The Grayson Chronicles: The Journey Begins

Written by Harold McNeill on August 22nd, 2012. Posted in Adventure

Grayson Walker and his Grandpa

Photo (2012): Five year old Grayson and his Grandpa get set to go hiking in the hills behind his mom’s home in Kamloops, BC. It was during the trek the two hatched their summer plans.  Join us for the Journey Begins.

Dear Reader,

The following chronicles were written during the magical summer of 2012 when five-year old Grayson Edward Walker, along with his Grandpa, Harold David McNeill, his Uncle, Jay Wesley McNeill and a family friend, Bjorn Oscar Simonsen, completed an exploratory expedition through British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. While the trip through British Columbia was relatively peaceful, once they hit the Alberta border, they entered a new and perilous world.

Fighting massive lightening and thunder storms, flooded highways, tens of thousands of monster trucks and flocks of giant, blood sucking mosquitoes hatched in the primordial settling ponds of Fort MacMurray, the intrepid explorers bravely marched across Alberta and into the largely unknown wilderness that is now known as  Saskatchewan, an immense flatland whose name originated from a river the Cree originally called “Kisiskatchewani Sipi“.  In that harsh land the group encountered buffalo as big as barns, tractors that were even bigger and giant, round bales of hay that once set rolling in a land that has become known as Tornado Alley North, farms, cities and towns were placed in immanent danger of being wiped off the map.

Part of the reason for taking this dangerous trek was to give Harold (Grandpa) and Bjorn (his long time friend and travel companion), now both in their seventies and in the twilight years of their lives, an opportunity to return to the communities in which they had sown the seeds of their youth and, at the same time, to introduce five-year-old Grayson (that be me in the photo right) to family and friends still residing in many communities and farms along the route.

With dozens of family (Siblings, Aunts, Uncles, Cousin’s, Nieces, Nephews and friends) at almost every stop, we would be greeted with open arms. As we have always loved seeking out new adventures, this trip would prove to be jam packed from beginning to end.

We hope you will enjoy these chronicles that, for his part I (Grayson) have dictated to my Grandpa.

From both of us.

Photo: Following an earlier discussion with his Grandfather, Grayson is drawn by the call of the unknown. With rivers to cross, mountains to climb and people to meet, adventure has become the watch word in his young life. The two men began their adventures when Grayson was only three years old.  

1. Late Spring 2012  (by Grayson)

Wow, is my summer ever shaping up!  Today, Mom told me she wanted to take me on a camping trip to Long Beach on Vancouver Island and then my dad just told me he had special plans for a trip in early August. While my Mom and Dad have recently gone their separate ways, they still have tons of time for me.  For a short period of time, I thought I could play one of them against the other but they soon set me straight on that point. Besides, they always have so many adventures planned, I never have much time to worry about this change in our family life.

To top it off, when Grandpa and Nana McNeill were visiting from Victoria, and when Grandpa and I were walking and talking in the mountains behind my mom’s home in Kamloops, B.C., we looked out along the North Thompson River and over the mountains and Grandpa said:  “Grayson, his summer let’s take a trip across those mountains and into the prairies as I want to show you the places where I lived and some of the things I did when I was a little boy about your age.”  Holly macaroni, does life get any better?

While this seemed great, I told Grandpa we might have a problem finding time for a three Province tour as Mom and Dad both had a number of adventures planned for the summer. It helped that over the past year since they separated, I have been encouraging them to try doing more things without me. It seems they still get terribly lonesome without me around, but I guess that’s just part of parents learning to grow up as their kids get older and become more independent.

After thinking it over for the small part of a minute, I said: “Don’t worry Grandpa, I’ll work it out. I find it pretty easy to sweet talk Mom and Dad into pretty much anything. All I have to do is catch them at the right moment.”

Photo: In my short life I have quickly learned that timing and approach is everything.

About a week later, after Grandpa and Nana had left, I was out hiking with mom in those very same mountains where Grandpa and I hatched our plans. As whe was in a really bubbly mood I took a moment to snuggle up close, give her a kiss on the cheek, tell her I loved her and then roughed out my travel plans with Grandpa. Wow! She thought it was a great idea.

The next night, I planned to speak with my dad. I knew the best time to catch him for a little chat, was during a quiet moment with just the two of us. That moment came sooner than I thought. As we were we sitting around after dinner reading our papers, I asked: “Dad, what would you think about…” Again, my timing was perfect. Without giving it a second thought, Dad said: “Certainly son, that would be great. I like it when you and Grandpa head out on one of your adventures.” Double Wow! Can you believe it? Two for two.

Later that evening I phoned Grandpa and excitedly told him how it all unfolded. He said: “I guess you kind’a caught your dad with his pants down, eh!”  Awe Grandpa, that’s really baaaad…

I then mentioned to Grandpa that I sort of I missed out the part where we thought it might take us to three weeks or a month to do the trip. He told me he would have to work out that little detail with my parents. I was not to worried as Grandpa is a pretty smooth talker just like me. Anyway, our planning began in earnest.

Let’s see, during this trip: no dietary concerns, perhaps an occasional Big Mac, 7 Eleven slurpee (for emergency sustenance only), staying up late, getting up late, meeting lots of people, particularly girls, something Grandpa and I are pretty good at, but I also follow Grandpa’s lead: “we have fun, Grayson. but we keep it clean, we don’t drink to much and while you can keep a diary, what happens on the trip stays on the trip.” Ya, I got it, I got it Grandpa…little did he know I planned to keep a diary of everything and because he always takes lots of pictures, I knew we would have some real remembrances of our trip.

2. Early Summer 2012  (by Grandpa)

That was great news from Grayson today! It now appears I must start working on that tiny detail about how long we might be away. First, I got hold of my old travel buddy Bjorn Simonsen, that famous Fjordland Bone Man and Terasen Gas Explorer, and told him we were good to go, but that I was still working out the time frame. Bjorn comes from a long line of Norwegian Explorers as he grew up in Fjords of Norway during the last war and knows how to deal with adversity. For a short story about the history of his family Link Here.

I told him the latest we would have to be back was by the end of August as Grayson’s dad was planning a trip with Grayson over the August long week-end. Also, I still had to talk to our daughter Kari as she was hoping to spend some time with Gray before he went camping with his dad in August. Bjorn was all excited as we also planned to spend some time following in the tracks of his mom and dad when his family first immigrated to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, from Norway, back in the early 1950s.

As far as the time frame, I figured it would be best to just finesse it and let things evolve. I have long since learned that things have a way of working themselves out and although I thought we might be able to do the trip in three weeks, that would be pushing it as we did not to be constantly trekking . Anyway, everything seemed good to go including Jay’s time off from work. We planned to leave Victoria in lat June.

Cartoon: Grandpa Tigger and Grayson in one their playful moments. I wondered it Bjorn might have a bit of a hard time understanding the two idiots he was traveling with. Jay, of course, would just go with the flow.

Ah, but what about Nana who was being left to look after the home front. It seem’s she made qualms about the planned trip. She was just as happy to hunker down at home for a little peace and quiet. More to the point, no Grandpa Tigger around to bug her.

3. Hitting the Road (Grayson)

Grandpa, Uncle Jay and Bjorn arrived in Kamloops today and we sketched out our travel plans, to mom. Grandpa suggested it might take three weeks or a month. A look of total dismay crossed mom’s face:  “Dad (that be my awesome Grandpa), three weeks or a month, three weeks or a month? I won’t see Gray for three weeks or a month? Dad! Dad! You can’t be serious?”

Grandpa laughed nervously and shrugged his shoulders in a non-committal way,  then said: “Well honey, we could try to push it a little harder!” Well, of course, my mom was apprehensive, but with my fawning baby fawn eyes looking at her so expectantly and lovingly, she just let it drop. Gosh, I love my mom.

That evening, when Grandpa talked with my Dad about the amount of time, dad simply grimaced, said ‘ouch’, but just like mom, he let it go. I am so proud of how my parents are so good at dealing with life’s little set-backs.

From that point things moved into high gear. We even bumped up our departure from Kamloops by a couple of days just so we could catch the outgoing tide on the North Thompson River and at ten the next morning we had the trailer all packed, bikes secured and car filled with gas. My mom had included a survival pack that would last me at least three to four months as she had been to Alberta and Saskatchewan before and knew the conditions could get pretty rough. After a big hug, a few tears and a final wave good-bye, we were on the road…

4. Grandpa Suffers a Bout of Nostalgia (Grayson)

Our first stop, after a relatively short day, was Valmont. This turn out to be a bitter-sweet moment for Grandpa as he had been all excited while telling us about the campground (behind a motel) at which he and Nana along with various family members (Kari, Christine, Jay, Sean and others) had often camped during trips to the North and East.  He told us the motel swimming pool was just what the doctor ordered at the end of long day and the whole area was nicely tree with plenty of great bike trails. Across from the campground was a large service station and several stores at which Uncle Jay could wile away hours chatting with the locals.

The moment we drove in, we could see that hard times had descended upon this part of Valemont. The campsite, along with the nearby motel were simply falling apart. The pool was closed and falling in and the lush green forest in the campground was now filled with dead and dying trees that had succumbed to the mountain beetle that was trekking across British Columbia at breakneck speed. The service station and stores acoss the street were closed and falling apart.  All in all, it was a depressing state of affairs for Grandpa. While he usually takes pictures of anything and everything, he put his camera away, took one more look then said: “Ok guy’s, this is a part of the past that is best remembered as it was in it’s hayday. Let’s hit the road!”

Without another word, it was clear Grandpa had decided it was time to move on and make some new memories at a new campsite in a new world. We were off and running and soon ended up just north of town by the Golf Course where Grandpa and Uncle Sean used to pound a few golf balls and count the number of mosquitoes they could kill with each drive. When we arrived, we found a new campground and, surprisingly, the mosquitoes seemed to have taken a vacation. They were probably all in Alberta waiting for us.

Photo: While Grandpa and I were out hitting a few balls, I think I got a ‘hole in one’. Then, again, perhaps I miscounted…let me think?

Grandpa also told me that he and Uncle Sean, both of whom were rather famous for their long drives, sometimes lost their golf balls when swarms of mosquitoes would somehow deflect the balls off into the bush. Once deflected and completely covered with squished mosquitoes, the balls were very hard to find. In those cases they would just make a provisional drop as the mosquitoes were considered a temporary hazard and a free drop was allowed.

Photo: Grandpa pulled this photo from his files. It shows a flock of mosquitoes over the golf course one day when he and Uncle Sean were on the back nine.

Note the black spot you see in the photo (lower centre). That is a Mosquitoe Hawk being attacked. Grandpa said that seconds after this photo was taken, a mosquito hawk that had accidentally flown into the swarm was attacked and it only took seconds before its skeletal remains plummeted to earth.  You can see how hard it would be too drive a golf ball through this seething mass.

Shortly after we arrved back from golfing, Uncle Jay roared into the campsite on his bike and told us there was a big festival with bands playing in the downtown Valemont. We decided that instead of making dinner, we would all just pile into the car and set out on another adventure.

After grabbing a bite to eat, I found a fund raising booth with some rather pretty girls either cutting off hair (some or all) or dying hair and beards, all as a fund raiser for breast cancer research. I decided we may as well get into the spirit of things, so told Grandpa, Uncle Jay and Bjorn, that we should do something.

Well, Bjorn and Jay were having no part of getting their hair shaved or dyed, but Grandpa thought it was a cool idea and, as it was for a good cause, so he and I decided to go for a Red Iroquois stripes. For Grandpa it was a pretty small stripe as he does not haver much hair left. Well, I guess you could say he has a 100% more hair than my dad. Anyway, I settled for a stripe along my scalp. With our red hair, Grandpa and I were off and running.

Photo (left): Here I am helping the lady finish off Grandpa’s mohawk.  I think she did a pretty good job on mine, don’t you?  I will have to admit, with all those pretty ladies around it was a bit hard to stay focused on Grandpa’s hair.

Even after Uncle Jay and Bjorn could see how awesome our hair colours looked, we could not convince either of them it was a good idea.  We reminded Bjorn that his ancestors often ran around with horns attached to their heads and that he was from a famous line of people that extended all the way back to that Norwegian Explorer, Eric the Red. But, no way was he having any part of our silly games. Oh well, some men just don’t understand style.

That night we all had our first deep sleep on the road and the next morning we were up early, Bjorn had made a big stack of pancakes and bacon and soon we were off to the mountains, Jasper and points north and east into the wilds of Alberta.

Photo: There is nothing more pleasing when camping than to wake up in the morning to the smell of bacon frying. Bjorn could really whip up those pancakes and in no time ‘flat’ we had finished our breakfast, hooked up the trailer and were off and running towards a new adventure.

5. Mosquitoe Attack: Welcome to Alberta (Grayson)

Photo: Grandpa, Jay and I prepare for our entry into Alberta. Bjorn (taking the photo) seemed very apprehensive as he said that we were now entering a territory where the drivers of pick-up trucks, with their big ‘V8s’ and oversized tires, gave no quarter when it came to BC registered vehicles towing little trailers.  

Bjorn told us that in previous visits to Alberta when he was towing a fifth wheel, drivers of pick-ups would sneak up behind him, drop their trucks into passing gear and with their unmuffled V8 engine exhausts breathing fire, would blast by scaring the ‘hoot ta goot, ta gorten’ out of him and his wife, Linda. By the way, Grandpa says that the “hoot ta goot ta gorten” saying is actually Norwegian for “land of the free spirit”, a play on Bjorn’s middle names. No kidding, just Google it and see what you get.

One of the last vestiges of civilization before reaching the Alberta border, was the majestic 13,000 foot (4000 meter) Mount Robson whose shear, snow covered cliffs greeted us with pristine clarity on this cloudless day. We stopped for lunch and while there made serveral phone calls to family and friends as well as making a few FB posts about our projected route.

We knew that over the next four weeks, cell phone and internet service throughout Alberta and Saskatchewan would be sporadic as much of the territory is still undeveloped. We also passed along our projected stops so that if we went missing, our families might wish to mount a search.

We intended to by-pass Jasper and head straight for the Pocahontas2 campground near Miette Hot Springs, about 60 km north-east of the town. As we continued NW, we were getting a little stressed as we were very low on gas by the time we arrived at the campground at about 2:00 pm, on a hot, muggy afternoon and were unsure about having enough to make it to remote outpost of Hinton.

As soon as we entered the camping area, we were struck by the fact it was very nearly empty, not something that either Grandpa or Bjorn expected in early July. The two of them decided to drop the trailer so Grandpa and I could set up while Bjorn and Uncle Jay made a beeline for Hinton to gas up.

As we were searching for a site, Grandpa told me this was the very same camp ground in which he, Nana and Nana’s mom, Edna, along with Jay had stayed during the summer of 1987 just before Sean was born. During that stay they had been caught in one of the scariest mountain lightening and thunderstorms any of them had ever experienced.

While the campsite we selected seemed OK, there was not a breath of fresh air in the heavily wooded area and it was eerily quiet without any other campers around. After shutting off the car, we could hear a quiet hum or buzz in the background and the moment Grandpa and I jumped out to disconnect the trailer, we found out the reason.

The first thing I heard was Bjorn hollering at Grandpa to cover his head as a giant mosquito hovering above was getting ready to strike. From within the surrounding woods, we could hear thousands more mosquitoes as they prepared for an all out attack.

Photo: Bjorn managed to catch this photo of a giant mosquito just as it was about to sink its proboscis into Grandpa’s brain. Although it would likely have missed any vital organs, it looked as if it would have left a nasty scar.  Perhaps, like killer hummingbirds, these genetically modified mosquitoes were attracted by the red mohawk on the back of grandpa’s head. I wished I had put on my ball hat.

As Grandpa was fighting off the mosquito attacking him, Bjorn grabbed me just as another large mosquito with a blood sucking backpack was about to attack. Bjorn threw me in the car with Uncle Jay and was just jumping out to help Grandpa at the very moment Grandpa was able to break free using a tire iron that we kept handy for setting up the trailer. As Grandpa beat the mosquitoe into the ground, he hollared at Bjorn to start the car.

Photo (right):  When we were in the car, another bloodsucking mosquito, the same as the one that had gone after me, went after Grandpa’s balding head. Grandpa managed to grab it with both hands, squeezed hard and threw it out the window. 

With everyone safely in the car, Bjorn threw it in drive, and with gravel flying in every direction we beat a hasty retreat towards the exit. In the car, we continued to squish several dozen dozen normal sized mosquitoes.

Part way out, another giant hit the windshield with sufficient force that it cracked the glass. Soon after more than two dozen large mosquitoes hit the windows, turning them red with the blood as they attacked in full force. We assumed the blood had sucked from other campers and animals in the area and we could only hope they had been able to escape with their lives. It was only after we pulled back on the main highway and cranked it up to a 130 km (the posted speed for Alberta secondary highways).  Bjorn never did put on the windshield wipers as the red squish and mosquito parts would have completely obstructed his view.  Everyone was nervously laughing about the “the Welcome to Alberta” sign we had passed just an hour earlier. What a welcome we had received.

Photo: A small sample of the mosquitoes that hit our windshield.  This scene was to be repeated many times across Alberta and Saskatchewan.  They have even developed a mosquito bug wash to put in your windshield washer reserve tank.

Given all the blood on our car and front of he trailer, it’s a good thing the RCMP never pulled us over as we might have had a hard time explaining so as soon as we arrived in Hinton we gassed up, then hit a car wash to clean things up.

While chatting, Bjorn told us that during one of his archeological research projects, he had learned that groups such as Ducks Unlimited and Greenpeace, along with other left wing organizations such as the Fraser Institute, have pretty much established these genetically modified mosquitoes have been emerging from the bubbling, primordial ooze that now covers thousands of square kilometers around Fort MacMurray. He said the Alberta Government and all the Major oil company scientists from CNLR, Syncrude, Suncor, Husky and others, continue to deny any such thing is happening. Bjorn thinks the Premier of Alberta is spending a little to much time in bed with those scientists and the oil company executives.

Whatever might be the case, it seems to us it won’t be long before the cat is out of the bag as others must have also have been attacked by those super mosquitoes that seem to be spreading towards British Columbia like wildfire. Perhaps Saskatchewan, with it’s new found ‘clean source’ wealth, has also become a target as Albertans certainly seem to resent anything that may be labelled ‘green’.

As for BC, Grandpa suggested these mosquitoes might very well be a form of retaliation against British Columbia for having exported the Mountain Pine Beetle to Alberta or, perhaps, because of the reluctance of the BC people and government to approve the Enbridge pipeline route. In either case, Alberta has some pretty strong motives.

On a lighter note about mosqitoes, Grandpa told us a story of how, when he was a kid in Cold Lake, he and his friends would let a single mosquito bit them until it was completely filled with blood. Then, before it could pull out its proboscis from their arm or leg, they would squish it.  The kid with the biggest blood spot was the winner. It did not sound like all that much fun to me but I was willing to try it just once. Anyway, mosquitoes aside, it seems this trip will be filled many adventures.

Photo (left): Blood Sport — a mosquito draws a blood sample from my arm. I thought it was a stupid game but who knows, it is probably recognized as a competitive provincial sport in Alberta.

After cleaning up from our mosquito attack, we stopped to have a drink and plan our next course of action. As it turned out, the town of Hinton was an excellent choice as the campground to which we were directed by the folks from the Tourist Centre, was owned by town and was just a short bike ride from the Hinton Recreation Centre and Swimming Pool.  After setting up in a breezy, treed site that, thankfully, was free from mosquitoes, we grabbed our bikes and headed out for a swim.

6. Gravel, Little Boys, and Bikes (Grayson)

As soon as we started riding both Grandpa and Bjorn both warned me a couple of times to stop ‘hot dogging’ it on the gravel, especially at points were gravel spilled over on the pavement. I think my last words were something like “no problem, I know how to do this.”  That was just about the moment my bike went one way and I the other. My knee ground into the gravel but my helmet took the impact so my head escaped any serious damage. It’s hard to put up too much of a fuss after showing off, but after getting a few kind words from Grandpa and Bjorn and another warning to be careful, I was again off and running.

Bang.  Not more than two minutes later I do another face plant and scored a few more battle scars.  This time, after Grandpa and Bjorn checked that there were no lasting injuries, they said nothing and just kept riding, telling me that at some point I might actually put two and two together. Enough said, I got the message. After an awesome two hour swim during which time my wounds rapidly healed, we headed back to camp to get the car as we had to pick up Uncle Jay downtown.

It was just getting dark when we had our first run-in with an Alberta pick-up truck driver after Grandpa got a little confused when circling back onto the Yellow Head to head into Hinto to pick up Uncle Jay. When Grandpa was a little slow making a merge, the  truck, decked out with enough lights to service a medium sized airport, came roaring up behind.

Photo: Bjorn captured this picture of the Toyota Tundra just as the driver weaved to the right to pass Grandpa on the shoulder of the highway. If pressed, these vehicles would even use the ditch to pass a line of slow moving traffic.

Tonight, the pick-up came blasting by on the shoulder with horn blaring and the driver giving a one finger wave at the BC driver (that would be my Grandpa). Grandpa waved back with his finger thinking this must be the customary way Albertans greet one another on the highway as Grandpa said he has seen this wave at other times when driving in Alberta.

Bjorn quickly told Grandpa that the man was not being friendly and that these drivers can get downright ugly if you respond in kind. He also told Grandpa to be extra careful around pick-up trucks with a gun rack in the back window and an attack dog on a quick release chain in the box (like the one which had just passed us). Grandpa agreed that perhaps he needed to learn a little more about the local customs before he started practicing them.

After picking up Jay and returning to the camp and Jay had gone for a walk, he came running back a few minutes later, all out of breath, telling us there was a big storm, perhaps an F4 tornado, building in the west and that we had better batten down the hatches. Sure enough not more than 30 minutes later, at about 10:45 pm, the storm hit and it hit hard.

7. A Lightening and Thunderstorm to Remember (Grayson)

Lightening, thunder, wind, heavy rain and a bit of hail came with a building frenzy. We pulled down he end tarp on bed so we had a big screen view as we could see all the way to the western horizon. It was an awesome display and Grandpa and I took turns counting from the time of the flash to the roar of the thunder. Sometimes we barely made a two count.

It was not long into the storm before Uncle Jay left his bed and joined us in ours “so he could see better”. He pulled in his sleeping bag and pillow, then hunkered down crossways at our feet. He watched the storm nervously for a few minutes, then closed his eyes and we heard no more from him for the rest of the night. I bet for the rest of our trip he will have great fun telling people about the huge storm.

Photo:  With Uncle Jay sprawled out for the night, it was hard for Grandpa to find room to sleep. He finally moved Jay more toward my side of the bed.

Over the next two hours Grandpa and I snuggled as we watched the storm ebb and flow. Between counting between the lightening flashes and clap of thunder, we talked about everything from thunder storms to make-up of the Universe.  It was another awesome day on the prairie trail.

8. The Universe (Grandpa)

At some point in our conversation Grayson asked me the most astounding question:  “Grandpa, what makes the earth move?”   I had no idea where the question came from but it must have been sparked by something in our conversation about storms, lightening and thunder.

It just happened that from our vantage point in bed we could look our through the darkness toward four or five lights strung out in a row somewhere in the vicinity of the campground washrooms.  The light on the far left was much brighter and larger than the others so I told Grayson to just imagine the large light was the sun and the others, stretching outward, were the planets.

Drawing: This drawing still lists Pluto as a planet.

I explained the four smaller lights in order would be Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars and that there were four more, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.  I also explained that when I was young there used to be a ninth planet, Pluto, but that poor little guy, the furthest from the Sun, had been demoted because some scientists did not think his size and mass qualified him to be a planet. Instead the scientists designated Pluto as a “dwarf planet’. Many people thought that was just terrible as that would be the same thing as saying that people who were very, very small (sometimes referred to as Dwarf’s) were not people.  How stupid would that be?

Note: In my conversations with Grayson, I feel free to be as technical as I wish and to use whatever analogy seems best for I have long since learned that in discussion with Grayson, you may as treat him just like an adult as he has a knack for getting the message and is much more open minded about everything than many adults I know.

I went on to explain how each planet is held by the gravitational force of the sun and that each moves in an elliptical circle pattern.

As our earth takes one full year to complete the circle, this means, among other things, we have four seasons summer, fall, winter and spring. To my ongoing amazement Grayson fully understand the explanation by stating: “I understand that, I have watched several shows about the earth, sun moon and other planets on TV.  On one of those shows I heard about poor little Pluto.”

Book Cover Photo: This book, looks as if it may nice gift for a young man having an interest in the Universe. It tells about all the different ways man has viewed the Universe over the past three thousand years.

We must have stayed awake until 1:00 in morning watching the storm and talking about the earth and planets.  It was to be the first of many interesting late night discussions on a variety of subject before Grandpa finally fell asleep, leaving Grayson either to sing, bounce or talk to himself, until he finally fell into a deep sleep.  Tomorrow would be a new day and we would be moving on to Stoney Plain, Alberta, but first we had one more stop to take in Hinton.

9. The Beaver Boardwalk (Grayson)

While at the swimming pool, a family group asked Grandpa if we had visited the “Beaver Boardwalk”.  Grandpa said he had never heard of it as he had never before stayed in Hinton as he only stopped for gas and a coffee.  They told about a reclaimed area on the upper east edge of town where Beaver had made a real comeback and had built several dams across various sloughs and waterways.

Area residents realized it was an exceptionally interesting natural site, so decided to raise funds to build several boardwalks and lookouts from which wildlife could be viewed in a natural setting.

That evening we drove to the area, walked in a short distance and entered a virtual wonderland.

Photo: I head out on the boardwalk while in the inset, Gandpa and Bjorn are pretending they are beavers slapping their tails.  Idiots!

Grandpa later told me that because beaver can’t talk in a normal fashion, they slap their tails to communicate. One slap for ‘yes’, two slaps for ‘no’, three slaps for ‘danger’, etc. I think the next time Bjorn tells me to eat the crust on my bread, I will just slap the table twice.

Anyway, the little sidetrip offered the most amazing view of how the beaver build their dams and homes and not only were the beaver hard at work, all kinds of other birds and wildlife were busy making nests and homes in the area.

If any of my friends ever pass through Hinton during the summer, it would be well worthwhile making a stop of one or two hours to wander around this amazing marshland.


10. Washout – Highway 16  (Grayson)

On leaving Hinton to travel east toward Edmonton, we were struck by how much water had been dumped the previous evening. Sloughs and lakes along the highway were brim full and in many areas were close to reaching the shoulder of the highway.  The other thing we noticed was the increased speed limits, something in the order of 130 km/h.

Photo: Even the rain soaked Yellowhead Hwy. did not present any concerns for most Alberta drivers as they kept up a steady 140 km/h pace.

Grandpa, for the most part, kept up a steady 90 – 100 km/h pace as that provided for easy driving and the best gas mileage. However, while that worked well in BC, after crossing the border into Alberta, it suddenly seemed as if we were standing still.  Even giant articulated motor homes and large fifth wheels towing another vehicle, boat and perhaps an ATV behind that, seldom traveled at less than 140 km/h.

Although Grandpa started pushing it to 100 km/h, it made little difference. He finally just settled back and became accoustomed to the horns and middle fingers that waved a friendly “Welcome to Alberta” as we made our way down towards Edmonton.

Photo (right): Can you believe it, traffic finally slowed as the flooding became worse and started to infringe upon the travelled portion.

Sometime about 1:00 pm, we heard the familiar ‘ding-ding’ of an incoming text message. It was from Uncle Barrie in Stoney Plain advising us to avoid Highway 16 as it was washed out just east of Stoney and the highway was heavily congested. To late, as we were just then closing in and it was not until we topped the next hill that the traffic came to a near standstill.

Photo: A backhoe works to replace the huge culvert that as washed out just west of Stoney Plain. The highway was totally blocked for several days but that did not stop some SUV drivers who just put their vehicles in 4-wheel drive and started boggying around the obstructions. 

Fortunately for us, we were going to Stoney at that time and we were able to cut north on one of the Range Roads that would lead us in the back way to Cousin Gary and Edna’s home about 5 km north of the highway.  The next day the paper printed all kinds of pictures of the washout and the giant culvert that had been ripped from the road.

Although we had experienced heavy rains in Hinton, it appeared this area of Alberta had been hit much harder.

11. The Birthday Party (Grayson)

Today I went to a birthday party of the oldest person I have ever met, well, next to Grandpa that is.  It was a party for his Aunt Pat, the last of the 12 children in his dad’s side of the family.  At 96, Aunt Pat is not what you might expect.  Although her hearing is shot and her eyes do not work as well as they did a few years back, she still has a mind that is as razor sharp.

This yea, after Aunt Pat moved to a new lodge in Stoney Plain, she was selected as a “Poster Girl” for a Province-wide fundraising campaign for the Christian Charity that maintains the lodge (photo on left is one of the posters featuring Aunt Pat).

Among her responsibilities as a poster girl, she travels around and speaks at various fund raising events.

As Aunt Pat, who has become rather famous for her jokes, told one those gathered at her birthday party. When attending a recent Gold Tournament Fundraiser, she had been engaged in conversation with a young man across her just before she was called to the podium to begin speaking.

In her opening remarks she pointed down to the young man and told the those gathered that he was going out earlier in the week to practice for the gold tournament.  When his alarm went off, he got up, showered and shaved and began to dress.  But on pulling on his socks, he noted that he had a “hole in one”.  So he undressed and went back to bed.  Grandpa said that is typical Aunt Pat but everyone had to be very careful, as not all her jokes were as clean as that particular joke.

At the party I got to meet dozens of Grandpa’s cousins, many of whom brought their musical instruments and played for the party which included many people from the Lodge.  Because my Mom’s brother has just moved to Stoney from Ontario in order to be closer to he and his wifes son and grandchildren, it was another chance for me to meet a lot of the people on that side of the family.

Photo: Here I am playing ‘pile-on’ with a bunch of cousins I have just met.

Later that day we all went out to Grandpa’s cousins home, Gary and Edna Shirrmaker (Aunt Pat is Gary’s mom) on the outskirts of Stoney Plain. Here we had a big dinner before everyone left for different part’s of Alberta and Saskatchewan.  The next morning Grandpa said we would head out for his old home town, Cold Lake, Alberta, but first he wanted to take a bit of detour north to a place where he moved when he was eight years old.


12. The Harvest Fields of Grandpa’s Youth (Grayson)

As we travelled north west into the Westlock and Pibrock if Alberta, Grandpa showed me fields in which he used to work with his dad back in the 1950’s.  At one point we crossed the very same section railway track along which Grandpa and Auntie Louise used to walk when going to the one room school in Pibrock.

Grandpa told me a story about once having once stopped to visit members of the Hutterite Colony that now owns the Murffit farm that was taken over by the Colony when Grandpa and his family still lived their. The railway track ran right along side the farm and one of the things that Grandpa, Auntie Louise and some of the other kids from the farm used to do, was put pennies on the track just before the train came.  After the train passed, they would find their pennies flattened to about the size of quarters.

Photo:  Grandpa, about nine years old, drives the Fordson tractor while his father (my great-grandfather) operates the binder. Here the binder cuts the barley and then ties it in sheaves that will later be ‘stooked’ by other workers.

During the fall when the Hutterites began moving in, Grandpa became friends with one of the young men, about 15, who also worked with Grandpa during the harvest. The boy, about six years older than Grandpa, had never lived beside a railway track and had never watched a train go by, so the next time one was about to pass, Grandpa found a couple of pennies, they ran over to the tracks and Grandpa showed the boy how to flatten a penny.  The boy was really impressed and asked Grandpa if he could keep the penny. Of course Grandpa said ‘yes’.

Sixty years then slipped by until one day in 2010, Grandpa and Uncle Jay dropped by to pay a visit at the Colony. Grandpa asked if any members were still there may have been about fifteen when the Colony took over in the 1950 and it was not long, before Grandpa found a man, now nearing his eighties, who was in fact the very same person Grandpa had met some sixty years earlier.  Over apple pie and coffee, the men talked about their lives and at one point the man asked his wife if she still had that penny which he and Grandpa flattened. Can you believe it, after all those years she still had that penny tucked away in a small keep sake box.  Grandpa and the man had a good laugh about how such small things that can bring back such fond memories.

The man went on to tell Grandpa another story about pennies that had just happened a few months back.  The man and another Colony member, both in their late seventies and both dressed in their black outfits, had been out driving and they could hear a train coming just before they were about to cross the tracks. The man told his friend about putting pennies on the track, so both found a penny, jumped out, placed them on the track, then watched as the train went slowly by.

The engineer, who had been had been watching the ‘old guys’ acting suspiciously by the track, suddenly stopped the slow moving train, got out, walked back to ask them what they were doing.  Sheepishly the two men told the Engineer they were flattening pennies.  They all had a good laugh, the Engineer went back to his engine and the train pulled away.

While Grandpa and the man were talking the man’s grandson, about eight years old, who had been intently listening, told his Grandpa that he and his friends did the same thing the other day. The only difference, they used ‘toonies’.   His Grandpa: “Tonnies, you used tonnies!”

The value of money might change, but not the joyful antics of grandson’s and their grandfathers.

Oh, there was one more thing Grandpa told me about that final summer in Pibrock.  It was the first time in his life that he had fellen madly in love. The girl, about five years older than Grandpa, was the daughter of the man who owned the farm. Her name was Bonnie. Grandpa never got up the nerve to tell the girl he loved her for, as fate would have it, right after the harvest that fall, Grandpa along with his mom, dad and sister, moved away from the farm and eventually ended up in Lac La Biche.

Photo: Grandpa (left in photo) stands beside Bonnie,the first love of his life.  Auntie Louise stands on the other side of Bonnie (making sure Grandpa behaves himself) while Bonnie’s younger sister, Lynn, is on the far right.

I just smiled because not more than five or six months earlier, I had fallen totally in love with an older woman. Her name was Sammi.  Not long after having spent a short time together in Kamloops (like Grandpa with Bonnie), I never got up the nerve to tell Sammi how I felt. Suddenly Sammi and I were torn apart as we ended up taking different paths in our lives. It also seems that our ages, with me barely five and Sammi, twenty-two, might have been a little hard to overcome.

Hmm, I wonder if I might again fall in love this summer?

Note (by Grandpa): Since this story was posted, a full story about our time in Pibroch has been written and posted.  LINK HERE

13. The Four Travellers (Grandpa)

Honestly, I have never been with a better traveling companion than Grayson. We could drive 300 – 400 km in a day (more if we wished) and there would never be the peep of a complaint. Among the four of us, Grayson was by far and away the most easy going. If we had a late night, the next day he would just snuggle in his seat and go to sleep for an hour or so. Time would tell whether he could keep this up for a month.

Photo: I mean, look at that little angle sound asleep in his car seat. Believe me, Grayson sleeping while we were traveling was very unsual. He was usually talking or singing, mostly to himself. 

After the routines were established, any request for a bathroom stop by Grayson was responded to immediately as he usually meant now, not 30 minutes from now.  With the trailer and washroom close behind, it was only a matter of pulling off on a convenient side road or driveway.  Each day that stop was usually made around noon regardless of whether we had just stopped for gas or a bite to eat not long before.

Anyway, it was a good chance for Uncle Jay to catch a few puffs and for Bjorn and me to stretch our legs.  Ten minutes later we would be back on the road ready for another 100 km. (ps. For immediate family members, just ask Grayson about those stops and the big laughs that he and Grandpa shared. Ask him about the logs.)

And so went the trip, hour after hour, stop after stop with nary a hitch until around 1:00 pm one day after we had made a ‘slightly’ wrong turn in northern Alberta after leaving the area of Pibrock/Westlock, a turn that took us about an hour out way on Hwy #2, toward Slave Lake.

When back on track, we were travelling merrily along at our usual 90-100 km/h when suddenly a horrendous crash sounded from the rear of the vehicle or trailer.  The electric brakes on the trailer dynamited and in the left mirror I could see something bouncing off the road.   It was most fortunate we were on a wide, straight stretch of highway with a paved shoulder as we were dragged to an abrupt stop. There was a small turnout so I was able to get off the travelled portion as the highway was used by a lot of big rigs and oil tanker trucks.

Bjorn and I immediately jumped out to check the trailer and bikes thinking something had happened to a wheel or perhaps the bikes had broken loose.  All was good with bikes, wheels and tires.  Bjorn then called to say the emergency cut-off cable to the electric brakes was dandling on the ground.  This clearly accounted for why the trailer brakes had suddenly engaged, but why?

We walked back down the road we had just travelled and about 200 feet back we found a large, round pot metal tanker truck valve cover, 5-6 inches in diameter with two large clamps, one on each side (photo above). It appeared the cap had fallen off a passing tanker truck and had lain in the centre of our lane.  When we passed over, it somehow flicked up, hooked the safety chain and brake cable then bounced off hitting the hitch and axle of the trailer.  While no damage was done, it certainly gave us a real scare, that and the dog thing that happened a few minutes later.

Following the trailer incident I was traveling a little slower than usual when a pick up truck that had been following ten feet behind for a couple of kilometers on the two lane highway, came blasting by.  It was lucky for me that Jay saw him coming and hollared for me to pull his arm in or I would most certainly have lost it to the dog in the back of the truck.

Other than the trailer hitch scare and the dog thing, the rest of the trip to Cold Lake was uneventful other than getting side-tracked a second time on Highway 55, when a simple detour around some construction ended up taking us some 50 kilometers our of the way. Grayson told us he was going to take a map reading course in order to help keep us on track.

Oh, Grayson wanted me to add one final comment about the towns we passed. He noted that every town seemed to have town adopted some type of vegetable to represent that town. Turnips, potatoes, tomatoes, squash, rutabagas and sometimes cooked foods such as perogies, cabbage rolls and cobasa have all found a home at the entrance to one town or another. Grayson bet that Cold Lake probably made a big deal out some fish that somebody tried to catch back in the 1800s. Right on Grayson, already done. Link Here

Photo: Grayson inspects giant pumpkins (pumpkins on steroids) that
are used to represent one small town in northern Alberta.
(We can’t remember the name of the town, perhaps you can?).


Grayson and Grandpa

This is the end of Part 1 of the Grayson Chronicles.

In Part 2 of the Chronicles, we will begin an exploration of the the City of Cold Lake, the Air Base and the fun and games we had with family and friends.  Part 2 will end after leaving Alberta and taking up our trek in the Province of Saskatchewan.

 Link Here for Part ii of the Grayson Chronicles

Link Here for Part 111 of the Grayson Chronicles

Trivia:   About trucks and trucking firms: Shawna, Grandpa’s niece, who works in the head office of a trucking firm in Calgary, told us there are 22,000 registered trucking firms in Alberta.  You could certainly see the evidence of that as you never drive more than a few kilometers before meeting a truck of some kind, many carrying goods connected to the oil patch.  Shawna said there is so much business that almost everyone who owns a truck, has registered as a trucking company.


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  • 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:

  • 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.