Friday, February 23, 2018

The Lansdowne Letters: Canoeing Lesson

Sometimes my narrative gets ahead of my father’s letters,
and sometimes my father goes back to a previous event.

A little of both occurs
as I share the rest of his letter dated
Thursday, May 25, 1961
when my father wrote:

Hi Folks:

Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

On Victoria Day, which was a holiday,
I rented a canoe and took the family on a picnic.
All of us, including Roberta and Gretchen, piled into a big freighter canoe,
and Sara and I paddled up the shore to Joe Alex’s place,
which is about a couple of miles up the peninsula.

Lansdowne House Today
Our parents paddled our canoe up to about the narrowest part of the south side of the peninsula.

Imagery:  DigitalGlobe, Landstat/Copernicus
Map Data:  Google 2017

Then we went ashore and ate.
Sara had some canned stew,
which I was never very fond of at home,
but which tasted delicious when it was heated up and eaten outside.

She also brought along lots of bread and butter,
coffee, and orange juice for the children.
Also, she baked a lovely cake for the picnic.

The picnic was actually on the Sunday before Victoria Day,
which was Monday, 22 May 61.

After the meal, Gretchen went swimming,
and Barbie and Donnie sneaked in wading.
I don’t know why all three of them didn’t die of pneumonia,
for they were right in among the ice cakes along the store.
I put a stop to the whole thing when I discovered it.

Donnie, holding Bertie, with Barbie
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada
Summer 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Roy with Gretchen
Margaretsville, Nova Scotia, Canada
Christmas 1958
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Roy and Louise took the canoe and went out a short distance
on the lake and practiced paddling the canoe.
It was most amusing to watch them.

Paddling a canoe requires co-operation,
and those two don’t know what the word means.
All they could do is compete.
As a result, they got nowhere for a while,
except around in circles.

They would get the canoe all lined up where they were trying to go,
and they would start out with a flourish.
Very shortly they would find the canoe swinging off course.

All that would be required at this stage would be for one of them
to shift sides and paddle on the opposite side;
but of course, each one would roar at the other one to shift,
and at the same time be too stubborn to shift themselves.

The Uncooperative
School Photos, Fall 1960
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Very shortly, the canoe would swing through a complete circle,
and they would be heading back where they came from.
It was an education in itself to listen to the recriminations
that were flying back and forth between them when this happened.

After about an hour of this futile floundering,
they finally caught on to the fact, that as much as they disliked it,
they had to co-operate and one had to be the boss
and tell the other one when to shift.

At this stage I interfered to tell them that the natural one
to command the canoe was the one in the stern,
because the canoe is controlled from the stern.

This immediately started another row,
because Roy was in the stern,
and Louise wanted to be in command.
She had jumped into the front at the start
because she thought that the front position was the most important.

The only reason Roy didn’t fight for the front position
was that I had had him out with me before the picnic,
and I had taken the stern.
I told him then that the most experienced paddler always takes the stern,
and so Roy was quite willing to take the stern.

I finally had to take a hand and tell them
that Roy could command the ship for a while,
and then, when I told them, they were to come ashore and shift positions.

Once they learned about co-operation and settled their jurisdictional dispute,
they got along great and could go anywhere they wanted to.
This canoe episode was a better lesson in co-operation
than all the lecturing that I could do in a year.

Somewhat Working Together
Roy and I (Louise)
Attawapiskat Lake, Northern Ontario, Canada
Victoria Day, 1961
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Right about now I can just see Nana, Grammie, Great Grammie,
and Aunt Maude all sitting down to write me letters
scolding me for allowing the two of them out alone in a canoe.

I can assure you that the canoe I had on the picnic
was quite different from the one I had last fall.
It was a small two-man canoe and was as skittish as a strange cat,
and it would upset if you looked at it incorrectly.

The one I had on the picnic was a big eighteen-foot
freighter canoe with a four-foot beam.
It was as steady, as safe, and as hard to upset as a Newfoundland dory.
They are one of the safest crafts afloat.

Don’t worry.
I wouldn’t have allowed them out in it alone
if it was the least bit dangerous.

Survivors of Childhood 
Roy and I (Louise)
Beautiful Cove, Long Island, Nova Scotia, Canada
August 2, 2016
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I don’t think I ever mentioned Joe Alex’s place in any descriptions of Lansdowne House.
Joe Alex was a Jewish free trader who had a store
about two miles up the peninsula from the Hudson’s Bay store.
He was running in competition with the Bay.

He had his own private plane.
About three years ago he crashed the plane and killed himself,
and since then the place has been deserted.
It is slowly falling into ruin.

After about two hours at Joe Alex’s,
I loaded the family in the canoe, minus our baggage
and headed further up the lake.

About a mile further on, the lake was completely free of ice.
I have since learned that for the last week of break-up the lake
was free of ice except for three or four miles square around the settlement.
This area was still frozen over for some reason.

We spent a delightful time paddling around the water, and then we started home.
On our way we stopped at Joe Alex’s to pick up our baggage,
including some of Roberta’s diapers which we had left drying on a bush.

For a photograph of Ojibwa "Diapers" from that time period click here.

Ice Free Northern Lake
Somewhere Close to Lansdowne House
Photo by Don MacBeath, September 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

We arrived home about six in the evening,
happy, but tired and sunburned after a day in the open.
It is hard to believe that we went on this picnic,
and if it wasn’t for my red face,
I would almost think I had dreamed it,
for yesterday and today have been miserable.
We actually had quite a bit of snow the last two days.

I don’t think I’ll ever cease to be amazed
at how essentially polite and courteous the Indians are.
True, they never say please or thank you,
and they make the women do the hard work,
and the men get the preferred treatment,
but this is a result of their culture and customs
and not because of any inborn impoliteness.

In the old days the men were the hunters and provided the food,
and the women ran the homes, cut the wood,
hauled the water, and did all the dirty work.

They had to, because the men were away hunting so much.
In fact, the women’s lot was so hard,
that it was not uncommon for the Indian mothers to kill their female babies
rather than to let them live to spend as hard a life as they had.

Times are changing though,
and now you see quite a few of the younger men
hauling water and cutting wood and even carrying the tikinagans,
something you never would have seen fifty years ago
or even twenty-five years ago.

Indian Mother with Baby in a Tikanagan
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
Photo by Don MacBeath, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

But I started to tell you about the politeness of the Indians.
There were a lot of canoes out that Sunday,
and most of them had outboard motors.

Whenever one of the canoes came near our canoe,
they would throttle back the motor and go past us as slowly as possible
so as not to swamp us with the wake from the motor.
A couple of them even shut off their motors and paddled past us.

I can imagine what would have happened
if the canoes had been operated by white people, especially teenagers.
The Indian teenagers were just as polite as their elders.

And I wonder where, outside, if anywhere, that you could leave
all your equipment, including a camp stove and dishes and jackets
on a beach for a couple of hours and come back and find nothing disturbed.
We didn’t even bother to lock the house,
although we were away for most of the day.

Well, I have an awful lot more to tell you about the break-up
and meeting the first plane (I was in one of the canoes),
but I have to sign off now and get some official mail ready for tomorrow,
so I’ll have to continue this narrative tomorrow and send it out next week.

All the members of the family are well and thriving on this northern life.
Roberta has gained a lot of weight, and Sara looks wonderful.
I am holding down my weight.
Roy has been bothered some with his tonsils
and will have to have them out as soon as we go outside,
but he is ok just now.
Tomorrow is his birthday, and he is quite excited about it.

Well, this is an example of damned poor planning,
having to start a fourth page like this.
I really had intended to finish it in three pages,
but the end sort of snook up on me.

If I had the time, it would be the logical thing to do to finish this new page,
but I just haven’t got the time, so I’ll have to sign off now,
new page or no new page.  Bye for now.
See you all next week.

Love, Don.

Returning from Joe Alex's
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
Photo by Don MacBeath, Victoria Day, 196
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My Father continued in a handwritten postscript to his mother:
Oh well, Mother, it gives me some space to write a private note to you.
Roy’s parcel arrived safely and on time.
He doesn’t know about it though.
He hasn’t opened it yet, but it wasn’t damaged or anything.
Will write next week and tell you all about the birthday.
Thanks for Roy’s parcel.  

It’s good to see that Aunt Maude is up and around again
and is more like her old self again.

I am glad that you are finally rid of the property,
although I feel queer in a way to think that we no longer own the corner,
but it was the only thing to do, because I’ll never be living in Charlottetown again - 
at least not till I am retired,
and especially if I get this new job in Sioux Lookout.

My Grandmother MacBeath's Apartment Building and Home
at the Corner of Fitzroy and Edward
(We lived in the two-story apartment with the red and white door in the mid-1950s.)
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada

Oh yes, they are going to meet me in North Bay for the interview
some time in July - date to be announced later,
and I imagine it will be in the first week in July.

I think I am almost certain of getting the job.
I hope so, because it would be a wonderful promotion.
Sunday school is proceeding well.
Thanks for the carbon paper.  It is just what I wanted.

Well, I got to sign off now.
I hope this letter lives up to my promise of a nice long letter.
Next week’s will be just as long,
for I have more to tell about break-up.

Bye for now,
Love, Don

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Waiting for the Ferry to Tiverton
Eastern Passage, Digby Neck, Bay of Fundy
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

1.  Victoria Day:
     Victoria Day is a federal public holiday celebrated in Canada on the last Monday before May 25,
     in honour of Queen Victoria's birthday.  It is the Monday between the 18th to the 24th, and thus it
     is always the penultimate Monday of May.  The current Canadian sovereign's birthday, Queen
     Elizabeth II's, is officially recognized on Victoria Day.  Many Canadians consider it the informal
     start of summer.  Wikipedia

by Alexander Melville, 1845

2.  Aunt Maude was battling cancer.

3.  Sunday School:  My father was conducting regular Sunday School lessons with us, because
     only itinerant Anglican ministers visited Lansdowne House.  Reverend Harold
     Mitton of the First Baptist Church in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island regularly sent my
     father materials.

    It's funny to see four digit telephone numbers nowadays and to realize that you could mail a letter
    in Charlottetown to be delivered in Charlottetown and just write "City" in the address.

Mother's Day Church Bulletin
May 14, 1961
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Mail for My Father
from Reverend Mitton
May 15, 1961
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Map of Canada
Highlighting Ontario

Lansdowne House, Ontario

Attawapiskat Lake and Lansdowne House
Map Data Google 2018

Attawapiskat Lake  
An Unusual Depiction of Life There 
Original Source Unknown
Found At:  hypenotic


  1. So if two siblings don't get along, stuff them in a canoe until they do? haha good tip to remember. There aren't many places where you can leave your things and not have them disturbed these days, if there ever were. Can't even imagine killing ones own kid, even if thought as mercy.

    1. You can pack that parenting tidbit away for future use, Pat! LOL There are many things in this world that I will never understand ~ Not the least of which is the idea of mercy killing for a daughter. It shocked me when I first heard of this, because I am, and always have been, independent. Have a great weekend, Pat!

  2. I can hear the two of you now, squabbling away and going in circles.
    Not many places where you could leave stuff out even back then. Although I recall my family leaving for a while and not locking the house when I was young.

    1. The world definitely seems like a much safer place. Isolation and solitude like existed in Lansdowne House is a thing of the past too. Enjoy your weekend with your wife, Alex!

  3. You are probably going to laugh but for some reason the pictures of you and your brother in the canoe just brought tears to my eyes for some reason. If I were you I would have that picture framed and hanging in my home because it represents all that this story is about. Your life. I could almost feel that I was there paddling along with you feeling the warmth of the sun after the cold, cold winter and enjoying this special family time. The letters that were written and saved are a chronological gift. I have loved every minute of reading your personal story.

    1. Thanks you for your kind words, Peggy! I hope to have the photo of Ray and me paddling the canoe on the cover of my book. I'm thrilled that you felt like you were there! Have a wonderful weekend with Don!

  4. I went white water rafting three times, teamwork is key

    1. Hi, Adam! Teamwork is the key to so much! Wishing you and Daisy a lovely weekend.

  5. Oh wow, just mailing a letter to "City" -- I've never seen that before! Those were the days, eh? I remember when telephone numbers were short too. When I was a kid, our phone number was 365-W. The W was because we were on a party line with our neighbour, whose number was 365-J. The phones weren't rotary dial then; you had to pick up the receiver and tell the number you wanted to the telephone operator, who would connect you.

    1. Hi, Debra! Just think of all the fun today's kids missed ~ party lines! I used to love to listen to neighbor's calls ~ when my parents weren't around to know that I was eavesdropping. My Great Aunt Maude actually had a crank phone. I was scared of it. LOL I hope that you and your Rare One have a great weekend!

  6. Hi Louise :) I love that "The Uncooperative" that story made me giggle...I love seeing the photos! What are those diapers made of??? They don't look too comfy from the photo. And the old two cent stamp...what a great post today! :)

    1. Hi, Rain. The Ojibwa "diapers" were actually made of sphagnum moss. They harvested it and thoroughly dried it. Babies spent much of their time in their tikanagans which kept them safe and swaddled. Mothers would line the tikanagan with sphagnum moss, which was soft and absorbent. It's interesting to see how various peoples and cultures solved common problems with the materials in their environment. The photo of the sphagnum moss drying on the line was practically the view from our forestry department home in Lansdowne House; but Ojibwa photo predates the forestry building by several years. Have a great weekend, my friend!

  7. Another story that I have so enjoyed.Lots of catching up to do as I have internet again.

    1. Oh Lord, do I understand, Jean! I'm actually at a project workshop in the Waikiki Apple store right now. There is excellent internet here, so I'm in the middle of loading some 80,000 photos into the cloud. Pretty bad, eh? LOL You and Huge have a fabulous weekend! Sending you love and hugs!

  8. This is so interesting. I liked this story.

    1. Thank you, Nasreen! I'm so glad that you liked my story! Have a lovely weekend!

  9. Your parents really knew what they were doing and they did it so well.
    What better way to learn to paddle (or for that matter just about anything) than to jump in and figure it out! Albeit with another headstrong kid!! lol This was great story/letter-writing telling.
    It is so good to hear that the indigenous folk were kind and thoughtful. We don't often hear about this nowadays. They knew what was necessary to live day to day in a very inhospitable environment. Too bad the Europeans had to spoil it.

  10. Greetings Louise. I enjoyed reading about your picnic time together with your family. Your arguing in the canoe reminds me of my Grandchildren, who always argue over who's sitting in the front seat of my car - having control over the stereo! Glad you and Don both found your feet eventually, and mastered the control of the craft by working as a team. You have some great memories, and thank you for sharing them with us. Blessings to you. Take good care.

    Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

  11. I was going to ask about Victoria Day, so thank you for providing the information. I've been watching the second season of Victoria on Masterpiece Theater. I love it. I find Victoria fascinating. I saw one of her bonnets in a museum in Victoria, B.C. It was so tiny!


    1. Hi, Janie! I usually try to assume that someone reading my posts might not know something, so I'm glad to know that the information helped. I know a reader can often Google something unfamiliar, but I hope to make things as reader friendly as possible. I haven't seen the Masterpiece Theatre production on tv. I don't get to listen to much tv in Honolulu, because the times are weird and I'm doing other things. I only have access to internet in my hotel lobby where it's poor and slow or in the Waikiki Apple store during project sessions. It's been hard trying to keep up with writing, blogging, and computer classes. I hope that all is well with you! I'll get by as soon as I can. Take care!

  12. Hi, Louise! What a wonderful post. I love the way your father taught you about co-operation. I could just imagine the two of you going around in circles until you learned that lesson. LOL That must have been funny to watch. And I love that photo of you and your brother in the canoe! What a gem.

    1. Thanks, Martha! My father had a lot of fun with us when we were growing up. He was no "helicopter parent." He let us safely learn many lessons the hard way. "That'll teach you!" he say after one of us metaphorically fell on our face. Our mother was the same way too. You and I were both fortunate in our parents!

  13. Your stories are so much fun Louise!! I love the photo of you and your brother (both of them) and I love how you were taught about "co-operation"! LOL! A letter to the "city", never seen that before! Big Hugs!

    1. Thanks, Stacy! I'm so glad that you enjoyed my story! My father was a natural born teacher, and he absolutely believed in natural consequences. We had plenty of opportunities to struggle and fail and learn from our experiences. Big hugs back at you. I'll get by as soon as I can. Internet access is a little challenging here! Take care!

  14. Your blog was absolutely fantastic!
    Great deal of great information & this can be useful some or maybe the other way.
    Keep updating your blog,anticipating to get more detailed contents.


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