Marie Lake: Growing up in the Wilderness – Chapter 2 of 11

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


Louise and Harold Hauling Manure

Photo (by Mom).  Louise and I loading the stone boat with manure to fertilize mom’s garden.
March 4, 2018: 1464

Link to Next Post:  Link to Explosion
Link to Last Post: Link to the Mink Pen Adventure
Link to Family Stories Index
Summer of 1947

1. My Little Sister

“Come on brother, let’s go to the beach and play!”  Louise always wanted to play and ‘for a girl’ she was pretty good at everything and not afraid to try anything. Although I really missed the fun times we had with our cousins at the Smith Place, it seemed my little sister was quickly growing to be a friend who could pretend, share secrets and take chances with the best of them.

Mom and Louise Feeding Mink 1947She was just a wisp of a thing, probably no more 40 pounds soaking wet, but at three and a half, she was a bundle of pure energy. Beyond that she was smart and I knew she would be light years ahead of me in the smart department. She could learn things so fast I felt intimidated. Maybe she had worked out a secret deal with that stupid Ouija Board as it never answered any of my questions correctly.

One thing Louise was not good at was being told what to do. If I started getting too bossy she would just plain and simple, baulk. Although probably not the best analogy for my little sister, she reminded me of a young filly dad once tried to train. No matter how he sweet-talked, threatened or cajoled, that filly would only do what that filly wanted to do. So it was with my little sister.

One of the best friends Louise and I had was Shep, a collie cross that dad and mom had given us earlier that spring. Shep, at 3 years old, had been given to Dad by one of his friends at the Cold Lake Indian Reserve. As for the name, “Shep” I suppose it came from a popular song of those days, “Old Shep”, first recorded by Red Foley in 1940 then over the years by dozens of other artists including Slim Carter, Hank Snow, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Alabama.

(1487)

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.”

(1559)

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.”

(1452)

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.

(2000)

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.

(1377)

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.

(1287)

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.

(1588)

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
Link to Family Stories Index

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.

(1380)

Comments

  • 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

  • Terrance

    January 5, 2019 |

    A VERY COMPREHENSIVE ANALYSIS. ALL POLITICIANS SHOULD READ THIS.

  • Harold McNeill

    December 23, 2018 |

    Thanks Sis. I will be uploading as Hi-Def so the photos can be viewed full screen. Brother