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.

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Link to Last Post: Crash on Highway 28
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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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Comments

  • 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: Harold@mcneillifestories.com)

  • 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.

  • Herbert Plain

    November 24, 2021 |

    Just read you article on Pibroch excellent. My Dad was Searle Grain company agent we move there in 1942/3 live in town by the hall for 5 years than moved one mile east to the farm on the corner where the Pibroch road meets Hwy 44. Brother Don still lives there. I went to school with you and Louise.