Marie Lake: Easy Come, Easy Go – Chapter 4 of 11

Written by Harold McNeill on August 25th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965

 Pet Mink

Harold playing with his pet mink.

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Spring, 1947

Shortly after arriving in Marie Lake, dad told me he wanted to see me down at the mink pens.  “Damn, what have I done now?” 1 I could think of plenty, but nothing down by the mink pens. At six, I had been known to get into ‘occasional’ mischief so I was worried as I followed mom and dad toward the pens.

In the enclosure, they walked toward the pen of a mink named “Kits”, a female who always produced large litters. At the Smith Place, dad had given special attention to Kits when she became sick. He and mom helped nurse her back to health and she had become ‘friendly’ but was far from being a pet. Dad could handle her without gloves but we kids never took a chance. We could let her out of her pen and she would stay nearby waiting for the scraps of food we always kept handy.  Kits came to Marie Lake with dad’s share of the stock.

They stopped in front of Kit’s pen. Judgment Day!

In a matter of fact way Dad said: “Harold, your mom and I are giving you this mink to look after. As you know she will be having kits in the next month so both she and her kits will become yours to look after. It’s time you took a full share of the responsibility of looking after the mink.”

Photo:  Harold and Kit playing ‘Hide and Seek’ beside her pen.  Kit’s could burrow under the snow so quickly you could not tell where she might pop up. 

I was astonished. Not in my wildest dreams had I anticipated this turn of events. As dad was never much inclined to give long winded descriptions why he and mom had decided to give me this mink, I was left to figure that out later in life.

What was important, I now had a real stake in the mink ranch where, since arriving at Marie Lake, I had spent more and more time working with mom and dad around the pens. The only time everything was shut down tight was right after the females gave birth. At that stage, they were highly excitable and, if frightened for any reason, it was possible they would kill their kits.

Late that May I became the proud owner of seven healthy kits which I eventually separated from their mother and placed in individual pens. As Kits had produced other healthy litters, she would be kept for breeding next season.

In November, after the kits were fully grown and had developed their winter fur, they were killed and pelted. I didn’t mind working with dad when cleaning and placing the skins on pelting boards but the one thing I couldn’t do was watch when they were killing the mink, a process that seemed so cruel.

The men, wearing heavy leather gloves, would take a mink from the pen and place it across a ‘choke board’. The board would be clamped shut over the mink’s neck and left closed until the mink had suffocated. Although they fought hard, they died an agonizing death.

The rest of the pelting process was similar to that used by Mr. Goodrich when preparing squirrels, wild mink, weasels and other fur for sale. The animal was skinned; the fur turned inwards and stretched over a large wooden dowel that was sized to fit a particular skin

A smoothly rounded cow rib, about 18 inches long, was used to gently peel the chilled (almost frozen) fat from the skin. They had to be careful not to knick the skin or get any fat contamination on the fur as that greatly reduced the value. The cleaned pelt was then stretched, fur side inward, on a pelting board and left to cure for a several days in a cool dry space.

Cured pelts were taken or shipped to in Edmonton, Vancouver or Winnipeg where they were auctioned to dealers from around the world. At the height of domestic fur farming, a single, standard bred pelt cold fetch between $80 and $100. Special breeds could bring several hundreds per pelt, a tidy sum in those days.

In early December after arriving back from a selling trip to Edmonton, dad presented me with a crisp new $100 bill as my share of the profits. At six years of age that was an impossible amount of money for me to comprehend. Louise and I never had much need for money. Every time Mr. Goodrich or Mr. Johnson went to town they brought back a bag of candy. When in town, mom and dad always give us a little money to spend.

Then, probably not more than a week later dad said he had to ‘borrow’ the $100 as he needed to make several purchases in town. I went to my room, got the bill from my drawer and gave it to him. He thanked me and that was the last I ever saw of my first $100 bill.

It didn’t bother me much as Christmas was just around the corner and Louise and I had just finished writing our letters to Santa. We always read them to mom just for good measure. While we never received everything we wished for, we were never left wanting. Dad took the letters to post in town.

This Christmas, however, Santa would outdo himself. Since the early days of travelling with Uncle Tonnie in his dual wheeled, logging truck, I had talked about one day having a truck of my very own.

On Christmas morning, after opening the many gifts left under the tree, mom and dad sent me to the front porch. There, wrapped with a big red ribbon, was the most beautiful wagon I had ever seen. It was complete with removable cattle rack sides and a set of unbelievable rear dual wheels. It became a key to a whole new world of pretend. In retrospect, it was absolutely the best use mom and dad could have made of that $100 bill. For this six your old, it was ‘easy come, easy go’.

While that dual wheeled wagon filled days and weeks of my time in the enchanted area that was our home on Marie Lake, there was a singular event that occurred on the very day of our final departure almost two years later that was to become the focus of my boyhood dreams for years to come – an airplane landed on the water and taxied to our small dock.

Harold McNeill

Link to Next Post:  Link to The Trap Line
Link to Last Post: Link to Explosion
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 […]