Friday, February 16, 2018

The Lansdowne Letters: Stages in Ice

And then it was gone!
After long weeks of waiting, 
break-up was over in Lansdowne House on May 23, 1961.

An Ice Free Lake Attawapiskat
Lansdowne House, Ontario, Canada
Photo by Don MacBeath, 1961
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Mail planes, bringing welcome news from the Outside
and much-needed supplies,
had switched from skis to pontoons 
and were landing in a spray of water
instead of rooster tails of snow
and taxiing to the Hudson's Bay Company dock.

The tension of being cut-off from everything eased,
and people looked forward to the brief summer
and long warm days of abundance and fun.

No one in our family anticipated the dramatic events
about to happen during the next few weeks.

Two Pontoon or Float Planes
By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

On Thursday, May 25, 1961  
My father wrote:

Hi Folks:
Break-up is finally over for this year.
It ended with rather a sudden dramatic decisiveness Tuesday afternoon.
Actually, the first plane came in Monday afternoon
but had to land four miles up the lake,
as we were still ice-bound right around the settlement.

The plane was met by four canoes, 
and the goods and mail were transported by canoes to the settlement.
I was only able to get one letter to Mother out by this plane,
so for all practical purposes, this is the first letter after break-up.

Breakup was so peaceful that I almost dreaded to see the end of it.
We had a delightful time during this period.
I got several nice paintings done, and Sara and I were able to play a lot of Bridge.

Rock Causeway to the Father's Island
(An Alternative to Crossing on Ice)
Lansdowne House, Ontario, Canada
Painting by Don MacBeath, 1961
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

It was most interesting to watch the ice slowly melting in the lake.
The snow went rather rapidly, but the ice remained in the lake.
At first, it was startling to see the grass starting to turn green on the ground,
and then to look out on the lake and see
the Indians still traveling by dog team on the lake.

I have only watched one break-up, but from what I was able to observe,
there are four definite stages in the deterioration of the lake ice --
no actually, there are five stages.

The first stage is when
the DOT pronounces the ice dangerous for planes.
Then we have our last plane.  

The next stage is reached
when the Father stops using the snowmobile on the ice.
As long as the Father continues to use the snowmobile ,
we know that in an emergency a light plane like a Cessna could still land.
However once the snowmobile is laid up,
we definitely know that we are cut off until the lake is open.
This year, the second stage was reached very shortly after the first one.

This is a late wood-bodied Bombardier B-12 snow bus,
This is similar to Father Ouimet's snowmobile or "bombardier."  (bomb-ba-deer)
Circa 1951

The third stage is reached
when the Father stops using the light Ski-Doo,
which is sort of a motorized toboggan.
When the Ski-Doo is laid up,
we know that the break-up period is about half through usually. 

The fourth stage is when
the Indians decide that the ice is dangerous for traveling with dog teams.
This is an interesting stage,
mainly because of the compromise measures worked out 
by the Indians for getting by this period.  

During the fourth stage,
the Indians can’t travel by canoe because there is still ice on the lake,
and they can’t travel safely by dog teams.

Since the fourth stage usually occurs at the height of the muskrat trapping season,
it is necessary for the Indians to be mobile,
so they get around their difficulties in an amusing way and a practical way also.

They lash their canoes to their sleighs,
put all their gear in the canoes,
hitch the dogs to the sleighs, and start out.

If the ice breaks, they jump into the canoes,
pull the dogs in with them, and paddle till they strike firm ice again
when they haul the sleighs up on the ice and resume their journey.

For a photo of two trappers with their dogs, click here
(Copyright holder:  Government of Saskatchewan)

The fifth stage is when the ice goes out, and the first plane lands.

The Indians can tell when the fourth stage has arrived
by watching the ice change colour.

First, the ice turns black all over, and the fourth stage has arrived.
Then it turns snowy white again.
It remains white for anywhere from several hours till several weeks.
This year it remained white for three days.

Then it turns black again.
Once it turns black again, it is just a matter of waiting
for a good strong wind to break the ice up and clear the ice out.
If no wind comes, it just sits and rots.

For a photo of the black ice phenomenon, click here   (4th photo down)
(Copyright holder:  Sunset Country/Northern Ontario Travel)

This year we had a period of two weeks
after the second blackness before we got our wind.
During this two-week period the water rose,
and the ice all melted around the shores,
and everyone got out paddling around in the canoes.

No Longer Ice-Bound
Lansdowne House, Ontario, Canada
Photo by Don MacBeath, 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

This letter of my father's was very long,
so I'll continue it in my next Northern post.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue.

1.  The Father:  Father Maurice Ouimet

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

2.  Snowmobiles and Ski-Doos:
     Joseph-Armand Bombardier developed large tracked vehicles that could hold up to twelve people,
     one of which Bombardier gave to his friend Father Ouimet in 1949.  My father referred to this
     as Father Ouimet's snowmobile, but I also heard it called a bombardier (bomb-ba-deer).

     But what was really needed in the north was a machine for one or two people, something that
     would make Father Ouimet's work easier in his northern parishes.  Ouimet suggested this to his
     friend Bombardier, and from this idea Joseph-Armand created the Ski-Doo.

     Were it not for a publisher's error in a sales brochure, Ski-Doos would have been Snow-Dogs.

     In the winter of 1959 Joseph-Armand hand-built the first two Ski-Doos, and in April,
    1959 he personally delivered one of them by bush plane to Father Ouimet in
    Lansdowne House.   The Canadian Encyclopedia 

       I have wonderful memories of riding with Father Ouimet on his ski-doo.  Father Ouimet's first
     Ski-Doo, the one I rode on, was obtained by the The Museum of Ingenuity J. Armand Bombardier
     in 1969.  Sled Magazine 


For Map Lovers Like Me:
Map of Canada
Highlighting Ontario

Location of Lansdowne House
Wikimedia   edited


  1. Is this the "entrée" and the main part of the meal will be next week? I will be in the South Island then, but should have internet available, somewhere, wherever we are. I can see why the freeze and the break up are such important times in the lives of everyone who lived there. Dangerous, scary, and with hopes either end of the season that it all went safely. Guess we will find out next week.

    1. Hi, Jean! The main part will be next week, but the more dramatic events will be after that. Yes, everyone was always relieved at the end of break-up and freeze-up. Nowadays, there is an all weather airstrip at Lansdowne House, so people can fly in and out all year, weather permitting. During the winter there is an ice road, so supplies are given in, and people can drive to and from Lansdowne House. One consequence of climate change is that the interval that ice roads are available is shrinking and so the window for getting heavier supplies in and out is less and less. This is true for many isolated communities.

      I hope that you have a good trip to the South Island. I'm slow making the rounds to visit everyone. I've been kicked out of the breezeway because of musical events the last few days, so now I'm in the lobby learning how to work on my computer with my legs crossed. Always a challenge! Sending you and Hugh hugs, my friend!

  2. Greetings Louise. I enjoyed reading your well-written post. You certainly had a long wait while the ice went through its stages, and with the necessity of communication and supplies hoped for it to be sooner rather than later. It's hard to imagine ice rotting, does it have a smell? The Local Parish Priest was blessed with the appropriate transport so kindly given to him. I can imagine you as a child buzzing with having a ride! I'll look forward to your next post. Blessings to you. Take good care and enjoy your break.

    Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

    1. Thanks, Andrew! Rotting ice doesn't smell. It just sits, and water, air, and other contaminants between the grains of ice cause melting at the grain boundaries, and the ice becomes honeycombed in structure. It is much weaker than regular ice and won't support much weight. It has a grey, splotchy color. I remained friends with Father Ouimet throughout his life. It's rather ironic that this little Baptist girl became friends with an older Roman Catholic priest. Father Ouimet was an amazing human being and is an icon of inspiration in my life. Terry and i are enjoying our break here very much ~ The warm ocean air in Hawaii is like nowhere else. Take care, my friend!

  3. That is sure a lot of work by the sounds of it. But smart of the indians for mixing and matching the two to get where they needed to go. That would be fun to go around in that motorized sled though. Zip zip from here to there.

    1. Hey, Pat! It's always interesting to see the solutions that people come up with to solve problems in their environment. "Whatever works" has become a motto of mine. When I rode with Father Ouimet on the first ski-doo, I had no idea how popular the ski-doo would become. Neither did Father Ouimet, I'm sure. I still marvel that I got to ride on it. Ironically, I've hardly been on a ski-doo since. Have a good weekend! Terry is suddenly dragging me to the beach! Woe is me!

  4. Never thought of ice rotting.
    I've always wondered what measurement is used to determine what is safe to go on the ice. And how many people still go through.

    1. Hi, Alex! Good question ~ I remember as a rule of thumb that the ice had to be a solid nine inches thick for a bush plane to land. As for people, I think at least four inches. I know I'd be very cautious! I have no idea how many people fall through ice today. Enjoy the long weekend!

  5. I wonder how many float planes accidentally bumped into each other in the water

    1. Haha, I have no idea, Adam! I've watched many come and go in Victoria's inner harbor, but I haven't seen any bump into each other. I hope you and Daisy enjoy the long weekend!

  6. This is the first I've heard of "rotting ice" -- an interesting phenomenon!

    1. Hi, Debra! Rotting ice ends up with a honeycomb structure that makes the ice weak. Impurities like water and air at the grain boundaries cause melting and weaken it. I grew up with the term. Ice science is very complicated. Have a good weekend with your Rare One!

  7. I think I was anticipating the break up as much as your father. It's amazing how deep I get into this story. In the movie I'm sure there would be some kind of accident which necessitated your father to perform emergency surgery by having father read the directions out of a book (see I told you I was into it). I'm glad things will get back to "normal" for the family after the arrival of the first plane.

    1. Hi, Peggy! You have always been such a wonderful, supportive reader, Peggy! Thank you so much! All the best to you and Don this long weekend! Sending you a big hug!

  8. Hi Louise :)) The more I read your posts/history...the more I know I was born in the wrong era! I would have loved watching the stages of the ice melt...loved living by these seasons...thank you for sharing, I look forward to the next episode! :))

    1. Thank you, Rain! As you can tell, my father was quite fascinated with it all. It was something to experience. I have always loved the seasons and the changes they bring. I've been fortunate to live in a variety of contrasting climates and to observe so many interesting things. I'm glad that you enjoyed this post. All the best to you!

  9. Hello my dear friend, many many thanks for all your sweet and fun comments, I am always so delighted to read you :)))
    You've taken the time to leave a word on each of my latest posts, how brave of you!
    Yours, on the northern adventures of your family, always impress me, I would die of cold before setting foot on that land!!! LOL!
    You seem so nostalgic of those times...
    I hope you had a great time in Honolulu, a place I would love to visit once!
    Keep week well dear Louise and enjoy this weekend :)

    1. How lovely to hear from you, Noushka! Thanks for your kind and encouraging words. I do miss those times when my parents were alive and we were all together. They went by so quickly! I have gone on to have many wonderful experiences, but I miss my parents every day.

      I've been enjoying Honolulu very much. When I was walking this morning, I came across a lot of excited birds grubbing around in a big pile of leaves. There were a couple of Brazilian cardinals among the doves, pigeons, and sparrows. I started trying to get some photos of the cardinals. Suddenly a voice behind a wall asked, "Does this help?" He tossed some bird food over, and I got several photos. It turns out that he feeds them every day at this spot near the WWI War Memorial and Natatorium. The birds know his car and come flying from nearby trees as soon as his car appears. That is definitely a learned behavior! I think many people way under estimate animals. I thought of you immediately when I first spotted the Brazilian cardinals.

      I hope that you are doing well. Sending you hugs and love, my friend! Take care!

  10. This is all so interesting Louise! Love that snow bus! We use to have a "Ski Doo"! LOL ! I have never heard of rotting ice before? I just read your comment to Debra! Thanks for explaining! By the way, thank you for all the beautiful comments on my blog! You are a sweetheart! Thank you for your story at the hotel, with your Valentine cookies and cupcakes and Greg playing! Sounds like a wonderful time! Big Hugs!

    1. Hi, Stacy! I'm glad that you found the post interesting. Yes, we are having a wonderful time here. Yesterday there were thunderstorms with torrential rain, and parts of Oahu were flooded. I still managed to get my 10,000 steps in though. I walked back and forth and back and forth in our hotel room while watching the Olympics ~ LOL I learned "house walking" when we lived in Newfoundland. A neighbor of ours in our outport was told he had to walk after a hear attack. It was winter ~ very cold out, so he started walking around his living/dining room. No excuses ~ LOL Tonight is the big jam session in our breezeway, and I am really looking forward to the music and hula dancing. I have to make dinner first though. I hope all is well with you!

  11. I've never heard of "rotting ice"! What an interesting thing to learn today. Your posts are simply amazing, Louise. This period of your life is filled with adventure and very unique experiences.

    1. Hi, Martha! Apparently most people haven't heard of rotting ice before. I grew up with the term and didn't realize that it was uncommon. LOL I'm very grateful for the unusual experiences I had growing up. I was born with the travel bug, and it's never gone away. I hope you and George are enjoying a good start to the week!


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