Laura Isabel: The Early Years – Chapter 2 of 5

Written by Harold McNeill on October 19th, 2010. Posted in Biographies


Laura Isabel: The Early Years – Chapter 2 of 5

Laura was the third of ten children born to Bill (William Skyler -1888) and Lillie Cressie Wheeler (Elliott – 1896).  Siblings included Leonard (1914), Evelyn (1916), Kenneth (1920), Melvin (1922), Clifford (1924), Tonnie (1928), Marcia (1932), Helen (I934) and baby Shirley (1938).

In the early spring of 1924, Bill and Lilly, along with other family members, pulled up stakes and headed out from the Alsask, Saskatchewan, to take up homesteading at Birch Lake, a few miles North-East of Glaslyn. At that time the five children ranged in age from 2 to 10 years and Lilly was expecting her fifth. Clifford was born that September. Lilly attributed the distinctive brown birth mark prominently displayed on Clifford’s forehead to the fright she suffered when Melvin, then two, almost fell from the caboose while crossing a river enroute to Birch Lake.

Photo: The wagon train ready to head out. Howard (Laura’s dad’s brother) and Myrtle Wheeler, her mom and dad, Lilly and William, grandparents, and siblings, Kenneth and Evelyn. 

While Bill and Lillie were able to provide their family with a comfortable life (by the standards of a 1920’s homesteader)  it did require the labour of all family members. That first summer, after the crops and garden were planted (some of the land was previously broken), Bill set about building a three room log house with sod roof, mud plastered cracks and whitewashed exterior. 

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Laura Isabel: Prologue – Chapter 1 of 5

Written by Harold McNeill on October 19th, 2010. Posted in Biographies


Laura Isabel Skarsen (McNeill)(Wheeler)
In Memory of
Laura Isabel Skarsen (McNeill) (Wheeler)
A True Canadian Pioneer
1918 – 2008

Link to Part 1 A New Beginning 
Link to part 2
 The Early Years
Link to Part 3 The Young Woman
Link to Part 4 A New Beginning
Link to Part 5 The Final Chapter

Laura Isabel: Prologue – Chapter 1 of 5

It is amazing how much the world changed during Laura’s lifetime. Born in a Southern Alberta dust storm, at five years old she was on a wagon train with her parents and grandparents as they headed to Northern Saskatchewan in order to create a new life on a homestead.

She grew into adulthood in the Great Depression as clouds of dust blanketed the prairies and jobless men road freight trains in search of work. The ‘great’ depression barely ended when the Second World War seized the world in it’s powerful grip. It was a character building period that began in the ashes of one world war and ended with the euphoria that accompanied the years following World War II.

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Harlan: Our Dad is Missing – Chapter 6 of 6

Written by Harold McNeill on October 13th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965


David Benjamin McNeill

Photo (family files):  Dad is Missing. The last we saw of our Dad was when he came to the door of the bar and waved to us:  “I’ll be right there, I’m just having a quick chat with some guy’s I met.”

Link to Next Post: Edmonton
Link to Last Post:  Movie
Link to Family Stories Index

July, 1949

The bus driver, having pulled to the side of the highway after being approached by one of the passengers, walked down the isle to the seat Louise and I occupied. “What’s wrong kids?” he asked in a gentle, caring voice. Louise and I were huddled in our seats as tears trickled down our cheeks. Louise, on the outside, responded in a quiet, quivering voice, “You, you left my daddy behind!”  She continued to cry as we held each other. 

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Harlan: Movie Night – Chapter 5 of 6

Written by Harold McNeill on October 12th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965


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Photo (FB Source).  Once every couple of weeks, a man came by with his movie projector, a projector something like the one used in this photo.

Spring, 1949

When the Movie Man came to the Harlan Community Hall not far from our farm, it was a highlife for the whole community. He would set up his gas powered generator outside the hall to run the projector and we would settle in for an evening of entertainment. At 7:00 pm they would cover the windows with blankets, close the doors and the movie would flicker to life on the portable silver screen.

Link to Next Post: Our Dad is Missing
Link to Last Post: Hunting Crows
Link to Family Stories Index

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Harlan: Snakes and Horses – Chapter 3 of 6

Written by Harold McNeill on October 12th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965


Red Sided Garter Snake

Photo (Web) This red sided garter snake along with hundreds of other species can be found by the thousands across the prairies. The snakes are great for scaring people.

Link to Next Post: Hunting Crows
Link to Last Post: Interesting History
Link to Family Stories Index

Early Summer, 1949

One thing that is etched in my memory from our months in Harlan was the millions (perhaps trillions) of ‘garter snakes’ that thrived in the grass and bush land throughout the area. Most of these little snakes measured between 8” and 18” in length and although not poisonous, they could sit back, hiss and flit with the best of their forked tongue relatives.

While many people have a built in aversion to snakes (probably stemming from that incident in Garden of Eden), Stan and I had no such qualms. We took great pleasure in chasing down those slithering, twisting, hissing and flitting reptiles, grabbing them by the tail and putting them in a pail or box for ‘later’ use. That use usually involved chasing the girls at home and school.

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Harlan: A Tragic History – Chapter 2 of 6

Written by Harold McNeill on October 12th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965


Memorial at Frog Lake

Photo (Frog Lake Memorial):  One man who died was the John Delany, the Grandfather of my Aunt Hazel (wife of my mom’s brother Melvin Wheeler), all part of the interesting history of our family.

Link to Next Post: Snakes
Link to Last Post: Old School House (First of Part IV)
Link to Family Stories Index

Early Spring, 1949

While our home a Marie Lake, Alberta, (20 miles north of Cold Lake) was nestled within the pristine beauty of the lakes and evergreen forests dotting Northwestern Alberta, Harlan District was spread out along fields and poplar forests that gently rose from the northern banks of the North Saskatchewan River.  Situated just inside the Saskatchewan side of the border with Alberta, the community was less than ninety miles south-southeast of Cold Lake. Today it remains a small farming community not much changed from that time Louise and I lived there for a few months in 1949.

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Martineau River: Hauling Logs and Ice – Chapter 2 of 5

Written by Harold McNeill on October 10th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965


 Hauling Ice and Logs

Photo (Cold Lake History on Web): Cutting, hauling and storing ice was a yearly ritual at a time when refrigerators consisted of an insulated box filled with ice.

Link to Next Post:  A Winter Dash to the Hospital
Link to Last Post: Martineau River Logging Camp (Start of Part II)
Link to Family Stories Index

Winter, 1945

My stomach was churning and my head splitting. I did not say anything to Uncle Tonnie but I could feel my stomach pushing into my throat. Suddenly, Uncle Tonnie stopped the truck. I fumbled with the door handle and as soon as it opened, I jumped out. When the cold winter air hit me I bent over and threw up on the pure white snow that lined the side of the road.

I heaved again and again and again, not even able to catch my breath. I thought I was going to choke to death. On the other side of the truck, Uncle Tonnie was bent over emptying the contents of his stomach.

Finally, after what seemed forever, my heaves began to subside and I was able to breath. I looked down and the new plaid shirt and wool breaches Santa had given me for Christmas were wet. When I saw small chunks of food stuck to the heavy, wool fabric, I stared to cry. Through my tears I told Uncle Tonnie: “I want to go home to mom.” Tonnie walked me over to the house.

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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:

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Comments

  • 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.

  • McNeill Life Stories Index to Police Notebook - McNeill Life Stories

    February 16, 2020 |

    […] Part I, Police solidarity and the push for amalgamation. Part II, Comparing police cultures and implementing change Part III, The past as a guide to the future Part IV The integration of police services […]

  • 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)

  • McNeill Life Stories Index to Police Notebook - McNeill Life Stories

    January 5, 2020 |

    […] 28. The past as a guide to the future (Part III): Over the past 60 years, many activities the police once performed as a natural part of their daily duty, eventually became incompatible with achieving their basic goals. What happened? (August 2019) […]

  • McNeill Life Stories Why I stand with science? - McNeill Life Stories

    November 11, 2019 |

    […] During the Ice Age, the Earth’s average temperature was about 12 degrees Fahrenheit colder than it is today. That was enough to keep snow from melting during the summers in northern regions. As snow fell on the snow, glaciers formed. (NASA Earth Observatory) […]

  • McNeill Life Stories How to Game an Election - McNeill Life Stories

    September 18, 2019 |

    […] The Federal Conservatives and Seymour Riding Association complied but one day later those memes will be shared by every third party social media site and by thousands of supporters where the message will be taken as a statements of the fact.  Five years from now those memes will still be circulating. (Link here to background on the SNC Lavalin matter) […]