Harlan: Our Dad is Missing – Chapter 6 of 6

Written by Harold McNeill on October 13th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965

David Benjamin McNeill

Photo (family files):  Dad is Missing. The last we saw of our Dad was when he came to the door of the bar and waved to us:  “I’ll be right there, I’m just having a quick chat with some guy’s I met.”

Link to Next Post: Edmonton
Link to Last Post:  Movie
Link to Family Stories Index

July, 1949

The bus driver, having pulled to the side of the highway after being approached by one of the passengers, walked down the isle to the seat Louise and I occupied. “What’s wrong kids?” he asked in a gentle, caring voice. Louise and I were huddled in our seats as tears trickled down our cheeks. Louise, on the outside, responded in a quiet, quivering voice, “You, you left my daddy behind!”  She continued to cry as we held each other. 

The adventure for Louise and I began two weeks earlier in Harlan when Aunt Liz came home one evening in early July and told us,  “Guess what kids, your mom and dad want to you to go down to Calgary for a visit with them and to see the Calgary Stampede! One of Warren’s brothers (1) is heading that way tomorrow morning and has room for the two of you.”

Aunt Liz was as excited for us as we were about going, our first visit with mom and dad since moving to Harlan almost four months earlier. Aunt Liz found a couple of kit bags and we packed a few things for the trip. We could hardly sleep thinking about the coming adventure.

Louise and I had often heard about Calgary and Edmonton but had never been to either city and had no idea of how different a city would be from the backwoods in which we had always lived. Even Harlan was only a hop, skip and jump from Nowhere.  To top it off we would be going to the Calgary Stampede, something dad and his horse crazy friends talked about every year, but seldom had a chance to attend.

At five in the morning we were wide awake, packed and ready to go when Uncle Warren’s brother arrived in his old Ford. First stop, after just five or ten miles, was the ferry crossing on the the North Saskatchewan River a little southwest of Harlan. The ferry was operated by Uncle Harlan FerryWarren’s sister, Undine Hewitt and her husband. With all the Harwood families, their spouses, children, in-laws and other relatives in Harlan, they may well have renamed the community, Harwoodville.

Riding the old ferry was another first. It was just a large flat barge tethered to each river bank by a cable system. When we were aboard, Mr. Undine started a small engine and a winch pulled the ferry from one shore to the other.

After landing, we headed south towards Lloydminster a community which was half in Saskatchewan, half in Alberta. I suppose the people on the Saskatchewan side of town had their own school system as they probably would not have wanted their children mixed in the slower students from Alberta.

For the rest of the trip, the roads we followed were mostly gravel and it seemed rather like we were travelling in a continuous dust storm. By the time we reached Drumheller the land had become so bleak, hot and devoid of trees, it seemed impossible that it would sustain life. Why anyone would choose to live in such an area seemed beyond comprehension when there were so many areas with trees, lakes and rivers.

We did not arrive in Calgary until late in the evening and Uncle Warren’s brother dropped us at a home where mom and dad where visiting friends. Over the next several days it was one big adventure after another as we explored Calgary and the surrounding foothills. Downtown we stood in awe of the tall buildings andCalgary Stampede 1949 watched as hundreds of people and cars moved along the sidewalks and streets in endless streams. It was hard to imagine so many people and cars could exist in one spot.

Then, Stampede Day! Dad had tickets for all the main events including his favorite, the Chuck Wagon Races (photo right). The ‘Chucks’, as they were called, was the main rodeo event at the end each day and after the final race everyone stayed in the grandstands as they began a stage show that would take us through until it was dark enough for the fireworks grand finale! It seemed that every time Louise and I turned around, there was an exciting new spectacle that took our breath away.

At one point during a visit to the midway, a cloud-burst opened up and within a few minutes the water was up to our knees as the storm sewers had become blocked by all the garbage strewn about.  An hour later you could hardly tell it had ever rained.

Before the Stampede ended, mom returned to the road camp as Aunt Irene was leaving for a trip Glaslyn to visit her daughter Joyce who was staying with her Grandma. Louise and I stayed behind with dad as he was 1940s Greyhound Busnot about to miss the chuck wagon finals. Then, a day later the three of us caught the Greyhound bus for the ride back to the road construction camp somewhere between Alix and Mirror on Highway 21.

The trips were long as the sideroad buses stopped at every small community, some of them a few miles off the main road. Late in the morning, dad noticed the hotel bar at one stop had opened so he nipped off the bus to have a quick beer (lead photo).

After a couple stops and a quick beer for dad, we all reboarded. The bus left town and dad was nowhere to be seen. Louise and I sat huddled in the back not knowing what to do until someone alerted the driver about the two little kids in the back crying.

After stopping and talking to us, the driver told us he was very sorry but there was no way he could go back. The lady in the next seat obviously felt sorry for us and told the driver she would keep us company. After chatting with her for a bit we felt a bit better but were still worried about what would happen to our dad and what we would do.

Well, we need not have worried. About an hour later, dad suddenly appeared at one of the stops. Earlier, when he had missed the bus, he went back in the bar, ordered another beer and told some of his new buddies what had happened. Well, as expected, dad found someone driving north toward Mirror.  He bought a half pack for the road and caught the bus a little later. These little challenges never fazed dad.  A couple hours after dad rejoined us we reached the road construction camp south of Mirror and the bus driver let us off.

It was the beginning of another great week as we got to stay with mom and dad, watch the road building equipment and, because mom had found an old bicycle along the way, I learned to ride. For years she had a picture of the me riding that bike (and one standing on my head) but both pictures have gone missing.

After a very full week and a tearful parting we headed back to Harwoodville with someone who happened to be heading that direction. We would not see mom and dad again until later that fall in Edmonton.

Harold McNeill

Link to Next Post: Edmonton
Link to Last Post:  Movie
Link to Family Stories Index

(1) Notes from Betty:  There were a number of Harwood families living in Harlan besides Uncle Warren.  He had three brothers, Ken, Les and Harry and his sister, Undine was married and lived as short distance away where she an her husband ran the local ferry crossing the North Saskatchewan River. Les Harwood just passed away a year or two ago at 101 years of age. He was living in a Seniors Home in St. Walberg.


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  • Harold McNeill

    April 14, 2020 |

    Hi Rick,
    Great to hear from you and trust all is going well. Our family members are all doing well but it must be pretty tough for a lot of people. I had once heard you were going to do some writing but never heard anything further. I would be most interested, but do you think the OB News have archives back to that time. Any link or information you could provide would be greatly appreciated. Did you keep copies? Regards, Harold

  • Rick Gonder

    April 14, 2020 |

    Hi Harold
    About 22 years ago I spent several weeks going through the OBPD archives. I wrote several stories that were published in the OB News. Feel free to use if they are of value to what you are doing.
    Keep this up, I’m enjoying it and it brings back memories.

  • Harold McNeill

    April 12, 2020 |

    Hi Susan,

    Glad you had a chance to read. I decided to update these stories by proofreading as there were several grammatical errors in many. Hopefully, many of those glaring errors have been removed.

    Many of the stories carry a considerable amount of social comment regarding the way the criminal justice system is selectively applied. Next up involves a young woman from near Cold Lake, Alberta, who was abducted by an older male from Edmonton. Her story is the story of hundreds of young men and woman who have found themselves alone and without help when being prayed upon unscrupulous predators.

    Cheers, Harold

  • Susan

    April 8, 2020 |

    Great read, Harold!…and really not surprising, sad as that may sound.
    Keep the stories coming, it is fascinating to hear them.
    Love from us out here in the “sticks”, and stay safe from this unknown predator called Covid.

  • Harold McNeill

    February 17, 2020 |

    Update:  Times Colonist, February 16, 2020, articles by Louise Dickson, She got her gun back, then she killed herself,” and,  Mounties decision to return gun to PTSD victim haunts her brother. 

    Summary: I don’t know how many read the above articles, but they contained the tragic details about young woman, Krista Carle’, who took her own life after suffering for years with PTSD. While tragedies such as this play out across Canada every week, the reason this story resonates so profoundly is that the final, tragic, conclusion took place here in Victoria. Continued in the article.

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    February 15, 2020 |

    Testing the comments section after changes made. Updated: February 10, 2020

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    Statements like this appear to be simple fear-mongering. As was the case in the past, people who commit criminal offences, as well as other forms of negligence while driving, may well lose their insurance coverage and in all likelihood would be sued by ICBC to recover costs of the claim. (Link here to Mulligan’s full conversation on CFAX radio)

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