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  • Writer's pictureErin Dentzien

A1003-2 Ave - Storms & Saskatoons

Updated: Mar 16, 2022

Barb Neil, recalls her time at Ma-Me-O Beach as a youth and now as an adult still enjoying their property the family fondly refers to as 'Molly's Dump'

J Wilfred McAllister, Molly McAllister, Alice McAllister, wife of J Wilfred, with Joan McAllister paddling. The child is Cort Benson, grandson of J Wilfred and Alice. C1947

An ice house, tune-ups at the local garage, observing Sundances with local reserve residents and storms tossing boats ashore! Ma-Me-O Beach was a great place to roam as a child and is still a great place to relax as an adult for Barb Neil and her extended family including the McAllister clan. Molly and Dan's children, Joan, Jim and Geoff, spent many hour swimming and canoeing and rowing in their youth.

"I remember coming out to the cabin as a child and felt it was a time when everyone connected more..." -Barb Neil

Molly's Dump aka Bircholm Cottage

For the longest time the Bircholm lot was just that; a lot with a wooden platform and a large tent set up in the summer. Molly McAllister bought the lot right after the initial sale of land between the investors and Indigenous Four Band structure in place. The property was fondly called Molly’s Dump by the family, as it had no cottage. In 1942, a three-season cabin was built and officially named Bircholm Cottage. Dan McAllister liked to tease Molly that the cottage was his and the lot hers.

The cottage provided a warm and dry haven from the many thunderstorms which passed over the lake. Barb recalls the Black Friday Tornado that struck Edmonton in 1987. “It passed over Ma-Me-O Beach on its way to Edmonton; it was a hot day and I was reading in the cool of the cabin, but had to turn on a light, the clouds were so heavy and dark. I checked the clock to make sure I hadn’t fallen asleep for a few hours, but it was still the afternoon! Then the

announcer on CBC Radio, Edmonton, (one of the few stations that could be received at the Ma-Me-O at that time), interrupted broadcasting and stated all medical staff were to report to Edmonton and area hospitals immediately. I went next door to the Burrows cottage and watched their tv coverage of the tornado.”

Image 1: The ‘tent’ on Molly’s Dump, c. 1938.

Image 2: Next door neighbours Peter and Lindsay Malden, C1960.

Image 3: Bircholm Cottage, built 1942.

During smaller storms, family members often walked down to the beach and sheltered underneath their overturned canoe on the beach to watch the storms cross the lake. Once the thunder and lightning were over, taking the canoe out into the waves and trying to ‘surf’ it back to the beach was a fun way to spend a half hour. The waves frequently overturned the canoe and necessitated hauling the canoe inshore, dumping out the water and then

righting the canoe before heading back out to test the waves again.

Campfire Gatherings

Every night someone in the community would have a fire going and all the families who were out would come together to eat, sing and tell stories. S’amores and marshmallows were popular foods, but popcorn, cooked over the coals of the campfire, was also popular, along with potatoes or bananas baked in foil.

Each family would contribute in some way to the entertainment of the evening. Barb's family usually sang "Four Strong Winds" and "Take Me Home, Country Roads." All were welcome and the night would go on for as long as there were people sitting around the fire trying to spot satellites or shooting stars as the sky darkened.

Campfire at Bircholm Cottage. Geoff McAllister, Barb Neil, Shirley Hough, Nancy McAllister, Karen Six, Keltie McAllister and sitting, John Stelk. C1970.

Off to Adventure!

Summers spent at Ma-Me-O Beach meant family and fun!
Family gathering. Dan and Molly McAllister with their children and grand-children. C1964.

Highlights of each summer during Barb’s childhood were learning to swim, water skiing, playing around with inner tubes in the water and building sand castles. During the late 60’s the lake water was very low and kids built ‘drip castles’ on the many sandbars that stretched far out into the lake. Bikes were not common at Ma-Me-O, so Barb and her cousin Keltie would walk the beach road to the store to buy candy or a bottle of pop. A few arcade games were

available in the building that today serves Ice Cream next to the wishing well. Most summers there would be a large gathering of family for the three generations of family. In 1985, four generations were assembled for a reunion, the oldest being Molly, aged 90.

Keeping the Soda Cool

A little known fact about Ma-Me-O Beach is the establishment of an ice house! Before power or refrigerators, the ice house stored lake ice cut during the winter. Twice a week a truck would drive the beach road and alleys and people needing ice would run out and stop the truck. Barb and her brothers were given the chore of emptying the water in the drip tray at the bottom of

the ice box. If they forgot, they would wake the next morning to find puddles on the kitchen floor. Once power came to Ma-Me-O in the early 1960’s, ice delivery and the ice house saw a drop in business and an eventual closure with refrigerators making way.

Bircholm Cottage continues as a place for family to enjoy a slower pace of life. The cottage stands strong and has been inherited by Barb and brothers; the mineral rights to the land are still theirs too! They do miss the good ol’ days when there was Bingo at the Hall, dances on Saturday night and abundant saskatoon picking for all.

That's all for now folks! Stay tuned for our next post as more stories are collected and submitted.

~History Book Team~

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