Home Town or Home Community:
ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF HARMONY ON THE PEDERSEN PLACE
by Sylvia Engen
Life in Appleton, Minnesota, in 1904 was not easy for Mary Pedersen. In the 1800s, Norwegian immigrants-including Mary-had flocked to America, especially to the upper mid-western states. Norway’s population was growing. Young people had little opportunity to make a living. Mary, with Mother Ingeborg and seven siblings, the youngest three years of age, braved the long sea journey and landed in New York in 1887. They then traveled by train to Appleton, Minnesota.
Mary and her family came from the Haugen farm on the steep slopes of a mountain in Hallingdal. The barren terrain, with only thin layers of soil, left too few tillable acres to yield sufficient produce for a family of fifteen. Mary knew hardship. The rugged beauty of the land that gave her birth also brought pain. The rocky land was hard to run on and cold in the winter when there were no shoes to wear.
Spring always brought hope and relief. The cows and sheep were starved after spending the long winter months in the crowded stalls of the Haugen barn built against the mountain. The barn was cleared of the accumulated waste and the fertilizer spread on the fields. Mary helped drive the animals, their bones protruding, up the mountain to the fertile grass near the seter, a stone-and -wood shelter, for the summer months. The dirt floored seter provided protection, but streams flowed near the bedding when it rained.
Mary tended the animals as they grazed on the park-like mountainside. She was never allowed to forget the morning a cow stepped on a bare foot and left a lifelong scar. Days could be long for thirteen-year -old Mary up in the seter, but when butter and cheese making were completed each day, the magnificent beauty of the wildflowers and lush green growth of the mountaintop compensated for the loneliness. Mary exemplified the dependable, positive and steady characteristic of a typical Norwegian who lived close to the land, The way of life was primitive. Their livelihood was a meager one. But the Haugens were a free and courageous family, true to the nature of the Norwegian people.
Norway, rising furrowed and weatherworn from the sea, was a land of many mountains and valleys with a sea to the north, west and south. It was a great expanse of barren rock, ice fields, dense forest, mountain lakes, swamps, chasm-like valleys and numerous fjords-lengthy indentations of the sea reaching inland from the coast. The oceans posed no obstacle to the Norwegian people. It was the gateway to lands of prosperity. There was little room for opportunity for the young, hence, when mews came that there was land available across the ocean, men and women of pioneer vision, lured by the call of a brighter future, left their homes for a better tomorrow.
Mary’s father was a true Norwegian individual, fiercely resisting any encroachment upon his personal freedom. To hard-working Knut Haugen, struggling t keep above poverty on a small plot of tillable land, reports of ample land in America came at an opportune time. Mary’s father knew it took the whole of man’s waking hours to win a livelihood from the soil of the hillside farm.
And so it was decided that Mother Ingeborg and the eight youngest children, would sail to America in 1887. Father Knut was too ill to travel. Mary was the eldest of the children who took the long journey by sea. Seasickness, homesickness and crowded quarters were minor factors in the lengthy and difficult trip. They lived through the journey, although there were many reports of ships that ran aground on dangerous reefs and rocks, ships damaged by fire, outbreaks of illness, low food supplies and passenger deaths. To Mary’s family and to all the Norwegian people, the oceans and seas did not pose a problem; they were their highways to new horizons. Far from the shores of Norway, a distraught, hungry family, unable to speak English, landed in New York. It was the Seaman’s Mission that fed the family and put them on a train for Appleton, Minnesota. Immigrants who had left Hallingdal earlier were awaiting the arrival of Ingeborg and her eight children. One such immigrant was Halvor Robertson, a young, hard-working and prosperous farmer. He built a small house on his land for the Haugens. It stood among rolling hills that were dotted with stones to remind them of their home in Norway. A stable large enough for a horse and a cow was erected. The support, compassion and caring pioneer spirit abounded among the immigrants.
Father Knut, recovered from a severe illness, and the older siblings sailed for America in 1889 to join the family in Minnesota. The new immigrants struggled to produce vegetables on virgin soil and sold them to Appleton Hotel. Inspired by their faith in God, hard work prevailed, and Mary’s family prospered well until the 1890s.
As settlers of Norwegian blood poured westward: choice and available land ran out.
The 1880s were eventful years for Mary. She met and married Charles S.Pedersen who was born in Minnesota in 1868. Four children – Erwin, Ida, Clarence and Arnold – were eventually added to the family. Charlie and Mary realized there wouldn’t be work opportunities in the area for their growing family and they began to search for relocation possibilities. Mary knew the sadness of saying farewell. But she was as stalwart Norwegian, characterized by warmth and courage despite problems she had often faced.
Charles Pedersen heeded the glowing accounts, given by Canadian immigration agents, of fertile land available for anyone with a pioneering spirit. He was told that the Canadian Pacific Railway had been given as land grant of all the odd-numbered sections within a distance of twenty miles on both sides of the main line running from Portal to Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan. He was also told that men over the age of eighteen could purchase a quarter section of land for ten dollars. The purchaser was required to erect a dwelling on the land, reside there for almost six months of the year for a period of three years, and break at least fifteen acres of land during that three-year span. This was termed “proving up” a homestead. After a three year period, if all the requirements were fulfilled, they received free title to the land and became naturalized Canadian citizens.
Charlie, intrigued by the promise of available land, went across the Canadian border in 1902 with a scouting party to investigate homestead possibilities and ventured twelve miles into Saskatchewan. A statutory declaration signed by Charles S. Pedersen, dated in July of 1905, found in the Saskatchewan Archives in Regina, stated land breaking requirements were completed on the “N.E. 32-2-11-W2” by October 2, 1902.” And so it was on February 27, 1904, that Charlie Pedersen moved his family from the Appleton area and set out for Saskatchewan. The family of four, with only the necessities of life, made their way across the Canadian border and twelve miles north into Saskatchewan to live in the fourteen by sixteen-foot house Charlie had erected, at a cost of eighty dollars, in June of 1903. Their post office was called “Turner,” a small postal station in a neighbor’s house.
This land was their home, but it was a lonely sod house set in a desolate sea of white snow that barely covered the previous year’s tall, protruding grass and naked brush. It was a vast sea, going on for miles and miles, broken only by protruding mounds of stones that dotted the skyline. It was cold, and the sod house had no insulation. Eldest son, Erwin, was ten years old; Ida was six; Clarence was five, and Arnold, the youngest was two. Dreams of a new beginning with abundant opportunities for a good life must have shattered for Mary and Charlie during their first winter of 1904. But they persevered. They put their trust in God.
No doubt signs of spring cheered the hearts of the family of six who had been confined to the small sod house. But the burst of new waving grass continued into the skyline, as did the snow of winter. The few acres of newly broken land emerged, rock studded and soil craggy and jagged, as the snow disappeared. The challenge to the sod house dwellers was immense and daunting.
A picture in Mary’s cloth covered album shows the sod home in 1906. One can presume homesteaders had gathered at the Pedersen farm for a Sunday Church Service.
Sunday clothes, perhaps the only good clothes they owned, no doubt were worn that day.
Homesteaders reported that the first years after the turn of the century were known as “the rainy years.” It was difficult to live under a sod roof when there was excessive rain for seven years. Mary later told her family that the only place she could keep her flour dry was under the kitchen table. The Pedersen homestead is located a distance from the main road. No doubt the farm was established on the only dry spot Charlie could find. It has been said that mud worked well as an outside wall plaster and white wash gave a finish to the inside walls of the sod house. Mary likely used newspaper to paper apportion of the walls in a decorative fashion. The furniture was simple and homemade. A stove was a necessity. Wooden packing boxes were turned into cupboards, tables and chairs. Homemade furniture was not held together with nails but with wooden pegs. Newspapers cut into pattern with fringed edges were another of Mary’s creations to take the place of curtains for the small windows. Homemade log beds boasted high rounded mattresses – filled with straw each year when the stems were fresh and clean. The young family had great fun climbing on the great cloud-like formations.
Homesteaders remember the unwelcome visitors that also occupied the beds. Bedbugs resembled small ladybugs and came with the logs and lumber used in building. The bed frames were usually wooden, and cracks made ideal places for the bugs to hide. These creatures feasted on human blood at night, disturbing their victims sleep. They could be tricked into emerging by blowing out the coal oil lamp, waiting for a half an hour, lighting the lamp again – and quickly killing any bold bed bug. Before beds were made each morning, a thorough hunt was made to capture any wee molester that came into view.
Hot summer months were not conducive to a good night’s sleep. Mary was known to dip sheets in water and them hang them around the beds to help bring a sense of coolness to distraught would-be sleepers. Beds were often moved to the granary in summer months, as it promised a breeze and fewer bedbugs. Charlie worked diligently to prepare the land for maximum grain yield. He had broken the small plot of land with his four horses and a wooden beam plow. The earliest tillage equipment consisted of an axe and a single-blade-walking plow. Brush was cut with a scythe and piled before the land could be broken. This was hard, backbreaking work. Homesteaders helped each other by loaning animals to neighbors who didn’t own oxen or horses but were desperate to break a few acres. A story was told of a homesteader who spent hours by a slough on a hot day, waiting for his oxen to leave the water. They wouldn’t budge to his threats until they were ready to resume their task.
Inadequate, primitive farming equipment, frost, smut germs and unsuitable varieties of wheat made it difficult to secure an adequate supply of flour, so essential for daily food needs. Harvesting and thrashing of grain presented problems to the early homesteaders. A scythe with a cradle attachment was often used for the first-harvest crop. Fortunately for the Pedersens, the first winter was mild. However, the following winters were bitterly cold. The sod house was primitive. Blankets were often frosted by morning. Water containers froze if the fire went out in the night. Wood wasn’t abundant on the open prairie, but cow chips were always available. Isolation in the vastness of the prairies in winter, when nature could be merciless, brought days of extreme loneliness.
There were hardships, but spring and summer attempted to compensate with bountiful blooms, wildflowers thrived on the open prairie. Crocuses, buttercups and buffalo beans decorated the landscape and Mary’s table. Silver willows added their beauty. Prickly bushes dotted with pink roses were everywhere. The striking bloom of the cactus brought delight to the eye but agony to a bare foot. Tiger lilies were found, as were small daisies. Autumn was glorified with golden rods and bright fireweed. The dandelion is one of the few flowers that have endured a century of blooming on the Pedersen farm.
There were not proper roads, only trails, sod paths or graded dirt that became quagmires after a rain. Tracks eventually disappeared in the water. No ditches meant no run off when water puddles became a slough.
It was a challenge for Charlie to keep track of his cow and horses on the wide open spaces of his homestead where the sky stretched blue in four directions and the land was virtually flat and treeless under it. Animals were often equipped with bells so they could be located if they wandered out of sight. Herding the cattle was a necessity when fences were not yet in place. Stock roamed as they pleased. Children grew up quickly as they assumed responsibilities, such as herding the cows each day.
It was the custom of the women in Norway to faithfully care for the animals when the men were working in the fields. The women often did the milking. Hence, Mary was accustomed to the task of milking, the task that became hers on the Pedersen homestead. Erwin, as the eldest son, worked at her side. Mary felt at home with the horses as well as with the cows. She was Charlie’s assistant during haying as well as in the seeding and harvesting of the annual grain crop.
The Pedersens were homesteaders who courageously helped lay the foundation for their community. The first church services were held in the homes. It was important for them to have a congregation established. The Lac Qui Parle congregation was organized on March 27, 1905., according to the Camrose History Book Published in1978. Lac Qui Parle Scandinavian Lutheran congregation was named after the Lac Qui
Parle Church, the beloved church left behind in Minnesota. (1)
Walking was the Pedersens’ mode of travel to the neighbors when weather permitted. A Ladies’ Aid group was formed. The members were diligent in gathering finances to pay a pastor’s salary and prepare to build a church. Sufficient monies were collected to make plans for the construction of a church edifice in 1912. The Lac Qui Parle church became a reality in 1915. (2)
A green velvet-covered foot warmer upstairs in the granary was a reminder of winter trips to church with horses and a wagon. A metal container in the foot warmer would be filled with hot ashes. Stories are told of a constant mosquito invasion during the warmer months. Mary handled the problem by covering the children’s heads with gunnysacks as they traveled to church.
Education was important to the homesteaders. The Department of Education was located in Regina, Northwest Territories. In order to have a school district formed, it was necessary to forward information about the proposed location, a name and how it would be financed. Money had to raised to build and equip the schoolhouse. A grant from the Department of Education, based on attendance, would ensure the school would continue once it was constructed.
The Maple View School District was formed in 1907. The Cambria History Book reports that Charlie Pedersen was one of the first school trustees. Classes were held in a home in 1907. The school was built on North east 33-2-11 in 1908, the year young Arnold started school. Contractors were paid $325. Additional bills show five pounds of nails cost twenty-five cents, students’ double desks cost five dollars each, a teacher’s desk cost fifteen dollars, a stove twenty dollars and a broom was worth forty cents. (3)
The school provided numerous opportunities for fellowship. Church services and Sunday school previously held in homes moved to the school until a church was built. The community now had a gathering place. The school gave the Pedersen children a place to have fun. Games, such as hide-and seek, anti-I-over, and stealing sticks, were enjoyed at recess. The picnics, ball games, Christmas concerts and evening socials at the school were highlights for the community.
The homesteaders enjoyed the community functions as a respite from their farm duties. One such duty was to continue clearing land. Charlie and his sons spent hours picking rocks; rock piles presently on the Pedersen place confirm their aged existence despite a century of wind and rain. There were no shortcuts to clearing brush and rocks from untamed soil It took an axe, a horse drawn walking plow and strong backs for the Pedersens to prepare the land to grow adequate grain and produce to meet their daily needs. Thrashing in the fall was done with a scythe. Building up a farm was hard work when money, equipment and help were limited.
The Sunday-company pillowcases, white as snow and ironed to perfection, intrigued Mary’s grandchildren and her visitors. An embroidered message immaculately stitched with satin thread read, “I slept and found life was beauty; I awakened and found life was duty.” Their owner treasured the pillowcases, only brought out for special occasions. Her grandchildren’s speculations were varied, but only Mary knew the meaning of her pillow’s message.
The capable, courageous and devoted Mrs. Charlie S. Pedersen faced many lonely hours being “dutiful” on the primitive homestead. The neighbors were few and far between. But the Pedersens’ place was near the trail that led to the Turner farm where the post office was located. It was also a stopping place for neighbors making the twenty-mile trip northeast to Macoun to fetch food supplies. Horses and drivers required respite, especially in the winter months. Mary was an inspiration to the neighboring women who struggled to meet family needs. She blossomed with opportunities to befriend others.
Preparing meals was difficult when there wasn’t adequate food on hand. Milk was strained into containers and set aside until the cream rose to the top and could be skimmed off. Mary shook the cream vigorously in a jar until butter formed. Meat was cut into strips and dried to make Mary’s well known spekekjott. This cured meat was wrapped, hung in a dry place to cure and then sliced for the table and school lunches.
Mary brought with her the skill of making Scandinavian foods. She received that knowledge as a young girl in Norway. Her specialty was potato lefsa, a specialty that she continued to make as long as she was capable of standing at her stove and turning the potato cakes. Her Norwegian rolling pin, neatly grooved and kept meticulously clean, faithfully rolled one lefsa after another. The McClary stovetop shone as it baked lefsa.
MARY’S POTATO LEFSA
10 large potatoes, 6 tablespoons butter
1 cup sweet cream, 1 teaspoon salt
Use ½ cup flour for every cup of mashed potatoes.
Method; boil potatoes, mash fine, and add cream, and salt, beat until light and then cool. Add flour and roll into a ball of dough, kneading until smooth. Form into a long roll and slice into pieces about the size of an egg. Take a portion and pat it on a floured board. Sprinkle with flour. Roll each piece round on each side as for piecrust and as thin as possible. Use a flat stick to transfer the lefsa and bake it on top of the stove until it is light brown, turning it frequently. Place between wax papers after baking. Serve it buttered with a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar before rolling it into bite size servings.
Birthdays, Christmas and Easter feasts were not complete without Grandma Mary’s Potato Lefsa.
Mary knew, as the Sunday pillowcase message expressed, that life could appear beautiful, but she also knew by experience that her role was a life of duty to her family. However, Mary had the ingenuity, though possessing little in material goods, to patch together quality living with only a sod house, a wood-burning stove and hard work.
Charles Pedersen worked diligently to build up his homestead. But his life was greatly influenced by weather conditions. Winter brought freezing temperatures. And with winter came the need to adequately heat the sod house. Wood was scarce. Cow chips were used but didn’t keep a fire going during the night without attention. Children were sent outside with sacks on their backs to fetch more cow chips. Desperate pioneers burned twisted hay. Lignite coal, obtained near Estevan, Saskatchewan, was preferred for heating. A lump of coal could smolder all night. Stories have been passed down of settlers burning oats when coal supplies dwindled.
But the long distance, a sixty-mile return trip, to obtain a ton of coal took two – three days with wagon and horses. A pick and shovel were used to break up the coal in the small underground coal mine. The coal was loaded by hand into carts that were pushed to the mouth of a tunnel and loaded onto the wagon. It was backbreaking work. Pioneers found the trip to Estevan unbearably cold when temperatures were sometimes 30 degrees below. Charlie would often tie up the reins, get out of the wagon, and let the horses go at their own speed while he walked to keep warm. Stories are told of blizzards overtaking Charlie. He let the horses lead the way. They never failed him; they faithfully arrived at the door of the Pedersen barn.
An abundant supply of water was a necessity. Charlie had a well drilled, to a depth of four hundred and fifty feet, that supplied the Pedersens with an ample supply of soft water, The faithful windmill, a sentinel structure on the Pedersen place, supplied water to the community as required for many years.
A granary of Charlie’s creation remains on the Pedersen farm today, a monument to the pioneer who built it. He was a firm promoter of organizing a church and school in the community. Charlie was an active member of Lac Qui Parle Church. He took his turn acting as a trustee on the Maple View School Board and was also a municipal councilor. He became a charter member of the newly organized Trinity Lutheran Church in Torquay, Saskatchewan, in 1915. The Pedersen family, with their horses and wagon, now had five miles to travel to church each Sunday. (It was fourteen miles to Lac Qui Parle)
The Cambria History Book doesn’t mention Charles S. Pedersen after a 1915 entry. He left Mary and his four children and returned to live by himself in the humble house that the family had left behind in Appleton, Minnesota. Mary was left alone to manage the homestead with only her children – Arnold being thirteen years old -to help her. It has been said that the children had a strong attachment to their father. Arnold, as a wee lad, would walk in the furrows behind the plow as Charlie worked the land. He walked in the footstep of his father. But the father left his family.
Elderly neighbors have said that Grandpa Pedersen returned to his homestead for a short visit. Mary, his gracious wife baked her syrup cookies, lefsa and flat brad, packed them well and sent the baking back with her husband when he again returned to Minnesota. He later became ill. Charlie eventually returned to his wife and his homestead in southern Saskatchewan as a sick man. Mary lovingly nursed him until his death on June 27, 1927. Mary had “At Rest” printed on his tombstone that stands in the TorquayCemetery.
FACING THE FEAR OF NATURE
The Homesteaders who came to barren land and gave it life also had respect and fear for destructive nature occurrences. Grandma Mary spoke of the fearful sight of an approaching prairie fire. Thick dark smoke and thunder-sounding, cracking flames speeding across an empty prairie, overtaking anything in its path, struck terror in every homesteader. Prairie fire smoke was known to be so dense that the sun was completely darkened. Men were known to hitch themselves to plows to make furrows in the path of
a fire. Pioneers were known in dry seasons to work day and night fighting prairie fires. Mary dreaded lightning storms. She taught her family to close doors and windows lest a draft through the house attract a bolt of lightning. The vulnerability of being in a thunderstorm was daunting. Lightning flashes at night illuminated the house with an eerie glow. Fear mounted when the clap of thunder coincided with a harsh flash, the fear of a burning roof was especially great for the mother of the house when she was responsible for her family. Pioneers caught in storms a distance from their homes had nowhere to go. Trees were few and far between. Each lightning flash, like a wartime flare, would for an instant illuminate the entire heavens. It often seemed the thunder crashes would topple the roof of the house onto the heads of the Pedersens beneath it.
ARNOLD GLEN PEDERSEN
Arnold, being the youngest, saw many changes during his childhood. Maple View School was organized and built by 1908. Arnold was six and old enough to walk just over a mile to school. A sod home was replaced with a two-story house that boasted shingled walls and roof. Arnold was in the first Confirmation Class of the new church in Torquay
Arnold, thirteen, and Clarence, fifteen years of age, were left to help their Mother and Ida, sixteen, farm the land after their father left the family in 1915. Older brother Erwin had already departed to start a homestead of his own. Cows, pigs, turkeys and chickens required constant care. They provided food for the table. Horses also required care; they provided labor for farming.
Eventually Arnold was the son that remained on the farm. He met BeatriceJohnson, who lived fifteen miles south of the Pedersen place. Through church functions courtship dates included attending a circus and a silent movie in Estevan. Beatrice’s young sister and two nieces had to go with them. But Beatrice finally did say ‘yes.’They were married in Beatrice’s home church, Salem Lutheran, on October 29, 1927.
Arnold, with Beatrice at his side, took over the Pedersen place. Mother Mary, sister Ida and brother Clarence moved to Torquay. The married couple purchased a hoosier kitchen cupboard, oak china cabinet, table and chairs, bedroom set, library table and a rocking chair with the $1000 Arnold had in his bank account. Beatrice was pleased to display her hope chest articles on her fine furniture. She made a house a home. But depression hit southern Saskatchewan. Dust storms and drought struck in the early 1930s. Soil on the Pedersen farm drifted like snow after a snowstorm. Dirt rolled in windswept waves across fields that had produced bountiful crops. Arnold and Beatrice struggled through those years. They were dependent on their produce to buy groceries; but eggs sold for five cents a dozen, four gallons of cream sold for forty-five cents and a pound of butter was worth ten cents. Their ingenuity and determination saw them through the depression years. They always believed that the next year would be better.
It wasn’t until 1941 that faithful horses received respite. A 1928 John Deer Model D tractor on steel wheels was purchased. A 1928 Chev, a black car with window blinds that flapped in the wind, arrived in 1942. The same year saw the aged binder replaced by an Allis Chalmers combine. Improved equipment enhanced the efficiency of farming. Community involvement was a priority for the Pedersens. Besides serving on church, school and municipal boards, Arnold became a Saskatchewan Wheat Pool delegate of District One in 1947 and a Director from 1952 – 1972.
Arnold and Beatrice welcomed six children into their home, Sylvia, Clinton,Verna, Blanche, Lorna and Linda. Grandma Mary moved into the Lutheran Sunset Homein Saskatoon in 1956 where she passed away in August of 1958. Arnold spent his last days in the Estevan Nursing Home where he passed away on June 26, 1981. Beatrice spent her last days in Elmview Extended Care in Regina where she joined her “Arnold” on July 26, 1999.
Son Clinton and his wife, Muriel, took over the farm in the seventies. They had married in 1965. Clinton followed in the footsteps of his father, active on various boards plus a Saskatchewan Wheat Pool delegate position. They are blessed, as were the older generation, to live in the supportive and caring community of Torquay, Saskatchewan.
Sometimes it is necessary to go back one hundred years to realize the abundance of blessings that have been passed down through time. Mary and Charlie Pedersen’s dreams of hope and opportunity for themselves and their descendants were dreams held in trust, promoting family continuity that has passed down for a century. All are blessed!
1)Fifty and Over Club, Our Prarie Heritage (Altona, Manitoba: Friesen Printers, 1978) pp. 14-15
2) Fifty and Over Club, p. 98,
3) Fifty and Over Club, pp. 118-119.