Marie Lake: Explosion – Chapter 3 of 11

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

Stove at Marie Lake

Photo (Web).  A wood cookstove that nearly ended our mothers life.

Link to Next Post:  Link to Easy Come, Easy Go
Link to Last Post: Link to Growing Up in the Wilderness
Link to Family Stories Index

July, 1947

It was one of those quiet, lazy July mornings at Marie Lake. The dead calm waters reflected the morning sun and the leaves on the poplar trees, usually twisting and fluttering in the slightest breeze, hung as if frozen in time. The only noise to be heard was the quiet chatter of a few birds and of the laughter of Louise and me as we Mom before firedredged out wet sand to complete our giant sand castle – to be a surprise for mom and dad.

Suddenly, the serenity of the morning was bluntly ended by a loud, deep ‘whooomp’ coming from the direction of the house. A split second later the silence was further pierced by a blood curdling scream that echoed through the trees and down to the water. Louise and I sat there, momentarily frozen.

With the screams rising in intensity, we jumped up and run towards the house. As we topped the small sand bank we saw mom running with flames and smoke rising from her body. We were stricken with fear at a site we couldn’t fully comprehend.

After a short distance, she fell and rolled in the sand, grass and pine needles covering the yard. We stopped dead in our tracks not knowing what to do. At that moment dad came running from the mink pens. He frantically tried to smother the flames with his jacket but it wasn’t large enough to cover her whole body. Each time he moved the jacket, flames would spring to life.  An eternity passed before the flames were finally extinguished. The nauseating smell of burnt cloth, plastic and flesh permeated the air.

Dad hollered: “Harold, Louise, get a sheet off the bed.”

Suddenly, fearing the house might be on fire, he hollered “stop”, but it was too late as we were already inside. Fortunately there was no fire and only acrid smoke filled house. We frantically pulled a sheet from the bed and ran back to dad and mom.

When we returned mom had stopped screaming. She was lying on the ground moaning and crying, pleading for dad to help. Most of her outer clothes had been burned off and her arms and legs were a mass of burned flesh mixed with sand, grass, leaves and needles. On her legs small red lines weaved in and out of the burned flesh.

Dad sent us to sit by the house while he tried to comfort mom and wrap her in the sheet. Mr. Johnson had gone to town and Mr. Goodrich was on his trap line so we sat alone on the back porch hugging each other and crying. We were certain our mother was going to die.

Suddenly dad called:  “Harold, take your sister, get the boat ready, we have to get your mother to the hospital.”

We ran down to the dock and I jumped in the boat.  I started the engine and waited while dad carried mom to the boat.  He stepped in and held her while Louise untied the mooring rope, jumped in and pushed off.  Mom was now quietly moaning and it was evident she was in tremendous pain.

Twenty minutes later at a neighbouring farm house, others came to help. Louise and I stayed behind while a neighbour drove and dad sat in the back holding mom and comforting her as best he could.

It was a torturous, twenty-five mile drive around the lake on dirt roads that were narrow, rough and winding. One three mile section of swamp near English Bay was covered in corduroy where every bump and jolt caused mom to moan in agony.

Around mid-afternoon they arrived at the John Neil Hospital where she was attended to my Dr. Savage and the nursing staff. It was far from certain as to whether they could save her life.

Mom was always very emotional when she later talked of the accident:

“I was burned very badly on my legs and arms, but by some miracle, my face was spared. Dr. Savage and the nurses were puzzled by the long strings of red plastic burned into the flesh on my legs. It turned out to be part of the plastic apron that had burned and melted into my flesh. Only the heavy red trim remained visible.

A big challenge that faced Dr. Savage and the nurses was cleaning the burns. Not only was the plastic stuck to the burnt skin, when I ran out of the house and started rolling, all the sand, grass and needles stuck to the plastic and burned flesh. All this now needed to be cleaned before the burns could begin to heal. Keeping the wounds open increased the danger of infection. 

They kept me heavily sedated for the first week or so and I don’t remember much of that time. Later I went through some pretty tough times but it was a small price to pay – I was alive and I was going to see my family again.”

For the first week Louise and I stayed at Marie Lake while dad stayed at the hospital with mom. As soon as she was taken off the critical list dad returned and took us over to stay with Aunt Liz and Uncle Warren. He said that he would be back in a few days to take us to the hospital to see mom. He then returned to Marie Lake to catch up on his work.

Cook StoveMom told us how the accident had happened:

“I had been working getting the garden ready for spring planting while the two of you played on the beach. About 10:00 am I went in to make coffee. To speed things up starting the fire I poured some kerosene on the kindling. I guess there must have been some hot coals left from the breakfast fire, so when I lit the match the whole thing exploded. I still don’t know why my face and eyes were not burned.

It was also lucky the house didn’t burn down as your dad told me the explosion had blown the lids off the stove and singed the curtains. If they had caught fire the rest of the house would surely have burned. You know something else? Every since that day I have never, ever tired to light a fire with kerosene.” 

For the rest of her life mom bore heavy scars on her legs and arms and had to be careful when in the sun.

There was a touching side story about her healing process. One evening as mom was going crazy with the itch on her legs, our dog, Shep, came up beside her, sat down and started to lick her leg. She said the dogs tongue was just rough enough to stop the itch. He was very gentle and mom figured if a dog would lick his wounds to help them heal, it was unlikely to hurt her legs. Mom was even convinced it helped the healing process – that and her favourite treatment for every burn, bite, bruise, cut, scrape or other injury that any of us ever suffered – Gentian Violet! The poor dog had a purple tongue for weeks.

Before long, mom was functioning at full speed. It was hard to believe that just a couple of months earlier the situation had looked so bleak. Our lives were back on track for many great new adventures at Marie Lake. In the not to distance future we would face another family crisis only this time it would be dad’s life hanging in the balance.

Harold McNeill
Parksville, BC

Link to Next Post:  Link to Easy Come, Easy Go
Link to Last Post: Link to Growing Up in the Wilderness
Link to Family Stories Index

Car stuck in mud

Photo: This photo, taken from the web, of an old car stuck in the mud is very typical of the situation we faced when driving to Cold Lake around English Bay.  There was one spot, just beyond the current beach area, where the road neared the lake. It seemed it was always one large mud hole.  There was a very good family photo of digging the car out on one trip but the photo is no longer in the files. 




(Visited 399 times, 1 visits today)

Tags: , , , , , ,

Trackback from your site.

Comments (1)

Leave a comment



  • Harold McNeill

    October 18, 2021 |

    This email from Pal Slavid in Norway received October 10

    I simply must tell the following story; before a flight from Aberdeen to Bergen/Norway (it must have been around 2005), I had purchased a couple of “Pilot’s Notes” in a bookshop in Aberdeen. Among these one for the Mosquito. At the flight I was reading some pages in the biography of Douglas Bader (Reach for the Sky), and suddenly this elderly gentleman sitting beside me points to the book and says: “I knew this guy”. This gentleman turned out to be Mr. Bert Ramsden, and I was fortunate enough that he shared some of his story with me on this flight. And when I was able to pick up from my bag, a copy of the Pilot Notes which he had used during his training, we read it more or less together, and he commented with great knowledge. As an WWII aviator geek, this flight became a great memory for me, and I even got his signature on the Pilot Notes.
    With great respect,

  • McNeill Life Stories Protecting Canada's Health Care - McNeill Life Stories

    September 20, 2021 |

    […] One of the many defining features of Canada is our Public Health Care system. While the system continues to provide high-quality care to a broad cross-section of Canadians (rich and poor), funding cuts have led to longer wait times and other shortfalls in service. This has become particularly evident during the current pandemic as Covid19 patients fill beds normally be set aside for ongoing treatments. (What is happening in our hospitals) […]

  • 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.