Crackling Fire on a Cold Winters Day

Written by Harold McNeill on September 14th, 2015. Posted in Tim Hortons Morning Posts



September 15, 2015 (Photo, thanks Alysha):  A glass of wine, some mood music and the first crackling fire of the year.  In terms of comfort and ambiance, there is nothing finer than a log fire.  (Lexi is actually snuggled between our feet.)

Link to full set of photos for this story.
Part 1  Link to a Magical Summer
Link to full set of photos for Part 1.
Part 3  The Magical Gardens of Adam Szczawinski

Summers of my Youth

In the summers of my youth, the work was not done without having set aside an abundant supply of wood for those deep cold prairie winters as that was our primary source of heat.  Here in Victoria, it’s not as deep and not as cold, but winter in Canada is still winter and as Canadians we love those crazy cozy log fires.

As Lynn and I recently installed wood burning insert our quest for good wood is ravenous. Drop a tree anywhere within a ten block radius and we hear it fall even when no one else can. With our gear ready and trailer hooked up, we can be on scene in less than ten minutes and first in, first cut and you own the tree, that’s the tradition. More than once we have been warned off by Hydro, but if Harold Cutting Woodwe’re lucky and they’re busy, we can have the choice parts cleaned, cut, loaded and gone before they even arrive on the scene.

While it only takes a medium gale to produce copious quantities of street wood here on the Island, those winds do not usually begin until late fall and the wood won’t be dry in time for the current winter. If you don’t have a plentiful supply in reserve, you pay the going rate of about $200 per cord for split and (sometimes) dry, second choice stuff from a jobber or upwards of $300 from an established firm.  Link: (Victoria Firewood)

May 2015: Harold with his new Husqvarna chain saw working peacefully cleaning up the property next door.

Early this spring it was our good fortune to get ahead of the storms when the property immediately across the street was being subdivided for three homes. As the one acre lot was filled with old fruit trees, maple, oak, cedar, fir, etc., there was more than enough for a two year supply and with a warm, dry summer, most of it would be ready for a fall start.  So with chainsaw, hardhat and ear protection in hand, we began cutting, hacking, bucking and dragging that fine wood across the street to our front yard.  But, as we all know good things don’t always last.

Police Intervention

The cutting was moving along nicely until one day a full contingent of Joint Forces ERT members descended upon the site demanding to know what in hell we were doing attacking their house with a chain saw.  As you might guess, at this point I was Police Takedown Finalspread-eagled against the back door tighter than a stun gun implant. Giving way to automatic weapons, flash bangs, tear gas and pepper spray in bottles as big as dive tanks, seemed the only reasonable response. Running, at least at my age, was not an option and as I stood pasted to the back door Dad’s words rung in my head: “never bring a chainsaw to a stun gun practice.” I was just lucky Lynn was nearby to capture the moment otherwise no one would believe me.

June 2015:  With all those tasers pointed at my back, it’s a wise man who stands perfectly still.  More photos of the raid in the attached album.

After I was allowed to lower my hands and kill my chainsaw, I produced ID and explained I had permission from the developer to cut the trees. This helped to settle them down as much as those high testosterone ERT people can settle, and after that they even let us watch as they attacked that house with everything they had. The windows, doors and walls were putty in their capable hands and an hour after they arrived, every nook and cranny of that house had been searched with the precision of a brain surgeon.

The next day they even sent in one of their heavy-duty police battering rams to finish what they started. Soon nothing remained of that poor little house, but better to go out with a bang than a whimper, I suppose.

A Timely Summer Visit

Later in July with our front yard covered in wood, it was our good fortune to have Lynn’s brother Barry and his wife Nancy stop by for a visit. As they have long been wood burning folks, Barry, who soon tired of losing 20 pound Springs at the Trap Shack out in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, suggested we take a break for a day, rent a splitter and get to work.

It only took a few hours of bucking and splitting to have three and a half cords of split wood on the lawn, then over the last week ofBarry Nancy and Jay week of August and into September, Lynn and I had it all it tucked away in the three woodsheds sprinkled around our property. As we were also able to salvage a lot of small dry slash, we cut that up for stoking and from the old cedar fence we torn out, enough kindling to last at couple of years.

July 2015: Barry, Nancy and Jay working hard to clean up the last of the logs.  Harold was in the background bucking.

While we’ll probably never recover the cost of the insert by lowered electricity bills, the ability to have that bright warm fire going every day during the winter is worth every penny.  Also, there is something invigorating about doing your own work to prepare things that you normally buy, things like electricity or natural gas. Clearly this is not possible for everyone, but for those who can, a little bucking, hauling and splitting is great exercise and gives one a sense of purpose.

Now that September has arrived with somewhat of a vengeance (as those back East have reminded us), we need not wait for the normal chill of late fall to start piling wood on the hearth for those long evenings of playing cards, scrabble or just snuggling by the fire with a bowl of popcorn and a good movie.  If you happen to like that sort of thing you are always welcome to drop by and share a little of that down home warmth from days gone by.

The two of us are such lucky people.

It was indeed was A Magical Summer and next up is a short story about our faithful helper, The Little Trailer that Could.


Link to full set of photos for this story.

September 2015: Two of the four small woodsheds on our property.



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  • Mike Fedorowich

    September 1, 2023 |

    I have gone through the above noted text and have found it quite informative.
    I am a former member with several law enforcement agencies from across Canada.
    I worked in the First Nations service under the authority of the RCMP with the over sight of the OPP. My law enforcement service was conducted under the authority of the Nishnawbe – Aski Police Service in North West Ontario the Louis Bull Police Sevice in Hobbema AB, the Kitasoo Xaixais Police Service in Northern in side passage on Swindle Island, the Lac Suel Police Service North West Ontario and the Vancouver Transit Authority Sky Train Police Service. I’m presently dealing with an RCMP member for falsifying a report against me for a road rage event. Court case is finished and the charge was dropped but I have an on going complaint with the member and have forwarded to the WATCH DOGS IN OTTAWA FOR the RCMP review and consideration. I believe the said officer is in violation of his oath of office and should be held accountable for falsifying his RTCC all the while dragging me through the court system here in Nanaimo. RCMP continue to stonewall the appeal but Ottawa and the crowns office are still looking into the matter. if your able and find the time or the interest in this very brief introduction, I would very much like to speak with you and would be grateful to hear any wisdom that may come across from your end. I served with First Nations Police Services for ten years in isolation and six years with Transit Police out of New West Minster. I do value and appreciate any time you could spare to chat for a bit on this particular subject matter. Respectfully with out anger but an open mind, Mike Fedorowich Nanaimo BC 250 667 0060

  • Harold McNeill

    February 28, 2022 |

    Hi Robert, I do remember some of those folks from my early years in Cold Lake (Hazel was my aunt and our family spent many fond times with Uncle Melvin, Aunt Hazel and Family. I knew Lawrence and Adrian. Having read a half dozen accounts it is clear their were many false narratives and, perhaps, a few truths along the way. I tried my best to provide an even account from what I read. Cheers, Harold. (email:

  • Robert Martineau

    February 25, 2022 |

    Its been a long time since any post here, but its worth a shot. My Grandfather was Hazel Wheelers brother Lawrence, and son to Maggie and Adrien. Maggie Martineau (nee Delaney) is my great grandmother. The books and articles to date are based on the white mans viewpoint and the real story as passed down by the Elders in my family is much more nefarious. Some of the white men were providing food for the Indians in exchange for sexual favors performed by the Squaws. Maggie was the product of one of those encounters. Although I am extremely proud of my family and family name, I am ashamed about this part of it.

  • Julue

    January 28, 2022 |

    Good morning Harold!
    Gosh darn it, you are such a good writer. I hope you have been writing a book about your life. It could be turned into a movie.
    Thanks for this edition to your blog.
    I pray that Canadians will keep their cool this weekend and next week in Ottawa. How do you see our PM handling it? He has to do something and quick!
    Xo Julie

  • Herb Craig

    December 14, 2021 |

    As always awesome job Harold. It seems whatever you do in life the end result is always the same professional, accurate, inclusive and entertaining. You have always been a class act and a great fellow policeman to work with. We had some awesome times together my friend. I will always hold you close as a true friend. Keep up the good work. Hope to see you this summer.
    Warm regards
    Herb Craig

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Hi Dorthy, So glad you found those stories and, yes, they hold many fond memories. Thanks to social media and the blog, I’ve been able to get in touch with many friends from back in the day. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Well, well. Pleased to see your name pop up. I’m in regular contact via FB with many ‘kids’ from back in our HS days (Guy, Dawna, Shirley and others). Also, a lot of Cold Lake friends through FB. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Oh, that is many years back and glad you found the story. I don’t have any recall of others in my class other than the Murphy sisters on whose farm my Dad and Mom worked.

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Pleased to hear from you Howie and trust all is going well. As with you, I have a couple of sad stories of times in my police career when I crossed paths with Ross Barrington Elworthy. Just haven’t had the time to write those stories.

  • Howie Siegel

    November 25, 2021 |

    My only fight at Pagliacci’s was a late Sunday night in 1980 (?) He ripped the towel machine off the bathroom wall which brought me running. He came after me, I grabbed a chair and cracked him on the head which split his skull and dropped him. I worried about the police finding him on the floor. I had just arrived from Lasqueti Island and wasn’t convinced the police were my friends. I dragged him out to Broad and Fort and left him on the sidewalk, called the cops. They picked him up and he never saw freedom again (as far as I know). I found out it was Ross Elworthy.