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

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.


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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  • Mike Fedorowich

    September 1, 2023 |

    I have gone through the above noted text and have found it quite informative.
    I am a former member with several law enforcement agencies from across Canada.
    I worked in the First Nations service under the authority of the RCMP with the over sight of the OPP. My law enforcement service was conducted under the authority of the Nishnawbe – Aski Police Service in North West Ontario the Louis Bull Police Sevice in Hobbema AB, the Kitasoo Xaixais Police Service in Northern in side passage on Swindle Island, the Lac Suel Police Service North West Ontario and the Vancouver Transit Authority Sky Train Police Service. I’m presently dealing with an RCMP member for falsifying a report against me for a road rage event. Court case is finished and the charge was dropped but I have an on going complaint with the member and have forwarded to the WATCH DOGS IN OTTAWA FOR the RCMP review and consideration. I believe the said officer is in violation of his oath of office and should be held accountable for falsifying his RTCC all the while dragging me through the court system here in Nanaimo. RCMP continue to stonewall the appeal but Ottawa and the crowns office are still looking into the matter. if your able and find the time or the interest in this very brief introduction, I would very much like to speak with you and would be grateful to hear any wisdom that may come across from your end. I served with First Nations Police Services for ten years in isolation and six years with Transit Police out of New West Minster. I do value and appreciate any time you could spare to chat for a bit on this particular subject matter. Respectfully with out anger but an open mind, Mike Fedorowich Nanaimo BC 250 667 0060

  • 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:

  • 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.