Birch Lake -The Fire Tower: Chapter 4 of 4

Written by Harold McNeill on April 16th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965


The Fire Tower

Photo (Web) Fire towers in the early years were flimsy wooden affairs.  Over the summer of 1944, dad took a job with the Saskatchewan Forest Service as an observer at one of the hundreds of fire towers that had been erected throughout Northern Saskatchewan, this one above being similar to the one dad worked near Meadow Lake.   After that one summer, we often returned to Meadow Lake for the yearly Stampede.

Link to Next Post: Martineau River Logging Camp (Beginning of Part II)
Link to Last Post: A Place in the Sun
Link to Family Stories Index

Spring, 1944

Mom repeatedly called: “Hoo hoo, Harold, where are you?  Hoo hoo, Haarooold.” There was no answer and she was more than worried. At three and a half, I was always running around outside playing, but when mom hadn’t heard me for a while she went out to see what I was doing. She knew that dad was in the bush cutting wood and sometimes he would take me along, but would always told mom first. She probably thought I was into some kind a mischief which would not be far off the mark for a three-year-old.

Birch Lake Fire TowerMothers! So trusting of their little boys!

Photo: This photo copied from a Cater and District “Least we Forget” series of stories found in my mothers files.  The tower at Meadow Lake was very similar to the Birch Lake Tower (L). The ladder to the top can just be discerned on the right side. It is hard to believe this structure was capable of holding the small lookout shelter built on the top, to say nothing of when a line squall with gail force winds passed through the area.

In one of our conversations, Mom recalled that summer day in the wilderness north of Meadow Lake:

“Louise was sleeping and when I couldn’t find you after a few minutes, I became worried. I called and called but you didn’t answer. Finally I could hear this faint little voice: “…..here mom..!” It was so faint I could not figure out where on earth you were. I walked further back along the path that led to the fire tower and continued to call. Your answers came back a little louder, but still distant …. ‘up here mom….’.

When I neared the clearing by the fire tower I looked up and there you were about 50 or 60 feet off the ground on the open ladder. I was petrified.  In the few months we had been at the Ranger Station, I had never climbed that open ladder to the top. I tried a couple of times with Dave, but only got up about 15 feet before I had to come back down.

Over my objections, your Dad had taken you to the top several times. You would climb the ladder ahead of him and between his arms. I could never watched as I was petrified. I told him to even tell me when he was taking you up otherwise I would be worried sick. Even at the top there was no railing that would stop a three year old from falling over the edge.

(1563)

Treat Your Tradespersons Fairly

Written by Harold McNeill on March 31st, 2010. Posted in Tim Hortons Morning Posts


mary_poppins_chimney_sweep

By far the majority of tradespersons are hard working, honest people who will do a days work for an agreed upon price.  Some employers however, some who can well afford the rate, will turn around and try to stiff the tradesperson.

The 911 operator received a mid-afternoon call from hysterical woman screaming that she had just been assaulted. The barely coherent woman gave her address and two cars were dispatched Code 3. A record search revealed no previous calls to the residence, a large, upscale home in south Oak Bay.

Another patrol officer and I happened to be nearby – we responded immediately. Although there were no previous to calls to the residence, we approached as “high risk” not knowing what might have transpired. After parking several houses back, we did a quick scan of the street then covered each other as we approached the house. There was no one in the yard, no car in the driveway and the curtains were open. I approached the front door while my partner covered from the side away from the window.

About half way up the sidewalk, the door suddenly swung open and a woman in her mid sixties came rushing out. She was completely covered from head to toe in a black substance. Her appearance reminded me of a farmer having worked all day in a hot, dry, dusty field. The whites of her blinking eyes and the flash of her teeth stood in stark contrast to the black that covered her face. Although extremely upset, we were able to ascertain the suspect had fled the scene driving a white, windowless mini van with a ladder attached to the top.

(227)

Birch Lake – A Place in the Sun: Chapter 3 of 4

Written by Harold McNeill on March 16th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965


Rocks in Field

Photo (Harold, 2010) Dad worked this field every year trying to make ends meet. He picked those rocks that came back every year as the frost heaved them out of the ground.

Link to Next Post: Fire Tower
Link to Last Post: A New Beginning
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1943

As the horses dragged the stone boat around the field, Dave trudged alongside picking rocks and tossing them on the platform. The fence lines and small islands in the field were piled high with rocks of every shape, size and colour, discarded there over three decades by Dave, his brothers and their dad. Each spring a new crop would appear so the men laughingly called themselves “prairie rock farmers” 1.

As searing heat rose in waves from the summer fallow, Dave looked out at another ten thousand rocks strewn across the seemingly endless field. God only knows, it all seemed to so bloody hopeless.

As he trudged silently along he mulled over a life that seemed defined by these rocks:

“What in hell am I doing here? I have been picking these same god forsaken rocks since I was ten and next year, will be picking them again, then again and again. Will it ever end? There must be more to life!

He shuddered, “I need a change or I will go crazy!” As he said this he grabbed a rock and flung it hard against the pile forming in the centre of the field. The horses jumped as it ricocheted loudly, rejoining the myriad still waiting on the field.

Mother Nature – there was no way she was going to be thwarted!  Dave continued to think long and hard about why he continued to stay in Birch Lake. The thought of ‘chucking it all’ and moving on excited him.

(1365)

O’Canada … In All Thy Son’s Command

Written by Harold McNeill on March 7th, 2010. Posted in Editorials


O’Canada … In All Thy Son’s Command

O’Canada … In All Thy Son’s Command …

The suggestion in the throne speech about changing a single word in ‘O’Canada’ created a strong negative response even though the suggested change is long overdue.

While we in the ‘older’ generation are often accused of being out of touch with the times, it seems that getting stuck in a rut is not just the preserve of the older generation if the current debate about changing the word ‘son’ to something more gender neutral is used as the bench mark.

Women's RightsCreating gender equality has been a long, slow process for many countries including Canada. Replacing the word ‘son’ in our Anthem is a small but symbolically important part of the process.

Think back to some of the earlier challenges in our evolving democracy:

• It was well into the 1920s1 before woman gained enfranchisement across Canada. Enfranchisement is considered a basic right in a democratic society yet it was refused to woman for over 50 years following confederation.

• As recently as 50 years ago, in some Canadian Provinces, women were prohibited from entering beer parlours. Even in the more ‘progressive’ provinces, woman often had to enter via a designated entrance with an escort. They were then seated in a separate section.2

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A Predictable Accident?

Written by Harold McNeill on March 22nd, 2010. Posted in Editorials


image

Above: Queen of the North en route through the Inside Passage on the West Coast of Canada. Having traveled on dozens of Cruise ships of various size, as well as hundreds of trips on BC Ferries including an occasional trip on the Queen of the North through the inside passage, I am amazed there are not more accidents given the oceans of the world can produce extremely challenging situations. The loss of that classic ship, the Queen of the North is just one more example of how things can go catastrophically within the blink of an eye.

Note: It appears that on occasion when making a simple one-word change, a whole paragraph can be replicated.  I have not yet determined why this takes place, so please bear with me when this happens.  Harold

Of the special items on the Queen of the North were several large murals that decorated the walls along the passageways.  Photos, depicting various historical sites along the route, were accompanied by a written history of each site and surrounding area.  The murals and stories were prepared under the direction of a long-time friend and former BC Provincial Archeologist, Bjorn Simonson.  My wife, Lynn McNeill assisted in the preparation.  As this work was completed perhaps a decade before the sinking, I don’t know if they were still being displayed when the Queen of the North sank on that fateful day in 2006.

(Activity: May 1, 2017 – 2712)

Follow-up News Reports, June 2013

Karl Lilgert, the navigating officer on the ill-fated Queen of the North, leaves the court after being found guilty of Criminal Negligence Causing Death. His being sentencedKarl Lilget and Son to four years in a Federal Penitentiary very much surprised me (see comments near the end of this post relating to the essential elements of a Criminal Negligence charge). I have no doubt the constant stream of inflammatory media reports as well as the vicious presentation by the Crown, had a strong influence on the jury.

During my thirty-year police career, experience taught me that convicting someone on a charge of Criminal Negligence Causing Death was a particularly onerous task. As discussed further on in this article, each element of that particular statute presents a very real challenge for the investigators and crown.

In particular, I have been involved in other cases where the “wanton and reckless” disregard for life was considerably more egregious than in the Lilgert case, yet his case ended with a conviction. In my opinion, it was a stretch to have found each of the elements of the charge were proven in his case. I would be very surprised if either the charge or the sentence, perhaps both, were not tossed out on appeal.

Harold

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Big Kinosoo: Dangerous Waters Run Deep, Chapter 6/6

Written by Harold McNeill on February 6th, 2010. Posted in Adventure


kinosoo beach and campground

Photo (Family Files):  As the sun was setting, we all took a walk along Kinosoo Beach. Those waters may look peaceful on the surface, but in depths lurks a monster that with one look could make that infamous white shark Jaws retreat.   I was desperately worried about the safety of Sampi and his family, but he was a man on a mission and was not about to be deterred.  All I could do was pray they safely returned.

This is the last post in the Kinosoo Series. Perhaps more will be added later
See the van Rensburg update in the footer
Link to Last Post:  Sampi gets hooked
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Chapter 6: Dangerous Waters Run Deep

The September long week-end traditionally marks the end of summer in Canada. While September can be one of the most glorious month, the final week-end before school starts brings out thousands of city dwellers and country folk alike as they hit the road for that final week-end at the beach or on the water.

In Cold Lake the campground was booked to capacity and the Marina overflowing with fishing and sailing boats of every make, model and size.  Line ups at the boat launch could stretch for blocks. The bars and night spots opened early and stayed open late. Fishing, sailing, hunting, hiking, biking, water skiing or simply lazing on the beach – the great outdoors around Cold Lake had something for everyone.

(1592)

Big Kinosoo – Monster Fresh Water Fish in Canada – Chapter 2 of 6

Written by Harold McNeill on January 20th, 2010. Posted in Adventure


Big Kinosoo

This Big Kinosoo Graphic is copied and modifited from the original on the cover of “Treasured Scales of the Kinosoo” a biographical/pictoral history of pioneer familes who settled in Cold Lake during the last century. The book was edited by Laura Dean Skarsen.

Link to Next Post:   The Rush is on.
Link to Last Post: The Big Kinosoo
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Monster Freshwater Fish of Canada

It was not until I moved from Victoria to Vancouver in 1965 to complete training at the Vancouver Police Academy, that I first realized the Big Kinosoo might not be the only large fish to ply the fresh water lakes and rivers of Canada.

Giant White SturgeonOne day I happened to be reading an article in one of the Vancouver papers about a group of fisherman having caught a giant fish in the Fraser River somewhere near Chilliwack.  The fish, a White Sturgeon, weighed in at close to 1000 lbs (453 kgs) and took several hours to land.

My thoughts raced back to Cold Lake and the big Kinosoo. I also recalled there was a river north of Edmonton, the Sturgeon River, and wondered if it might contain or might have once contained similar giants.

I did no further research at that time as my life was headed in other directions and it was not until long after I retired that my thoughts again returned to the Big Kinosoo. The web provided a wonderful search tool and, sure enough, I was able to come up with number of photos of giant fish that can be found right here in Canada.

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Birch Lake – The Blizzard of ’41 – Chapter 1 of 4

Written by Harold McNeill on January 18th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965


Blizzard of 41

Photo (Farm Life): In the early years of living on the farm in Saskatchewan, winter blizzards could arrive suddenly and last for days. Travelling in such such weather was a dangerous affair.

Link to Next Post: A New Beginning
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Deep Winter, 1941: Northern Saskatchewan

It was just after 10:00 am when the pain struck causing the soon to be mom to double over. She grabbed the kitchen table to keep from falling as the pain slowly eased. Home alone and two miles from the nearest neighbour, ten miles from the the small village of Glaslyn in the far Northwest of Saskatchewan and forty-five miles from the hospital in Edam, she was scared as she had no idea what time her husband might return. Outside the January blizzard continued to build in intensity.

Bone chilling cold accompanied by high winds rolling off the southwest shore of Birch Lake pounded their little log home and although the house was partially sheltered by a thick karaganas hedge and poplars, the wind treated these barriers as minor annoyances. Each time a gust of wind hit, it felt like her little home might be shaken from its very foundation.

To make matters worse, the wind created a forlorn, howling sound as it whipped around the logs. Those sounds seemed to expectant mother, Laura, to be among the most lonesome sounds in the world, right up there with wolves howling in the wilderness or a loon calling across a dead calm lake a dusk. What would she do if the baby could not wait?

While the temperature had remained steady near -20F, Laura noted that over the morning it had started to drop and was now nearing -25. Over the past few winters it was not uncommon to see the temperature drop to -50 or -60F during a cold snap. It was always hard to tell the exact temperature as the mercury would freeze at -40. Add to that the wind chill and exposed skin would freeze within seconds and breathing that super cold air could damage lungs so quickly that, in her condition, walking to a neighbouring farm would be a risky, perhaps deadly proposition. She knew people could easily become disoriented in such storms and quickly freeze to death.  No, her best bet was to sit tight and wait for her husband. If the baby came she would just have to make due.

It was going to be a January blizzard forever etched in Laura’s mind. Years later when telling the story, she still shuddered at the memory:

(2783)

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    August 23, 2016 |

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  • McNeill Life Stories Keep the peace and be of Good Behaviour - McNeill Life Stories

    August 21, 2016 |

    […] If you happen to support Bill C-51, a bill that is related solely to ‘terrorism’ and, perhaps, support an even more invasive laws being included, what would you think about the entire Bill (present and proposed) being folded back into the Criminal Code and made applicable to every Canadian?  Would that give our police to much power to simply bypass checks and balances developed over the past 150 years. (Oversight) […]

  • 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.

  • McNeill Life Stories Wedding Bells: Gordon McLean and Megan Corns

    June 28, 2016 |

    […] More amazing still is that many of those I met are now living and working in communities in or near cities and towns where I spent much of my early life (e.g. Vermillion, Turtleford, Westlock, Edmonton, etc.) For that matter one family from Edmonton lives no more than a stones throw from the home in which my family lived in 1949 at 12237, 95th Street, a time when Edmonton boasted a population of 137,000 and our home was on the very west edge of the city. Today the next block contains the Yellow Head Highway. Link: http://www.mcneillifestories.com/mcneill-family-edmonton/ […]

  • Valerie Heuman (Roddick)

    June 19, 2016 |

    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.

  • Sheila(Roddick) Allison

    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.
    If any of you know the where abouts of Sally I would like to get reacquainted with her. She is First Nation, Blackfoot I believe. She is Catholic and may have attended a Catholic school in Cold Lake.
    Thank You in advance, George Dahl

  • dave armit

    March 23, 2016 |

    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 was..my 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!
    ❤️