415-1st Ave - Centennial Cabin
Updated: Mar 17
For over 100 years the Merner family has been frequent visitors and residents of Ma-Me-O Beach!
Elton and Carrie Merner from Wetaskiwin had two sons. Morley George Merner, born in 1911, and Donald Elton Campbell Merner, born in 1916, thus the name of their family cottage 'Don Morley.' Lois Jensen (formerly Merner) and Robert 'Bob’ Merner, whose parents were Morley and Helen Merner, have contributed to the telling of the 415-1 AVE cabin history.
The Tallest Tree for Me
Elton and his family used to camp out at Ma-Me-O well before the summer village was established. Elton had an understanding with the Indigenous population at Ma-Me-O regarding his use of the area. When choosing a spot, Elton and Carrie went out on their boat and chose the tallest treed area along the shore and pitched their tent there every year. As time went on, Elton constructed a platform to put their canvas tents on and soon after built a shed to store the tents in after summer came to an end. A 'cooking shack' was also made ready on the land next to their tented area. The camping season for the Merner's went on this way until the official sale of land in 1923.
Once the sale of land went through, Elton made sure to purchase the lot where his family had camped for many years before. The first cabin built saw the re-use of the wood from the original camping site tent storage. Upon completion of the cabin a sign was erected with the fitting name of 'Don Morley.' The original sign sits at the end of the cottage to this day. In 1925, the addition of a screened in veranda gave a bit more space for hosting family and friends. Around the 1960's, the family decided to build a bit more into the front of the cabin for the ever growing Merner clan. At this time, Morley also took ownership of the cabin.
In the early stages of occupying the property they used to have water basins outdoors where bars of soap were left too. It was later discovered that squirrels 'pirated' the soap and took their treasure to their nests.
Lois and Bob have many happy memories there as children along with their sister Marilyn. Marilyn had an allergy to something in the lake water and was not able to enjoy the full experience, but the family still made many happy memories together. All the children would compete to see who saw the lake first. One time when driving out, the car behind them had a wheel come off which then proceeded to run down the road right past them!
Journey to the Lake
When school let out Helen would move all of them to the lake for the Summer. Helen never drove a car so would make sure to pack practically the whole house up for the trip out! Morley and other Wetaskiwin business men came to the lake on Wednesday afternoon since at that time there was what was called ‘Wednesday Half Holiday.’ All the businesses in Wetaskiwin closed at noon on Wednesday. Morley would also come on Saturday evenings and stay until early Monday morning. He was the owner of Merner Motors, the Chrysler dealership in Wetaskiwin.
Horse riding was a big part of the Summer for the Merner kids. Everett Jackson’s stables were so busy and the kids would ride as often as they could. Bob and his siblings had the great privilege of riding Trim and Banner (two new horses to train) before they were rented out to the public!
One year Bob’s Grandfather Elton, gave him a strawberry roan horse and he had a great Summer of riding his horse up and down the main road. Bob would ride his horse out from Wetaskiwin at the start of Summer and take the back farm roads - then return riding his horse back the same way to Wetaskiwin. Bob truly enjoyed riding horses and would go to the Spence family house on the reserve (Aps & Stanley were the sons) to trade riding horses with the kids who had their own as well. He would also go to Roastings (their son had a really nice buckskin horse). The kids used to gallop up the beach road which was quite dangerous but lots of fun!
When the kids took a break from horse riding, they could be found out boating and in the lake any chance they got. Morley had a beautiful Peterborough Kawartha boat built of inlaid wood. Many people walking on the beach would stop to admire the boat and Morley sometimes offered to take them for a ride on the lake. There were also weekends when all the children would go with Morley up Pigeon Creek to go camping then come back the next day. Bob continued this tradition frequently with his own grandkids by canoeing up the creek and camping in the same spots as he and his father did.
A summer highlight when Lois was a young girl was the PowWow that the Indigenous people put on once a summer. It was a great draw in the downtown area for all the Summer cabin residents. All the performers were dressed in regalia while they danced and drummed. Lois and her siblings loved attending the PowWows every year.
In 1987, Helen inherited the cabin after Morley passed away. Helen then passed in 1996, which is when Bob and his siblings took over the care of the cabin. The family still enjoys the cabin as often as they can with many extended family and friends coming out to fill the space with laughter and joy.
For the Merner family, Ma-Me-O Beach was idyllic; with complete freedom to play and have fun with other families. The time spent as a family gathering together and welcoming friends became the fondest of memories for the Merners which continues to this day.
That's all for now folks! Stay tuned for our next post as more stories are collected and submitted.
~History Book Team~