Laura Isabel: The Young Woman – Chapter 3 of 5

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


Laura Isabel: The Young Woman – Chapter 3 of 5

During her teen years, Laura and her family went about the daily routine of cooking meals, working in the garden, mowing hay, looking after the animals, cutting wood and all the chores that were part of early farm life on the prairies. Because they were so close to Birch Lake, the kids had many fond memories of swimming and boating on those hot summer days when they could sneak away from their daily chores.

Always a homebody, Laura traveled for the first time, at age 16, to work on a family farm outside Battleford looking after five kids under the age of four.  She became so homesick after a couple of weeks that her dad traveled to Battleford in his Model T to pick her up. Her next job was working as a cook for a road construction crew as they rebuilt Highway 55 (now Hwy 3) out of Glaslyn.

When Laura was 21, the family suffered a double tragedy when her brother, Leonard, then twenty-five, was drowned in the Shuswap River while trying to save a friend’s life after the friend had fallen from a log boom on which they were working.  While the whole family grieved over the loss, their father Bill took the death particularly hard. Later that winter he contracted scarlet fever and, tragically, in the early spring of 1940, he died at the age of 51 just a few months before Laura married Dave McNeill.

Following the death of her son and husband, life for her mother and the family became very difficult.  Shirley was barely two, Helen and Marcia were five and seven and Tonnie had just turned ten. Melvin returned home to help his mom, followed later by Clifford who had served in the military until the end of the Second World War. In order to help make ends meet, Lilly, Helen and Marcia worked on neighbouring farm but the nearly all the money they earned was deducted for room and board and any remaining, which was pitifully little, was deducted from her meager widow’s pension of $30 per month.

On June 24, 1940, Laura married Dave  and, while living in the home Dave built at Birch Lake, they had two children, Harold (1941) and Louise (1943).  In October 1944, the adventure and promise of a new life led Dave and Laura along with their two children, to Cold Lake, Alberta. Over the following years, the couple worked in a logging camp (Martineau River), mink ranches (Smith place on Cold Lake, then Marie Lake) and later on road construction and on farms at various locations around Alberta. Laura became a master cook and her pastry skills were second to none. Over her life she mentored her entire extended family in the culinary arts.

Photo: Mom and Dad on their wedding day with Davie and Tinnie Lockheart and flower girl Joyce Hayden. Standing outside mom’s family home.

Life in the often remote areas was not without hardship or danger.  While at the Martineau Camp, Louise became very ill with Erysipelas and nearly died before reaching the hospital in Cold Lake. The trip to hospital was extremely difficult as the roads were blocked with many snowdrifts and for the first twelve miles they had to use horses to pull the truck.

Then, a year later, at Cold Lake, Louise very nearly drowned after falling off a wharf on which she and Harold were playing. If not for the quick action of her mother, who pulled Louise from the water and quickly performed artificial respiration, Louise would not have survived.

At Marie Lake, in the summer of I947, Laura was seriously burned when the cook stove exploded while she building a fire to make coffee for Dave. The explosion set all her clothes on fire and she only managed to put out the flames by running outside and rolling in the sand of their lakefront home. The trip to hospital, nearly 30 miles away by boat, then car, on a very rough road was one of the most harrowing experiences in her young life.  After her return home, life continued at Marie Lake and Laura took on a new role – that of teacher – first to Harold and then Louise as they completed their early years of education.

In 1949, wanderlust again struck Dave and over the next four years the family covered much of Alberta as Laura and Dave first followed road construction, then back to mink farming in Edmonton and LacLaBiche with a brief stint of farming in Pibrock. In order to continue their schooling during this time, Harold and Louise often stayed with family and friends -spending time with Uncle Warren and Aunt Liz Harwood (McNeill) in Harlan (near Lloydminster), then Aunt Jean and Uncle Cliff (Wheeler) in Edmonton. When Dave and Laura returned to Edmonton, they rejoined their children and moved to a home at 12237 – 95 St., just one block from the extreme western edge of the City.  (The house still remains today, but is now several miles from the edge of the city!)

It was in Edmonton that Laura began work for the first time in a large department store and became somewhat accustomed to life in the big city. As usual, Laura was able to quickly make new friends. Mabel Pester, who lived directly across the street with her family, and Laura, maintained a friendship that continued until Mabel passed away a few years before Laura.

Louise, Harold and DianneThe time in Edmonton was all to brief when, in 1950, Dave was offered a job in the small community of Pibrock where Laura and Dave both worked on the Murfitt farm. This came to an end when the farm was sold to a Hutterite Colony. The family then moved to LacLaBiche where Dave re-entered the mink ranching business. It was during this time Laura renewed her lifelong friendship with Edna Gatsky, with whom she had become such close friends while at the Martineau River Logging Camp.

In I953, the family returned to Cold Lake in what was their last major move. Both Laura and Dave took up employment at the Cold Lake Airbase and, while it was clear Laura was not going to match her mother in numbers of children, she became a proud mother for a third time when Dianne was born in 1954 .

At the Cold Lake Airbase, Laura, who was always a popular and skilled employee, worked her way through a variety of cooking assignments in the military mess halls until eventually landing at the base hospital from which she retired in 1979.

It was not long after Harold moved to Victoria in the sixties that Laura’s husband of 25 years, David Benjamin McNeill, passed away. While those early years with Dave were defined by his wanderlust, Dave was another of those early pioneers who worked hard, played hard and touched a lot of people along the way with the loving and caring side of his personality. He was well known as the life of any party and true to his family background, and, for that matter, many who pioneered the west, nurtured a real love for music and dance.

Harold and Lynn McNeill
June 2008

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 (1)

  • Diane Wheeler
    September 29, 2011 at 11:20 pm |

    Hello, I just started reading this as had this email written down. Howard & Myrtle Wheeler are my husband’s parents. This is very interesting and will share with others in the family. Am not on facebook though, so may not get any other information about the stories. Am doing family tree on the Wheeler family.
    Great site.

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Comments

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • McNeill Life Stories Index to Police Notebook - McNeill Life Stories

    February 16, 2020 |

    […] Part I, Police solidarity and the push for amalgamation. Part II, Comparing police cultures and implementing change Part III, The past as a guide to the future Part IV The integration of police services […]