Peter Sinclair - page 5----

Tales from the Territories: A Near Tragedy
by Peter Sinclair


Wrigley, December 1948
. Joe Murree came in at the end of November to fill out the station staff. It had become obvious to Calder that there was too much work at the site for three operators. Cpl, Dick Bullock, the NCO in charge of the station, had made a rule that no one was to walk alone to the HBC store, which was about 6-7 miles away and across the river to the north of the station.
In the first week of December the ice seemed set and safe to travel on. Scotty McQueen wanted a change and talked Joe into walking down to the HBC Post. There was still open water above an island in the middle of the river where the water piled up. Dick told them to keep to the right hand bank until well past the island and then cross to the HBC Post. Joe did not know the area as he had only been on the station for two weeks.

I was on "mids" and woke them at 6:00 a.m. and they left. I went to bed around mid-morning and got up in the evening to the news that Joe and Scotty were missing. They should have been at the HBC Post by mid-morning. The HBC Factor, Leo Kotowich, on the noon radio sked reported their non-arrival and sent out some dog teams to find them.

There is a small creek/river that flows in about two miles north of the airstrip. This was the location of Camp 8-Ball. After the MacKenzie freezes over the water level drops and rivers entering the MacKenzie overflow the ice layer making a potentially dangerous area for the unwary. The Indians reported tracks going into this overflow area but none coming out. At this time of year there is a half-light after 10:00 a.m. but this day there was an ice fog.

After hitting the overflow water McQueen said they should walk around it on the river instead of walking the bank. This was fairly smooth ice so in the fog they walked across the Mackenzie (about 1 mile), then with the bank on their right side they were heading south. They had gone about 8 miles south when they passed two islands off shore. Joe knew something was dreadfully wrong so he took charge and started retracing their route. By this time it was mid-afternoon. The ice fog had now dissipated but it was getting dark again. Then he spotted our rotating airway beacon, so he knew where home was.

On crossing the river the ice was very rough with pressure ridges and jumbled floes. McQueen injured a knee and ankle and had to be helped along. When they came opposite the airstrip McQueen told Joe it would be better if he climbed the bank, which is about 250 feet high at this point, and walked down the airstrip to the camp to get help.


Joe Murree 1949
Scotty McQueen 1949

This was good plan, except they were not yet far enough along the river. When Joe climbed the bank he found himself in the south approach to the airport amidst a tangle of stumps and deadfalls. About this time he got an uneasy feeling that he was being followed. Behind him he noticed two spots of light flashing in reflection of the rotating beacon. Now, he knew that a dog's eyes reflect amber and a wolf's reflect green. These spots were green. He quickened his pace and eventually reached the packed runway surface with his company following along almost to the tarmac and drawing closer. By this time he was nearly done in anyway after the long trek down river and back. Now he was pushing it for his life and his strength was running out. By the time he reached the back yard of the station building he was crawling on his hands and knees.

It was about 8:00 p.m. and I was in the kitchen making a meal when the door crashed open and this frost-covered apparition fell in upon the floor. Dick Bullock and Hal Zinn rushed in from the station and we cleared the frost off Joe's face and got his outer clothes off. After a hot drink he told us McQueen was going to try and make it to the beach road. Dick and Hal took off on the run with a toboggan. They found McQueen close to the beach road, loaded him on the toboggan and hauled him up the hill and into camp. He was badly frost-bitten, especially his feet. He was laid up about 10 days as his sprains and frozen bits recovered.

As I had once admitted to working in a kitchen at a POW camp to escape the guard towers in the winter, dick had me do the cooking. It mostly involved opening cans so everyone survived.


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