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

    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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    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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