Marie Lake: Explosion – Chapter 3 of 11

Written by Harold McNeill on August 25th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965


Stove at Marie Lake

Photo (Web).  A wood cookstove that nearly ended our mothers life.

Link to Next Post:  Link to Easy Come, Easy Go
Link to Last Post: Link to Growing Up in the Wilderness
Link to Family Stories Index

July, 1947

It was one of those quiet, lazy July mornings at Marie Lake. The dead calm waters reflected the morning sun and the leaves on the poplar trees, usually twisting and fluttering in the slightest breeze, hung as if frozen in time. The only noise to be heard was the quiet chatter of a few birds and of the laughter of Louise and me as we Mom before firedredged out wet sand to complete our giant sand castle – to be a surprise for mom and dad.

Suddenly, the serenity of the morning was bluntly ended by a loud, deep ‘whooomp’ coming from the direction of the house. A split second later the silence was further pierced by a blood curdling scream that echoed through the trees and down to the water. Louise and I sat there, momentarily frozen.

With the screams rising in intensity, we jumped up and run towards the house. As we topped the small sand bank we saw mom running with flames and smoke rising from her body. We were stricken with fear at a site we couldn’t fully comprehend.

After a short distance, she fell and rolled in the sand, grass and pine needles covering the yard. We stopped dead in our tracks not knowing what to do. At that moment dad came running from the mink pens. He frantically tried to smother the flames with his jacket but it wasn’t large enough to cover her whole body. Each time he moved the jacket, flames would spring to life.  An eternity passed before the flames were finally extinguished. The nauseating smell of burnt cloth, plastic and flesh permeated the air.

Dad hollered: “Harold, Louise, get a sheet off the bed.”

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Marie Lake: The Mink Pen Adventure – Chapter 1 of 11

Written by Harold McNeill on August 25th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965


Line Squal moving in over water

A line squall moves toward our boat as we crossed Marie Lake.  The high winds and waves placed us in mortal danger.

Link to Next Post:  Link to Growing Up in the Wilderness
Link to Last Post: Link to Near Death on the Dock  (End of Part II)
Link to Family Stories Index

1947 -1949

Marie Lake was suddenly rough, very rough, as the wind stirred up white frothy waves to a height of three or four feet. The ice had been out for no more than a week and small chunks could still be seen floating nearby. We were being drenched by the freezing spray and at this moment were in imminent danger of being thrown into the freezing cold, dark waters.

Aunt Marcia1 reflected upon that hair raising boat trip:

“That crazy uncle of mine was so smart but he had no sense when it came to being cautious. When we left the dock he could see storm clouds on the horizon and the wind was rising. I was only fifteen but even I knew Marie Lake could quickly become rough enough to swamp our small boat.

Now, here we were, spread-eagled on top of a boat covered with stupid mink pens. Mink pens, can you believe it – stinking, dirty mink pens. I suppose we were lucky Uncle Dave had not kept the mink in them. I asked him to wait, but he laughingly chided me – come along or stay by myself. Stupid me, I went along. Now we were in the middle of the lake and things were going from bad to worse.”

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Martineau River: Life or Death on the Dock – Chapter 5 of 5

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


Boy fishing

Photo (mom)  Fishing off the dock where my sisters life nearly came to an end.

Link to Next Post:  Link to the Mink Pen Adventure (Start of Part III)
Link to Last Post: Link to Wolves in the Wilderness
Link to Family Stories Index

Smith Place, 1945 – 1947

When the spring break-up came and logging was finished for the summer, our family packed up everything at the Martineau River Camp and moved to a large log home on the North Shore of Cold Lake.  It would be our home for the next two years.  It was an idyllic place for kids with beaches and fishing and all things that would excite a young mind. Then suddenly it all changed.

“Mom, mom, come and look!” I shouted, as I came running into the house where mom was alone working in the kitchen. “Louise is at the dock swimming underwater!”

It was early spring 1946 at the Smith Place1 and my two and a half year old sister Louise and I had been playing on the dock. The water was still freezing cold as the ice had just left the lake a couple of weeks earlier. Dad and Uncle Warren were out on their first fishing trip since the ice had gone out and Aunt Liz and her kids had just left for town.

Mom’s face went ashen; she dropped her tea towel, was out the door and running towards the dock before I could move. I followed her as fast as my legs could carry me.

I could hear mom frantically calling back: “Harold, Harold, show me where, show me where!”

Hearing the panic in her voice I started running harder and I knew something terribly, terribly bad was happening.  How suddenly that peaceful spring day had been shattered.

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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.

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Martineau River: The Logging Camp – Chapter 1 of 5

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


Logs Piled on Martineau River

Photo (Mom): Logs piled on the Martineau River jus as the spring thaw begins.

Link to Next Post: Link to Hauling Logs and Ice
Link to Last Post: Fire Tower (End of Part I)
Link to Family Stories Index

Note:  A recent contact from Meadow Lake made through this story series just posted about a canoe trip he and friends made down the Martineau River from the headwaters in Saskatchewan to Cold Lake.  (Link Here)

Fall, 1944

Dad was in his glory.  He loved the bush, he loved hard work and he loved working with his horses. There was now a sparkle in his eyes and a spring in his step that had been slowly ebbing as he chased rocks around his farm in Birch Lake, Saskatchewan. I was just approaching four, but can still see dad behind his Skidding Logshorse as it strained to skid another log. Hundreds of broken limbs and pieces of slash covered the forest floor and danger lurked behind every snag. There was little that could compare with the sight, sound, smell, taste and touch of the forest.

Photo:  Dad working in the bush with one of his favourite horses.  He would usually rotate horses over the course of the week.

The pungent odour of fresh sawdust and sap filled the frigid fall air as dad and his work mates brewed fresh coffee and ‘shot the bull’ around the the campfire. After lunch they would spend twenty minutes sharpening their axes, crosscut’s and Swede saws, while the horses finished their feed and had a few extra minutes rest.

By the time the snow came that fall, the men had cut, skidded and piled hundreds of logs were now ready to be hauled by sleight back to the river. On the river piles of logs stretched as far as the eye could see. While some would be used for lumber, most would end up as railroad ties for the insatiable demand that existed across Canada and the United States during the post war years. As each log had to be inspected, graded and stamped a Government Inspector, Jack Gadzby, lived right on site in a small cabin by the river.

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Birch Lake: A New Begining – Chapter 2 of 4

Written by Harold McNeill on August 24th, 2010. Posted in Tim Hortons Morning Posts


Birch Lake Early Years

Photo (Collage of Mom’s Photos):  Family and friends in Saskatchewan provided a strong draw, but earning a living on the farm was becoming increasingly difficult.

Link to Next Post: A Place in the Sun
Link to Last Post: 
Blizzard of Forty-One
Link to Family Stories Index

Community Dance:  March 1941

It would be the first time since Harold was born that the new mom and her husband had attended a dance at the Meadstead Community Hall.  In those days almost everyone in the family attended the dance including kids and babies.  Because their were no carriages or baby baskets, makeshift items were used to carry the baby, diapers, bottles, etc.  Laura used an old suitcase for this purpose.  She would just pop open the top and she had a ready made bed for her little boy.

Arriving at the hall after a few months of being absent at the dances there were many people to greet who had not yet seen her baby and proud mom she was, took him around to meet everyone.  When the dance began, Laura tucked him in his bed in the cloakroom and like the good little boy he was, promptly fell asleep so mom could go our and dance.   Fifteen or twenty minutes later when she went to check on him, the suitcase now had the lid closed and it was covered in coats and scarves.

Frantically Laura began fling coats, hats, scarves, mitts and gloves about the cloak room of the Medstead dance hall as she uncovered the suitcase. From outside appearances she had gone stark, raving mad.

“How could I have been so stupid?  My baby boy is probably dead and it is my fault – how could this have happened? Please God, please, please let him be OK.”  These dire thoughts swirled through her mind as she searched for her baby boy.

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A “Non-Survivable” Crash

Written by Harold McNeill on August 18th, 2010. Posted in Flying Log Book


A “Non-Survivable” Crash

In a moment of absolute clarity Dwayne realized what was going to happen – his airplane was going to crash into the mountainside and there was not one thing he could do to stop the impending disaster.

In a final act of defiance the plane would stall, drop one wing, enter a spin and spiral down into the ground at well over two hundred k/hr. To survive such a crash would be impossible. After a lifetime of safe flying how did Dwayne suddenly find himself facing this catastrophic situation? In these last few moments he shuddered to think how chance controls every move in our lives.

He was an experienced bush pilot with thousands of hours of flying time and an impeccable record of safety. However, in the annals of bush flying, even the most experienced pilot can make little mistakes and sometimes even those little mistakes can lead to disaster. Today, all alone with his airplane in a remote area of the British Columbia, Dwayne made a few of those mistakes and in the next few seconds it would cost him dearly.

A friend of the family, Dwayne, lives in Cold Lake, Alberta, a community 200 miles northeast of Edmonton. Cold Lake is known internationally for its giant airbase (CFB Cold Lake) as well as for the trillions of barrels of wet sticky tar sands that exist far below the ground. Dwayne, from his home base in Cold Lake, has spent much of his life flying bush planes over the Western Canadian and Alaskan hinterland. He has experienced flying conditions that range from 30F below in blinding snowstorms to well over 100F above dodging thunderstorms. Dwayne knows all to well the dangers of bush flying as he and other family members of his family have been in the business since the 1940s.

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Birch Lake -The Fire Tower: Chapter 4 of 4

Written by Harold McNeill on April 16th, 2010. Posted in Family 1940 1965


The Fire Tower

Photo (Web) Fire towers in the early years were flimsy wooden affairs.  Over the summer of 1944, dad took a job with the Saskatchewan Forest Service as an observer at one of the hundreds of fire towers that had been erected throughout Northern Saskatchewan, this one above is similar to the one dad worked near Meadow Lake.   After that one summer, we often returned to Meadow Lake for the yearly Stampede.

Link to Next Post: Martineau River Logging Camp (Beginning of Part II)
Link to Last Post: A Place in the Sun
Link to Family Stories Index

Spring, 1944

Mom repeatedly called: “Hoo hoo, Harold, where are you?  Hoo hoo, Haarooold.” There was no answer and she was more than worried. At three and a half, I was always running around outside playing, but when mom hadn’t heard me for a while she went out to see what I was doing. She knew that dad was in the bush cutting wood and sometimes he would take me along, but would always tell mom first. She probably thought I was into some kind of mischief that would not be far off the mark for a three-year-old.

Birch Lake Fire TowerMothers! So trusting of their little boys!

Photo: This photocopied from a Cater and District “Least we Forget” series of stories found in my mother’s files.  The tower at Meadow Lake was very similar to the Birch Lake Tower (L). The ladder to the top can just be discerned on the right side. It is hard to believe this structure was capable of holding the small lookout shelter built on the top, to say nothing of when a line squall with gale force winds passed through the area.

In one of our conversations, Mom recalled that summer day in the wilderness north of Meadow Lake:

“Louise was sleeping and when I couldn’t find you after a few minutes, I became worried. I called and called but you didn’t answer. Finally, I could hear this faint little voice: “…..here mom..!” It was so faint I could not figure out where on earth you were. I walked further back along the path that led to the fire tower and continued to call. Your answers came back a little louder, but still distant …. ‘up here mom….’.

When I neared the clearing by the fire tower I looked up and there you were about 50 or 60 feet off the ground on the open ladder. I was petrified.  In the few months, we had been at the Ranger Station, I had never climbed that open ladder to the top. I tried a couple of times with Dave, but only got up about 15 feet before I had to come back down.

Over my objections, your Dad had taken you to the top several times. You would climb the ladder ahead of him and between his arms. I could never watch as I was petrified. I told him to even tell me when he was taking you up otherwise I would be worried sick. Even at the top, there was no railing that would stop a three-year-old from falling over the edge.

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Comments

  • 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: Harold@mcneillifestories.com)

  • 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.

  • 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.