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

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Comments

  • Harold McNeill

    February 28, 2022 |

    Hi Robert, I do remember some of those folks from my early years in Cold Lake (Hazel was my aunt and our family spent many fond times with Uncle Melvin, Aunt Hazel and Family. I knew Lawrence and Adrian. Having read a half dozen accounts it is clear their were many false narratives and, perhaps, a few truths along the way. I tried my best to provide an even account from what I read. Cheers, Harold. (email: Harold@mcneillifestories.com)

  • Robert Martineau

    February 25, 2022 |

    Its been a long time since any post here, but its worth a shot. My Grandfather was Hazel Wheelers brother Lawrence, and son to Maggie and Adrien. Maggie Martineau (nee Delaney) is my great grandmother. The books and articles to date are based on the white mans viewpoint and the real story as passed down by the Elders in my family is much more nefarious. Some of the white men were providing food for the Indians in exchange for sexual favors performed by the Squaws. Maggie was the product of one of those encounters. Although I am extremely proud of my family and family name, I am ashamed about this part of it.

  • Julue

    January 28, 2022 |

    Good morning Harold!
    Gosh darn it, you are such a good writer. I hope you have been writing a book about your life. It could be turned into a movie.
    Thanks for this edition to your blog.
    I pray that Canadians will keep their cool this weekend and next week in Ottawa. How do you see our PM handling it? He has to do something and quick!
    Xo Julie

  • Herb Craig

    December 14, 2021 |

    As always awesome job Harold. It seems whatever you do in life the end result is always the same professional, accurate, inclusive and entertaining. You have always been a class act and a great fellow policeman to work with. We had some awesome times together my friend. I will always hold you close as a true friend. Keep up the good work. Hope to see you this summer.
    Warm regards
    Herb Craig

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Hi Dorthy, So glad you found those stories and, yes, they hold many fond memories. Thanks to social media and the blog, I’ve been able to get in touch with many friends from back in the day. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Well, well. Pleased to see your name pop up. I’m in regular contact via FB with many ‘kids’ from back in our HS days (Guy, Dawna, Shirley and others). Also, a lot of Cold Lake friends through FB. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Oh, that is many years back and glad you found the story. I don’t have any recall of others in my class other than the Murphy sisters on whose farm my Dad and Mom worked.

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Pleased to hear from you Howie and trust all is going well. As with you, I have a couple of sad stories of times in my police career when I crossed paths with Ross Barrington Elworthy. Just haven’t had the time to write those stories.

  • Howie Siegel

    November 25, 2021 |

    My only fight at Pagliacci’s was a late Sunday night in 1980 (?) He ripped the towel machine off the bathroom wall which brought me running. He came after me, I grabbed a chair and cracked him on the head which split his skull and dropped him. I worried about the police finding him on the floor. I had just arrived from Lasqueti Island and wasn’t convinced the police were my friends. I dragged him out to Broad and Fort and left him on the sidewalk, called the cops. They picked him up and he never saw freedom again (as far as I know). I found out it was Ross Elworthy.

  • Herbert Plain

    November 24, 2021 |

    Just read you article on Pibroch excellent. My Dad was Searle Grain company agent we move there in 1942/3 live in town by the hall for 5 years than moved one mile east to the farm on the corner where the Pibroch road meets Hwy 44. Brother Don still lives there. I went to school with you and Louise.