Marie Lake: Crash on Highway 28 – Chapter 7 of 11

Written by Harold McNeill on September 16th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965


Family Photos via Mom’s Photo Keepsakes (July, 1948).  I always remembered this photo and by good fortune on January 2, 2016, it magically appeared in a photo album my sister Dianne McNeill had preserved.  It now stands as the lead photo in this story of this accident that nearly killed our father, Dave McNeill and injured several others.  The photo was taken in the Cold Lake Hospital just before Dad was transferred to Edmonton for emergency surgery.

Photo (by Mom): Auntie Marcia, Louise and I stand beside geese shot by Mr. Goodrich our trapper neighbour. Dad love eating fresh cooked goose, but would have a tough time savouring these birds.

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July, 1948

In mid-July, our family made a regular visit to Cold Lake to buy groceries and other supplies. Heading into town was a big event as it meant visiting family and a chance to play with other kids, not something we had a chance to do very often. There would also be a lively party at someone’s home and while the men didn’t drink much while working in the bush, they made up for lost time when they hit town.

Dad with FiddleIt took men many decades for men to learn that when it came to getting home safely after over consuming at a party, horse drawn wagons or sleighs gave a much better bet of arriving in one piece.  Cars, in a hands of a drunk driver, were much more deadly.

Photo (mom’s files): Harold with guitar, u/k male and female, mom with frying pan, Louise in front of mom, not sure if the man is Uncle Emerson (Dewan) but also looks like Uncle Denny (Helen Pylypow’s dad), and dad with the violin.  All standing in from of our home on the West side of Marie Lake.

At 10:30 one evening, after drinking for several hours at the Grand Centre Hotel,  eight men pilled into old Chevy Coupe and headed to Cold Lake to catch the last call. Uncle Warren, man furthest to the left in the lead photo, was a front seat, right side passenger and as the car hurtled down the long hill leading into Cold Lake hollered: “Lee, for Christ sakes slow down, there’s a turn at the bottom of the hill.”  This bit of information came from Uncle Warren some time later as he had not been drinking as much as the others and had been watching the road closely as Lee (Hobbs?) always tended to drive far to fast particularly when drinking. 

There was so much noise in the car with men singing, hooting and hollering it’s doubtful Lee even heard the warning. With the poor condition of the headlights, he clearly didn’t see the six foot dirt embankment that suddenly looming out of the darkness so the car slammed into it at fifty miles per hour. The men were thrown full force toward as the car came to a screeching, metal bending stop against the embankment.

Dad was propelled through the windshield and across the hood. A shard of 1/4 inch glass sliced his neck wide open from the back of his left jawbone down to the right collar bone. He was instantly covered in blood and continued to bleed profusely as he lay unconscious in the dirt.

When the car came to a rest, the other men, except for Uncle Warren, were a tangled mass of torn clothes, blood, broken bones, seats and bent metal. Uncle Warren, although not badly hurt, was knocked unconscious. Given the condition of the car, it was later speculated the only thing that saved the men from being killed was a combination of alcohol and being so tightly packed they insulated each other from even greater injury.

In Cold Lake it didn’t take long for area resident’s to come running and began prying the men still in the car out of the car and along with the others transporting them to the John Neil Hospital some eight or ten blocks away.

They saw dad lying unconscious in the dirt with his throat sliced open and assumed he was dead as he didn’t appear to be breathing. It was a tragic scene as everyone knew all the men in the car.Melvin and Hazel Wheeler

Mom, Louise and I were staying with Uncle Melvin and Aunt Hazel when someone who had recognized Dave came and woke Uncle Melvin to take mom to the hospital.

Photo (Mom Files):  Uncle Melvin and Auntie Hazel Wheeler with their two son’s Timmy and Randy.  We often stayed with them when visiting Cold Lake.

Mom reflects:

“It was nearly one o’clock in the morning when Melvin came in and woke me up. He told me Dave had been in a car accident and we needed to get to the hospital.  He had no idea of his condition.

It was bedlam at the hospital with eight badly injured men. Doctor Savage and two or three nurses where working frantically. Warren, who by this time was fully conscious, came out and said he saw Dave on a gurney but didn’t know if he was dead or alive.

Dr Savage later came out and called me aside. She said Dave was very badly injured and when they first brought him in they believed he wouldn’t make it. As it turned out the gigantic slash his throat had missed his jugular by a fraction of an inch. When they finally got around to treating him, he had regained consciousness but was not able to speak as both the upper and lower jaw bones had been shattered.

The doctor was able to suture the large gash in his throat but said he needed to be taken to Edmonton for surgery to repair his jaw bones. Because there were no ambulance services, my brother Melvin drove us. We left later that morning for the five hour trip over very rough roads. Dr. Savage had given me enough sedatives to reduce Dave’s pain on the long trip.

Once at the hospital, he was admitted and immediately taken into surgery. Melvin returned home and I stayed with Clifford, my older brother, and his wife Jean, who were living in Edmonton at the time. 

It took several hours to piece Dave’s jaws back together. His teeth were also wired to keep the bones immobilized while they healed. He certainly was a sorry sight, black and blue, and missing three lower front teeth. After a one week stay we were allowed to return home. We picked up you and Louise and returned to Marie Lake.

The situation was not without its humour. It was funny listening to dad as he learned to speak without moving his jaw. With a little more practice, he could have learned to become a very good ventriloquist just like Charlie McCarthy. He used to fool around making Louise’s doll talk while he held it on his knee.

Three missing teeth allowed him to sip mashed food through the hole. Dad didn’t think it so funny when we all laughed at his eating noises. Louise and I could feel the wires used to stitch the bones. For the rest of his life, dad had a giant scar across his throat.

Although he took most of the ribbing in good humour, he really missed being able to chew his food. Whenever we had a big meal of roast beef, chicken or turkey, he’d patiently mash everything on his plate then sip away. It was hard not to laugh. The most memorable meal he missed was after Mr. Goodrich and Aunt Marcia had shot several geese.  Dad loved roast goose but the meal just wasn’t the same when reduced to a soft mush. It was the same thing for fresh corn on the cob.

Photo (mom’s files).  Louise, Harold and Aunt Marcia (Pick) and severn guess shot by Mr. Goodrich.

As repeat visits to the hospital seldom occurred in those days, mom became the nurse. When the day came to remove the wires holding dad’s teeth together, mom began by sterilizing a pair of her scissors and a pair of dad’s pliers.

She then clipped the wires that were intricately woven through his teeth. After each was snipped, she would wiggle it loose using the pliers. It took mom about two hours to cut and pull the intricately woven wires. It was a painful process as bends and kinks in the wires scratched dad’s gums causing them to bleed.

Even with the wires removed, dad couldn’t move his jaw.  He’d been told by the Doctor that it would take a few months to get it mobile and during that time he was to chew gum to exercise the muscles. He learned to hate chewing gum.

Although he fully recovered from the injuries, there was one daily job that dogged him for the rest of his life – shaving his neck and lower chin around the scars. During his morning shave he would routinely knick himself and would come out with little pieces of cigarette paper stuck all over his neck. It was a small challenge considering he had been left for dead at the side of the road just a couple of months earlier. While lady luck had smiled upon Uncle Warren during that car accident, he would again soon face down the grim reaper on the thin ice of Marie Lake.

Link to Next Post: Link to On Thin Ice
Link to Last Post: Link to My Best Friend
Link to Family Stories Index

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  • 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 […]