By Mae Carroll & James R. Stevens
Phillip Neault Pioneer
A grandmother’s stories from Sioux Lookout. Makes a great children’s book.
The woman in the telling of this story is of Sioux Lookout, in Northern Ontario. At seventy-seven she shines strongly with a dignity that is regal; like a queen mother from a distant picture where the gray-haired dowager walks down a luxuriant flower path on palace grounds. But Mae Carroll needs nothing of the jewels or gold of pretentious royalty. Her beauty and warm presence come entirely from within.
Born near Murillo, in 1899, she is the daughter of Northwestern Ontario pioneer parents - Phillip Neault and Mary Ann O’Donnell - people from the rigors of the nineteenth century. An era when different codes for humanness existed in pioneer families. A code that called for honesty and hard work as the highest form of conduct. Conduct that included respect for caring parents, neighbourliness, and a sharing with friends and strangers alike. This code grew among people in frontier times when the urgent needs of pioneer families came entirely from others, not the institutions of government.
In her youth, Mae has seen the threat of cold and hunger in the Northern Ontario forest. She watched the far-off violence when young men left the north for the trenches of World War One. In November, 1917, Mae’s mother died when she was just eighteen. The following year, Sioux Lookout was ravaged by fire, and a few months later, Mae was lamed by the influenza outbreak that was sweeping the earth.
On November 23, 1919, she married Leonard Carroll, who came from a Sioux Lookout family of sixteen children. Six of their eight children were born at home: antiseptic hospitals were not the surroundings of all her children’s births. None of her eight children ever slept in a crib. Her babies slept, at night, in her bed, on her arm. During the day, they were placed in a wicker basket. Mae Carroll believed it was important to be close to her children; she nursed each one of them. She also gave her milk to other children in the community. On several occasions, a nurse from the hospital arrived at the Carroll door with a breast pump, to obtain milk for sickly children. In many ways, Mae Carroll is mother nature herself, in her community, Sioux Lookout.
During the lean years of the depression, hundreds of hungry men passed through Sioux Lookout riding the rails east and west. Somewhere around Sioux Lookout a post was marked: a sandwich can always be had at the Carroll house. Many hungry men came to Mae Carroll’s door.
Her father, Phillip Neault, died in 1940 and her husband, Leonard Carroll, passed away in January, 1947. In 1953, most of her children grown, she married Steven Dodd and moved to Fort William for sixteen years until 1969, when she returned to Sioux Lookout.
She is an excellent story teller, but this she refuses to believe, referring always to her father’s magical ability. But, in her style, she too is a weaver of magical stories, and a singer of songs of the truth for her forty grandchildren and twenty-three great grandchildren.
Her songs are full of compassion, understanding, and sadness. Often her voice falters when she sings; she feels the keen edge of life with much sensitivity.
Illustrated by Ernie Adams
Upland Peddlers Press, Thunder Bay, Ontario