Martineau River: A Winter Dash to the Hospital – Chapter 3 of 5

Written by Harold McNeill on October 9th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965

Dr. E.M. Savage

Photo (Cold Lake Hospital Files).  Dr. Savage was the difference between life and death as my sister lay critically ill.

Link to Next Post:  Wolves in the Wilderness
Link to Last Post: Hauling Logs and Ice
Link to Family Stories Index

Martineau River – Deep Winter, 1945

In early February, things took a dangerous turn. Mom clearly remembered the day:

“Louise became very ill.  She was running a high fever and after a few hours was going into convulsions. She was so little and helpless. Dave and I knew we had to get her to the hospital in Cold Lake as quickly as possible. About 5:00 am, Dave talked it over with Tonnie and both were worried the roads from the Camp to the north side of Cold Lake would be blocked with drifting snow as no one had driven to town recently. They felt, however, the ice road across the lake would be OK as it was regularly ploughed. She continued:

Grandma Martineau holds LouiseTo make sure they could get through to the lake your dad decided to harness one team of horses and follow the truck using the front ‘bob’ from the logging sleigh. If the truck became stuck they could use the horses to pull it through. We left at daylight. You stayed at the camp.

Photo:  Hattie Wells holds baby Louise on one of our trips to Cold Lake.  Later, after leaving LacLaBiche, Louise was cared for by Hattie Wells while I stayed in LacLaBiche. (When making the original post, I referred to this woman as my Aunts mother, Maggie Martineau (Delaney), but in April 2017, Susan Dalhseide (also from Cold Lake) provided information that the woman was Hattie Wells.

I bundled Louise in blankets and held her while Tonnie drove and dad followed with the team. It turned out the men were correct, the roads were terrible. They ended up towing the truck most of the way to the lake, a distance of about 15 miles. Louise was still convulsing and her temperature going up.  I was deathly afraid we would not make the hospital in time.

At the lake we found the ice roads had been ploughed and were in good condition. Your dad drove the truck the rest of the way to town while Tonnie returned to the camp with the horses.

Just before noon, we arrived at the John Neil (Hospital) where Dr. Savage1 was on staff. She took one look at the red splotches that covered Louise’s body and knew immediately what was wrong. The Doctor put her on a heavy dose of penicillin and later told us Louise was an extremely sick little girl having been infected with a potentially fatal disease known as Erysipelas or ‘St. Anthony’s Fire’.2 

Dr. Savage said that if we had not arrived at the hospital when we did Louise would most certainly have died.”

After a week in the hospital Louise made a full recovery and was able to return with mom and dad to the camp and we got back to our normal routines thankful that Louise was back in good health.

A couple of months later, before ice on the river would break up, dad wanted to go back to Birch Lake to see how Aunt Liz was making out and to pick up the rest of our belongings at the old home stead. To make the trip he borrowed a couple of logging trucks and, along with Tonnie, we all headed out for the one day trip.

Aunt Liz and her three children were now living in our old home after her husband, Tart had passed away.  Dad knew his other sister, Irene, was planning on leaving the Lakeview hotel to cook for one of the road building crews in southern Alberta, so it seemed logical that Aunt Liz, who was also a wonderful cook, might want to take over running the restaurant.

Once at Birch Lake, it didn’t take long for that decision to be made and we soon had both trucks loaded with most of the worldly possessions of both families. On the way home, we stopped to visit with dad’s sisters Aunt Lola and Uncle Alex David, Aunt Mina and Uncle Ned Crocker and Aunt Hazel and Uncle Denny Dewan and other family and friends along the way. It was always hard getting away as everyone was so busy catching up on the several months since we had left for Cold Lake.

On our arrival back in Cold Lake, mom’s brother, Melvin (Wheeler), and his wife, Aunt Hazel, who owned a home only a few doors north of the Lakeview hotel, offered Aunt Liz and her kids a place to stay until she could find a small home of her own.  Life for Aunt Liz was slowly getting back on track.

When we arrived back at the Martineau Camp the river was just breaking up and the crews were making the final rushed preparations for booming the logs to Cold Lake and new adventures for the McNeill family.

Harold McNeill
Cold Lake, 2009

Link to Next Post:  Wolves in the Wilderness
Link to Last Post: Hauling Logs and Ice
Link to Family Stories Index

1 The residents of Cold Lake and area were most fortunate when, in 1943, the Women’s Missionary Society appointed Dr. E.M. Savage as doctor at the John Neil Hospital. It is not possible in a short footnote to express the loving care that Dr. Savage brought to so many people remote communities.  Many dozens, perhaps hundreds of people would have become seriously ill and died had it not been for the immunization programs and care she provided not only in the hospital but through house calls which were made often made in the most dreadful conditions. Our family was one of the many that benefited from her life saving care.

Erysipelas is a superficial infection of the skin, which typically involves the lymphatic system. Erysipelas is also known as St. Anthony’s Fire, an accurate description of the intensity of this rash. Erysipelas was a feared disease in pre-antibiotic days, especially in infants.


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Comments (3)

  • Meaghan
    April 12, 2013 at 9:56 pm |

    Hi, I’m Melvin & Hazel Wheelers Grand-daughter! I’m Tim Wheelers daughter.

    • Harold McNeill
      September 28, 2013 at 10:02 pm |

      Hi Meaghan. I’m pleased you found the site. I’m still busy researching family history and more stories about the early years will continue to appear over the coming months.

  • Meaghan
    April 12, 2013 at 9:57 pm |

    Hi, I’m Melvin & Hazel Wheelers Grand-daughter! I’m Tim Wheelers daughter.

Leave a comment



  • 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.

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  • Harold McNeill

    February 15, 2020 |

    Testing the comments section after changes made. Updated: February 10, 2020

    Further to the update below (February 1, 2020), I note that since the government announced a “No-Fault” insurance plan for BC, Robert Mulligan is taking a slightly different tack, suggesting that no-fault will only increase the problems by taking away the right of an injured party to sue.

    I’ve copied just one sentence from Mulligan’s longer discussion, “And I think people don’t like the idea that somebody who’s, for example, was drunk and ran into you and you become a quadriplegic is going to be treated exactly the same way you would in terms of getting benefits (go to minute 00:15:26 to see his full comment)

    Statements like this appear to be simple fear-mongering. As was the case in the past, people who commit criminal offences, as well as other forms of negligence while driving, may well lose their insurance coverage and in all likelihood would be sued by ICBC to recover costs of the claim. (Link here to Mulligan’s full conversation on CFAX radio)

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    January 5, 2020 |

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    September 18, 2019 |

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