Marie Lake: The Mink Pen Adventure – Chapter 1 of 11

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

Line Squal moving in over water

A line squall moves toward our boat as we crossed Marie Lake.  The high winds and waves placed us in mortal danger.

Link to Next Post:  Link to Growing Up in the Wilderness
Link to Last Post: Link to Near Death on the Dock  (End of Part II)
Link to Family Stories Index

1947 -1949

Marie Lake was suddenly rough, very rough, as the wind stirred up white frothy waves to a height of three or four feet. The ice had been out for no more than a week and small chunks could still be seen floating nearby. We were being drenched by the freezing spray and at this moment were in imminent danger of being thrown into the freezing cold, dark waters.

Aunt Marcia1 reflected upon that hair raising boat trip:

“That crazy uncle of mine was so smart but he had no sense when it came to being cautious. When we left the dock he could see storm clouds on the horizon and the wind was rising. I was only fifteen but even I knew Marie Lake could quickly become rough enough to swamp our small boat.

Now, here we were, spread-eagled on top of a boat covered with stupid mink pens. Mink pens, can you believe it – stinking, dirty mink pens. I suppose we were lucky Uncle Dave had not kept the mink in them. I asked him to wait, but he laughingly chided me – come along or stay by myself. Stupid me, I went along. Now we were in the middle of the lake and things were going from bad to worse.”

Boat of type used to haul mink pensAunt Marcia and I were shivering uncontrollably, a mix of cold and fear as it seemed at any moment the boat would swamp or we could be washed overboard with the mink pens.

Picture: Marie Lake. Dad and Auntie Marcia standing in the stern by the engine. Mom and I seated in the bow seat and an unknown person in the middle. The boat was perhaps fourteen feet at best. This is the same boat that was used on an earlier trip to haul the mink pens.

As the storm increased, Auntie hollered back at dad as he steered the boat with one hand while frantically bailing water with the other: “Uncle Dave, you crazy bugger, this boat is going to sink and we are all going to drowned if you don’t get us closer to shore!”  Even at fifteen, Auntie Marcie was never afraid to speak her mind to anyone, even to her favorite brother-in-law.

Dad, clearly irritated, hollered back:  “Marcia, just grab Harold and hold him in the centre of the boat, we will be into calmer water in a few minutes.” Marcia edged forward, grabbed my hand and helped get me back to the centre of the boat.

Louise, who was standing in the stern beside dad, recalled:

“I was so scared and freezing cold. My clothes were soaked and I was afraid I was going to fall in the water as the boat rocked.  I noticed a door on one of the mink pens was flapping, so I pulled it open and crawled inside. It was really stinky but it gave me some cover from the wind and spray. I still had to hold on as the pen was crashing up and down and I feared I would be washed overboard and drownd.”

The mink pens were the main reason for our slow progress. Dad had piled about fifteen or twenty pens crossways onto the small boat. First, he had nailed four, twelve foot, 2 x 4s across the boat, then loaded the pens in two rows. You would think they might give some stability but none were tied down. Marcia and I were riding on top with Dad and Louise standing in the stern.

When we left the dock, conditions were calm but soon after we could see a line squall approaching from the south-west. Dad thought he could outrun it but he was wrong and it caught us full force about two miles off shore. The sky darkened and the waves rose rapidlyLine Squal over Water as dad angled toward the leeward shore. The boat rolled precariously as we angled up one side and down the other of each wave. Soon the distant shoreline had all but disappeared in the cloud. The bigger waves would catch the overhanging pens, lift them up and when the water receded, they would slam back down. Soon the approaching storm cloud was upon us and the wind was blowing with hellish force.

I had no sooner climbed back beside Aunt Marcia when a large white cap picked up some of the outer pens and washed them overboard.  For a moment it appeared we would capsize but dad managed to veer sideways and recover. Another wave of that size and the boat would roll over. With the water temperature near zero, our chances for survival, two miles from shore, with not another boat in site, would be limited.2

In the stern dad continued to bail but the water was gaining. A few more inches and we would begin to ship water over the stern. The engine would then pull us down.  I looked back at dad and although he never seemed to worry much about such situations, he now had a look of concern on his face. To see dad looking worried about anything was not comforting.

Just as suddenly as the storm had started, it stopped. We quickly reached the leeward shore and although we continued to shiver uncontrollably, the rest of our trip was made without incident. As for the pens that had washed overboard, dad said he would take a run around the lake in a couple of days and pick them up. Life with dad was not for the faint of heart.

After the storm passed I can still remember lying back on the pens, as Aunt Marcie cuddled Louise and I. We watched as the shoreline slowly drift by on this truly beautiful lake. Long stretches of sandy beach, outcroppings of rock, backed by hundreds of acres of emerald forests flowed peacefully along the shoreline. There was not another sole for miles.

On future trips across and around the lake, it was not unusual to see black bear, moose and deer down by the water. A number of black bear also frequented Marie Creek which was no more than two miles south of our home. If you wanted fresh fish for dinner all you had to do was throw in a line and wait just a few minutes.

Our new home was surrounded evergreens and the log house was no more than sixty or seventy feet from the beach. A few hundred yards north was an old cabin, occupied by Mr. Goodrich, a trapper who would soon become a close friend of our family and over the next two years Louise and I would spend many hours with Mr. Goodrich as he taught us about nature and the wonderful world in which he lived.

Life was good to the McNeill family.

Harold McNeill
Battleford, 2010

Link to Next Post:  Link to Growing Up in the Wilderness
Link to Last Post: Link to Near Death on the Dock  (End of Part II)
Link to Family Stories Index

(1) Marcia Pick (Hartley) (Wheeler) and Bud live in South Battleford, SK. One of my mom’s three younger sisters, the other two being Helen Lane (Wheeler) (South Battleford) and Shirely Peterson (Wheeler), Kamloops, BC.

(2) Life Jackets were seldom carried in private boats in those days, not that a life jacket would have been of much value in the freezing water.


The mink pens were among the final loads as we moved to our new home. We had spent two idyllic years at the Smith Place on Cold Lake and were now off on a new adventure. During the previous winter, our second at the Smith Place, dad and mom, along with Uncle Warren and Aunt Liz, had continued to working at a frantic pace.

Mom recounts:

“Your dad continued to log the few areas on the north slopes that provided saleable trees but this would be the last winter. There was little left that was worthwhile cutting. If Dave wanted to continue logging we would have to move. Your Aunt Liz and Uncle Warren were well settled in their relationship and planning to get married and Aunt Liz’s three children were all doing very well considering the terrible times they had faced over the two years since their dad and brother had died.

While the Smith Place was wonderful place to live, it was a bit crowed with nine people. Also, I think we all knew the mink and fox farm would not support both families without winter logging or other work as back-up.  Your dad had been in discussions with Marten Johnson about some logging opportunities that existed north and west of Marie Lake. Marten had started a small mink ranch and wanted to expand so suggested dad join him. Dad could work the timber lease and re-open the old saw mill as well as help Marten to expand his ranch. This would give dad plenty of work year round.

It was a great opportunity for both your dad and Uncle Warren so the two dissolved their partnership. Dad would take some of the extra mink pens and a few mink and combine them with Marten’s farm at Marie Lake. For dad to be able to pursue his interests in logging and to have a mill to saw his own logs was an ideal situation. The deal was struck and before the ice went out of Marie Lake that spring we had most of our stuff moved. 

We had also lucked out as the house into which we were moving was another beautiful log home on a stretch of sandy beach. The lake was smaller than Cold Lake but just a beautiful as the water was crystal clear and there were lots of fish. It had a great garden spot and the berry patches were even better than around North Bay on Cold Lake. Marten had built a separate entrance addition on the back of the house so we would once again have a home of our own.”


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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.