Marie Lake: Growing up in the Wilderness – Chapter 2 of 11

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


Louise and Harold Hauling Manure

Photo (by Mom).  Louise and I loading the stone boat with manure to fertilize mom’s garden.
March 4, 2018: 1464

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Summer of 1947

1. My Little Sister

“Come on brother, let’s go to the beach and play!”  Louise always wanted to play and ‘for a girl’ she was pretty good at everything and not afraid to try anything. Although I really missed the fun times we had with our cousins at the Smith Place, it seemed my little sister was quickly growing to be a friend who could pretend, share secrets and take chances with the best of them.

Mom and Louise Feeding Mink 1947She was just a wisp of a thing, probably no more 40 pounds soaking wet, but at three and a half, she was a bundle of pure energy. Beyond that she was smart and I knew she would be light years ahead of me in the smart department. She could learn things so fast I felt intimidated. Maybe she had worked out a secret deal with that stupid Ouija Board as it never answered any of my questions correctly.

One thing Louise was not good at was being told what to do. If I started getting too bossy she would just plain and simple, baulk. Although probably not the best analogy for my little sister, she reminded me of a young filly dad once tried to train. No matter how he sweet-talked, threatened or cajoled, that filly would only do what that filly wanted to do. So it was with my little sister.

One of the best friends Louise and I had was Shep, a collie cross that dad and mom had given us earlier that spring. Shep, at 3 years old, had been given to Dad by one of his friends at the Cold Lake Indian Reserve. As for the name, “Shep” I suppose it came from a popular song of those days, “Old Shep”, first recorded by Red Foley in 1940 then over the years by dozens of other artists including Slim Carter, Hank Snow, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Alabama.

I don’t think Louise and I went anywhere that Shep was not licking at our heels, barking, jumping, and playing, very much in tune with our every adventure. I think having the dog tagging along gave mom a sense of peace while Louise and I wandered around the lake, went swimming, built rafts by the river or wandered into the bush in search of adventure.

And speaking of searching for adventure, we always liked finding things we could do for mom and dad, things involved ‘adult’ work that kids from a less ‘privileged’ background might never have a chance to try.

2. The Garden

It seemed this particular area of Marie Lake provided even better-growing conditions than the Smith Place. Perhaps the warmer water of Marie Lake accounted for the difference. The sandy loam along with the south-east slope provided ideal growing conditions but mom felt some well-seasoned horse manure would help. Dad was far too busy setting up the mink pens and logging to begin hauling manure so Louise and I hatched a plan.

Over the past couple of years, dad had let me drive the horses while he was hauling logs. I would also drive from ice-hole to ice-hole when winter fishing. I had never taken the horses out on my own but was sure I could handle them. After all, they were dad’s horses and he would never keep a horse that was not well trained. I thought back momentarily to that poor filly that had been so suddenly sold off. I hoped he would keep Louise!

The horses were big, way bigger than a saddle horse and very intimidating. They had hooves the size of a cast iron frying pan and should they step on your foot, it would hurt. Never-the-less, Louise and I reckoned we could handle the job and agreed to give it a shot.

After breakfast, we followed dad from the house telling mom we were going up to watch him saw logs at the mill.

Once outside I asked:  “Dad, will you hitch Molly to the stone boat1 so Louise and I can haul some manure up to the garden for mom?” 

Harold and Louise Loading Manure for Mom's GardenWithout missing a beat, dad said:  “Great idea kids, should have thought of that myself. I know you mom wants the manure but I just don’t have time right now. I’ll hitch her now?”

Twenty minutes later we were on our way. By the time mom came out of the house heading to the garden, Louise and I had the first load almost ready to go. She just stopped and stared at her two little kids, one in bare feet with pants rolled up to his knees and the other tromping around with her hand-me-down pants around her boots, covered in manure.

Tears came to her eyes as she recalled:

“I could not believe my eyes. I knew you two were good at doing many things but I never expected you to get the horses and start hauling manure. I mean, even I was never comfortable driving the horses and never considered doing that job myself. I could drive them in an emergency but other than that I always left those things to your dad.”

She gave us a big hug, told us to wait while she took a picture with the old ‘Brownie’ and we were off to the garden. Mom tagged along beside as Louise and I rode that load of manure – two of the proudest kids on earth and probably one of the proudest mothers. We continued to haul more loads and that summer mom’s garden flourished. She really did have a green thumb or perhaps purple, depending on whether she happened to be using Gentian Violet for some purpose.

While I spent a lot of time with Louise playing, exploring and working at odd jobs around the home, I also spent time with dad learning about logging, operating the sawmill, fishing and looking after mink. Most of my hunting and trapping time was spent with Mr. Goodrich.

3. Working with Dad

At the mill, I could sit for hours watching the big circular blade peel off length after length of slabs and boards.  Dad had a keen eye for determining just what type of boards could best be sawn from every tree size to ensure as little waste as possible. I suppose today they would use a laser and computer to make those same calculations.

One of the jobs I learned to dislike was getting up early (before daylight) to help dad pull the nets. I didn’t mind during the warm summer days but it seemed every time we had to go early through the spring or fall, it was cold and drizzling.  Dad would be standing or sitting in the stern by the engine. He looked very much like one of those grizzled, old sea captains all bundled up in a heavy turtleneck sweater (knitted by mom), rubber jacket, pants and hat.

Meanwhile, I crawled as far as I could inside a small covered space in the bow. It was terribly uncomfortable especially in rough water but at least it was possible to keep warm and dry and perhaps even catch a bit more sleep. Sometimes, when the weather was rough, I would think back to that terrible trip across the lake with those stupid mink pens that nearly took us to the bottom.

Things would improve a little once we started pulling the nets, as it was fun watching the fish come in and helping to remove them except for the jackfish and mariah. One of those fish could tangle a net for five yards. And then there were the pickerel. I simply left those to dad as every time I worked on one, I would get stabbed by one of their spines.

I guess, in most ways, you could call me a ‘fair weather’ fisherman and although I loved eating fresh fish, I never developed much of a taste for commercial or sport fishing.  I much preferred land-based activities that took me into the backwoods.

4. Cooey .22 – Hunting and Trapping

Late that fall, encouraged by dad, Mr. Goodrich taught me to shoot an old Cooey .22 single shot that dad had hanging around our house for years. After both men were satisfied I could use the gun safely and could hit the barn door three or four times out of ten, dad let Shep and I go hunting rabbits. For the rest of the fall that was my favourite pastime as Shep loved hunting, probably something he learned when he was a puppy growing up on the Reserve.Louise by Mr. Goodrich Cabin at Marie Lake

Mom often told one of her favourite stories about Louise, me and Mr. Goodrich:

“The two of you always wanted to run off and see what Mr. Goodrich was doing. At first I was concerned that you might drive him crazy but he never seemed to mind. He was such a good man and had the patience of Job when it came to you and Louise. Sometimes when you had finished your dinner at home you would run over to Mr. Goodrich’s place to see what he was eating. He would always ask if you wanted more.

He would then keep feeding you until you were stuffed. In order to convince him you were full, you would chew up some food, hold it in your mouth and when he asked you if your were full, you would open your mouth and show him the mouthful of food then tell him you were full right to the top. He would stop feeding you.”

Whenever Auntie Marcia stayed for a week or so, we would take back seat with Mr. Goodrich as he would shower all his attention on Auntie Marcia. Can’t say as I blame him as I think for most of his life he was a bachelor trapper. Besides what man in his right mind would not enjoy having a young, attractive, outgoing woman such as Auntie Marcia hanging around for a few days.

As winter rolled in, Mr. Goodrich taught me to set snares for rabbit and squirrels. Rabbits were considered a pest but Squirrel pelts were valuable. Squirrels spent most of their time in groves of Jack Pine and Fir that dotted the area around Marie Lake. They were always busy collecting and storing food and could be seen running up and down and jumping from tree to tree.

There was even a type of squirrel called a ‘flying squirrel”. It had an area of skin that stretched from their front legs to the back and these little animals could glide like birds from one tree to another. Fascinating little creatures! While squirrel pelts were not as valuable as mink, weasel or fox, they still fetched a good price on the market.

In order to set snares for a squirrel, we would collect short poles, cut to about five or six feet and prop them against an evergreen. A snare would be attached to the pole so that when the little squirrel ran up the pole to tree, the snare would slip over his neck or body and close, In his struggle to break free, he would fall off the pole. When that happened the little squirrel had reached the end of the line. It would not be long before he (or she) became fur pelt, sewn into a coat or gloves for some person in Europe. Two dollars per pelt was big money in 1947. Perhaps enough money to buy a small wedding present!

5. Wedding Bells

That spring, Aunt Liz and Uncle Warren announced they were getting married and everyone was so excited. Mom was busy sewing a new dress on her old treadle Singer sewing machine Warren and Liz Wedding Day and helped Aunt Liz make her wedding dress. Uncle Warren and dad even had an excuse to drive to Edmonton for a couple of days – to get new suits.

For everyone, it was a big celebration as marriages brought family from far and wide, many of whom we had not seen for well over two years. They travelled in from Birch Lake, Glaslyn, North Battleford, LacLaBiche and many other communities sprinkled around Alberta and Saskatchewan.

With a good representation of the twenty Aunts and Uncles from the two sides of our family, plus a number of Uncle Warren’s relatives from Harlan, we could easily fill the old Community Hall in Cold Lake. It also meant turkey, mashed potatoes and all the trimmings; lots of cousins to play with and a big dance to cap off the evening.

On June 27, 1947, with mom and dad standing up for them, Aunt Liz and Uncle Warren tied the knot.

Harold McNeill
2010

Link to Next Post:  Link to Explosion
Link to Last Post: Link to the Mink Pen Adventure
Link to Family Stories Index

1 The name “stone boat” probably originated on the early prairie farms. It was hard work hauling rocks out of the field so the farmer never wanted to lift them any higher than necessary, so be built a “stone boat”.  It was built with two 4×4 runners with a dozen or so 2X6 planks nailed across the top.  The whole affair sat about 6 inches off the ground and was towed by one or two horses depending on how much of a load one intended to carry.

McNeill:Harwood

Left to right top row: Marjy Kletke (Dewan), aunt Laura, Jerry (Gerald) Harwood, Warren Harwood, Elizabeth (Liz) Harwood, Aunt Dot Harwood, Uncle Ken Harwood, Aunt Florrie Harwood, Uncle Les Harwood, Unknown,

Next row Right to Left: Freddie Harwood, Jean Harwood, Shirley Harwood, Myrtle Harwood, Betty dewan, Eleanor Harwood,

Seated Left to Right Dave McNeill, Jack Claybert and Unknown (I know who this is but I cannot put a name to him and neither can Emerson although he feels he should know also. I wondered if it was Bruce Claybert but Em doesn’t think so. Maybe someone out there knows.

Thanks for names Betty.

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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 […]