Friday, April 20, 2018

The Lansdowne Letters: Stranded

The first Sunday in June 1961 brought Lansdowne House
one of those vibrant, late spring days that pulls people outside
with its promise of warmth and freedom
and banishes memories of subzero days and vistas of glittering  snow.

The last bits of rotten ice lingered in Attawapiskat Lake,
as our family piled into a canoe mid-morning and set off in high spirits.
We had no premonition of the danger that awaited us down the lake.

As Calm as a Millpond
Canoeing on Attawapiskat Lake
Near Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
May 1961
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

On Wednesday, June 7, 1961
My father wrote to our extended family:

Hi There Folks:
Last Sunday we had quite an adventure,
or misadventure, depending upon how you look at it.

I borrowed Tim Wabasse's canoe and three HP outboard
and took the family away down the lake on a picnic.
We all enjoyed it, even Gretchen and the baby,
although they don't think too much of canoe trips.

We went down the lake for a distance of about five miles,
and we found the most delightful little white sand beach.
All the children went in swimming, and even Sara went in wading.

A Rare Photo of My Mother
Wading in Attawapiskat Lake
Near Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
June 4, 1961
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

It's a good job that we were alone, for the children
all went swimming in either their underwear or their birthday suits,
and even Sara took off her slacks and was running around in her panties.
They were just like a bunch of bloody nudists.

Only Father managed to preserve his Patrician dignity.
I found a most delightfully shady tree
and spent the day under it reading and napping.

The Only Way to Enjoy a Picnic ~
According to My Father
Sandy Beach, Attawapiskat Lake
Near Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
June 4, 2018
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


When we started on our trip, the water was as calm as a millpond,
but during the day a rather strong breeze sprung up.
Because our little beach was in a sheltered cove,
we did not notice the increase in the wind,
or that there was quite a sea running.

As soon as we got out of the sheltered cove, we were in for a rather rough passage;
and, because of the waves and the wind, we had to keep going.

In a rough sea, the safest thing to do is to keep headed into the waves.
It would have been inviting disaster to attempt to turn
the canoe around and go back to the cove.

We had about two miles of open lake to cross before we came to an island,
and I can tell you that it was quite exciting.
We shipped quite a bit of water, and everybody was soaked
from the spray before we reached the lee of the island.

At first the children thought that it was quite a lot of fun;
but before the trip was over, the novelty had worn off,
and they were beginning to be afraid.

There was only one thing to do, and I did it.
I landed on the island and made preparations to stay there till the wind died down.

The Sandy Beach ~
Not the Island We Were Stranded On
Roy, Gretchen, Louise (Me), Mom, Bertie
Attawapiskat Lake, Northern Ontario, Canada
June 4, 2018
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

If it had only been Sara and I in the canoe,
even if we only had Louise and Roy with us,
it wouldn't have been too bad, and I would have kept on for home.

However, I was frightened that Barbie or Donnie might panic,
and all it would take to upset the canoe would be to have one
or both of them leap to the same side of the canoe,
just as a big wave hit her.

As soon as we landed, we pulled the canoe up on land,
and I started everyone gathering firewood.

I did this for several reasons.  First, we were all wet,
and gathering firewood would keep everyone warm.
Also, there was a damned good chance
that we would have to spend the night on the island,
and if we did, we would need a good fire.

Luckily we had lots of matches, but that is about all we had.
I certainly learned something on this trip,
and that is to never go on a trip like that without an axe,
a flashlight, some sort of tarpaulin, and some spare food.
All we had were matches, and the remains of the picnic lunch,
and I can assure you that this was very scanty fare indeed.

We landed on the island about five in the evening,
and we were there till about eleven-thirty at night
before we were rescued by Mike O'Flaherty
and Milt MacMahon in the nursing station's big boat.

We finally got home after midnight,
and after getting something to eat, we all went to bed.
Since then we have all been busy nursing colds,
of which we seem to have an overabundance right now.

During our stay on the island, we managed to get most
of our clothes and blankets dried, and about nine o'clock
we gave the children what was left of the picnic lunch.

Of course we had coffee going
as soon as we got the fire going.  

It will be a dark day indeed
when the MacBeaths
are unable to have coffee.


Along about ten p.m. it was beginning to get quite cold,
and rain was threatening; but we had a nice fire going,
Bertie was asleep, and the other young ones
were showing signs of yielding to the charms of Morpheus.

Along about this time, we started to notice a light
down towards Lansdowne House which appeared to be moving about.
We didn't know what it was, but in about an hour
we found out that the light came from the nursing station boat,
which manned by Mike and Milt, was out searching for us.

They finally stumbled upon us and our island about 11:30 a.m.,
and when they landed, we served them coffee,
thereby adding credence to the general opinion
that you can always get coffee at the MacBeaths,
even at the damnedest times.

Needless to say, we were very glad
to see and hear Mike and Milt.

I guess that we stirred up quite a commotion at Lansdowne House
when it was discovered that we hadn't returned from our picnic.

Bill Mitchell was the first to become alarmed;
and when he told Mike that he didn't think that we had arrived home,
Mike rushed over to our house and confirmed that we were among the missing.

He and Milt very quickly launched the nursing station canoe,
which because of the pontoons which Mike added
is the most seaworthy boat in Lansdowne House.
He took Milt's ten horse motor and his own 7 1/2 horse as a spare,
along with several tanks of gas and started out on the search. 
Actually, I should say they, for both Milt and Mike were in on the search.

It was about 9 p.m. when they got started,
and they didn't find us till about 11:30 p.m.
They saw our fire about a mile and a half from the island,
but for some reason they came to the conclusion that it was just an Indian campfire.
I guess that the Indians frequently camp on this island.

Anyway, they continued their systematic search of the lake,
instead of coming directly to the fire,
just in case we should be capsized somewhere out in the lake.
I don't know who was happier to see whom when they landed.

Lunch on the Sandy Beach ~
Not the Island We Were Stranded On
Mom, Gretchen, and Baby Bertie; 
Donnie, Roy, and Barbie (back);
and Louise (Me) by Bertie
Attawapiskat Lake, Northern Ontario, Canada
June 4, 2018
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

After they had a nice warm cup of coffee each, got warmed at our fire,
and bailed out their boat which had shipped quite a bit of water,
we loaded the kids, the dog, and Sara into the boat,
and I got into the stern with Milt, and we shoved off for home.

We left everything else on the island, including our coffee pot.
It took us about twenty-five minutes to reach the Hudson's Bay dock,
where we were met by a very relived Bill Mitchell
who normally would have been in bed hours before.

Bill Mitchell and an Ojibwa Man
Hudson's Bay Post
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

He and all the other residents of Lansdowne House
agreed that I did the wisest thing possible
when I landed on the island to ride out the storm.

The next afternoon I got one of the survey boys to run me
out to the island where I picked up the canoe
and all our belongings and brought them along home.
I had Roy along for company.

You'd think that our trip had had its share of misfortune,
but just as we were landing below our house,
didn't I have the misfortune to run upon a very sharp rock
and punch a small hole in the canvas covering
of the canoe causing a very bad leak.

Dad punched a hole in the canoe just below this hill.
This is the path to the lake where we got our water.
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
June 2018
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Before I could return it to its owner I had to patch it.
I got a small piece of canoe canvas
about the size of a playing card and a bottle of amberoid glue,
and in about an hour I had the canoe water tight again.
Then I sailed around to the other side of the peninsula
and returned it to Tim before something else could happen to it.

Well, that's the news from Lansdowne House for this week.
I'll admit that it isn't the type of news to bring comfort
to nervous grandmothers, great grandmothers, and great aunts;
but it was exciting and a great adventure,
so I told you all, and I'm glad---so there.

I'll likely never hear the end of this,
and I am expecting great gobs of criticism and advice;
but before you cut loose, please consider
that at least I was sensible enough to appreciate the danger
of our position and come ashore before we got into real difficulties.

Before you all go gray with worry, I will assure you that
that was our swan song with regards to picnics at Lansdowne House.

Northern Ontario Lake
A Beauty You Never Forget

From now on all our spare time will be devoted
to packing for our move to Sioux Lookout.
Besides, I don't think I'd ever have the gall to start on another expedition
after causing everyone so much worry, anxiety, and trouble.
Even if I did have the gall, I don't think that anyone
would allow us out of their sight anyway.

Speaking about our trip to Sioux Lookout, we are going to be
awfully busy for the rest of our time in Lansdowne House.
We have an awful lot of work to do, because we have a lot of things to pack,
and we have to pack it in segregated packages
so that all the things we will need this summer will be in certain parcels,
and we won't have to open everything when we get to Sioux Lookout.

Right now we are involved in long distance house hunting
by means of personal emissary (Mike),
radio telephone (nursing station and H.B.C.), and mail.
I will let you know the results of our search as soon as we find out ourselves.

Anne is going out tomorrow to have her baby, and Mike is going along with her.
He is going to look around Sioux for us.
Also, I have enlisted the help of the Indian Agent at Sioux,
a Mr. Swartman, and have contacted a real estate agent.

Everyone says that we should not have too much trouble finding a nice house,
but everyone also cautions us not to pay too much rent
and to be careful whom we deal with in Sioux Lookout,
because apparently newcomers are all fair game to the natives of Sioux Lookout.

Oh well, I am not exactly an amateur in this game of house hunting,
so I guess I should do O.K.
As I said, I'll let you all know whatever develops.

Well, I just have to sign off now and get this away,
and get some other letters written.
See you all next week


Dad dashed down a postscript to his mother on one of the copies:
Dear Mother:
I have not time to write a personal note this weekend,
but Sara wrote one, and so did Louise,
so I guess that should be O.K., eh?

Dad's Mother and Friends
Before Marriage and Motherhood
(Nana second from left)
Likely St. Peter's Bay, Prince Edward Island, Canada
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Are you keeping these circular letters?
I hope you are, especially the ones written since Sara came up here.
If you are, please continue.  If you have not, please start.

These letters are sort of a journal, and I would like to have copies of all the letters.
Sara saved all she got from me, but she doesn't get anymore,
so will you please save them and send them to me as soon as we get to Sioux.

Sometime I just may get around to writing an article for a magazine,
and I think these letters would make a good start
in an article or even a series of articles.
What do you think?  Am I being reasonably hopeful or just ridiculous?

All Sara's family keep remarking on how they enjoy the letters
and saying that I have a gift for writing
and should try to write something for publication.
What do you think?
In spite of everything I say,
I do have great faith in your judgement.

Bye now,

Next week I'll fill in the parts
Dad left out in his letter to the family.
He neither fooled nor mollified the grandmothers,
great grandmothers, and great aunts with his breezy tale.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue.

Point Prim, Bay of Fundy,
Summer 2016
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

1.  Three HP Outboard:
     A small motor attached to the
     outside of the stern of small
     watercraft such as a canoe.
     The motor propels the watercraft
     and provides steering control.

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

2.  HP:  Horsepower:
     "Horsepower is defined as work done over time. The exact definition of one horsepower is
     33,000 lb.ft./minute. Put another way, if you were to lift 33,000 pounds one foot over a period
     of one minute, you would have been working at the rate of one horsepower. In this case, you'd
     have expended one horsepower-minute of energy."  Quotation: 

3.  Amberoid Glue (also Ambroid Glue):
     I couldn't find a good definition of amberoid glue, but I've pieced together a little information.
     Around 1900 the original amberoid glue was made from celluloid scraps and contained the
     organic solvent toluene.  The cellulose nitrate adhesive was valued for its fast-drying and
     waterproof properties.  It replaced spruce gum for repairing canvas canoes.  Later it was
     used as an airplane dope to tighten and stiffen fabrics stretched over airframes to make them
     airtight and weatherproof.  Then amberoid glue became widely used for building model airplanes.
     The glue is remembered fondly by many model makers from the '50s and '60s  for its wonderful
     smell.  Unfortunately, the toluene was an intoxicant and produced a sense of pleasure that was
     not a high from enjoying building models.  Sniffing the toluene fumes in the glue became popular
     and led to drug problems ~ which may be why it is hard to find these days.

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Map of Canada
Highlighting Ontario

Location of Lansdowne House
Wikimedia   edited

My Best Guess
for the Sandy Beach and the Island We Were Stranded on

Imagery:  Landstat/Copernicus, DigitalGlobe
Map Data:  Google


  1. 3h.p.outboard, that is small, my Dad had an old 2.5 hp. that he used on the dinghy to get out to where the 18 foot launch was moored off the beach. poor little engine huffed and puffed its way along. I can imagine your Dad, the worry, and so sensible to head for a beach, light a fire, and best of all, make coffee!!! Small communities show the togetherness at times like this,and what a sight, pitch black no doubt, and 25 minutes going home would seem a long time in rough water. Another wonderful episode of life up there.

    1. Hi, Jean! It was a small outboard. Your description of your father using a small outboard on his dingy to get out to the 18-foot launch moored off the beach reminded me so much of "Uncle" Kelsey, his dingy, and sailboat in Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia ~ only the old green dingy was powered by oars. We would have been far more miserable without Dad's big fire. Mike and Milt joked that when they got close to the island and saw how big the fire was, they figured it had to be us because no Indian would build a fire that big. I have never forgotten the togetherness of the small community in Lansdowne House. We were all in it together! Hugs and love to you and Hugh! Enjoy your weekend!

  2. Greetings Louise. You certainly had a dangerous adventure, and I'm glad you all survived to the tell the tale. Glad you found the help you needed. What are the night-time temperatures like at that time of year? I like 'coffee' too, and it would have helped to keep warm! Did you children get any to drink? In dire circumstances there becomes a need! An enjoyable read. Your Father was a good writer, as expressed within his letters. Blessings to you. Enjoy your day.

    Thank you. Love love, Andrew.

    1. Hi, Andrew! Yes it was a dangerous adventure and more dangerous than my father let on in his letter to the relatives. Your question sent me on a merry chase, but I found out some interesting things. The temperature was about 10ºC/51ºF at 10 pm that evening at the Lansdowne House weather station. Not too bad, except when you're outside with no heavy clothes, hunkered around a fire, while your three younger sisters are sleeping under the picnic blankets sheltered from a steady 19 kmh/11mph wind under a huge tree root, and with rain threatening. LOL! We children were never allowed to drink coffee ~ That was for grownups! My mother gave me hot water to drink to warm up. Blessings back at you, and I hope that you had a great day!

    2. Thank you for your explanation. Take gentle care. Love love, Andrew.

  3. That was quite the adventure. Bet your father never left again without extra provisions.

    1. My father never took us on a picnic trip like that again ~ which speaks volumes about how much it affected him. We went on lots of picnic, but they didn't involve boats or extreme isolation. Have a great weekend!

  4. Well, that was scary -- and it was the "cleaned-up" version for the relatives! Waiting for the real dirt next week!

    And yes, I remember "airplane glue" for putting models together. It did have a strong, sweet smell but so long as you were in a well-ventilated place, it was okay. Kids always got the hairy eyeball from store owners when buying it, though.

    1. It was scary, Debra! It's going to be fun writing my next post! I never got into building models, too ADHD for that. I remember that Dad's friend Duncan McRae loved to build model airplanes and always had one in the works. That was in the pre-glue sniffing days, at least the deliberate ones. Wishing you and your Rare One a happy weekend, and sending you a big hug!

  5. The thought of being stranded always terrifies me beyond words. Especially the farther away from home it is.

    1. Being stranded can be scary, especially in a strange place. I guess I'm not going to see you on "Survivor." (Me neither!) I hope that you and Daisy have a great weekend!

  6. Once again the family has another adventure. With each of his journal entries I admire you father more and more. He is so resourceful, wise, and calm in the most dangerous circumstances. And he really had forethought to ask that his letters home be saved. Without them you would not have this remarkable tale to tell.
    This brought to mind when a friends son in law took his Down's syndrome sun out on the skidoo at a nearby lake and didn't come home. He had engine trouble and had to swim and pull the skidoo to shore. He kept his son calm all the while. His wife got a lot of help and they finally located him by the fire he built using a spark from the battery of the skidoo. Sometimes when I complain about men I must hand it to them that they can handle dire situations much better than I ever could.

    1. You're right, Peggy. If Dad hadn't saved the letters, I would be hamstrung in telling my story of our time in the north. I remember a lot, but it's the details like "Tim Wabasse's" canoe or the exact date that elude me. And of course, I have my father's exact phrasing and voice which helps me so much, especially since he died in 1984. What am amazing story about father and son you shared. People can be surprising in their resourcefulness under dire circumstances. I'm glad that they both survived. To this day, I keep my larder stocked, have extra coats and blankets in my car in the winter, and take extra food and water even on a road trip. I never forgot how hungry I when we were stranded on the island. Hunger was something we had never know! All the best to you and Don this weekend! Sending you love and hugs!

  7. Now that is one picnic you will never forget. At least it wasn't a weird island like Lost with no smoke monsters that you got stuck on haha Bet he was always prepared after that. You all must have got rather hungry too by the end of it.

    1. Hi, Pat! That was the hungriest I ever remember being in my life. Have a good one, my friend!

  8. Great story, as always. And I have a very similar coffee pot and am taking it with me on a trip to the Dry Tortugas where I’ll perk Guatemalan coffee,

    I am now mostly using this website:

    1. Hi, Sage! I envy you your trip to the Dry Tortugas! I hope you have fun! Thanks for giving me your new link.

  9. I love your father's prescience in asking that his letters be saved... and now you are recording them. Your dad was a wonderful storyteller! Thanks for the maps. Wow! You guys were really in the back of beyond. I used to go to camp in Algonquin Park, and many of your photos bring back fond memories, but we weren't even close to Landsdowne House.

    1. Hi, Dreaming! What a delight to see you! Algonquin Park is gorgeous. I'd love to see it again. Even today, Lansdowne House is the back of beyond. I hope all is well with you!

  10. What an adventure Louise! Wow! Scary! I love when you all went swimming! Your mom was beautiful! She looks like she was quite "hip"! Can't wait till next post! Big Hugs!

    1. Thanks, Stacy! It was an adventure. I wish I could have published the entire photo of my mother because she had gorgeous long slim legs, but somehow I couldn't do it because she was wading in her panties. Dad had handwritten "Ruff!" on the back of the photo. LOL I hope all is well with you! I'll be by shortly. It's been a nuthouse around here! Hugs to you!

  11. I love the photos, the letters AND your writing about this wonderful adventure of your family's.

    Teresa C.

    1. Thank you so much for your encouraging words, Teresa! They are especially welcoming right now, as I'm working on Friday's post. It's always a process of tearing my hair out ~ LOL! I hope all is well with you!


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