Marie Lake: One Thin Ice

Written by Harold McNeill on September 16th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965

Truck on Thin Ice

Photo (From the photo files of a High School buddy,  Guy Venne).  This logging truck when through the ice just off the waterfront from the town of Cold Lake.  It was totally submerged in about 50 feet of water.  The photo here shows the final stage of the truck being lifted back onto the ice. The following story is about my Uncle, Warren Harwood, and his step-son, Emerson Dewan, facing a life or death situation when travelling across the thin ice of Marie Lake to visit our home.

Link to Next Post: Hauling Logs
Link to Last Post: Crash on Highway 28
Link to Family Stories Index

Fall, 1948

“For God’s sake Warren, you’ve gotta jump, the car’s going under!” Emerson hollered as he began to pull the door open.  “What to hell made him think he drive on thin ice.” he thought.

Driving at 30 mph, Warren could hardly see as water sprayed across the windshield. Emerson, standing on the running board, was soaked to the skin, freezing and afraid for his life. A few seconds later the engine flooded and as the car sputtered to a halt, the ice cracked and water began to spurt up through the cracks.

Outside, Emerson could see they were going under but couldn’t jump until he helped Warren out. As he pulled, Warren pushed and when part way out, a shard of ice jammed against the door. There was no way Warren’s short, stocky body could squeeze through.  Emerson pulled with all his might as the car slowly began to sink.

A few hours earlier Uncle Warren and Emerson, his step-son, had filled Warren’s old car to capacity with fishing gear. It was a weird looking contraption as Warren had cut off the back half of the cab, built a box and, presto, a pick-up. There was no room for the ‘jigger’ so Warren had tied it across the passenger door and window.

Emerson recalled the fateful trip:Car on Thin Ice

“Warren asked me if I wanted to come with him to Marie Lake to take a load of fishing gear to Uncle Dave. I was more than happy to take a road trip just to get away from work at the home. When we arrived at the east shore the lake was completely frozen.

As there had not yet been much snow, the ice was clear except for spots of frost that was common in the early fall. Warren decided the ice was thick enough to hold the vehicle ‘if’ we kept our speed up. I was not so certain, but Warren seemed so sure that I simply went along.

As soon as we headed out from shore, the ice was cracking all around and I was scared shitless!  Warren increased his speed saying everything would be OK as long as we kept moving. I guess he assumed, like Uncle Dave, that if he drove fast enough he could drive on water. Maybe a good idea in theory, but not so good in practice!

To make matters worse, that dammed ‘jigger’ was tied across my door and window so I could only get out Warren’s door. If we went through the ice, I would be trapped.

I told Warren to stop and let me out but he said we couldn’t stop because the ice was to thin but he did slow down, opened the door and stood on the running board while holding the steering wheel. There was no damned way I was going to stay inside that car and even though it was freezing cold on the running board, I felt much better.

We had only travelled a couple of miles when I noticed the ice in front of the car lifting as if a wave was building. I could see more cracks spreading as Warren drove even faster. By this time, I could tell he was finally becoming concerned. We could see water squirting up through the cracks and ice was breaking below my feet. Water was spraying in all directions from the tires and the windshield was covered in freezing water. 

I hollered at Warren to jump and pulled the door open just as the car started to sink but the door jammed and Warren was trapped half way out. Together we managed to get the door open and just as the car began to sink, we jumped.

Although the ice was still cracking under our weight, it held as we walked away from the hole toward Uncle Dave’s. We were both soaking wet and nearly froze before we reached the far shore. Warren just laughed as if it was a big joke.

After we had walked only a few hundreds yards, Warren stopped and said:  “Jesus Emerson, I have to go back to the car.”

I asked ‘why?’, to which he responded: “I forgot to drain the water out of the radiator.” 1  He then began to laugh and we continued toward Uncle Dave’s.  He had this really odd sense of humour.

At our home on the west side of the lake, we could see two specks that soon became Uncle Warren and Cousin Emerson. When they arrived, they were nearly frozen, so Mom stoked the fire (no kerosene of course), made coffee and soup and listened as their story unfolded. Warren was still chuckling.

Nothing further could be done that day, but the next morning we all walked back to where the car had gone down.  The men froze stakes into the ice so they could easily pinpoint the location later.

In late November, when the ice was thicker, Dad, Uncle Warren, Emerson and a few other men hauled logs onto the lake, built a block and tackle, cut a hole in the ice and began ‘fishing’ for the car.

To drag the bottom, they cut three smaller holes in triangular fashion about 20 or 30 feet back from the main hole. They ran three lines using a jigger and, at the main hole, tied a heavy rope to the anchor as well as three smaller lines, one to each of the outer holes. By this means they were able to drag the anchor back and forth along the bottom.

It took about an hour until they snagged something big. They began hoisting it to the surface using the block and tackle and the old car slowly emerged from the depths.  It must have been lying on its side as the anchor had broken the windshield and hooked solidly into the cab frame. A second prong had poked a hole in the roof.

While it was still submerged the lift was easy, but when it reached the surface, the horses were needed to pull it out onto the ice. They towed it back the car to the barn. After drying, they stripped the engine and drive train and soon had it running. Warren was back in business.

Meanwhile, the snow  came early that year dumping nearly two feet by mid-November. It gave Louise and me another brain-wave.

Harold McNeill
Parksville, BC 2009

Link to Next Post: Hauling Logs
Link to Last Post: Crash on Highway 28
Link to Family Stories Index

1  As there was little antifreeze or it was so diluted that it only worked during mild cold periods, most of those who owned vehicles in the wilderness area’s always drained the water out of the rad and block each day.  On a cold day when running the engine, it was necessary to put cardboard over the radiator and to disconnect the fan to keep the water from freezing.


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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 […]