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


  1. Such a vile human being. Worse than any criminal. There's a special place in hell for those people.

    1. When I did think of what happened over the years that's exactly where I hoped the old coot was. I'm trying to focus on forgiveness in my life, but I'm not there yet in this instance. Adults who sexually abuse children are evil, despicable people. They impact the children they assault forever.

  2. A distressing story to read, Louise, but so much more distressing to have lived through. Child sexual abuse is the hidden epidemic in human history, not just in our society. I'm so sorry it happened to you.

    1. Thanks for your compassion, Debra. It is pervasive and has accompanied humanity from the beginning.

  3. Here in NZ if a child molester or rapist is sent to jail, he will no doubt be kept in isolation in case other prisoners attack him or more. Even the most hardened criminals have no time for men like this. How brave you are to write about this, the first step to coping. What a wonderful Mum you all had, brave resourceful, and coping without the amenities we all take for granted, a roof, warm beds, place to cook, eat, do the laundry and communications so easy now would have been so hard then.Your Dad, not knowing what was happening, and even the dog traveling too, what a journey for you to remember.

    1. How wonderful to see you again, Jean! I hope all is well with you and Hugh! It's the same here in the US. Child molesters, especially, are often isolated from the rest of the prison population. Writing about certain events in my life, I have found, is giving me peace. It's taken me a lot of time to realize this, but I'm glad that I have. My Mom was a rock, and my Dad was too, except when he was wobbled by his manic depression. I am determined to move forward. Hugs to you!

  4. Can't even say the word for such slimeballs on here. Anyone who abuses kids should be strung up and castrated. Or just taken out into the woods and dumped into a 50 foot dark hole and left there to rot.

    Life can sure go many a way, not always good.

    1. Slimeballs for sure! All the twists and turns of life, never knowing what's around the next corner, always an adventure. At least the end of my story that I can see is peace and grace. Have a great weekend, Pat!

  5. I sorely miss 3 months of summer vacation. Adulthood sucks.

    1. Hear! Hear, Adam! Missing those summer days is the hardest part of adulthood! Have a good weekend, my friend!

  6. It can take one hour, one minute, or even one second for our world to change completely.


    1. So true, Janie! Wishing all the best to you this weekend!

  7. You are a survivor, Louise. I cannot imagine horror of going through that, and living with the memory every since. Thank you for sharing your story with us. It was very brave to do so. I felt your pain in this piece and wanted you to know that I shed a tear for your stolen innocence that day. Hugs and continued healing for you, my friend.

    1. Thanks for your compassionate comment, Theresa! Enjoy your weekend!

  8. That's a very sad and horrible story Louise. Bravo for being able to write about it. xxx

    1. Thank you, Rain! You are always supportive, and I appreciate it! Hugs to you!

  9. I'm so sorry this happened to you, Louise. I cannot even imagine how traumatic it was. Sending you love xo

    1. Thanks, Martha! You are always compassionate and understanding. Love right back at you!

  10. That is so horrible, and it was terrible that we lived in a culture in which such secrets were felt they had to be carried privately. I can image how that must have felt and am sorry you had to endure it. But, thankfully, you have survived.

    1. Thank you, Jeff. Yes, I am a survivor! But that conductor's power over me is finally gone. All the best to you!


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