in the water. 

Once the ice was no longer land-fast, it could shift with the wind.
We'd hear a boom and know a big crack or lead had opened in the moving ice.
The wind would push open a narrow passageway along the shore,
change direction, and pile the groaning, grinding ice against the land.

Farther south wide stretches of water opened on lakes,
and some lakes lost their ice cover all together.
When would our ice go was on everyone's mind.

Rotting Lake Ice

One lazy Saturday, likely the last before the ice went out,
I was walking in a thicket of woods near the Hudson's Bay post.
A tree with low branches by the shore beckoned.
I climbed up into the tree and lounged in the warmth of the sun,
watching chunks of ice drift by in some open water near the shore.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, loud music obliterated
the subtle sounds of slipping water and melting ice.
Startled, I looked across to the Father's Island.
"I love to go a-wandering, along the mountain track,"
blared from Father Ouimet's home in the Roman Catholic Mission.

To say I was surprised is an understatement.
Who knew Father Ouimet had a record player,
let alone one that played that loud?
I rested my head against the tree trunk and listened to 
"Val-de-rie, val-de-ra, val-de-rie, 
val-der-ra-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha ..." 
booming across the ice and water.

Whenever I hear The Happy Wanderer,
I'm in that tree watching the ice glide by on the dark water.
I guess even priests get spring fever.

Frank Weir and His Saxophone, Chorus and Orchestra 
The Happy Wanderer (1954)

Father Ouimet with My Father and Brother Bernier
Roman Catholic Mission Kitchen
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue.

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Map of Canada
Highlighting Ontario

Location of Lansdowne House
Wikimedia   edited