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
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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

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    For those who followed the earlier post about the cost of ICBC Auto insurance coverage in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba (linked in comments) here is another follow-up article.

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    Many thanks for reviewing the article Elizabeth. There are so many areas of our society in which populism carries the day, although I think what is happening with the ICBC is that groups having a vested interest in private insurance would dearly love to dislodge ICBC from their preferred position. That being said, I think was a good move to have only portions of the insurance coverage in BC being held by ICBC and other portions being made available through private enterprise.

  • Elizabeth Mary McInnes, CAIB

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    It’s a breath of fresh air to see a resident of British Columbia look to review all the facts over believing what is reported in the news or just following along with the negative stigma of the masses. Your article truly showcases that with a little reform to ICBC’s provincial system – British Columbia could be a true leader for other provinces in Canada. Very well written article!

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