Laura Isabel: The Early Years – Chapter 2 of 5

Written by Harold McNeill on October 19th, 2010. Posted in Biographies


Laura Isabel: The Early Years – Chapter 2 of 5

Laura was the third of ten children born to Bill (William Skyler -1888) and Lillie Cressie Wheeler (Elliott – 1896).  Siblings included Leonard (1914), Evelyn (1916), Kenneth (1920), Melvin (1922), Clifford (1924), Tonnie (1928), Marcia (1932), Helen (I934) and baby Shirley (1938).

In the early spring of 1924, Bill and Lilly, along with other family members, pulled up stakes and headed out from the Alsask, Saskatchewan, to take up homesteading at Birch Lake, a few miles North-East of Glaslyn. At that time the five children ranged in age from 2 to 10 years and Lilly was expecting her fifth. Clifford was born that September. Lilly attributed the distinctive brown birth mark prominently displayed on Clifford’s forehead to the fright she suffered when Melvin, then two, almost fell from the caboose while crossing a river enroute to Birch Lake.

Photo: The wagon train ready to head out. Howard (Laura’s dad’s brother) and Myrtle Wheeler, her mom and dad, Lilly and William, grandparents, and siblings, Kenneth and Evelyn. 

While Bill and Lillie were able to provide their family with a comfortable life (by the standards of a 1920’s homesteader)  it did require the labour of all family members. That first summer, after the crops and garden were planted (some of the land was previously broken), Bill set about building a three room log house with sod roof, mud plastered cracks and whitewashed exterior. 

Laura had many fond memories of growing up with her brothers and sisters and attending the single room Birch Lake School which was located on the same section of land as their home. As her family lived so close to the school, they inherited the job of building the morning fire to heat the school during the long, cold winters.  The school house also served as the Community Church where her Grandma taught Sunday school.

Photo:  Wheeler children, Shirley, Marcia, Helen, Kenneth, Melvin, Clifford, Laura and Evelyn. Leonard had died in a drowning accident and Tonnie was not present.

West of the Wheeler’s, on the next section of land, lived the McNeill family. The McNeill’s had taken out homestead papers a few years earlier and members of that family remembered the Wheeler wagon train as it traveled pas their home to Birch Lake early in the summer of 1924. Over the next 24 years the two families became very close, sealing friendships that would last a lifetime.

Members of the McNeill family included: James Wallace (1866) and Martha Ellen McNeill (Church – 1874) and eleven children: Claude (1894), Clifford (1896), Ruby (1898), Irene (1901), Hazel (1902), Elizabeth (1905), David (1908), twins, Armina and Almira (1910), Floyd (1914) and Patricia (1916). It was, of course, the sixth born, David Benjamin who would play an important role in Laura’s young life.

Harold and Lynn McNeill
June 2008

Laura's family

Family Photo: Rudy and Evelyn Roske (Laura’s sister and her husband, Lilly and Willam (her mom and dad), Howard and Myrtel Wheeler (her dad’s brother and his wife), Grandparents, Les and Tabatha.

c1920 Sibbald-Alsask area threshing crew.  Laura’s dad is standing on the threshing machine. Her Mother is standing beside Evelyn.

c1920s  Laura and her extended family. Names to be added.

Grandma McNeill and Family

c1920s  This photo, posted on FB by Laurie Dmytryshyn (Pylypow), is one of the few pictures of Grandma Martha Ellen McNeill (Church) (standing centre) surrounded by her young children. Kneeling, back row left is Hazel Dewan (McNeill)(this is Helen Pylypow’s (Dewan) mother), standing, far left, is Elizabeth Dewan (Harwood) (her daughter is Betty Monroe(Curtis)(Dewan).
Front row, from left, Mina Crocker (McNeill) and Lolla David (McNeill), Floyd McNeill, Irene Ulna Johnson (McNeill) (Joyce Hayden’s mother), and seated by tree is Stanley Johnson (Irene’s first husband).  The other five children of Grandma McNeill are not in the photo (Claude, Clifford, David (Harold McNeill’s dad), Ruby and Patricia Humphries (Schirrmacher)(McNeill)(Gary Schirrmacher’s mother).

October 2010

Link to part 2 The Early Years

Link to Part 3 The Young Woman

Link to Part 4 A New Beginning

Link to Part 5 The Final Chapter

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Comments (2)

  • Cynthia Munsey (Armstrong)
    February 18, 2014 at 11:50 pm |

    While looking for my long lost family I have come across your site and see that my uncle Floyd is in one of the pictures, he was married to Alice Roske sister to Joe Roske my mother Evelyn Armstrong (Roske) father. You may remember my father Walter Armstrong he was killed at 28 (October 1960)not too far from Southy hauling a load of manure back to Regina. I spent many very happy summers with my Aunt Alice and Uncle Floyd on the farm and when they moved to Canmore I lived with them and Sue while working in Banff. My cousin Sue Foubert (McNeill)and I live close by and do visit when we can.

    • Harold McNeill
      February 19, 2014 at 3:08 am |

      Glad you found the site. I was just looking at a picture of Uncle Floyd and my dad, David B. McNeill while Uncle Floyd was visiting LacLaBiche in 1953. The picture will appear in a story about our time in Lac La Biche that will be posted sometime in the next week or so. I will send the picture to you by email. Cheers Harold

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Comments

  • 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