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

    March 19, 2019 |

    Hi Dave. Not that I am aware and I have a fairly comprehensive family tree for the McNeill side of the family. I will pull it up and scan. Cheers, Harold. Great chatting with you and I will give Ben a nudge.

  • Dave Cassels

    March 16, 2019 |

    Were you related to Guy McNeill who owned the Bruin Inn in St. Albert in the late 40’s or early 50’s? Guy was a close friend of my father-in-law who was the first President of the Royal Glenora Club. My phone number is 780 940 1175. Thank you.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 15, 2019 |

    So glad you found the story and enjoyed. Indeed, they were memorable times. I did a fair amount of searching but never managed to contact any of the Murffit kids. However, it was neat to make contact with the Colony and someone I knew from back in the day. I have enjoyed writing these stories from back in the 1940s and 50s and have made contact with a lot of friends from those early years. I will give you a call over the weekend. Cheers, Harold

  • Yvonne (Couture) Richardson

    March 7, 2019 |

    I enjoyed your story. I too, lived in Pibroch in 1951, as my parents owned the hotel there. I was a very close friend of Bonnie Murfitt at the time. I moved to Edmonton in 1952, however, and have not seen her since. I would like to be in touch with you to talk about your story. My email is listed above and my phone number is 780-475-3873.

  • Laureen Kosch/Patry

    March 5, 2019 |

    I grew up in Pibroch and would not trade those years for anything. “ Kids don’t know how to play anymore” Never was a truer statement made. During the summer we were out the door by 8am, home for lunch, and back when it got dark. For the most part our only toys were our bikes and maybe a baseball mitt. I will never forget the times when all the kids got together in “Finks field” for a game of scrub baseball. Everybody was welcome, kids from 8 to 18. I didn’t know it then but I guess I had a childhood most dream of. Drove thru town last summer. It all looked a lot smaller.

  • Harold McNeill

    January 13, 2019 |

    Well, my dear, it’s that time again. How the years fly by and the little ones grow but try as you may you will have a hard time catching up to your Daddy. Lots of love young lady and may your day be special
    Love, Dad

  • Harold McNeill

    January 5, 2019 |

    Guess what? My response went to the Spam folder. Hmm, do you suppose the system is trying to tell me something?

  • Harold McNeill

    January 5, 2019 |

    Thanks, Terrance. Your comment came through but went to the Spam folder. Have pulled it out and approved. Can you send another on this post to see if you name is now removed from Spam? I’m not sure why it does that. Cheers, Harold

  • Terrance

    January 5, 2019 |


  • Harold McNeill

    December 23, 2018 |

    Thanks Sis. I will be uploading as Hi-Def so the photos can be viewed full screen. Brother