Laura Isabel: The Early Years – Chapter 2 of 5

Written by Harold McNeill on October 19th, 2010. Posted in Biographies

Laura Isabel: The Early Years – Chapter 2 of 5

Laura was the third of ten children born to Bill (William Skyler -1888) and Lillie Cressie Wheeler (Elliott – 1896).  Siblings included Leonard (1914), Evelyn (1916), Kenneth (1920), Melvin (1922), Clifford (1924), Tonnie (1928), Marcia (1932), Helen (I934) and baby Shirley (1938).

In the early spring of 1924, Bill and Lilly, along with other family members, pulled up stakes and headed out from the Alsask, Saskatchewan, to take up homesteading at Birch Lake, a few miles North-East of Glaslyn. At that time the five children ranged in age from 2 to 10 years and Lilly was expecting her fifth. Clifford was born that September. Lilly attributed the distinctive brown birth mark prominently displayed on Clifford’s forehead to the fright she suffered when Melvin, then two, almost fell from the caboose while crossing a river enroute to Birch Lake.

Photo: The wagon train ready to head out. Howard (Laura’s dad’s brother) and Myrtle Wheeler, her mom and dad, Lilly and William, grandparents, and siblings, Kenneth and Evelyn. 

While Bill and Lillie were able to provide their family with a comfortable life (by the standards of a 1920’s homesteader)  it did require the labour of all family members. That first summer, after the crops and garden were planted (some of the land was previously broken), Bill set about building a three room log house with sod roof, mud plastered cracks and whitewashed exterior. 

Laura had many fond memories of growing up with her brothers and sisters and attending the single room Birch Lake School which was located on the same section of land as their home. As her family lived so close to the school, they inherited the job of building the morning fire to heat the school during the long, cold winters.  The school house also served as the Community Church where her Grandma taught Sunday school.

Photo:  Wheeler children, Shirley, Marcia, Helen, Kenneth, Melvin, Clifford, Laura and Evelyn. Leonard had died in a drowning accident and Tonnie was not present.

West of the Wheeler’s, on the next section of land, lived the McNeill family. The McNeill’s had taken out homestead papers a few years earlier and members of that family remembered the Wheeler wagon train as it traveled pas their home to Birch Lake early in the summer of 1924. Over the next 24 years the two families became very close, sealing friendships that would last a lifetime.

Members of the McNeill family included: James Wallace (1866) and Martha Ellen McNeill (Church – 1874) and eleven children: Claude (1894), Clifford (1896), Ruby (1898), Irene (1901), Hazel (1902), Elizabeth (1905), David (1908), twins, Armina and Almira (1910), Floyd (1914) and Patricia (1916). It was, of course, the sixth born, David Benjamin who would play an important role in Laura’s young life.

Harold and Lynn McNeill
June 2008

Laura's family

Family Photo: Rudy and Evelyn Roske (Laura’s sister and her husband, Lilly and Willam (her mom and dad), Howard and Myrtel Wheeler (her dad’s brother and his wife), Grandparents, Les and Tabatha.

c1920 Sibbald-Alsask area threshing crew.  Laura’s dad is standing on the threshing machine. Her Mother is standing beside Evelyn.

c1920s  Laura and her extended family. Names to be added.

Grandma McNeill and Family

c1920s  This photo, posted on FB by Laurie Dmytryshyn (Pylypow), is one of the few pictures of Grandma Martha Ellen McNeill (Church) (standing centre) surrounded by her young children. Kneeling, back row left is Hazel Dewan (McNeill)(this is Helen Pylypow’s (Dewan) mother), standing, far left, is Elizabeth Dewan (Harwood) (her daughter is Betty Monroe(Curtis)(Dewan).
Front row, from left, Mina Crocker (McNeill) and Lolla David (McNeill), Floyd McNeill, Irene Ulna Johnson (McNeill) (Joyce Hayden’s mother), and seated by tree is Stanley Johnson (Irene’s first husband).  The other five children of Grandma McNeill are not in the photo (Claude, Clifford, David (Harold McNeill’s dad), Ruby and Patricia Humphries (Schirrmacher)(McNeill)(Gary Schirrmacher’s mother).


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Comments (2)

  • Cynthia Munsey (Armstrong)
    February 18, 2014 at 11:50 pm |

    While looking for my long lost family I have come across your site and see that my uncle Floyd is in one of the pictures, he was married to Alice Roske sister to Joe Roske my mother Evelyn Armstrong (Roske) father. You may remember my father Walter Armstrong he was killed at 28 (October 1960)not too far from Southy hauling a load of manure back to Regina. I spent many very happy summers with my Aunt Alice and Uncle Floyd on the farm and when they moved to Canmore I lived with them and Sue while working in Banff. My cousin Sue Foubert (McNeill)and I live close by and do visit when we can.

    • Harold McNeill
      February 19, 2014 at 3:08 am |

      Glad you found the site. I was just looking at a picture of Uncle Floyd and my dad, David B. McNeill while Uncle Floyd was visiting LacLaBiche in 1953. The picture will appear in a story about our time in Lac La Biche that will be posted sometime in the next week or so. I will send the picture to you by email. Cheers Harold

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  • Maurice Smook

    August 13, 2016 |

    Hi Jillian,

    I don’t know if you are still checking this site but I had to respond again. February of 2017 it will be 72 years since this battle occurred.

    What caught my attention about this incident was on the Go Deep Documentary that aired on the History Channel. First of all I never known that this battle having ever occurred.

    According to my grade 3 teacher WW2 had never occurred. That grade 3 teacher stated that the WW2 and the holocaust was all propaganda. All of my classmates they believed her. I hate to say this but all I knew was that soldiers shooting at each other.

    I almost was expelled from school. My

    Mom my Dad my brother and my Uncle would have been arrested for propaganda. I paid the price. It was ironic a grade 5 teacher told me that Smooks are all commies. Dad was Conservative.

    All the Smooks that I known are all Conservative. If I had the money I would have loved to sue those two teachers.

    As I said I never heard of this Battle. If it were not for that program I would have never had known.

    I started to do more researching to find out more about the history of this battle. The narrator of Go Deep mentioned the names of the pilots who died that battle.

    I missed 20 minutes of that program but the camera crew had the camera’s pointed towards the sign with the names of the deceits. That is how I known.

    According to the narrator There are three who are still missing. W.J. Jackson, Harry Smook and A. Duckworth. A couple of months ago the staff of Go Deep have located Harry and A. Duckworths aircraft. This is on you tube. Harry and A. Duckworth craft is approx 650 feet deep in the Fjord. The individual who is heading this expansionary mission made it known he will not rest until all three of the missing pilots
    will be retrieved. I am sure that A. Duckworth’s kin are hoping for the same.

    What really puzzles me is that I have sent emails to the Smooks. Not one ever replying. I presume its the same with you. Sad. Dad rarely spoke about his family. It appears there is a big secret of the Smooks. I too assume Harry is a kin to my Dad. Harry maybe a 4th 5th cousin to my Dad. I too would like to know. Harry and A. Duckworth served and died for our country. The other is W.j. Jackson – who is also still missing – having died for our Country.

    In conclusion I still ask myself why is this a huge secret.

    If you are still checking this site please contact me. Maybe we may be kin.

    Take care.

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    Having just returned to the Okanagan Valley from a weekend in Pibroch, I am delighted to have stumbled on your blog to see the picture of the main street. My aunt and uncle Peggy & Gordon McGillvery owned and lived in the old Post Office on the North east corner of the main intersection and my brother Adrian currently lives south a bit backing on the School yard. We are Sheila’s cousins and still have a close connection to the town.

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    May 19, 2016 |

    Hi. So fun to find your blog. I remember going to school with you and Louise. I loved my childhood in Pibroch which incidentally was named by my grandfather Aaron Roddick. I will never forget the night the garage burned down. Nice to see the landmark photo before the big fire!

  • George Dahl

    April 12, 2016 |

    What a great site. I’m trying to locate a woman named Sally Jennifer who was from the Cold Lake area back in the early sixties. I met her when I was stationed at Namao air base in Edmonton. I was serving with the USAF 3955 air refueling squadron from rhe fall 1963 till the spring of 64. Sally was 22 at the time I was 21. Sally was my first love. I had orders to ship out to South East Asia and we lost contact after that.
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    Thank You in advance, George Dahl

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    good old fashioned police work done by good old fashioned policemen……….in regards to mr cain..i learned a few years ago that he was born on the same day in the same hospital that i father was a close friend of the cain family…!!! interesting..d a

  • Joyce McMenamon

    March 1, 2016 |

    Haha, love it! We should probably eat rats and rabbits rather than beef. Also I’ve noticed that there are a lot less pests where dogs are not kept on leashes.

  • Kari

    February 27, 2016 |

    Thanks for a wonderful trip down memory lane Dad!!! That was an amazing trip and I am so glad that we had the opportunity to share that experience together!