Graham and Harold’s Magical Christmas Adventure

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

VLUU L100, M100 / Samsung L100, M100

Photo (Web Source, with a few Photoshop adjustments).  In the minds eye Graham makes his first
attempt at running the Skookumchuck Narrows.  Gery preferred to stay on dry land.  (December 2017 1162)

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 in order 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 trouble making, 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, give them an opportunity 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 on 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 a 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 in order 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 own 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 site. With the surrounding mountains covered in soft white to grey clouds and patches of drifting mist, the tension-filled rush of the other world 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 a 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 1950’s, 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 is able to 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 a 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

Leave a comment



  • 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