Martineau River: Wolves in the Wilderness – Chapter 4 of 5

Written by Harold McNeill on August 24th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965


Grey Wolf Howling at Moon

Photo (Web)  Hearing wolves around the campsite was common, but hearing them close by when huddled by a tree out in the wildness was a whole new experience.

Link to Next Post: Near Death on the Dock
Link to Last Post: A Winter Dash to the Hospital
Link to Family Stories Index

Spring, 1945

The full moon that rose high in the sky slowly slipped behind the drifting clouds. Deep in the forest it alternated between bright, cool moonlight and pitch black as Mom sat under a fir tree cuddling Louise and me as we slept peacefully on her lap. It was freezing cold on this early spring evening and snow still remained in the shaded areas. Without the wool blanket wrapped around us we would have all been freezing. Mom, however, was shivering, part from the cold and part from the fear of what lurked in the forest. Dad had now been gone for over two hours and mom had no idea when he might return.

She recalled how frightened she had been:

“The car was impossibly hung up on a stump and your dad had gone to get the horses to pull it off. I could hear wolves howling and coyotes barking whenever the moon peaked through the clouds. They were nearby and I knew there were also a lot of bears rummaging around for food after having just come out of hibernation

I usually enjoyed hearing the night time sounds of the animals while lying in my own bed and it was fun watching a bear search for fish the river, but not now, not here, under a tree in the middle of the night, deep in the forest.

As usual my imagination ran wild. I wondered if the animals might smell us and attack. I knew wolves traveled in packs and it was early spring so they would be very hungry after the long, hard winter we had just experienced. I also worried about whether your dad would find his way back in the darkness that seemed to envelope everything when the clouds rolled by. I was cold, hungry and miserable but even more I was scared for the two of you and there was nothing much I could do until Dave returned. I don’t know why I didn’t start a fire but sometimes one just does not think straight…”

Unexpected challenges such as these were part and parcel of travelling in remote areas.  Why did mom end up in this situation in the first place?

The final weeks at the logging camp were a blur of activity. Everyone was in a rush to wrap things up, relocate to Cold Lake and take the sizeable cash payment that would be our due. Most of the logs had been taken out of the bush but a few remained near the south shores of Primrose Lake, several miles to the north. They would be trucked out later in the summer by Uncle Tonnie and Cousin Reggie.

The hundreds of logs piled on the river would soon begin the fifteen mile trip to Cold Lake once the river ice broke. At the mouth of the river, they would be corralled and boomed across Cold Lake to one of the saw mills.

Moving the logs down river was hard, dangerous work as they were packed tight and could jam at a bend or stuck in the rapids. When they did, they would pile like match sticks. The only way to get them moving again was to start working them loose at the leading edge. There was the ever present danger that all or a portion of the jam would suddenly release and throw the workers into the freezing water. If this happened the chance of someone being injured or drowned was highly likely.

Mom was well aware of the danger as her oldest brother, Leonard, at the tender age of 22, had drowned while trying to save a buddy who became trapped in logs they were moving down the Shuswap River in British Columbia. It was a tragedy for her entire family and one from which her Dad had never fully recovered.

While the men were working the logs down river, mom was up to her elbows in work at the camp:

“I was kept busy fourteen or fifteen hours a day making meals, baking bread and making donuts. In the evening, after dinner was finished, I would make lunches for the next day and then be up by 4:30 to start breakfast. The men would be out of the camp by 6:00 am. Meanwhile, I still had two little kids to look after.

There were about five men left in the camp at the time as your dad had gone ahead to the Enger Place (not far from the mouth of the Martineau River) to set up the booms to corral the logs as they arrived at the lakehead. After all the logs had arrived Dave returned to camp to pick the three of us up and take us back to a temporary camp at the lake.

When your dad returned to the camp to pick us up, he brought the car as he thought it would be a quick trip. We planned to return later with the truck to pick up the rest of our belongings. On the way back to the lake Dave decided to take a short cut but the car became hung up on a stump and no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t get it off.  The only thing he could do was walk to the Cold Lake camp to get his horses to pull it off.

When we got stuck we still had about five miles to travel. Dave wanted me to stay in the car but I thought we could just walk to Cold Lake and get the car the next day. We started walking and Dave carried Louise while I held your hand. We had only gone a mile or so when you started to whine about being tired. I could tell Dave was getting angry as it would take us all night at this slow pace. Finally, in frustration, Dave told me to just wait while he went to get the horses.”

Cuddled in the darkness and listening to the wild animals, mom suddenly heard faint sounds in the distance. She was sure it was dad but after all the worry about wolves and coyotes and bears, she was thinking of hauling us up a tree just in case. To her great relief, it turned out to be dad with the horses.

Mom finished the story:

“I didn’t want to wait any longer under the tree while your dad got the car so he helped me up on one horse, then handed you up. He took Louise as she was still sleeping and he could handle the horse better with one arm. We headed back to the car. It was not easy travelling as the horses were fully harnessed and it hurt to sit on the buckles and straps. The only good thing, the harnesses gave me something to hold onto as the horses occasionally stumbled in the dark.

When we arrived at the car, it didn’t take long to pull it loose. Dave then tied the horses to the back and we finished the trip without any further problems. Dad had a small cabin ready so we all settled in for what was left of the night.”

We all spent the rest of the spring at the Enger Place while dad worked at setting the booms and helping to run the tug used to tow them across to one of the mills. The logging companies had purchased a tug boat, the “Jarvis”, in Vancouver and trucked it to Cold Lake where it was used to tow the booms. While it worked well in calm water, the tug crews found it easily swamped in rough, shallow water.1

Mom recounts:

“On one occasion while the tug was anchored just off shore during a storm, your dad could see it was dragging anchor and shipping water. He and one of the tugs crew rowed out and attempted to get it started so they could power it into the wind.  They could not get the engine going so the tug continued to drift.

As we watched from shore the tug rolled heavily and we were afraid it would sink before they could get to shallow water.  Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the tug grounded and rolled onto its side. Your dad and the other man waded to shore.” 

Willard Enger, the owner of a nearby property, ran one of the few mink ranches in the area and dad became fascinated with that line of work so spent every minute he could with Willard. Fur was still in great demand and the old fashioned method of trapping wild animals had nearly run its course around Cold Lake and Primrose.

Late that spring, dad and his friend, Warren Hardwood, hatched plans to start a mink and fox ranch on Cold Lake. Over the course of the last few months, Warren and Aunt Liz had become close friends and it was clear they were looking at a more permanent relationship. Those plans would see our two family’s move about five miles west from the Enger Place to the Schmidt Place (commonly referred to as the Smith Place) where dad and Warren would start a mink and fox ranch of their own.

Here on a beautiful stretch of sandy beach that had a large log home, our family would spend a wonderful two years with Aunt Liz, Uncle Warren and Aunt Liz’s three children, Emerson, Elizabeth (Betty) and Stanley. It would also bring about another brush with death for my baby sister.

Harold McNeill

Link to Next Post: Near Death on the Dock
Link to Last Post: A Winter Dash to the Hospital
Link to Family Stories Index

1 When talking about the Jarvis in later years my dad told me many believed the tug became unstable in the Cold Lake waves because were much different than ocean swells (we would now call this the ‘period of the waves’). Whatever the reason, the tug was unstable so was taken back to the coast after two or three seasons.

 

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  • 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.