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 (4)

  • 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.

  • William Baugh
    October 26, 2021 at 12:43 pm |

    I have an interest in the Cheery Grove/Cold Lake area.

    I enjoyed you stories.

Leave a comment



  • 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.