Marie Lake: My Best Friend – Chapter 6 of 11

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

Louise and Shep on Wagon

Photo (by Mom):  While was a good friend with who I spent considerable time exploring the wilderness around our home, by best friend was my little sister Louise. Together we spend hours building things, helping around the house and taking school lessons from mom.

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1947 -1949

Life can be fragile, a fact our family had plenty of chances to learn – Louise nearly drying from a killer fungus, then, nearly drowning and mom’s injury from the explosion.

The coming summer, to be our last at Marie Lake, would find dad left for dead in the Cold Lake Hospital. That fall, Uncle Warren and Cousin Emerson would stare down the grim reaper on the thin ice of Marie Lake, the lake that had nearly taken Dad, Aunt Marcia, Louise and me to the bottom.

It was a time when Louise and I would be drawn more closely together than at any time in our lives, before or after. While our dog Shep played a prominent role in my young life, I would have to say that Louise grew to be my very best friend over the two short years at Marie Lake. We played, worked, studied and planned new adventures and, Shep was close by our side. It was an all too brief interlude in our lives, a time when life stood still.

The Playhouse

One morning while playing in the small grove of trees between the beach and our house, we decided we ‘needed’ a playhouse. This was to be no ordinary playhouse, but one that could hold everything needed to live in the wilds of northern Alberta. Our childhood dreams knew no bounds and our buddy Shep, barked his whole hearted approval.

Mom remembered clearly:

“I knew the two of you were up to something as you had built an elaborate little roadway into a grove of trees by the lake and were always using Harold’s wagon to haul stuff in and out. I looked in one evening when you were playing on the beach and saw these little stakes around the area you had cleared. I didn’t say anything.

A couple of days later the two of you asked if you could build a playhouse.  As usual, your dad never hesitated for a second.  He said he couldn’t help but would set aside enough slabs and rough 2×4’s at the mill for your project.

As the two of you were now used to handling the horses, he offered to hitch them to the stone boat so you could haul the lumber down from the mill. Two days later, you had everything at the building site. Your dad gave you a bucket of old nails along with a hammer and saw.

As you still needed some help, the three of us went to work. The playhouse was about 8′ X 8′ and perhaps six feet high. The walls and roof were covered with the slabs, rough side out.  We cut in a window facing the beach and a door facing the house.  It only took a couple of days and was actually pretty cozy. Louise and I made window curtains and a cover for the little table.  You used wooden boxes for chairs.  It was your ‘ home away from home’.”  

Louise insisted on bringing in some of her dolls and kitchen things. It was clear she was going to become the head of this little household. Even with these little girl toys cluttering the space, it was still a neat get-a-way for two kids living in the wilderness.

As a final touch for our play area, dad rounded off a two foot high tree stump in a nearby clearing, then sanded down the ends of a 20 foot plank and rounded the ends to form a seat. The plank was centred on the stump and a steel pin was used to hold the board in place. Louise and I now had a teeter totter that not only went up and down, but also round and round. Dad always had ingenious ideas.

Lest you begin to think life was always fun and games for Louise and me, mom insisted we spend two or three hours a day learning to read, write and do arithmetic. My studies had ‘unofficially’ begun two years earlier, but I had yet to complete the ‘official’ curriculum as mandated by the Provincial Government.


Late that spring, mom received the first lesson plans for my Grade 1 year. I already had everything pretty much down pat so it was a challenge getting me to go back and do the written lessons for material with which I was well acquainted.

Back to SchoolIt helped that mom was an excellent teacher. She had endless patience and even when her “second best” pupil was totally unreasonable, she would encourage me to continue. I had to spend or three hours a day, but those were two or three hours taken away from more meaningful’ to my life, activities such as trapping, hunting, logging, working with dad, riding in the logging truck with my Uncle, etc.  Mothers! They had a hard time understanding these things.

Louise, on the other hand, really enjoyed my lessons. She was right by my side and for each step I completed she completed two. When I left to work with dad she would still be pouring over my lessons. If I had been able to get her to print like me, those lessons would have been finished in no time.

Meanwhile, the best I could do was excel at the things I enjoyed (mainly outdoors)) and try to keep pace in area’s I found less enjoyable (mainly studying). As it turned out it was a good thing mom persevered as I would have been completely defeated in school over the next few years, had she not.

Our studies, however, came to an abrupt halt mid-summer while our family was on a trip to Cold Lake visiting family and friends. They would not resume until late in the fall. It was not to be a happy hiatus from our school work.

Harold McNeill

Link to Next Post: Link to Crash on Highway 28
Link to Last Post: Link to The Trap Line
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 […]