A LETTER FROM LAKE LENORE, 1904

.By: A. James Gerwing
.
Background

By the turn of the century most of the free land in the U.S.A. was already taken, and prospective homesteaders turned more and more to Western Canada as the last frontier. German Catholics in Stearns County, Minnesota, were among the land seekers. Believing that Catholic colonization would be inconceivable without priests, they turned for pastoral care to the Benedictine monks of St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, the spiritual center of Stearns County. The monastery agreed to send one of its monks with an investigation party into Saskatchewan Territory in 1902 to find suitable land. At the same time an earnest young teacher in St. Paul, Minnesota, Mr. F. J. Lange, was becoming increasingly incensed at seeing German Catholic immigrants victimized by land speculators. Coincidentally, another Benedictine monastery, in Wetaug, Illinois, discouraged by ill luck, swampy land and the death of its founder, sought assistance from St. John's Abbey in determining its future. All of these forces came together in a settlement scheme to secure fifty townships of prime farmland in central Saskatchewan for the exclusive Settlement of German Catholics. Three agencies combined their efforts in what became, in their words, "the greatest Catholic colonization venture ever undertaken in America". These agencies were the Benedictine monks under the direction of Alfred Mayer and Bruno Doerfler, the German American Land Company, founded by H.J. Hadkamp and ana M. and M. Hoeschen, and the Catholic Settlement Society under F. J. Lange. The land they selected centers spiritually around the monastery at Muenster and commercially about the town of Humboldt.

The first settlers came in May, 1903. Among the first were seven brothers of the Henry Gerwing family of Picrz, Minnesota. All of them took up homesteads in Lake Lenore.The following is my translation of a letter written by my grandmother, wife of Henry, the oldest of the Gerwing brothers. She was born to Peter and Anna Wolsfeld on May 6, 1880, at Caldonia, Minnesota. She came to Canada with her husband and infant son in 1903. They farmed in Lake Lenore until the middle 1940's and retired to Saskatoon a few years later, where he died in 1952 and she on July 31, 1963.The letter, begun on April 10 but obviously not finished until at least ten days later, was written in pencil on both sides of the paper. Although yellowed by age and repaired at the creases with scotch tape, it has somehow survived the vicissitudes of time. It is now in the possession of her youngest daughter, Mrs. Katherine Stuckel of Saskatoon.

Lake Lenore
April 10, 1904
My dear family:

We haven't written to you since we moved into our new house, but you certainly know we have moved I am happy, indeed very happy, that we are finally alone, even though all we have is a tiny little cabin off by itself. We are all in good health and hope all of you are too. We've certainly had gorgeous weather for the last three weeks. The snow is almost all gone. You'll likely be nearly finished with seeding down there by now, and we can begin here too by next week if the weather stays nice. I hope that Gentrup didn't frighten you, or that you don't frighten yourselves, because it isn't as bad here as he made it out to be. I've planted lettuce and radishes and my tomato seeds have sprouted. I've also planted cabbage but still have no garden spot.

Last Saturday Peter came here. Henry went to Fishcreek to get shingles for Bernard 's house, and both Peter and Henry got sore eyes. We had to stay in the dark for a whole day because they were snow blind. But today they were chopping logs for Peter's house. Two weeks ago Henry went to Flettsprings to buy meat and he picked up one and a half pigs for six cents a pound. He bought altogether 355 pounds of meat. He got five livers, lungs, a heart and a head for absolutely nothing. I made sausage, schwartenmagen and headcheese. I chopped up the sausage with the hatchet and filled a large white sack with the schwartenmagen. Last fall everybody was writing us about sausage and inviting us to come over to eat it, and now I can also invite you to please come oh, I've forgotten, we ate it all up already.

It is Sunday today, and it's been a lovely day. We all went over to Hoffmanns. We found quite a bit of water along the way and at Bernard's we couldn't get over the creek. There was Mass again today and we couldn't get there because there aren't any bridges yet. At Easter we all went to confession. Kathrin will certainly think she has lost her rosary, but it isn't lost at all. It's in Canada; It came here with us because we need to pray more.

It will probably be a long time before this letter reaches you. Last week they didn't haul any mail and this week it will likely not be hauled either because the streams are still rising and it will be a while until they can get around again. Last week I wrote a letter to the Gerwings and I told them about a very sick woman from Dead Moose. Well, she died the very same day I wrote. Now mother and child lie in the new cemetery. Last summer she lost a one year old baby and now she lies buried beside her little one. And here is another terrible tragedy that happened in St. Anne's parish about seven miles away. A young fellow just fourteen years old murdered his seven year old sister. We don't know exactly how it all happened but the sheriff picked him up immediately and he has been sent to Reform School. And here is still another bit of news, something that pleases me. The Indians have pulled out of this area for good.

Old Mr. Revering's wife got lost in the wilderness this spring. She had a difficult time on her trip. A terrible storm came up and they lost their way. They had to stay out overnight on the open prairie. They will be your neighbors if you can obtain the land which Henry has set aside for you. And on Thursday still another family came around. They stopped at Bernard's for two days. They are also neighbors of ours. Around here the land is pretty well settled. There are already eight women in the neighborhood, so it won't be so lonesome anymore, and there are still some people who are supposed to come here before the first of May, and some others to come too. There is talk all over that a church is to be built this summer. If that is true then please bring plenty of paper for flowers so that we can make nice flowers. I have learned some more ways of making them. If I only had the paper, then I could make really nice flowers. I now have the time but I couldn't get a bit of the right colored papers at Grells. I also have some new crochet patterns. I now have 127 patterns. I am also doing patchwork quilts for pastime.I have little Henry in pants. He has lots to do with all the boys and what one can't teach him the other is sure to know. He runs around outside every day. John just told me to tell you to ask his father to be sure to bring grubaxes along. You can't get any here. And we will write to you again later to tell you what is best for you to bring with you. It would be better not to bring old Prince. This isn't the place for an old horse. It would only cost you a lot to feed him. Henry is talking about trading his Prince for a yoke of oxen. If he can't do that, we will hardly be able to break any land. When you write again let us know whether you are getting the St. Peter's Bote.

Our hens are now laying well. I am already selling eggs for 20 a dozen. We still aren't making any butter because we don't even get a half gallon of milk from the Jersey and the other one hasn't come fresh yet. About a week ago ice chunks tore away the railway bridge in Saskatoon. It will be hard for people who are coming out, but it really isn't any further from Rosthern than from Saskatoon. Oh but I wish we could be together right now. I would know so many things to tell you, but now my paper is coming to an end, and I think that with this you will have a good bit of pastime reading my newspaper. Now I won't write any more news. I keep all of you in my thoughts until we can speak to each other face to face. Now I will stop my writing with fondest greetings to all of you from all of us.

Your daughter,
Susanna Gerwing,

P.S. Please greet my father and mother in law and also Mrs. Gross. Write back right away and tell us whether you have picked up your homestead papers. Fill them all out and send them back right away and send the money along too. You are two miles away from our place.

.

Used with permission of St. Peter's Abbey
Box 10, Muenster, SK., S0K 2Y0
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