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"Those cabinets are so outdated.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 -50º 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


  1. As you began describing the amenities of the house, I wondered about the toilet - and then you gave me all the gory details. And they wondered why it was difficult to attract teachers to those remote areas!

    1. LOL ~ I must admit that I love a luxurious master bath, especially one where I have my own sink, a shower with lots of hot, pounding water, a private commode, and a fresh towel and washcloth every single time. My dream is to have a deep, soaker tub. I never lived in a house with more than one bathroom until I went to Acadia and lived in residence. Sometimes I shake my head at the fact that Terry and I have three bathrooms for two people. I hope that you and your wife have a relaxing and restoring weekend, Alex!

  2. It's true, people today have absolutely nothing to bitch about. And yet, they do! When I was a kid, our house in a one-horse prairie town was remarkably similar to yours except, thank god, WE had electricity. My father had wanted to buy some shack without running water, indoor plumbing or electricity, but my Mom put her foot down about no electricity. And we only had 5 people in the same amount of space, so not QUITE as crowded, lol! And how well I remember that Saturday night bath time ritual with the galvanized tub in the middle of the kitchen floor and Mom heating all the water on the stove as we took turns bathing, from youngest (cleanest) to oldest (dirtiest). I should write a blog post about it some day. People today have no friggin' idea about how things used to be and how hard the daily tasks of living were.

    1. I so enjoyed your comment, Debra! I related to it so well! LOL We worked from youngest to oldest, too, so I was always last. Dad had his own fresh tub of water after we kids went to bed. Mom could have too, but she was often too tired to bother heating a new tub of water. I wonder why??? LOL Daily life was hard, and I often think of the great, great great+ generations in my family in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island who survived under arduous conditions. You should write that blog post or a series of them. I think stories are important and shouldn't be lost. Wishing you and your Rare One a great weekend. Five years into retirement, I still love Friday night and the weekend days.

  3. I think one of the problems with the home improvement industry is that some people are ridiculous and never happy. I've seen people change paint colors 5 times in one year. These people don't know the word humble.

    1. Hear, hear, Adam! Sometimes I'd like to take such people and strand them in a remote place in the North for the winter! The thought of changing paint colors five times exhausts me. I don't know how you do your job, Adam! My tongue would be scarred and lacerated from biting it all the time. I hope that you and Daisy have a great weekend!

  4. Some children would have grown up resentful of the easy life they missed but you Louise know that it made your character. I admire your family and how they faced adversity and conquered it. LIfe was not easy and your father was an amazing man. Children these days have it so soft and complain if they have to do the least little chore (and also expect to be paid). Your family did things out of love and responsibility. I am so glad that you are blogging and sharing this wonderful family story with us.

    1. Happy Friday, Peggy! I've never felt resentful of missing an easier life. I always counted myself lucky to have lived history and a way of life that was disappearing. Thank you for filling me up with joy and encouragement. Have a wonderful weekend with Don ~ every day is a gift when we are with those we love. Love and hugs to you!

  5. lmao I was going to ask about the loo, guess I surely don't have too. Blah, carrying that would be sooooooooooooo nasty. Suddenly scooping the litterbox and changing diapers doesn't seem so bad. Thanks for that haha But sure goes to show what one truly needs and it isn't a house the size of a football field. Many of them just look like a barren museum. I wouldn't want to live in one. My uncle has one because he had to have bigger for status, and now he whines that he is broke and blah blah blah, serves him right. No sympathy from me. The only thing I'd want is two bathrooms, always seem to have to go when someone is in there when there is one lol

    1. LOL! Two bathrooms is awesome, Pat. I was always outside banging on the door and wanting in, or inside wishing the person banging on the door would go away. I figured that I had to address the loo, because I knew people would be wondering. At least the utility room was warm, thanks to its proximity to the oil burner. Have a good weekend, my friend!

  6. Now THAT'S humble living, Louise! LOL If that doesn't teach you to appreciate everything in life, I don't know what will. I grew up in a poor working class family, and although we didn't have the hardships you did, we did live in very humble homes. All five of us were in a 2 bedroom apartment, about the size of your home. But we managed and we were very happy, too.

    Your experiences during these years are inspiring. And really interesting to read!

    1. Happy Friday, Martha! I'm glad that you enjoyed my post. I think that those of us who grew up in humble surroundings are truly blessed, because we appreciate so much. I would hate to be blasé about anything. Wishing you and George a great weekend!

  7. Greetings Louise. A well written piece that I enjoyed reading. You have some amazing memories, and you soldiered on enjoying life regardless of your hardship. I was brought up on a council estate, and my father left my mother when I was six, leaving my mother with five children to bring up on her own with little or no help as she had moved from living down South to living up North, so had no family to help her out in times of need. At least I had the comforts of modern amenities, which you sadly didn't. You did well with all of your chores, especially with lugging the waste bucket such a precarious distance! I can remember getting a bath in a metal tub at my grandmothers house when I was a toddler! You had wonderful, loving parents watching over you and your siblings. Blessings to you. Enjoy you Sunday.

    Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Andrew! I enjoyed hearing about your childhood. Your mother sounds like an amazing and strong woman. She, you, and your siblings did not have it easy. I believe experiences like this make us stronger and more compassionate. Fortunately in most places that I lived growing up, we had electricity and running water! When we lived in an outport of Newfoundland, I witnessed the arrival of the telephone! Someday I'll write about that too! It's probably dark where you are now, so maybe you're taking Sadie on her last run of the day. I hope that you have a happy and fulfilling week, Andrew!

    2. Thank you. And if Sadie could read I'm sure she'd bless you for your kind sentiments towards her! Enjoy your week too. Blessings to you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

  8. A brilliant post Louise!!! I'm not as old as you, but I have seen so many changes in my life time! My dad lived in a one room house in Saskatchewan with 15 brothers and sisters. The stories he would tell us! I so agree about the "people" these days! The houses are boring and too big. They don't know how lucky they have it! But, I have to admit, I don't know if I would change anything, from my up bringing. I picked the berries and brought in wood, helped mom in the kitchen. Looking back, I loved it and to this day, I love being outside and doing things around the house. Our house today is not the boring beige or grey and it's not big! I am so happy about that! I feel sorry for you emptying the bucket from the toilet! Yucky! LOL! Big Hugs!

    1. You stopped me at 15 brothers and sisters! Thanks God for birth control! Although I always remind myself that Celine Dion was #14! You know, MLC, I think a lot of people could benefit from having to empty or clean the toilet. Like you I am grateful for my childhood. Loved your sharing ~ all the best in the coming week!

  9. When I said, I'm not as old as you, I meant to say, but I'm not that much younger than you, LOL!

    1. LOL! I feel every day above ground, or off the pyre is a good one! No worries, my friend!

  10. Just wondering, when you did live in a house again that had electricity, were you delighted beyond words? Not to mention how thrilled you must have been with indoor plumbing!
    Amazing post, as always!

    1. You are so right, Kay! I was thrilled to have electricity and indoor plumbing again. And to this day I love my creature comforts, especially a fresh washcloth and towel every time! Thanks for your encouragement ~ as always! Sending you a big hug!

  11. I love creature comforts, but I know I don't need all that I "think" I do. I grew up in my grandparent's home. It was always full of relatives who visited--usually too long, in my youthful estimation. We had only two bedrooms and one bath, so I got the sofa when those aunts and uncles came and I had to stand in line to brush my teeth.

    1. Hi, Lee! Thanks for sharing! I, too, grew up in a household where I got evicted from my bed for visiting relatives. I never even questioned the practice. It was what it was. Have a great rest of the week!

  12. What great memories—a small house was probably best in order to keep it warm. Kerosene when spilt takes a long time to evaporate or to lose the smell.

    1. Hi, Sage! Nice to see you! I hope that all is well!

  13. I grew up with drawing water from a well (my folks did) and using an outhouse. Can't say it gave me character. :) You all were ahead of your time with the potty. It reminds me the "new" compost potties off gridders use.

    1. Hi, Teresa! I've been traveling this week, so I'm just replying to comments. No thank you ~ I did my time off the grid ~ LOL I love my modern conveniences! I'll be by to visit your blog shortly!

  14. MIND BLOWING facts about life in the land shore house dear Louise !

    I am amazed with these details you shared even though when i entered in village at the age of 6 i think there was hardly light
    i remember my parents used kerosene stove and lantern and we studied in the the light of that lantern for few years
    if i remember correctly light came to our house when i was in my early teens and soon after that our first small back and white t.v

    either we took bath once in a week and toilet had no proper draining system

    you are so skilled to reveal everything so nicely my friend it felt as i was with you in this tight small room and stepped with you in each chore you did to help your parents

    today life is easy but i think you will agree that in such hard times while facing so many problems families stay mre close and bound rather than in ease and vast space
    lots of love and best wishes to you my dear friend!
    please take good care and stay as blessed as you are !!!

    1. You're absolutely right, Baili, about families being closer by coming through difficult circumstances together. To this day, my brother, sisters, and I are very close. Lots of love and hugs to you, my dear friend!


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