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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
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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.

(1593)

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.

(230)

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.

(1382)

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

In All of Us Command

Controversial? Yes.  Necessary? Indeed.
O’Canada, In all of us command.
(Feb 2018 1408)

March 2010: An item in the Conservative throne speech about changing two words in ‘O’Canada’, created a significant negative response even though the suggested change is long overdue. It seems doubtful, at this time, that the government will follow through. It’s equally likely that within the next decade the change will be made.

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 gender neutral is used as the benchmark, the younger generation can be as equally stubborn.

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 women began to gain enfranchisement across Canada. Enfranchisement is considered a basic right in a democratic society yet women had to wait 50 years following confederation before that right began to creep across Canada, with all Provinces entering by 1949.

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

(1549)

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

(2786)

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.

(1628)

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.

(2287)

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:

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Comments

  • Andrew Dunn

    May 14, 2019 |

    Thank you so much for all your help thus far Harold, aka. Tractor guy! I could not have done without you!

  • Harold McNeill

    April 25, 2019 |

    I find it interesting to contemplate how a small community evolves in general isolation from the rest of the world. We have a similar situation in the northern communities in Canada to which access is limited. The inclusion of the world wide web and mass media has changed things, but these communities are still left pretty much to their own devices when it comes to personal interaction.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 19, 2019 |

    Hi Dave. Not that I am aware and I have a fairly comprehensive family tree for the McNeill side of the family. I will pull it up and scan. Cheers, Harold. Great chatting with you and I will give Ben a nudge.

  • Dave Cassels

    March 16, 2019 |

    Were you related to Guy McNeill who owned the Bruin Inn in St. Albert in the late 40’s or early 50’s? Guy was a close friend of my father-in-law who was the first President of the Royal Glenora Club. My phone number is 780 940 1175. Thank you.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 15, 2019 |

    So glad you found the story and enjoyed. Indeed, they were memorable times. I did a fair amount of searching but never managed to contact any of the Murffit kids. However, it was neat to make contact with the Colony and someone I knew from back in the day. I have enjoyed writing these stories from back in the 1940s and 50s and have made contact with a lot of friends from those early years. I will give you a call over the weekend. Cheers, Harold

  • Yvonne (Couture) Richardson

    March 7, 2019 |

    I enjoyed your story. I too, lived in Pibroch in 1951, as my parents owned the hotel there. I was a very close friend of Bonnie Murfitt at the time. I moved to Edmonton in 1952, however, and have not seen her since. I would like to be in touch with you to talk about your story. My email is listed above and my phone number is 780-475-3873.

  • Laureen Kosch/Patry

    March 5, 2019 |

    I grew up in Pibroch and would not trade those years for anything. “ Kids don’t know how to play anymore” Never was a truer statement made. During the summer we were out the door by 8am, home for lunch, and back when it got dark. For the most part our only toys were our bikes and maybe a baseball mitt. I will never forget the times when all the kids got together in “Finks field” for a game of scrub baseball. Everybody was welcome, kids from 8 to 18. I didn’t know it then but I guess I had a childhood most dream of. Drove thru town last summer. It all looked a lot smaller.

  • Harold McNeill

    January 13, 2019 |

    Well, my dear, it’s that time again. How the years fly by and the little ones grow but try as you may you will have a hard time catching up to your Daddy. Lots of love young lady and may your day be special
    Love, Dad

  • Harold McNeill

    January 5, 2019 |

    Guess what? My response went to the Spam folder. Hmm, do you suppose the system is trying to tell me something?

  • Harold McNeill

    January 5, 2019 |

    Thanks, Terrance. Your comment came through but went to the Spam folder. Have pulled it out and approved. Can you send another on this post to see if you name is now removed from Spam? I’m not sure why it does that. Cheers, Harold