Patricia Pearl Humphrey (1916 – 2013)

Written by Harold McNeill on October 26th, 2013. Posted in Biographies


Patricia Pearl Humphrey (Schirrmacher/McNeill)
(1916 – 2013)

The youngest child of a family of
Canadian Pioneers

On Saturday morning, October 26th, 2013, our dear Aunt Pat passed away at her home in Stony Plain, Alberta.  At age 97, Aunt Pat was the last of eleven siblings of a family that pioneered in South Dakota in the 1800s and then Saskatchewan at the beginning of the last century.

Her parents, James Wallace McNeill (1866-1938) and Martha Ellen McNeill (Church) (1874 – 1958) married in 1893 in Chamberlain, South Dakota, then, 17 years later, after facing an ongoing drought and constant unrest in the Dakotas, pulled up stakes and headed to Canada. After entering through Peace Portal in Manitoba, the woman, including Martha’s mother (her husband had passed away), and the youngest children caught a train west while the father and older boys, Clifford and James, drove the wagons and cattle. They all landed in North Battleford, Saskatchewan in the spring 1910.

On departing from South Dakota, the couple had seven children in tow – Dave (2, my father), Elizabeth (5), Hazel (8), Irene (9), Ruby (12), Clifford (14) and James (16), not a move many of us would ever consider tackling . Not only that, in the fall of 1910, after arriving in North Battleford, the twins, Armina and Almira, joined the family.

After checking out the lay of the land, James and Martha selected a homestead in Birch Lake, about 60 miles north. It was there the final two children, Floyd and Patricia Pearl, were born. The family worked the land until the father, James, passed away in 1938. A few years after his death, perhaps the mid 1940s, Martha moved back to North Battleford where she remained until her passing in 1958.

The 11 children of James and Martha, and 40 grandchildren, are named below:

(Mac) James Claude McNeill (1894 – 1959) married Blanch Jewel (children: Lorraine, Verla and Rex).

Clifford Curtis McNeill (1896 – 1974) married Frances Tobin (children: Elva, Edward, Clifford, Donald and Frances)12164_221668202528_6142502_n

Ruby May McNeill (1898 – 1987) and Edward Bethall (children: Marsha and Brian)

Irene Ulena McNeill (1901 – 1964)  and Stanley Johnson (children: James and Joyce)

Hazel Belle McNeill (1902 – 1990) and Denny Dewan (children: Evelyn and Helen)

Elizabeth Burleigh Ellen McNeill (1905 -1985) and Warren Harwood (Tart Dewan) (children: Marge, Albert, Eldred, Emerson, Betty, and Stanley)

David Benjamin McNeill (1908 – 1965) and Laura Wheeler  (children: Harold, Louise and Dianne)

Armina Fedilia McNeill (1910 – 1990) and Ned Crocker (children: Charles, Jimmy, Joan and Barbara)

Almira Claudilia McNeill (1910 – 1982) and Alex David  (children: Audrey, Cyril, Margaret, Myrna, Dennis, Darlene and Dale)

Floyd Clarence McNeill (1914 – 1976) and Alice Roske  (children: Robert, Eileen and Susan)

Patricia McNeill (1916 – 2013) and Jim Humphrey (Art Schirrmacher)  (children: Ellen, Garry and Merv).

Photo (above): Aunt Pat in one of the only photos I have with a few of her brothers and sisters. Top: Dave and Floyd, Bottom, L to R, Hazel, Pat, the twins Mina and Lola, and Irene.

Note: Names and dates were copied from a Geneology Booklet prepared by Carrie (Dewan) Goldsmith, Clandonald, Alberta, for the McNeill/Dewan/Harwood Family Reunion which took place in Bonnyville, Alberta, July 5, 6 and 7, 2002). The book also contains a full list of the children of the nieces and nephews listed above.

Aunt Pat is survived by her eldest son, Garry, and his wife, Edna Schirrmacher of Stony Plain, Alberta, and seven grandchildren: Leslie, Curtis, Colin, Patricia, Lynn, Kim and Mervin.  She was pre-deceased by her second husband Jim Humphrey, first husband Art Schirrmacher, three of her children; an infant son, David James, daughter Ellen, son Merve, as well as two grand-children, Marvin Boser and Dawn Emmanuels.

Aunt Pat faced many more hardships than most of us have or will face in our lifetimes, yet she has overcome those hardships with a determination that we would be hard pressed to match.

The greatest of those hardships was having two of her children and two grandchildren pre-decease her, deaths that she would have gladly exchanged for her own. Having now reached that peaceful plateau for which she longed in recent years, the fond memories we have shall become a part of her legacy.

Game Player and ardent Blue Jays fan

Aunt Pat was a wicked card and board game competitor with scrabble, bridge and cribbage at the top of the list.  Even at a point in her life when her eyesight was failing she was always up for a scrabble game on her special board. When she was no longer able to distinguish the letters on a regular scrabble board, a friend at the lodge, Irene Ewort, made her a board about the size of a card table with corresponding sized letters. On that oversized board, she often bested excellent players such as my sister, Louise Yochim, and my wife, Lynn.

During family visits to Cold Lake, where Aunt Pat lived for many years, it was not unusual for Louise, Lynn and Aunt Pat to start a game of Scrabble in the early morning, then continue until the last drop of coffee was gone in the late evening.

On occasion, Aunt Pat would pick me up as a partner for Bridge games at the Seniors’ Centre in Cold Lake.  She was a most gracious partner as she always managed to overcome the glaring errors of my game and ‘finesse’ us to a respectable finish.

She was also a long time supporter of the Blue Jays baseball team and even when her eyesight failed, she could easily follow the game on television as she knew all the sports broadcasters and players by their name, voice and position on the team.

A Love of Music

Across the McNeill family of mother, father, brother and sisters, and most certainly a good sprinkling of first cousins, musical instruments and singing has been a large part of our lives.  Aunt Pat, as a little girl, clearly remembered how her mother could tune the piano by ear…her mother would plunk a key while her father turned the tuning key up or down as directed. (2010 notes from discussions with Aunt Pat). It seems that at least one neice, Helen Pylypow, has inherited this ability.

My own mother (Laura Skarsen (McNeill/Wheeler)) remembered how it was common for her neighbour (and later, mother-in-law), Martha McNeill, to have her husband and sons load the piano onto the back of a wagon or sleigh and transport it to the community hall for dance.  For a first hand sketch of those dances and box socials, including comments by Aunt Pat, link here: Birch Lake: A New Beginning

I still have fond memories dating back to the 1950s while living in LacLaBiche when everyone would gather at the Schirrmacher farm for a party. The music would begin in the early evening and continue into the wee hours of the morning.

Today, many of the cousins regularly play in bands at country dances and church gatherings and a few have become noteable music teachers. For those who may have lacked the ability to play an instrument, their voices often carried the day. In recent years, whenever nieces and nephews, and their spouses, gathered for one of Aunt Pat’s birthday parties, an ad hoc band would emerge and the celebrations would begin.

Expressions in Prose and Poetry

Aunt Pat also loved writing, as did many of her brothers and sisters and a good sprinkling of nieces and nephews. We are fortunate to have written material (extending from 1965-2010) from both Aunt Pat and her older brother, Floyd.  The hand written work of Aunt Pat was lovingly typed by her daughter in law, Edna Schirrmacher. In her writings and poems, Aunt Pat spoke lovingly of family and friends, and of the peaceful end she sought.

Untitled (series in April – May, year u/k)

Spring has come but the wind’s still cold!
Or is it that I’m getting old!
The Canada Goose has winged its way
To the North and West —
To find itself a place to nest.

Soft and furry little pillows
Have popped out on all the willows
Today I heard the Robin Red Breast sing
A cheery little ode to spring.

(plus six more verses and 10 more sections)

Untitled (1996)

Each summer night
As I go to sleep
A soft cool breeze
Through my window creeps

The smell of flowers
Sweet and clean
Comes drifting through my window screen

(plus five more verses in this poem and perhaps a hundred verses in the series of poems)

An Old Fashioned Christmas (a note to family and friends, sent for Christmas 2010)

It’s time to start Christmas shopping! the Xmas cake is baked and wrapped in rum soaked cheese cloth and stored. There’s lots of short-bread and mincemeat tarts and pull-taffy.

Carols are being sung on the radio and T.V.  Deck the Halls, O’ Holly Night, Good King Wenceslaus.  Children are singing – Away in a Manager and Joy to the World.  I’ll be Home for Christmas by Bing Crosby.

(plus seven more paragraphs of Christmas’ remembered)


Another of Aunt Pat’s great skills was remembering and telling jokes.

The following excerpt is taken from a story written in 2011 when my son Jay, grandson Grayson and friend Bjorn Simonsen visited Stony Plain and celebrated another of Aunt Pat’s birthdays:


“Today I went to a birthday party of the oldest person I have ever met; well, oldest person next to Grandpa as I always thought he was the oldest person in the world. It was a party for my Grandpa’s Auntie Pat, the last of eleven children on his dad’s side of the family.

At 95, Aunt Pat is not what you might expect.  Although her hearing is pretty much shot and her eyes do not work as well as they did a253109_381847535220969_2060999515_n few years back, she still has a mind that is razor sharp.  She would tease me and the other kids and would tell these funny jokes.

I learned that shortly after Aunt Pat settled in at a new lodge in Stony Plain, she was selected as a “Poster Girl” for a Province-wide fundraising campaign for the Christian Charity that maintained the lodge.

They used her photograph in the campaign so I guess you could say she was a celebrity just like Justin Bieber, only just a few years older.  Grandpa told me that along with her other responsibilities as a poster girl, she had to travel around and speak at various fund raising events.

One time when she was attending a Golf Tournament Fundraiser for the lodge, she became engaged in conversation with a young man, a golfer, who was seated next to her.

After being called to the podium to speak she pointed down at the young man and told those gathered that the previous day the young man was up early getting ready to play a practice round before the tournament. After he jumped up, showered, shaved and began to dress, he pulled on his socks and noted he had a “hole in one”.  So he undressed and went back to bed.”

Pretty funny, eh?    (Grayson Walker, Chronicles of Grayson, 2011)

Yes it was Grayson and Aunt Pat was full of jokes that played on words. Here is another she used to tell:

Two little snakes were hissing near their pit. The mother snake came out and said, “What are you snakes doing hissing near our pit. I told you to go someplace else to hiss as I want to have a nap. Now, go, head over to Mrs. Pott’s pit and hiss. I’m always looking after her hissy little snakes when she’s tired.

So the two little snakes went over to Mrs. Pott’s pit to hiss, but soon Mrs. Pott came out and said, ”Hey you two, what are you doing hissing near my pit? If you want to hiss, go back to your own pit and hiss!” It was not long after the snakes returned to their own pit and started to hiss that their mother came out.

”What are you doing back hear hissing near our pit? I thought I told you to go over to Mrs. Pott’s pit to hiss. They told their mother that Mrs. Pott had sent them back if they wanted to hiss. Mother said, ”Well, I’ll be, I knew Mrs. Pott before she even had a pit to hiss in.”

I bet a good many people would have trouble keeping the pots, pits and hissing in order, but it was second nature for Aunt Pat.

Aunt Pat, as with all of her sisters and a sprinkling of the men, were excellent cooks. She learned to cook while growing up on the farm and continued to practice the trade in work camps and restaurants as well as the excellent meals and pastries she prepared for her family and friends.  As a resident of a number of seniors facilities in her later years, she was never hesitant to share here thoughts on food preparation with the staff of the various facilities.

Memories by Edna Schirrmacher (daughter-in-law)

Aunt Pat’s handy work was award winning. Over the years, dozens of family and friends have many crocheted articles, tablecloths, doilies, table runners plus tatted pillow slips etc. These will be in the family for generations. Aunt Pat is one of the few who knew what “tatting” was, let alone learned the difficult art.

She was also a great cook and was especially good with lemon pies and fried chicken. Aunt Pat worked as a cook in restaurants for years and even had a restaurant in both Irma and Hardisty. She then worked for her daughter, Ellen, as a cook in Fort McMurray, 1422492_10151656518427391_1358253608_nFrank, and Lacombe.

Pat and Jim moved back to Cold Lake, their favourite place, in the early 1980s. After Jim passed away in 1984, Pat moved into a senior’s apartment in Cold Lake and stayed there until she moved into the Cold Lake Lodge in 1996. As a take-charge kind of gal she organized trips for the senior residents of the Cold Lake area to the Mayfield Dinner Theatre and to various casinos – even one trip to Las Vegas. She also drove the bus for the Cold Lake Lodge residents so they could go bowling, shopping, attend senior games and just get out to do things.

Photo: Pat with her husband, Jim Humphrey and Mark Yochim her nieces son (Photo from her niece Louise Yochim)

In 2003, she moved to St. Michaels Manor in Spruce Grove and was there until 2011 when she moved to The Good Samaritan Care Centre in Stony Plain. During her many years in care centres, she was very involved in pretty much everything: the music, cards, games and whatever else was going on. She really enjoyed the live music presentations especially when her nieces, nephews and their spouses came to entertain – usually on her birthday.

Comments from two workers from the last two centres where she resided summed up her character very well. A dear friend who worked at St. Michaels went to visit Pat at the Good Samaritan Care Centre and arrived at lunch time – laughingly commenting “ I knew I would find you at the head of the table” which she was. The second worker, a nurse, from the Good Sam -when expressing her condolences said “ It was a privilege and an honour to have served your Mom.

The family would also like to acknowledge Alma Morrison  (widow of Stanley Dewan, her sister Elizabeth’s youngest son who passed away at the tender age of 24) and Clara (Gatzke) and husband Mike Marks who visited often and played cards, scrabble and  Skip-Bo with her.

On Her Death

While her death brings to a close another Chapter in the long history of the McNeill Clan, the clan will not soon disappear or be forgotten as the number of McNeills who can trace their roots back to Great, Great Grandfather Thomas McNeill (1766 – 1833) and Elizabeth Sabine (1786 –      ), is legion. Even the 40 first cousins of the children of Grandpa James and Grandma Martha McNeill,  the prolific lot they are, now lay claim to over a 120 offspring who will carry the family into the future.

While Aunt Pat will be much missed, she has made the final transition from life to death in a manner that would suit her just fine. It was a transition she expected and accepted with the peace of mind knowing that she has always done her very best and has loved her family and friends as much as anyone could ever wish.

And in return, we have loved you Aunt Pat and will miss you very much.

Harold McNeill
Victoria, October 27, 2013

Notes: Over the years, Aunt Pat has passed along many stories that have been included in various parts of the McNeill Life Stories, Family Section.  The footnote in the first story of the series, is but one example.  Link here to the Blizzard of 41.   She will again be remembered in a new story that is being written on the LacLaBiche years of the Dave McNeill family.

For those who did not have a chance to read the Geneology Booklet prepared by Carrie (Dewan) Goldsmith, I’ll try to get a copy and post it online for future generations. Carrie did an amazing job of collecting, sorting, writing and printing a rather large volume on the history of the McNeill, Dewan and Harwood families. Carrie is to be commended for this massive task.  

2010 Birthday Party


Link Here for More Photos

Some Comments, received by email, are placed below.

As many members of Aunt Pat’s extended family and friends may wish to see the comments of others, they will be added as received.
Please feel free to use the comments section at the end of this post.

Elizabeth Curtis Dewan-Monroe (second to the left of Aunt Pat)

We were all going to the races in Calgary and Aunt Pat wanted to look at the horses running. Upon seeing them she said: ” Well I’ll be damned, I thought this was an all gelding race and there’s one heifer”

Another time she got so excited, she dropped her purse over the railing and hit a man who was standing below, right on the noggin. Needless to say Del (Curtis) was down there lickity-split to retrieve her purse. We had many a good laugh with her and will miss her jokes (although some were pretty colourful).  (Love, Betty)





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Comments (4)

  • Gertrude Lefebvre Brown
    November 2, 2013 at 12:09 pm |

    My e-mail has changed. And I’m presently living in a Motel or Heritage Inn- because My Mobile Home was Flooded in The June Flood in High River this June 20th. I was in Mexico with my son and his family when IT occurred , but My three Children living in Calgary were there for Me when I returned from my trip. Then we also had the 13th Lefebvre Reunion in Cold Lake -the week-end of June 29,30th and July 1st. Then I flew back to Ontario, via Montreal to meet for three days with my 48 yr. old daughter; then unto Oshawa(Tor) to spend a month with my oldest girl Ida(56) and only returned to High River on Aug. 7th/13. Also lost my car in the Flood.-But My daughter-Gail who lives in Calgary-had a second hand vehicle I was able to purchase from her. A 2003 Honda Odyssey, which was covered by The Ins. I GOT FROM THE ASSESSMENT FROM MY FLOODED CAR. Anyway I am presently waiting for a permanent residence which is being built here soon. Love. Gertrude. Leave a note on facebook if you wish to reach Me. Love to read your messages. And those of your wife too.

    • Harold McNeill
      November 2, 2013 at 1:44 pm |

      Hi it..will keep you posted via Facebook. H.

  • Tracy Mcewan
    March 16, 2015 at 11:22 am |

    Hi, I have been reading the beautiful tribute to your Aunt Pat. I am sorry if this is not the correct place for this message as I was not lucky enough to have met this obviously funny and strong woman. However, I hope to find someone who may have some information I am desperately seeking. I have been investigating any information regarding one Mr. Warren Harwood . It seems he is my grandfather. He knew my grandmother before he met and married his wife Elizabeth Dewan. They briefly had dated and my mother Twila Ferguson was made from this union. I would love to have any information of him and if there is any other family I would be related to. Once again I apologize if this is not the proper place for this . Thank you for the wonderful stories on this site. Yours, respectfully Tracy McEwan.

    • Harold McNeill
      March 16, 2015 at 8:03 pm |

      It is a perfectly good spot for messages such as you have left. I will send you an email message with more information about Uncle Warren (by marriage to my Dad’s sister. I have several photos of the early years that are linked in various stories, so we should be able to fill in a fair amount of detail. The stories will explain the close connection our family had with Uncle Warren and Aunt Liz. It will take a bit of time to link all the stories in which they appear at various times during our lives. Cheers, Harold

Leave a comment



  • Harold McNeill

    August 21, 2019 |

    For those who followed the earlier post about the cost of ICBC Auto insurance coverage in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba (linked in comments) here is another follow-up article.

    This article again confirms earlier assertions that public-private insurers such as that which ICBC provides, is among the best in Canada in terms of rates and coverage. A link is provided in the original story.

  • Harold McNeill

    August 16, 2019 |

    Many thanks for reviewing the article Elizabeth. There are so many areas of our society in which populism carries the day, although I think what is happening with the ICBC is that groups having a vested interest in private insurance would dearly love to dislodge ICBC from their preferred position. That being said, I think was a good move to have only portions of the insurance coverage in BC being held by ICBC and other portions being made available through private enterprise.

  • Elizabeth Mary McInnes, CAIB

    August 15, 2019 |

    It’s a breath of fresh air to see a resident of British Columbia look to review all the facts over believing what is reported in the news or just following along with the negative stigma of the masses. Your article truly showcases that with a little reform to ICBC’s provincial system – British Columbia could be a true leader for other provinces in Canada. Very well written article!

  • Harold McNeill

    August 13, 2019 |

    August 13, 2019. The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), a private enterprise group not unlike the Fraser Institute, is again on the campaign trail. They state ICBC rates are the highest in Canada, but, thankfully, Global BC inserted a section indicating the Insurance Bureau cherry-picked the highest number in BC and the lowest numbers in AB, ON and other Eastern Provinces. If you take a few minutes to check reliable sources you will find BC rates, are the lowest in Canada.

  • Andrew Dunn

    May 14, 2019 |

    Thank you so much for all your help thus far Harold, aka. Tractor guy! I could not have done without you!

  • Harold McNeill

    April 25, 2019 |

    I find it interesting to contemplate how a small community evolves in general isolation from the rest of the world. We have a similar situation in the northern communities in Canada to which access is limited. The inclusion of the world wide web and mass media has changed things, but these communities are still left pretty much to their own devices when it comes to personal interaction.

  • 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.