Marie Lake: Explosion – Chapter 3 of 11

Written by Harold McNeill on August 25th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965

Stove at Marie Lake

Photo (Web).  A wood cookstove that nearly ended our mothers life.

Link to Next Post:  Link to Easy Come, Easy Go
Link to Last Post: Link to Growing Up in the Wilderness
Link to Family Stories Index

July, 1947

It was one of those quiet, lazy July mornings at Marie Lake. The dead calm waters reflected the morning sun and the leaves on the poplar trees, usually twisting and fluttering in the slightest breeze, hung as if frozen in time. The only noise to be heard was the quiet chatter of a few birds and of the laughter of Louise and me as we Mom before firedredged out wet sand to complete our giant sand castle – to be a surprise for mom and dad.

Suddenly, the serenity of the morning was bluntly ended by a loud, deep ‘whooomp’ coming from the direction of the house. A split second later the silence was further pierced by a blood curdling scream that echoed through the trees and down to the water. Louise and I sat there, momentarily frozen.

With the screams rising in intensity, we jumped up and run towards the house. As we topped the small sand bank we saw mom running with flames and smoke rising from her body. We were stricken with fear at a site we couldn’t fully comprehend.

After a short distance, she fell and rolled in the sand, grass and pine needles covering the yard. We stopped dead in our tracks not knowing what to do. At that moment dad came running from the mink pens. He frantically tried to smother the flames with his jacket but it wasn’t large enough to cover her whole body. Each time he moved the jacket, flames would spring to life.  An eternity passed before the flames were finally extinguished. The nauseating smell of burnt cloth, plastic and flesh permeated the air.

Dad hollered: “Harold, Louise, get a sheet off the bed.”


Marie Lake: The Mink Pen Adventure – Chapter 1 of 11

Written by Harold McNeill on August 25th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965

Line Squal moving in over water

A line squall moves toward our boat as we crossed Marie Lake.  The high winds and waves placed us in mortal danger.

Link to Next Post:  Link to Growing Up in the Wilderness
Link to Last Post: Link to Near Death on the Dock  (End of Part II)
Link to Family Stories Index

1947 -1949

Marie Lake was suddenly rough, very rough, as the wind stirred up white frothy waves to a height of three or four feet. The ice had been out for no more than a week and small chunks could still be seen floating nearby. We were being drenched by the freezing spray and at this moment were in imminent danger of being thrown into the freezing cold, dark waters.

Aunt Marcia1 reflected upon that hair raising boat trip:

“That crazy uncle of mine was so smart but he had no sense when it came to being cautious. When we left the dock he could see storm clouds on the horizon and the wind was rising. I was only fifteen but even I knew Marie Lake could quickly become rough enough to swamp our small boat.

Now, here we were, spread-eagled on top of a boat covered with stupid mink pens. Mink pens, can you believe it – stinking, dirty mink pens. I suppose we were lucky Uncle Dave had not kept the mink in them. I asked him to wait, but he laughingly chided me – come along or stay by myself. Stupid me, I went along. Now we were in the middle of the lake and things were going from bad to worse.”


Martineau River: Life or Death on the Dock – Chapter 5 of 5

Written by Harold McNeill on August 24th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965

Boy fishing

Photo (mom)  Fishing off the dock where my sisters life nearly came to an end.

Link to Next Post:  Link to the Mink Pen Adventure (Start of Part III)
Link to Last Post: Link to Wolves in the Wilderness
Link to Family Stories Index

Smith Place, 1945 – 1947

When the spring break-up came and logging was finished for the summer, our family packed up everything at the Martineau River Camp and moved to a large log home on the North Shore of Cold Lake.  It would be our home for the next two years.  It was an idyllic place for kids with beaches and fishing and all things that would excite a young mind. Then suddenly it all changed.

“Mom, mom, come and look!” I shouted, as I came running into the house where mom was alone working in the kitchen. “Louise is at the dock swimming underwater!”

It was early spring 1946 at the Smith Place1 and my two and a half year old sister Louise and I had been playing on the dock. The water was still freezing cold as the ice had just left the lake a couple of weeks earlier. Dad and Uncle Warren were out on their first fishing trip since the ice had gone out and Aunt Liz and her kids had just left for town.

Mom’s face went ashen; she dropped her tea towel, was out the door and running towards the dock before I could move. I followed her as fast as my legs could carry me.

I could hear mom frantically calling back: “Harold, Harold, show me where, show me where!”

Hearing the panic in her voice I started running harder and I knew something terribly, terribly bad was happening.  How suddenly that peaceful spring day had been shattered.


Martineau River: Wolves in the Wilderness – Chapter 4 of 5

Written by Harold McNeill on August 24th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965

Grey Wolf Howling at Moon

Photo (Web)  Hearing wolves around the campsite was common, but hearing them close by when huddled by a tree out in the wildness was a whole new experience.

Link to Next Post: Near Death on the Dock
Link to Last Post: A Winter Dash to the Hospital
Link to Family Stories Index

Spring, 1945

The full moon that rose high in the sky slowly slipped behind the drifting clouds. Deep in the forest it alternated between bright, cool moonlight and pitch black as Mom sat under a fir tree cuddling Louise and me as we slept peacefully on her lap. It was freezing cold on this early spring evening and snow still remained in the shaded areas. Without the wool blanket wrapped around us we would have all been freezing. Mom, however, was shivering, part from the cold and part from the fear of what lurked in the forest. Dad had now been gone for over two hours and mom had no idea when he might return.


Martineau River: The Logging Camp – Chapter 1 of 5

Written by Harold McNeill on August 24th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965

Logs Piled on Martineau River

Photo (Mom): Logs piled on the Martineau River jus as the spring thaw begins.

Link to Next Post: Link to Hauling Logs and Ice
Link to Last Post: Fire Tower (End of Part I)
Link to Family Stories Index

Note:  A recent contact from Meadow Lake made through this story series just posted about a canoe trip he and friends made down the Martineau River from the headwaters in Saskatchewan to Cold Lake.  (Link Here)

Fall, 1944

Dad was in his glory.  He loved the bush, he loved hard work and he loved working with his horses. There was now a sparkle in his eyes and a spring in his step that had been slowly ebbing as he chased rocks around his farm in Birch Lake, Saskatchewan. I was just approaching four, but can still see dad behind his Skidding Logshorse as it strained to skid another log. Hundreds of broken limbs and pieces of slash covered the forest floor and danger lurked behind every snag. There was little that could compare with the sight, sound, smell, taste and touch of the forest.

Photo:  Dad working in the bush with one of his favourite horses.  He would usually rotate horses over the course of the week.

The pungent odour of fresh sawdust and sap filled the frigid fall air as dad and his work mates brewed fresh coffee and ‘shot the bull’ around the the campfire. After lunch they would spend twenty minutes sharpening their axes, crosscut’s and Swede saws, while the horses finished their feed and had a few extra minutes rest.

By the time the snow came that fall, the men had cut, skidded and piled hundreds of logs were now ready to be hauled by sleight back to the river. On the river piles of logs stretched as far as the eye could see. While some would be used for lumber, most would end up as railroad ties for the insatiable demand that existed across Canada and the United States during the post war years. As each log had to be inspected, graded and stamped a Government Inspector, Jack Gadzby, lived right on site in a small cabin by the river.


Birch Lake: A New Begining – Chapter 2 of 4

Written by Harold McNeill on August 24th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965

Birch Lake Early Years

Photo (Collage of Mom’s Photos):  Family and friends in Saskatchewan provided a strong draw, but earning a living on the farm was becoming increasingly difficult.

Link to Next Post: A Place in the Sun
Link to Last Post: 
Blizzard of Forty-One
Link to Family Stories Index

Community Dance:  March 1941

It would be the first time since Harold was born that the new mom and her husband had attended a dance at the Meadstead Community Hall.  In those days almost everyone in the family attended the dance including kids and babies.  Because their were no carriages or baby baskets, makeshift items were used to carry the baby, diapers, bottles, etc.  Laura used an old suitcase for this purpose.  She would just pop open the top and she had a ready made bed for her little boy.

Arriving at the hall after a few months of being absent at the dances there were many people to greet who had not yet seen her baby and proud mom she was, took him around to meet everyone.  When the dance began, Laura tucked him in his bed in the cloakroom and like the good little boy he was, promptly fell asleep so mom could go our and dance.   Fifteen or twenty minutes later when she went to check on him, the suitcase now had the lid closed and it was covered in coats and scarves.

Frantically Laura began fling coats, hats, scarves, mitts and gloves about the cloak room of the Medstead dance hall as she uncovered the suitcase. From outside appearances she had gone stark, raving mad.

“How could I have been so stupid?  My baby boy is probably dead and it is my fault – how could this have happened? Please God, please, please let him be OK.”  These dire thoughts swirled through her mind as she searched for her baby boy.


A “Non-Survivable” Crash

Written by Harold McNeill on August 18th, 2010. Posted in Flying Log Book

A “Non-Survivable” Crash

In a moment of absolute clarity Dwayne realized what was going to happen – his airplane was going to crash into the mountainside and there was not one thing he could do to stop the impending disaster.

In a final act of defiance the plane would stall, drop one wing, enter a spin and spiral down into the ground at well over two hundred k/hr. To survive such a crash would be impossible. After a lifetime of safe flying how did Dwayne suddenly find himself facing this catastrophic situation? In these last few moments he shuddered to think how chance controls every move in our lives.

He was an experienced bush pilot with thousands of hours of flying time and an impeccable record of safety. However, in the annals of bush flying, even the most experienced pilot can make little mistakes and sometimes even those little mistakes can lead to disaster. Today, all alone with his airplane in a remote area of the British Columbia, Dwayne made a few of those mistakes and in the next few seconds it would cost him dearly.

A friend of the family, Dwayne, lives in Cold Lake, Alberta, a community 200 miles northeast of Edmonton. Cold Lake is known internationally for its giant airbase (CFB Cold Lake) as well as for the trillions of barrels of wet sticky tar sands that exist far below the ground. Dwayne, from his home base in Cold Lake, has spent much of his life flying bush planes over the Western Canadian and Alaskan hinterland. He has experienced flying conditions that range from 30F below in blinding snowstorms to well over 100F above dodging thunderstorms. Dwayne knows all to well the dangers of bush flying as he and other family members of his family have been in the business since the 1940s.


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: “… 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.


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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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  • 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 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!