Friday, January 31, 2020

Lac Seul Sojourn: Turning on a Dime

Life can turn on a dime.
Mine did on Saturday, June 10, 1961.

On Friday I was a typical kid, stuck in school, 
staring out the windows at Lake Attawapiskat,
and longing for vacation just a few weeks away.
I was looking forward to canoeing, swimming,
picnicking, and exploring the surrounding bush.
Winter had fled, and summer in Lansdowne house beckoned.

Canoeing on Lake Attawapiskat
Roy and I (Louise)
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
Spring 1961
Photo by Don MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My life took an abrupt turn on that Saturday
when my father was summoned to the Hudson Bay store for a radio call.
The Department of Lands and Forests had evicted us,
giving us forty-eight hours to vacate the forestry house.
A fire with a fifty-mile front was burning through the boreal forest,
and the department needed the house to coordinate its firefighting response.

Forest Fire
Location and Date Unknown

The eviction threw our lives into chaos.
Dad could return to the brown cabin on the Father's Island and bunk with Uno,
but there was nowhere for Mom, we five kids, and our dachshund Gretchen to go.
My parents packed our belongings in a frenzy on Sunday
while they tried to come up with a plan for the immediate future. 

Then, on Monday morning, the nurse Mike O'Flaherty,
who had just accompanied his wife Anne
to Sioux Lookout for the birth of their second child,
wired my father to say he had found us a place to stay.

By early Monday afternoon Mom, we five, and Gretchen were on a bush plane
racing to catch the night train from Nakina to Sioux Lookout.
It was my mother's thirty-sixth birthday.

Picnicking by Ice-Covered Lake Attawapiskat
My mother Sara MacBeath (shortly before her 36th birthday) 
with my sister Barbie (on her left)
Near Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
Spring 1961
Photo by Don MacBeath
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Somehow, on that crazy, hectic Monday, June 12, 1961,
we caught the train to Sioux after our hasty flight from Lansdowne.
That train ride was the most consequential of my life.
An old coot of a conductor molested me
at the front of a passenger car full of sleeping people.

I was frozen.  I couldn't make a sound while it happened,
and my little sister Barbie, sleeping next to me on the train seat, never stirred.

Unidentified Rail Vehicles
Canadian National Railway, 1971
A Roger Puta photograph posted by Marty Bernard

I didn't say a word to anyone for almost two years.
I was so ashamed, so mortified, so embarrassed, so disgusted,
so afraid that I had done something wrong,
so confused, and so shocked that I hadn't screamed
at the top of my lungs and exposed that molesting bastard.

After I told my mother nearly two years later,
I didn't speak of it again for over a decade,
and I have rarely spoken of it in the decades since. 

The sandwich man knew.
He passed through our passenger car too late
to stop the conductor from assaulting me,
but he watched over me for the rest of the night.

He said nothing either.  He needed his job selling sandwiches,
and the conductor had a lot more power than he did.

Sioux Lookout Train Station
Photo by Bobbybonex
September 27, 2012

We arrived in Sioux Lookout early in the morning,
but things didn't go as we had expected.
A taxi driver, Mr. Caswell, met us at the station instead of Mike.
He broke the news that he was taking us to catch a flight to Lac Seul
where Mike had found a place for us to stay.

Mr. Caswell piled our luggage into the trunk of his taxi
and the five of us children into the back seat with Gretchen,
while our harried mother wired our father in Lansdowne House.
She told Dad there was no place for us in Sioux Lookout
and that Mike was taking us to stay in Lac Seul.

Then Mr. Caswell drove us all to a restaurant for a breakfast
before we left for the waterfront to meet Mike and our plane.

Lac Seul?  Where in the hell is Lac Seul? 
my father thought when he read the telegram at the Hudson Bay store.
That was the last thing my frantic father heard from us or about us in a week.

A Grumman Goose
I don't know what seaplane or "flying boat" we flew on, but it might have been a goose.
Flickr:  Alan   License

As our flying boat raced for takeoff on its belly,
my exhausted brain tried to bury the memory of my molester.
Had we not gotten the radioed eviction on Saturday,
had my life not turned on a dime,
life might have gone much differently for me.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

By the Brier Island Lighthouse
Brier Island, Nova Scotia, Canada
August 3, 2015
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


1.  Forest Fires 1961:
     We didn't know it at the time, but 1961 would be a record year for forest fires in northwestern
     Ontario with 1,534,917 acres or 621,159 hectares burning.  That record wasn't broken until 2011.

2.  Mr. Caswell:
     We got to know Mr. Caswell very well doing our time in Sioux Lookout.  He was the town
     taxi service.

3.  Lac Seul:
     Lac Seul is the second largest lake completely within the province of Ontario.  Technically,
     it is a reservoir of the English River, and it stretches about 150 miles (241 km) in a large crescent
     from Ear Falls in the west to Sioux Lookout-Hudson in the east.  A power generating station is
     located at Ear Falls.  Lac Seul has a surface area of 640 square miles (1658 sq. km).  The lake is a
     maze of islands, bays, rocky points, shoals, and narrow channels.  The water is clear, but has a
     distinctive tea color.  It is famous for its sport fishing.  sunsetcountry

4.  The Pervert and the Sandwich Man:
     I shared the story of my ordeal on the night train to Sioux Lookout in an earlier post:
     The Pervert and the Sandwich Man.


For Map Lovers Like Me:

Location of Lansdowne House
Known Today as Neskantaga

Location of Lansdowne House, Nakina, and Sioux Lookout
Northern Ontario, Canada

Lansdowne House and Lake Attawapiskat
Sketch by M. Louise Barbour

Peninsula and Island
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario
Credit: Canada. Dept. of Indian Affairs and Northern Development
Library and Archives Canada:  PA-094992

Lac Seul
Northern Canada
Google Maps  Map Data 2018

To See a Photo of Lac Seul Click Here

Friday, January 24, 2020

The Power of Family Stories

Writing the Lansdowne Letters was a daunting, but ultimately healing, process for me.
The more time I spent with my family's letters and photos,
the more I felt my parent's love wrapped around me.
Despite the challenges and hardships of living in an isolated northern community,
my time in Lansdowne House was some of the happiest in my childhood.

Happy Days in Lansdowne House
Mom, Gretchen (dachshund), Roberta (clockwise), Donnie, Roy, Barbara, and Louise (me) 
Shore of Attawapiskat Lake, Northern Ontario, Canada
June 4, 2018
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

When you are a small child, the life you experience is normal for you.
You may not realize that your life is different
when compared with the lives of your friends and neighbors.
I had no idea how different my life was.

Sixty plus years ago, before television became common,
before computers and cell phones, before the internet and social media,
children were more sheltered from events beyond their doors.
And in many families, children were shielded from problems
that affected their parents or their extended families.

Sheltered Days in Charlottetown
My Brother Roy, My Sister Donnie (on sled) and Me (Louise) 
Edward Street, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Likely Winter 1955-56
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

There is no question our parents sheltered us from their problems.
We heard the good, and the bad was hidden.

My childhood was filled with wonderful stories,
told by compelling storytellers on both sides of my family.
Family stories passed from generation to generation and were repeated over and over.
It didn't matter if we had heard them before.
Comfort, reassurance, and love filled us as familiar stories were retold.

On one of the last nights of my mother's life,
while she still in the hospital and before she came home to die in palliative care,
my brother Roy took the midnight shift by her bed.

He had just flown in from Kuwait and had slept some on his flight.
Those of us who had been there for many, many hours
asked if he could stay overnight with Mom, so we could go home and get a little sleep.

Roy willingly agreed, even though he admitted that
he was nervous about spending long hours alone with Mom. 
Her tenuous state and all the unknowns were unsettling.  

When we returned early the next morning, I asked Roy how it went.

He said, "It was one of the best nights of my life.
I'm so glad that I got to be there with Mom."

Mom and Roy
Christmas Hug
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

"What happened?" I asked, surprised and relieved.

"When Mom came to, she was shocked to see me, but so happy I was there.
She wanted to talk, and we shared all the old family stories.
We laughed and cried and had so much fun.  It was the best time, Weese."

My mother made a brief and miraculous recovery.
"Resurrection," was her doctors' term.
Medical staff kept coming by all day to visit.  
They couldn't believe that our mother was alive.
She was discharged and spent several exquisitely precious days with us.

I think that shared retelling of our family stories
helped propel my mother out of that hospital bed
to come home with us, even briefly.

Such is the power of family stories.

Holding It Together for a Last Family Photo
Bertie, Roy, Me, Barb, and Donnie
Mom with Daxie on her lap
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
May 19, 2002
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Not all family stories are filled with fun and love.
Some are darker stories, whispered about through the years.
Often they are conversations among adults overheard by curious children like me,
children who grow up, ask questions, and pass these stories along.

My family has its share of dark stories handed down:
tragic fires, religious strife, betrayal, alcoholism, and jealousy,
families ripped apart and devastating illnesses, even a possible murder.

The whispered story that frightened me most as a child
was the story of the mental illness that plagued my father's family.
This illness had struck each generation beginning with my great grandfather Pratt.
Beyond that we couldn't trace, for he had arrived in Prince Edward Island
as a young and unknown orphan on a boat from Scotland. 

It struck my father who grappled with manic depression throughout his life,
and I worried that this darkness would come to me.

"Don't worry, Weesie," Mom would assure me.
"You have all my good MacDonald blood to protect you."

My Mother and I 
(Me ~ perpetually tied on, because I was a runner)
Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada
Summer 1951 or 1952
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Despite my mother's comforting assurances, the same illness
with its wild emotional swings, depression, and suicidal thoughts passed to me.

I have struggled over whether or not I should address this in my memoir.
But a memoir is about truth, and my story wouldn't be truthful if I omitted this.

Throughout my life my feelings toward my father and his illness changed.
As a small child I learned to read his moods and know when to lay low.

As a teenager I was angry with him because of the impact of his illness on our family,
then frightened as I began to recognize his illness in me.

As an adult I struggled with my depression, anxiety, and suicidal urges on my own,
watching helplessly from afar as my father's mental and physical health spiraled down.

A decade after his death in 1984, I finally sought treatment.
It changed my life for the better and continues to do so.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how different things might have been,
if my father had had access to modern treatments like me. 

When I retired, I decided to confront my past,
and I began to read my family letters and other documents.
I started a blog and began to post The Lansdowne Letters,
sharing family stories of our time in the North.

As I worked through my father's letters, I excavated my personal muskeg,
discovering things that I longed for and others unlooked for and unexpected.

I began to see my father's life and mine through the lens of maturity.
I began to understand the magnitude of my father's struggle
and, despite all his misfortunes, the depth of his love and sacrifices for his family.
I found my hero again.

Most importantly, I came to understand my younger self,
my Lac Seul self, to be kinder and gentler with her.

Such is the power of family stories.

Two Unforgettable Brothers 
Fritz and John with Bertie and Barbie
(and likely Roy behind Fritz)
Lac Seul, Ontario, Canada
Summer 1961
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My Father with a Furry Friend 
St. Peter's Bay, Prince Edward Island, Canada
Circa 1930
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved


Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

On the Bay of Fundy
Nova Scotia, Canada
July 31, 2014  
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Friday, January 10, 2020

Confronting Lac Seul

All things come to an end,
a fact that I'm understanding more and more, the older I get. 

I wrote that sentence in the last post of my Lansdowne Letters series.
I can't believe that was published in late October 2018.

My plan for my blog was to immediately launch a new series of posts
which I had tentatively labeled as Lac Seul Sojourn.
I actually wrote several posts, but then I stopped.
I wasn't ready to confront Lac Seul.

Somewhere out of Sioux Lookout by Plane
Lac Seul, Northwestern Ontario, Canada
Summer 1976
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I have tried to write about Lac Seul in the past, but I've always skittered away.

My previous attempt was in June 2013.
I published a blog post called Don't Be A Gingerbread Man;
but when it came to Part 2, I backed off on the draft
and skittered away for over five years.
I do not like dark nights of the soul.

Running Gingerbread Man

R. J. Clements quote:
I also do not like
dark nights of the soul
wherein I examine
"the flashbacks" that 
"bring into meaningful confrontation 
present and past, near and far"  


First, I side-stepped.
My next post was about an early childhood trauma
when a fire at the Charlottetown racetrack
killed some horses and I could hear their screams.

One of My Great Uncle Chester's Race Horses
This horse didn't burn to death
St. Peter's Bay, Prince Edward Island, Canada
About a century ago
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Next I danced around.
In my post six days later,
I alluded to one of the consequences of Lac Seul
that had unexpectedly just blown up in my life
after being tamped down for over forty years.
When you find yourself crying over a pile of red peppers
in the grocery store, you know you're in trouble.

Then I went into full retreat,
off and running on my gingerbread legs as fast as I could.
For the next four months I posted about anything but the North.
I couldn't even attempt a Lansdowne Letters post.
I'd come Undun.

It took me many months to work through the blowup in my life,
and all I will say is forgiveness is an amazing thing, especially when it is received.

You hear a lot about resolutions this time of year,
and I know myself better than to make one.
I had been thinking vaguely in terms of increasing the time I spend writing.

Then yesterday, while I was making my IWSG visits,
I came across a post and some comments discussing the value of writing
for exorcising trauma and disturbing events in one's life.
I decided my running on gingerbread legs had to come to an end.

I think failing to confront Lac Seul and its impact on my life
is blocking me from completing my memoir.

I'm tired of being a gingerbread man.
I want to be the fox.
I want to gobble up that gingerbread man starting with his feet and legs.

So next Friday, I'll start again with Lac Seul Sojourn.
I won't republish the few posts that I published before,
but I will tackle their information in a different way.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

On the Bay of Fundy
Nova Scotia, Canada
July 31, 2014  
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

For Map Lovers Like Me:

Map of Canada
Highlighting Ontario

Location of Lansdowne House, Nakina, and Sioux Lookout
Northern Ontario, Canada

Lac Seul, Northwest of Sioux Lookout, Ontario 

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

IWSG: Wednesday, January 8, 2020 ~ First Scribbles

It's the first Wednesday of the month,
the day that members of the
Insecure Writer's Support Group
share their writing struggles
and writing successes
and offer their encouragement
and support to fellow writers.

To visit the IWSG website, click here.

To become a member of the IWSG, click here.

Our wonderful co-hosts who are volunteering today,
along with IWSG founder Alex Cavanaugh are:
T. Powell Coltrin,  Victoria Marie Lees, Stephen Trump, and Renee Scattergood,
and J. H. Moncrieff. 

I hope you have a chance to visit today's hosts and thank them for co-hosting.
I'm sure they would appreciate a visit and an encouraging comment.

Every month the IWSG announces a question that members can answer
with advice, insight, a personal experience, or a story in their IWSG posts.

Or, the question can inspire members
if they aren't sure what to write about on IWSG Day.

Remember the question is optional.
This month's featured question is:

What started you on your writing journey? Was it a particular book, movie, story, or series? Was it a teacher/coach/spouse/friend/parent? Did you just "know" suddenly you wanted to write? 


Happy New Year, Everyone!
I hope that each of you has had a good start to 2020;
also, I hope you are filled with optimism and plans for a successful year of writing!

I don't know when it first occurred to me that people wrote.
I grew up in a family where people constantly wrote,
and it was as ordinary and normal for me to see people writing
as it was for me to see my mother washing dishes or my father polishing his shoes.

When my mother was pregnant with me, her first child,
she typed short story after short story on her typewriter.
As her family and responsibilities grew, her time to write stories shrank,
but she continued to write jingles for contests and many letters.
I've often joked that my desire to write began before I was born.

My father wrote as well, usually letters and reports when I was a small child,
writing many an evening at his desk after dinner.
He continued to write throughout his life,
eventually branching into plays for his students to perform.

Born to Write
My Mother, Father, and I
Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada, March 1950
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

First Scribbles
Roy and I Writing Our Names in a Favorite Book
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada 
Circa 1954
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Roy and I at the Time of Our First Scribbles
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada 
Circa late 1953 or early 1954
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

As my parents continued their education, I observed them writing
research papers, speeches and presentations, and even a thesis or two.
My mother often roped me into reading her drafts.
Living in isolated areas and forced to take correspondence courses,
my mother had no one else besides my busy father
and teenaged me to discuss ideas with and to edit her work.

I'm certain that the first thing I ever wrote was a letter.
Letters flew back and forth among my extended family members.
Mail was a big deal, and letters were passed around and enjoyed.
Sometimes the letters included photos,
newspaper clippings, sketches, and hand drawn maps.
To this day, I have filing cabinet drawers filled with precious letters.

Letters Written by My Father
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada 
December 1960
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My brother, three sisters, and I were encouraged to write
letters from the time we could first scribble;
not just mandatory thank you letters for presents and favors,
but letters narrating the events of our early lives.
Imitating our parents, we sometimes included sketches and maps.
Often we sat down around the kitchen or dining room table
writing alongside our mother, our efforts filling a rainy or snowy afternoon.

Among my collection of extended family letters
are ones written by my siblings and me from early March to early July, 1961.
I always smile when I look at these letters, 
because I feel the love of my parents and see their influence on us.

The Letter Writers
Outside the Fish House
Barbie (left), Bertie and me, Roy, and Donnie
with Lake Trout
Lac Seul, Northern Ontario, Canada 
Summer 1961
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Perhaps Bertie's First "Letter"
Age 2
Lac Seul, Northern Ontario, Canada 
July 27, 1961
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Barbie's "Signature" and Map  
Age 5
Barb signed her letter by tracing dots drawn by my mother,
and she dictated labels for her map which my mother recorded.
Lac Seul, Northern Ontario, Canada 
July 27, 1961
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Donnie's Letter 
Age 7
"This is the picture of our home ~
with a little god and a big god (dogs)
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada 
March 2, 1961
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Roy's Letter 
Age 9
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada 
March 2, 1961
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Part of My Letter with a Sketch of My Beading Supplies
Age 10
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada 
March 2, 1961
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

I don't remember when I first thought about being a writer.
From my earliest years, I assumed I would write.

I remember the wild stories my brother and I shared throughout our early childhood:
imaginary friends, space adventures, journeys to the center of the Earth,
witches, cowboys and Indians, and living in an eagle's nest.

I remember us, Roy in grade two and I in grade three,
scouring holes and small caves in the basalt cliffs
along the beaches of Margaretsville, Nova Scotia.
Inspired by the Oak Island legends, we searched for pirate treasure.
Our adventures led us to spin tales of pirates on the high seas
and me to draw my first map of our fishing village in school,
adding X-marked potential treasure sites at home.

The Basalt Cliffs of Margaretsville
Margaretsville, Nova Scotia, Canada 
July 25, 2020
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

By grade four I was writing stories about paleontologists and dinosaurs,
by grade five, clam digger mysteries and  scuba diving adventures,
and by grade six my writing exploded into many genres.

I've been writing ever since:  short stories, newspaper articles and features, 
scientific and educational reports, manuscripts, a pitiful poem or two, and a thesis.

And now I have a short story in the upcoming IWSG anthology:  The Third Ghost.
I know my parents would be pleased and proud!

Courtesy of Dancing Lemur Press/Freedom Fox Press

Before closing, I have two requests regarding our latest anthology:

1.  If you know of middle grade reviewers, especially reviewers you have worked with, 
     could you please pass along their names, websites, and email addresses
     to Dancing Lemur Press, and DPL will contact them:

2.  If you time, would you mind stopping by our IWSG
     Anthology blog.  I'm this year's overseer for the blog,
     and I would like to increase traffic to our blog to support
     our IWSG anthology:  The Third Ghost.  
     Even better, I would appreciate your leaving a comment.
     Thanking you in advance!

Happy writing in January!