Why did my Dad’s family come to Canada in the first place? And why did they settle 40 miles west of Davidson in what’s now the Province of Saskatchewan?
I’d say it’s because of Edgar Book and Andrew Berg.
Book was born in 1873 near Waterford, Ontario. When he was five, his family moved to Drayton, North Dakota where they homesteaded, arriving a year after a 7-year drought had swept through the Great Plains region. By 1890, the drought was back.
So, once again, the family moved, this time further east, to Roseau, Minnesota. Roseau was so far north it was practically hugging the Canadian border. When Book’s parents moved there, they were amongst the first settlers in the Roseau Valley, an area flush with wildlife.
Even though Andrew’s last name was Berg, the same as my grandmother’s step-father, records show these Bergs seem to have been Norwegian, and, like the Books, had also moved to Roseau from North Dakota. In any event, Edgar Book and Andrew/Anders Berg were both single and close in age.
The Roseau Valley began to attract other settlers, many from Norway and Sweden, and that included my Dad’s family who came across in 1892 from the port town of Gothenberg, on the southwest coast of Sweden, on a cargo ship headed to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. By the spring of 1903, Canada’s Dominion government began a push to get the west populated and growing wheat in an effort to prove to the railways their gigantic financial investments were sound. A.D. McRae and Col. Davidson – whose name graced a stop on the Great Northern Railway between Regina and Saskatoon – made several trips to the USA to lure farmers north. The two had help, too; a Norwegian preacher who lived just north of Davidson in Hanley, Knute B. Birkeland, put out ads in Norwegian to target potential settlers in Minnesota, Iowa and the Dakotas. Since Swedish and Norwegian are similar languages, the literate Swedes would have been able to read those ads too, and began dreaming of the promised land.
The lure of the Canadian prairies caught the attention of Book and Berg. The two boarded a train going to what was then known as the (second) District of Assiniboia, destination Davidson.
But contrary to what was advertised, land for homesteaders around Davidson was in short supply, already taken by homesteaders, available for purchase through a Land Company or held by other groups, like the railway and speculators. The Canadian government had tried to avoid speculation of homestead lands, but their checks weren’t working quite as planned. Settlers could buy land from McRae and Davidson, who established a Land Company of their own – for $1.75 an acre (or $280 per quarter section). You could also buy homestead land for $10 for a quarter section, build a residence on it and farm it within the first three years to prove up your entitlement to the land. Those homesteaders who proved up could also buy the quarter section adjacent to their homestead for another $10. With 320 acres, an entire half section of land, a living could easily be eked out, or at least that’s what the Canadian government thought at the time.
Location, location, location
In homesteading, just like real estate today, three words, “location, location, location” were key. Distance to the nearest railway line had to be taken into consideration: hauling wheat to a station more than 20 miles away was difficult and proved to be unprofitable.
Edgar Book wasn’t deterred. He slapped down his $10 and filed on a homestead designated as SW 2-26-6 W3, a 30-mile hop, skip and a jump from Davidson, and 10 miles west from what would eventually become Loreburn. He returned to Roseau and headed out the following spring with his brother, Robert.
Andrew Berg, however, didn’t file for a homestead; he was anxious to get back home, perhaps to report back his observations to the family. And, he had another reason.
There was a girl back in Roseau who was weighing heavy on his heart and he couldn’t wait to get back to see her. Whether she refused to go homesteading or exactly what happened, I don’t know. But what I do know is Andrew Berg didn’t get the land, and he didn’t get the girl, either.
The next spring, my grandfather and his son, Axel, went on a reconnaissance mission of their own and headed by train to Hanley. In April, 1905, most of Per and Anna Sten’s family would be uprooted from Roseau and move to the banks of the South Saskatchewan River.