Graham and Harold’s Magical Christmas Adventure

Written by Harold McNeill on December 26th, 2015. Posted in Christmas Stories

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Photo (Web Source, with a few Photoshop adjustments).  In the mind’s eye Graham Hill makes his first
attempt at running the Skookumchuck Narrows.  Gery Lemon preferred to stay on dry land.  (December 2017)

Dear Graham and Gery,

While this post was written a month earlier, with the slideshow now complete it is time to go live. Rather than putting the slideshow at the end, it will be used as an introduction in an attempt to capture the spirit of the trip.

It was an amazing time, one I shall always cherish as it seems demands of life have conspired against finding that one-on-one time that only a trip like this can provide. Graham, you are an exceptional man, an easy conversationalist and your depth of knowledge on so many subjects are inspiring. Also, as you will no doubt agree, we have not only been gifted with the most amazing life partners, we also have a string of children, grandchildren and many friends who bring endless joy to our lives as we have moved along each successive stage. We could not have scripted our lives for a better result.

As for the following travel story, while I did not take any notes I hope that most of the family facts about your earlier life are correct and as for the make-believe stuff, that is simply a couple of old guys who remain daydream believers.

In preparing the final slideshow, the two of you will notice that I have plucked a dozen photographs from your respective Facebook pages to add flavour. Later, I will post all the photos on the open-access McNeill Life Stories Facebook Page so individual copies can be accessed at leisure.

In closing, many thanks to Herb Craig and Ann Skeltcher for their overnight hospitality on that lonely stretch of highway that leads to the hinterlands of the Sechelt Peninsula. There is nothing like good friends, a hot meal, glass of wine and a warm bed to take away the sting out of a hard day on the trail.

Your friend,
(January 16, 2016)

Individual photos of the Christmas Adventure now posted.

Another event involving Gery and Graham may be linked here: Gery Lemon Achieves New Milestone

Blog Post of Another Recent Event Harold and Graham attended: Wow! Another Slideshow


Forever Young –  Music by Joan Baez

1. A Narrow Escape

It seems misfortune sometimes colludes with the good fortune to create a positive outcome such as that which led to this Magical Christmas Adventure for a couple of men from Victoria.

10858384_912197748790957_3445245528698317081_nOne of the travel companions recently gave his good wife a sharp start after pirouetting off a twelve-foot ladder onto a rock-strewn cliff face somewhere in the middle of nowhere. It was no small feat helping him down to the dock of their isolated home which sits two kilometres across the Skookumchuck Narrows from Egmont, B.C. Fortunately, the tide was slack and waters calm for the twenty-minute crossing.

Photo (Gery Lemon FB Page).  The happy couple, Gery Lemon and Graham Hill hamming it up for Christmas (Note: In this post, many photos can be enlarged by double-clicking)

After a painful entry up and onto the dock at Egmont, then a long climb off the jetty and into their jeep, it was another hour of winding road to the clinic in Sechelt. Following a thorough exam, the doctor pronounced the man was not broken, just badly bent and bruised. It was indeed good news as it could have been much worse. The doctor’s order – several days of R&R back at their home in View Royal.

It soon became evident it would take more than a little fall, an injured shoulder and an uncooperative leg and foot, to stop him from planning a return trip. When enthusiasm combines with a deep desire to complete an unfinished job, the good wife knew she was on the losing side of the battle. While she was more than willing to delay her long-planned trip to Australia to visit family, the good man insisted she continues as planned despite his plan to return to Egmont. She resolved to let the chips fall as they may, but at that point, fate intervened while she was visiting her friend in Royal Oak.26770_10150093622825501_1160432_n

Another man, on hearing of the challenge, decided it was a great time to visit a couple of friends who live near Roberts Creek along the Sunshine Coast. The die was cast. For the two wives a solo trip by either of these guys is scary, but allowing them to team up was, well, downright dangerous.

Photo (2010 files)  Harold and Lynn McNeill.

Left to their own devices, unescorted, unsupervised and running loose among the general public was positively scary. While the antics of each acting in his own right might be tolerated, the sum of the two acting in consort could very well lead to mayhem. The movie classic Grumpy Old Men starring Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau, comes to mind, although in the present case, general troublemaking, acting out, flirting and teasing might be a more accurate description as the antics of the two Victoria men does not come close to grumpy.

Given the two have a combined age that now outpaces Canada by nearly a decade, they occupy a unique time in life that allows them to do things that only children and the elderly can get away with without having their chains jerked.

To those yet to reach that life plateau, it is a time of amazing freedom during which the rules that apply to mere mortals are no longer relevant. Flirting is just one of those freedoms that come with age, perhaps because the implicit danger that intrudes upon those during the in-between years is to some extent mitigated.

2. On the Road Again

P1030206And so it was, with Santa hats riding high on those sexy balding heads, red-framed sunglasses naughtily perched on substantial snouts, a retro 4-wheel drive with plenty of drive left in the train, the two were off and running with a desire to greet every person they should chance to meet. If the person happened to be a damsel in distress, well, that was just the damsel’s good luck.

Photo (2015).    Graham and Harold in the driveway at Leney Place as they prepare to kick off on their Magical Christmas Adventure.

The adventure-filled trail ahead included a 400 km drive, a half dozen sea-born excursions that would take twice as many hours and, as well, the navigation of one of the two wildest tidal rides in the world. It was a finely tuned adventure package that would sell for thousands on travel websites such as The men know because they have personal contact with one of the worlds most excellent Expedia tour guides.

Even though the two had plenty of time to spare before their planned sailing out of Nanaimo, they nearly missed the boat after becoming so engrossed in the first of a collection of conversations about love, life and living it to the fullest – nearly ending up in Parksville rather than the Departure Bay Ferry Terminal.nanaimo_map

(Web Map)  The trip would take the men from the southern tip of Vancouver, north to Nanaimo, across the Salish Sea to Horseshoe Bay, then another ferry across waters Howe Sound, then a drive north along the Sunshine Coast to an area on the Mainland about 35 km south of Powell River, B.C.

After joining the ferry crowd, it seems those magical Santa hats and sunglasses served as an automatic welcome to adults and children alike. While some adults tended to shy away, they soon warmed up when they realized these guys were just full of whatever. As for children, allow them to plug their favourite interest for Christmas with two wannabe Santas and it was a captive audience. It was an opportunity for those kids to give a last-minute plug to their wildest dreams and who were these two Santas to deny them. More than a few parents and grandparents walked away shaking their heads wondering whether Santa would be able to deliver.  But, children were not their only interests and when they happened upon a group of young dancers, the party was on, but all did not go as smoothly as planned.

Graham, Harold and Bad Girls7When the men were about to depart the ferry at their transition point in Horseshoe Bay, they were detained for a couple of hours with the group of Santa helpers they met and who were moving from their pole-dancing gig in Nanaimo to another in Vancouver.

(Police File Photo)  Harold and Graham in the Horseshoe Bay Detention Centre with (L to R) Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen and Comet. Three others, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen, missed the boat in Nanaimo. It was just their bad luck as it also meant they missed meeting the two men.

Being waylaid in this manner is not all that unusual, as it seems some folks have no sense of proportion when it comes to having a little fun, however being taken into custody is not much of a drag when detained with interesting people. The conflict for the two men was whether to continue to a remote area of the Sunshine Coast or simply continue to Vancouver for a few days as those poor deer(s) were clamouring for men to stick with them. It was not an easy decision, but that the men decided to continue to the Sunshine Coast demonstrates a strength of character that is to be commended.

3. A Wise Choice – the Sunshine Coast

Because the one-way trip was a smidgeon more than dawn till dusk affair, the opportunity to overnight at the home of a former police buddy and his lovely wife who were living in the area of Roberts Creek, just made good sense. Besides the couple had signed the bail bond that allowed the men to continue their trip.

It was a wonderful way to spend several hours enjoying a great meal, some fine wine and sharing many memorable war stories.283839_10150274214402529_3717531_n  Who could forget those hundred dollar bills floating around Oak Bay after some kids stole a Teddy Bear stuffed with $20,000; or the Hippy Hot Tub Parties in Roberts Creek, then what about the nearly disastrous Corvette Trip to Mardi Gras? Then there was always the Police Commissioners daughter in Carnarvon Park and the Nurse from Nelson when caught in one of those sudden blizzards. While most of these stories have been written, they shall only be released to the general public posthumously to protect the lives and marriages of the innocent.

Photo (undated): Our hosts Ann Skelcher and Herb Craig in an earlier Christmas photo. 

There is a funny thing about the telling of stories – it seems many older people often complain about the habits of young people while completely forgetting the misadventures of their youth. Life, after all, is about putting things in perspective and older people would be well advised to do that more often.

4. Tackling the Skookumchuck Narrows

Of course, the experienced mariner in the group (Herb) felt a compelling need to provide a snapshot of the dangers involved in negotiating the waters of the Skookumchuck. During his years of navigating the waters of the West Coast in search of logs, he did so within the relative safety of a high-powered jet boat and a medium-sized boom tug that would be difficult to sink when being controlled by an experienced skipper. To Herb, the Skookumchuck was just another day at the office. Now, what is it about that particular stretch of water that creates such danger?

The Skoocumchuk Narrows, and idyllic section of beautiful British Columbia

(Web Source Photo) The Skookumchuck Narrows, an idyllic section of Beautiful British Columbia.

Each day during tide change over 760,000,000 cubic meters of water ebb, then flows through the narrows that connects the Sechelt Inlet on the south with Jervis Inlet on the north. The flow can reach speeds of 30 km/h, second only to the Norwegian Saltstraumen flow of 37 km/h, the wildest tidal ride in the world.

To put the novice at ease, Herb carefully explained the loss of so many barges, log booms and sundry small craft over the past century was largely due to carelessness or mechanical failure. Cross at slack tide and it is just another body of water subject only to the seasonal storms that can suddenly strike the area. Cross at peak flow or when combined with a storm and the mariner is asking for trouble. While this was less than comforting, knowing the crossing would be made in a 14’ fibreglass run-a-bout powered by a 10 hp outboard that could reach the amazing speed of 6 knots, left at least one man with an apprehensive feeling in the pit of his stomach.

5. Serenity Awaits

Any concerns which remained as the men approached the end of the road, dissipated upon that first view of the Skookumchuck at the small community of Egmont. It was a slack tide with light rain falling and a gentle breeze from the SW. The dancing chop was a welcoming sight. With the surrounding mountains covered in soft white to grey clouds and patches of drifting mist, the tension-filled rush of the otherworld through which the men had just travelled, melted away.

P1030128If you desire a glimpse of quintessential British Columbia, a place where you can let all worldly cares slip away, you need only spend a few days travelling north along the Sunshine Coast to Egmont. With each twist, turn and change in elevation, new vistas of ocean, mountains, valleys, freshwater lakes and forests unfold in a seamless panorama.

After crossing the Skookumchuck you arrive at a relatively isolated home securely perched on the side of a mountain covered with evergreens. While the home may be isolated, it is fully equipped with power, telephone, wireless internet and other conveniences of the modern-day, yet there are no exit roads. All arrivals and departures are restricted too favourable weather and tides.

The choice of property and building of the original home was the dream an English immigrant and father of the man who now spends a good portion of the year on the property and who, as did his father before, contributes generous portions of elbow grease in building, shaping, painting and keeping the encroaching forest at bay. The man and his good wife follow only the dictates of their hearts and minds as building codes and inspections are infringements reserved for other parts of their world.

The property first came into his father’s hands, sight unseen, back in the late 1950s, after having submitted the winning bid at a tax auction held in New Westminster. Over the years the logs and lumber used in building the home were harvested from trees on the property and the lumber sawn with an earlier version of the chainsaw mill used by the son for further construction. It is a labour intensive procedure, but the finished product is equal to or exceeds anything prepared in a modern-day mill.P1030107

Photo (at the cottage):  With the mountain at his back and the water at his feet, Graham can find solace that is only available to those willing to isolate themselves in a remote corner of Coastal B.C.

By the time the son took over after the death of his father, the cottage and outbuilding were well established, but over the years the son has followed in his father’s footsteps as he continues to chop, saw, trim and plane as the process of upgrade and renewal continues. As over the past fifty years, that little retreat in the Skookumchuck wilderness provides an enduring source of solace and renewal for family and friends and mind, body and spirit willing, will continue doing so for many years to come.

6. Heading Home and the First Real Danger

Strangely, it was the return trip to Victoria that provided the most difficult travel conditions, including real danger. Because the timing of departure and ferry schedules didn’t provide many options, arrival in Nanaimo was in the late afternoon. The weather was socked in with light rain, so by the time they reached that most beautiful, yet in bad weather, the most dangerous stretch of road crossing the Malahat, it was pitch black.

While the Department of Highways has installed much-needed barriers between opposing lanes on the two, three or four lanes that now shuttle traffic, that barrier is a mixed blessing on those deep, dark, rain-filled nights. Because the barriers are about three feet high, none of the light from oncoming traffic spills into the oncoming lanes to help provide a definition. At the same time, the full light of oncoming cars shines over the barrier and into the eyes of opposing drivers. If someone has inadvertently left their lights on high beam, it is doubly dangerous.

With no a vehicle is travelling immediately in front, the road simply disappears into a pitch-black blanket of darkness to which the eyes cannot adjust as the oncoming traffic keeps the pupils at pinprick level. The only means of judging position in a lane (single or sometimes double) is the reflective tape on the right side of the road and sporadic reflectors on the barriers. It seems certain that everyone that has driven this road under those conditions, will have experienced the same dangerous condition.

If everyone slowed down, that would help, but in light traffic, cars are often spread out, so slowing down at the darkest points creates another danger as the of a trailing vehicle could be coming up a much higher speed and never see the vehicle in front.

While it was the most stressful final half-hour of the journey, the men did arrive safely back in Victoria by 9:00 pm. It was a wonderful adventure story tucked safely under their belts for that moment when the grandchildren wanted to know what their Grandpa did for Christmas in 2015.

As the two men bid their farewells in Victoria, one mentioned that when he returned from visiting family in Montreal, perhaps the two of them could again get together and spend a couple of nights in Vancouver. Perhaps they might chance to meet the three deer, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen whom they missed the meeting on the earlier Nanaimo-Horseshoe Bay run.  Seems like a good idea?

December 2015



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Comments (1)

  • Ann and Herb
    January 17, 2016 at 2:03 pm |

    Love the new music – one of my most favourite ever- and love the story. Thank you for keeping us forever young in the photo! It is such a gift to know a person who writes so joyously and respectfully of his family and friends. It fills our hearts to know that you count us among them.

    A & H

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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.