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

  • Harold McNeill

    July 25, 2021 |

    Glad you enjoyed Craig. It was fun researching and writing that particular post. It seems I was in school many years before you, the 1950s to be more precise. Cheers, Harold

  • Craig Patterson

    July 18, 2021 |

    Thank you for sharing this. I grew up in Cold Lake (former town of Grand Centre) and we’d heard many stories over the years. Today I was talking to my Mom about the Kinosoo and I came to this article when I was searching images of the fish — I recall when I was in school in the 80s where was a photo supposedly taken (I think it’s the one of the ice fisherman above).

  • Harold McNeill

    January 15, 2021 |

    Wow, Graham, I was taken by surprise (but then again that’s not too hard). Having all you fine folks (my children by other fathers and mothers) would have been great. I’m hopeful that sometime in the not too distant future, we can reprise that trip. Perhaps we’ll just set aside a time for someone else’s landmark day, and we can surprise them. Love to you two. Harold

  • Graham and Nazanin

    January 15, 2021 |

    How could we miss this historic event my friend!!!
    Nazy and I were booked for that cruise Harold, we were looking so forward to it.
    We will be together soon! We both wish that continued unconditional love you receive from everyone to continue as you are that special someone that makes a difference in this world.
    Happy birthday sir, cheers!

  • Harold McNeill

    January 7, 2021 |

    Glad you found the site and that Dorthy enjoyed. I’ve added a lot of school photos in other locations linked to the High School Years stories. Cheers, Harold

  • Shelley Hamaliuk

    January 2, 2021 |

    Hi there, I am Dorothy Marshall’s (nee Hartman) daughter. Mom was quite excited when she discovered this site while surfing the net yesterday, so excited that she told me to have a look! She quite enjoyed taking a trip down memory and seeing old pictures of herself.Keep up the great work!

  • 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.