Melvin Edward Marshall was born in Erskine, the first of ten children born to Fern and Dave Marshall of Stettler, Alberta. He attended school at South Buffalo Lake School and made it to Grade 6. He helped his dad on the farm, milking cows, haying and other chores.
With such a large family, Mel figured his time would be better spent working, so he bought his first cat at the age of 15 and went to work. In 1956 he married Karen Anne Grover, of Delbourne, Alberta. They had four children in the Stettler area, Marilyn, Yvonne, Sandra, and Bruce.
Homesteading brought Mel and Karen to the Cotillion area in 1962 where they had one more child Kathy, born in Dawson Creek.
When they settled in the Cotillion area, he was in his dream land, lots of trees and bush to knock down and lots of land to break. He worked with his cat to break land for other homesteaders until he could afford to buy some land of his own. They settled on land overlooking the Peace River banks. Mel and Karen held their first rodeo in 1964 with the help of the community ladies club and their neighbours. They held one more rodeo after that and they decided that was enough. Mel was farming about eight quarters at one time, cattle ranching, and working for oil companies, building leases and roads. His construction company increased in size with a couple of cats, an excavator and some buggies.
In 1974, after a lengthy battle with cancer, Karen passed away. This was a huge loss for Mel. Now he had five children to look after, the youngest was 10. He still had to make a living, and his work still took him away for weeks. So with Marilyn at 17 taking charge, with the help of Grandpa and Grandma down the road and with the help of the neighbours, things kept going. I’m sure he was overwhelmed at times, but never showed it. During this time, Mel was in the middle of building a house, and although it wasn’t finished, he came home one day and found all of his kids moved in, whether it done or not.
Mel taught Bruce to operate the machinery and was always proud of his abilities with the equipment. The kids were taught to run the farm equipment for haying and harvesting, and they all did our fair share of picking roots. Mel had wonderful neighbors. The closest neighbours were the Travis family. On many occasions we counted on Art and Ruth to help us through some crisis we were having.
Mel loved the rodeos, they’d never miss a Dawson Creek Rodeo. They would pack us all into the car and head into the rodeo for the day. He often would go to the finals in Edmonton and try to make Ponoka Stampede. He invented things. He designed a tipping table, run by hydraulics to trim his horse’s feet. Now the design worked, but getting the horses to the table wasn’t as well planned out. Another of his inventions was a contraption to break horses to drive. A long pole attached at the centre could only go in a big circle. Once the horses were hitched on, he sat on a seat behind them (similar to how a buggy would be made) and away they went. They could only go around in a big circle, but he forgot to figure out how they would stop. So, once they green broke horses were tired out, many circles later, he could unhitch and get off.
He loved his horses. His horse herd increased slowly, until he reached 122 head. He loved to drive out into the field and feed his ponies. The barn was filled in the winter with colts being weaned and broke to lead, so there was always a mini rodeo morning and night when they had to be taken for water. He would say a colt isn’t broke to lead until he comes up to give you a kiss, and they always did. He had quite a way with his horses. When he would have the urge to break them to ride, he would convince someone to get on the unbroke horse and he would snub them up to the horse he was riding. It wouldn’t be long with Mel leading the wild horse, that he would throw the reins and say, I think he won’t do anything now, you take it. Well sometimes he was right, but sometimes he’d be wrong and the horse wasn’t quite ready. He also believed he could castrate the horses himself, why would you call a vet! He’d round up about six people, they’d catch the horses and wrangle them to the ground while he performed the ceremony. This often turned into another rodeo, with injuries to his helpers. He told me the hardest thing he had to do was sell his horses.
In 1983, Mel brought Gwen to the farm and she moved up in November to stay. She cooked, managed the books and worked alongside him farming. They had many a battle. He would tease her, she’d get mad, he’d chuckle at her, and she’d get madder. They loved to attend community events, rodeos and to listen to the old time music. His toes would tap and a big smile on his face when someone would bring out the fiddle, guitar or other instrument. He tried his hand at playing. He would pick up his accordion or fiddle and attempt to play simple toons by ear. He was pretty good, considering he never had lessons. He loved to hear his great granddaughter, Keauna pick up his fiddle and play a tune for him. Our family reunions always had to include some music.
It seemed everywhere he went, he knew someone. He would stop and visit and to share a story. Many a time we would be waiting for him to finish visiting. His laid back attitude and the twinkle in his eye took him a long ways. He had many friends!
Marilyn passed suddenly in 2001 in a car accident. We all took her death hard and although Mel didn’t say much, it was hard on him. In many ways, our family grew closer.
Mel and Gwen decided to sell the farm in 2016. So, with him watching over us, we hauled all of his stuff down to the Nobbs farm to be sold. This was also hard for him, to watch his home of 50 plus years to be sold. He would drive up there and look around once in a while. They downsized to move into Spirit River Grandview Estates and stayed there until March of this year when they downsized again and moved into Pleasantview Lodge in Spirit. I know he didn’t like the move, but they settled in and enjoyed others waiting on him. This was a bit of a relief for Gwen, as she needed a break from caring for him. She watched over him until he passed away on Wednesday, June 20th. He was a good neighbour, but he had also had wonderful neighbours and friends. We will all miss him a lot.
Mel was predeceased by his brothers Stan, Howard, and Al, his mother Fern and dad Dave, as well as wife Karen and daughter Marilyn. He leaves to mourn his partner of 40 years Gwen Allan, his kids Yvonne (Buck), Sandra, Bruce, Kathy (Shad), grandkids Laryssa (Eric), Derick, Matthew(Isabelle), Miranda(Jon), Kailene (Mitch), Brandon, Dillan, Gregery, Scott (Megan), Karen (Charles), and Thomas (Megan); and great grandchildren Tristan, Ashtyn, Keauna, Shay, Aeva, Ruby, Joceyln, Maverick, and Jace.
A funeral service was held on June 26 at the Bonanza Hall, and he was laid to rest beside Karen and Marilyn in the Erskine Cemetery in Erskine, Alberta. A graveside service will follow in August.
Expressions of sympathy may be made by donation to the Cotillion Recreation Association, PO Box 200, Bonanza, Alberta T0H 0K0.
For more information or to leave condolences for the family, please go to www.bergeronfunerals.com. Arrangements entrusted to Bergeron Funeral Services & Crematorium Ltd.