My grandfather John Gerwing and his ten brothers
came to Canada from Minnesota in 1902-3 to take
homesteads in a block settlement called St,
Peter’s Colony, in a part of the North-West
Territories that in 1905 became the province of
Saskatchewan. The colony was organized by a group
of Benedictine monks who set up an abbey near what
is now the village of Muenster.
They attracted mainly German-Catholic
settlers from the United States.
My great-grandfather Henry Gerwing had eleven
sons, one of them a stepson -- many boys to try to
set up in farming! The vast Canadian prairies, and
offers of free or cheap land, were irresistible.
All the brothers applied for homesteads, although
two went back to the United States, and one died
young of pneumonia after getting a chill while
hunting. The eight men who stayed raised big
families with lots of descendants, many of whom
are still farmers in the area north of Humboldt,
To support the development of their homesteads,
many young men worked in the winter. While the
land was considered free, they had to pay a
ten-dollar fee to register their homestead, and
within three years they had to cultivate at least
15 acres (about six hectares) and build a
Rail lines offered one of the best ways to earn
some extra cash, and this photo of a work gang was
taken in 1904 on the CNR line between Kamsack and
Saskatoon. The men are in a canvas tent held up by
a log, sitting on cots that were made from
rough-cut logs. They had the luxury of a small
mirror hanging on the log post, but life in a tent
during winter must have been cold.
John Gerwing, twenty-one years old at the time, is
at the left in the back row. His brother Joe, then
twenty, is beside him in the suspenders and light
shirt. John and Joe both raised large families in
the Lake Lenore area of Saskatchewan, and their
descendants are part of the fabric of Western
Submitted by Connie Gerwing of Prince Albert,
Saskatchewan, the grand-daughter of John Gerwing.
Webmaster’s note: The above photo and article
appeared in “Canada’s History” magazine AUG-SEPT
2020 edition page 66.