Friday, May 4, 2018

The Lansdowne Letters: Childhood Fun and Adult Responsibilities

Early June 1961 provided a succession of beautiful spring days in Lansdowne House.
Our stranding on one of the many islands in Attawapiskat Lake
did not dampen our enthusiasm for running free outdoors.

While my parents packed for our upcoming move to Sioux Lookout,
we kids played outside every moment we could.

Boreal Summer
Flickr  NASA/Kate Ramsayer   License

Roy and I spent many hours among outcrops and along the shore
playing Cowboys and Indians or Cops and Robbers with our cap guns,
an activity that was popular during the 1950s and 1960s.

My father was a skilled marksman,
and we kids all spent time on the range
at some point during our upbringing;
so it wasn't odd for Roy and me to have a blast with our cap guns.

Of course, we argued over who was wounded or killed
(usually the Indian or the Robber),
and we softened the ignominy of loss
with dramatic portrayals of injury and dying. 

The mock-revolvers must have been popular in Lansdowne House,
for the red paper rolls with fifty caps were stocked at the Bay.

Paper Caps

The caps were tiny discs of percussion fireworks pressed between two layers of paper.
When you pulled the trigger, the paper roll advanced,
loading a new cap and releasing the hammer.
The strike of the hammer produced a gratifying bang and puff of smoke.

We were always caught between the desire to fire repeatedly
and the worry of running out of caps,
which meant there was no argument over who was about to die.

All the World Is a Stage
This is the path to the lake where we got our water.
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
June 1961
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My sisters and I played a tamer game of Bride and Bridesmaids,
sometimes with a reluctant (or desperate for someone-to-play-with)
Roy roped in as the hapless groom.
The game was inspired by abundant wildflowers,
and the object was to make gorgeous bouquets
and march down the aisle (the path to our waterhole)
humming "Here Comes the Bride."

Gorgeous dandelions popped up everywhere,
and I swore when I married for real,
I would carry a huge bouquet of vibrant yellow dandelions.
(I did not!)

The Humble Dandelion
Flickr  AJ Batac   License

We played lots of more typical games, too,
like Hide and Seek, Red Lights Green Lights, and Giant Steps
during the long twilights after supper.
My mother's experience of these lovely days was quite different.

On Thursday, June 8, 1961
My mother wrote to her mother-in-law,
Myrtle MacBeath:

Dear Mother:-
Things have been very quiet this week
with the exception of the outing last Sunday.

Wading in Attawapiskat Lake June 4, 1961
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue All Rights Reserved

We all enjoyed the trip though and hate to leave
just when the weather is getting nice,
especially when there are so many nice places to go for picnics.

Actually it's very safe because there are so many islands.
If the weather turns you can always stop and wait.

The McRae's had a worse experience than we did.
Maureen was telling Louise they were caught out in a thunder and lightening storm
and stopped at the same place as we did, but they didn't even have a match.

Mike has quite a boat; it belongs to the government.
It's a cargo canoe like we had,
but with a much stronger motor and pontoons, one on each side.
It is unsinkable.

Last Saturday Duncan and Maureen
were over for bridge.
Monday they had to fly Duncan to Sioux Lookout.
They didn't know what was wrong with him,
but think it might be some kind of kidney infection.
He wired that he would be back Friday.

Dad and Duncan, Fall 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue All Rights Reserved

Louise stayed with Maureen one night, and Maureen fixed her hair all up for her
and played Macbeth for her on her record player.

Monday night we went over to Maureen's and played bridge
with Maureen and one of the boys from the geological survey crew.
They are all college students or graduated.

Don and Barbie have been down with colds.
Don feels pretty miserable today, but everyone seems to be taking it all right.
Roberta is outside now playing with a little Indian baby.

I imagine the next few weeks here will be hectic
since we will be trying to pack which is rather difficult
when you don't have much room
and when you don't have a washing machine.

It sounds as if you have been having your hands full
with the apartments and cottages.
It will be nice when you don't have to worry about them any more.

The MacBeath Cottages 
Brighton, Outside Charlottetown, 
Prince Edward Island, Canada
Painting by Don MacBeath, March 1961,
as remembered from his childhood
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue All Rights Reserved

When we are at Sioux Lookout, it will be much easier for you to come to visit us;
and in time, perhaps, we will be in Ottawa which would be nearer.

I imagine everyone will be going home to the Island
for the summer now, and you will be seeing Barbara.
It was so nice of her to come to the station to see us.
I only wish we had had more time to visit with her.

There is so much writing to do for mail day.
I will be glad when we reach Sioux Lookout,
so at least I won't have to worry about the weekly order.

Here if you forget something, it's just too bad for you,
because more than likely you can't get it at the Bay.

You have to make bread because you can't count on them
having any, and it's a drag.
I don't know why, except I'd rather do a big wash.

I guess it's you can get at a wash and get it done,
but bread you can only do in stages.
It tastes good though, and everyone insists I'm going to have to keep it up.
Personally I think once a month will be fine.

Making Homemade Bread
Flickr  Karen Sabin   License

It's so very beautiful here now.  The trees are all in leaf now,
and the water is usually just like a mirror
reflecting all the  islands, and there are dozens of them.

The grass is all green, and there are all kinds of birds.
The children are bringing in all kinds of flowers, some I've never seen before.
There are some that look like lilies of the valley, but don't smell like them.
Then there are little pink ones that grow in clusters,
and some form of a bluebell.
I must get out for a walk before we leave,
so I can see some of them growing.

With Love to you and Aunt Maude,

(which may or may not be the flower
my mother referred to as like lilies of the valley)

I'm not sure my mother ever took that wildflower walk.
We could not imagine the abrupt and unexpected
twist of fate our lives were about to take.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue.

 Bay of Fundy out of Westport
Summer 2016
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

1.  Macbeth and MacBeath:
     Maureen chose Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth because I am a MacBeath (pronounced
     "Macbeth"), and I was thrilled to hear the dramatization of the life of a Scottish king
     whom we always joked was our only claim to Royal blood.

2.  Apartments and Cottages:
     Nana had recently sold her apartment building in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island,
     and was in the process of selling their summer cottages in Brighton, just outside the

3.  Barbara Pratt:
     The Barbara my mother referred to was the daughter of Nana's brother Chester Pratt.  My father
     was fond of his first cousin and named my sister Barbara after her.  When we moved North,
     Barbara Pratt came from Peterborough to Montreal to meet us before we boarded the train to
     Nakina (likely Montreal).  Barbara would be going home to St. Peter's Bay on the "Island" which
     is how all Islanders referred to Prince Edward Island.

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Map of Canada
Highlighting Ontario

Location of Lansdowne House
Wikimedia   edited


  1. And I thought the storm was the real excitement for this month's letters. I so enjoy your words, and can imagine being there. I had make believe play on the farm, an old army jeep, left from when the US troops had their airfield not too far away ( I have no idea how my Dad acquired it, even minus an engine) it was decorated with huge leaves, pine cones, branches, and under the big pine tree, a favourite place to make up any story.No photo anywhere, sadly.

    1. Hi, Jean! June 1961 was quite a month for our family! I love hearing about your army jeep, which you've mentioned before. I'll bet it really stimulated your imagination! Sadly, people didn't take many photographs when we were young because the film was expensive to buy and to process. Wishing you and Hugh a happy weekend!

    2. Yes, off to our older daughter in Rotorua for 2 nights, and a quilting long arm machine demo and hands on experience on Sunday morning. Waiting to read the next part of your adventure.

    3. I hope that you have a wonderful time, Jean!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Can't spell, what the umm heck.

      That would make me paranoid about forgetting something. Go over it fifty times to make sure I didn't as wouldn't want to be crap outta luck. Gotta love the cap guns, they were fun to play with, although dogs don't find them quite as fun haha ours hated it. No dandelion bouquet? Geez, your younger self would be so disappointed haha

    2. Haha, Pat! I've disappointed my younger self a number of times. It taught me to never definitely predict how I would react in future situations. Moving is nerve wracking; I try to avoid it at all costs. Cap guns were the best. Gretchen didn't like ours either, although she usually stayed in the house near Mom. She looked like a walking snack to the Indian dogs. Happy Friday, my friend!

  3. ah what a splendid write up dear Louise!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    your post took me to the time when i played with my girl cousins in outcrops swung with joyous songs and arranged the wedding of bride and groom dolls

    times run sooo fast and memories leave on our palms like we had butterflies and though they flew away now but colors or still glittering in our hands

    1. It's so good to see you, Baili! I can just imagine you and your cousins playing wedding games with your dolls! You've been on my mind a lot! I've gotten way behind in visiting my blogging friends. I've been playing catchup at home after being gone so much in recent months. There is a good chance we will move from Colorado to Arizona, and I'm slowly deep cleaning our house in case we put it up for sale. I'm so glad you visited and commented. I'll be by very soon! I hope you, your hubby, and sons are all doing well. Sending you a big hug!

  4. No washing machine means lots of hand washing.
    I remember cap guns. I wonder if they still make them?
    And as a kid, you had no idea those yellow flowers were weeds.

    1. Hi, Alex! Yes, I was very familiar with a scrubboard for scrubbing clothes in a galvanized tub. I haven't had either in decades, thank goodness. And yes, they still make cap guns and rolls of caps for "Cowboys." I guess "Cowboys and Indians" is no longer acceptable. Now the guns must be made with bright orange, red, or yellow tips so policemen won't mistake them for real guns. Also, in 1988, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission banned caps producing a bang at or above 138 decibels. Darn, that loud band was so much fun! I will always have a special spot in my heart for dandelions, weed or not! I look for them every spring. Have a great weekend, my friend!

  5. Oh, way to leave us on a cliffhanger, Louise! LOL

    1. Oh, goody! LOL, Debra. Sorry about the Jets last night. :( Sending you a big hug! Enjoy your day!

  6. Your writing is great Louise :) I think you should have held dandelions on your wedding day! :) I love those flowers, though some think of them as weeds. The painting is lovely!

    1. Thanks, Rain! And yes, I should have held dandelions in my wedding bouquet. I am disappointed in my older self!

      I have wonderful memories of a summer spent in the front cottage in Dad's painting. That was his parents' family cabin in Brighton. They rented the others out each summer. The small trees on the left side of the dirt lane are lime trees. They were huge trees when I was staying there, and Roy and I had a wonderful time climbing and swinging in them. The trees were cut down in 1960, and a year or two later the cabins were torn down. Charlottetown was growing, and that area was developed. It's now Charlottetown's most prestigious neighborhood, especially where my grandparents' cottages were because the lots are especially big there.

      Have an awesome weekend! Sending you a big hug!

  7. OH Louise, you left a cliffhanger. What will happen next? I can't wait to find out. In my mind I can see you kids running around for hours outside. Your picture of the caps sure brought back a long distant memory. I was a cowboy one whole summer with a gunbelt and cap gun and cowboy hat of course. It is sad to think that now children would be afraid to play with a gun that sounded and smelled like a real one. What a different world we lived in than the present. I have great memories of hide and seek and many other games played with all the neighborhood children.

    1. We did live in a different world, Peggy, and I'm so glad that I got to live as a child then! I loved hearing your memories about being a cowgirl! I can just see you! It makes me happy to think about you! Have a wonderful weekend. We are back to sunshine and 65ยบ F. I'm about to go to the park for a walk. Sending you a big hug!

  8. I always had fun with the paper bang guns

    1. I'm finding out that a lot of us did! Have a good one, Adam!

  9. Making bread AND no washing machine, your Mom must have been a saint!
    Can't wait to see what will happen next!
    (I remember those cap guns very well, my brothers loved playing with them.)

    1. Hi, Kay! My mother was a saint! I think most are! I hope all is well with you, Richard, and Chris!

  10. Greetings Louise. A well-written piece that I enjoyed reading. I can remember helping my mother out with the old machine for drying washing - an arduous task! You and your family coped well with living in the remoteness of where you were situated. I used to have an old record player when I was a youngster, and felt so privileged to have one - with a limited amount of records to play! I enjoyed playing with cap guns with my siblings (two older brothers and two younger sisters), and I'm glad you and your brother did. Times have changed, life seemed so much simpler back then! Looking forward to your next post. Thank you for sharing your memories with us. Blessings to you. Love love, Andrew.

    1. Thanks, Andrew! Life was similar and seemed safer. I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed playing with cap guns too! Have a good one, my friend!

  11. I loved those paper caps!! I wonder if they still have them?
    I love dandelions too! Our front yard, I keep pretty neat, but out backyard, I let the wild flowers grow! The bunny rabbits thank me! LOL!
    Making bread and no washing machine! Hugs to your mom!!
    Another great write Louise!! Thank you! Big Hugs!

    1. Big hugs back at you, Stacy, and thank you! Yes, you can still get paper caps and cap guns from Amazon for starters. I call grass where wildflowers grow "real grass." We have lots of bunnies here. Several live under our front steps. I'm still trying to get back in my blogging rhythm. I really appreciate your visit and comment, even though I haven't gotten by your blog. I look at your crow painting everywhere. Have a good one, my friend!

  12. Hi Louise! I am revisiting my childhood days in the north end of Halifax remembering all of the games you kids played up north! Oh I recall the hours we kids would be outdoors during spring and summer. So much fun. Thanks for the memories.
    Yes, I doubt as well if your mother took that flower walk before you all left Lansdowne. She must have been, and was, a very busy woman.
    Leaving us 'on the edge' I see.....AGAIN! You're so good at that! lol
    Until next time....

    1. Hi, Jim! Great to see you! I think that you and Ron and I lived in the golden years of childhood. We were so lucky! I'm practicing with on the edge for chapter endings ~ LOL I'm still playing catchup at home with so many things. I'm beginning to think it will never happen until I'm dead and then it won't matter! Double LOL Have an awesome day!

  13. Enjoyed reading your blog! The way you explained about the paper caps was super! We still get this here during festivals. Kids use to enjoy them.
    Beautiful blossoms. Leather leaf looks awesome:)

    1. Thank you, WW, for your visit and kind words! It's fun to see how many people remember paper cap guns and the pleasure kids had playing with them. Have a good one!

  14. Wow your post is a delight. I arrived in the beach area ot Toronto in the mid 50’s. My two years younger brother and I learned those games and played them all. We spent many days at the beach and in Kew Beach Park. We lived south of Queen St east of Lee Ave till 1958 and with a little sister 10 years my junior parents headed north into Scarborough as it was the new developmnt thanks to the Golden Mile Plaza. I shall try to read some past post. I am loving this.

    1. Thank you so much, Heidrun! You made my day! All the best to you!


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