Home Town or Home Community:
Saskatoon & Allan, SK
By: Jean Allwood Frydenlund
Smells evoke the strongest memories of all, it is said, and I would not dispute it. Each time I step inside the harness shop at Saskatoon’s Western Development Museum, the smell of leather takes me back to such a shop on Broadway Avenue and I am standing once again on the worn wood floor, subconsciously absorbing the sights and sounds and smells that went with the trade.
The shop had a large front window. Children liked to stand outside and gaze, fascinated, at the plaster model, perhaps two feet high, of the Nugget shoe polish boy who stood with arm uplifted, shoe in one hand and blacking brush in the other. He was not animated but his cheerful face gave the impression that polishing shoes, especially with Nugget shoe polish, was an attractive job.
The sign above the shop proclaimed in large letters that this was the domain of John P. Allwood, Harnessmaker, but in the window there were smaller signs reading “Shoes Neatly Repaired” and “Skates Sharpened”, added as the harness trade declined. There were displays of sundry items befitting the business, but the one which drew young boys like a magnet was a small saddle which sat on the railing a few feet back from the glass. They would come in and finger it lovingly, dreaming their dreams. They came in, too, to talk to the man at the back of the shop who stood at his bench, nails in his mouth, repairing a shoe or sat astride the harness horse with a needle and strong waxed thread in each hand, making a firm lock stitch in a piece of harness. A boy could talk to a man who was doing a quiet job, not looking at him, who seemed intent on his work but had his ears open. This man had time to listen and did not pass judgement as a boy aired his grievances.
Men came to the shop too, old cronies who gathered to chat on a fairly regular basis. The first one there made himself comfortable in the low-slung, old green rocking chair, whose worn-out seat had been replaced by criss-cross leather straps now moulded to accommodate the occupant. Late comers used upturned nail kegs or leaned against a workbench. The smell of leather and shoe dye and of harness oil was inhaled along with the tobacco smoke. Strong opinions were held and discussion frequently became heated but friendships were never lost.
They are gone now, those men, as is the shop, but I wonder about the boys. Some of them must still be living. Perhaps they too wander into a place where a smell of leather greets them and brings back to them the friendly atmosphere of the old harness shop and the man they could talk to – my father.
Saskatoon was a burgeoning city in 1906 when Dad – John Pridgeon Allwood – emigrated from England at the age of twenty-six. He had been apprenticed to and then employed by his father, who was a master saddler in Sheffield. Canada as a country of opportunity, was being widely promoted in Europe and flamboyant posters caught the attention and imagination of many who, for one reason or another, were ready to try something new. Dad was one of them. He crossed the Atlantic as a steerage passenger, which meant having some care of animals but this, he said, was not an arduous duty and although the accommodations were minimal the price was right, being two pounds in British money or about ten dollars Canadian.
Dad arrived with little in his pocket but was not much worried about finding employment, as he was a harnessmaker and had been correctly told that his trade was in demand in the agricultural boom now taking place in Saskatchewan. The day after his arrival in Saskatoon, after spending the night on the floor of the immigration office, he found work at A.J. Whitfield’s Harness and Leather Good Store on 2nd Ave. South, one of five employees. He was not so fortunate in his living quarters, a tent on the riverbank where he contracted typhoid fever, nearly finishing his career in Canada before it had started. A typhoid epidemic raged in Saskatoon in 1906 and 1907, taxing all the medical resources to the limit, so that many private homes became hospitals. Dad was in one for seven weeks. Having recovered from this setback, he continued to work for Mr. Whitfield and they became good friends, keeping in touch when the Whitfields moved to Victoria.
Dad started in business for himself at 819 Broadway. A fire in the shop necessitated a move in 1909 to 830 Broadway where he continued for forty-five years, retiring in 1954.
Business prospered in the early years. A photograph shows a well -stocked store providing horse collars, sweat pads, buggy whips, work gloves, suitcases, shoe polish and so on. A livestock medicine bore the intriguing title “Balsam of Myrrh.”
In 1912 Dad went “home for Christmas” but, happy as he was to see his father and sisters, England was not home any more. The new land had claimed him. After the wide open spaces and cultural freedom of Canada and the sense of being a part of its growth, he found England confining and he wanted to push down the high stone walls which lined many of Sheffield’s streets.
Dad was a sociable person and he enjoyed the life of the community. He had been a member of the Methodist Church in Sheffield and soon transferred to Grace Methodist in Saskatoon. His bass voice was welcomed in the choir and he also played the violin. He was part of a quartet that often went out to Floral and Clavet to provide some extra music for the services. Photography was a hobby which gained him some reputation amongst the farmers who wished to have photographs of their cattle, horses and poultry. He developed and printed these himself.
The West was known for its booms and busts and when Dad returned from England in the spring of 1913, the bubble had burst and there was a feeling of gloom. “You could smell it in the air,” he said.
Business was not as brisk as usual but social life continued and soon took a new twist. In his absence an attractive young woman had come to work a few doors north of the harness shop. Her charms were not lost on Dad. Dorothy Ruth Avery had emigrated from England in 1911, followed the next year by her parents, two sisters and a brother. She had been trained in the dry goods business but found no opening in Saskatoon in that line. Chance led her to 806-808 Broadway where Absalom Rice kept two adjoining stores, an unlikely combination of confectionary and shoes. It was not long before Dorothy Avery and John Allwood were “walking out” together, but it was not until 1917 that they married. Mother was in St. James Anglican Church choir but, when they became engaged they both switched to Third Avenue Methodist and it was in that church that the wedding took place.
Meanwhile however, Absalom Rice, after two years on Broadway, had decided to return with his wife and children to the United States. Mother was used to being behind the counter from her experience in England and she had now learned enough about the confectionary business to go out on a limb and take over the shop. Her sister Deborah came to help her and a new name was chosen. The Union Jack-draped window now read SUN CONFECTIONARY STORE The Misses D. Avery. It also noted that ice cream and soft drinks were sold and on the outside of the shop, below the window, was a large Coca-Cola sign. These products would be the mainstay of the business, but photographs show fruit, chocolate bars, tins of Wrigley’s gum, biscuits, postcards, etc. and there was, no doubt, an assortment of penny candy. These were displayed in a glass cabinet and on shelves behind the counter. The main lighting was from a single droplight hanging from the embossed metal tile ceiling. When the Avery sisters took over, they installed a bead curtain to separate the ice cream parlour, with its typical tables and chairs, from the rest of the store.
It was early in World War I and there were many young men around town training in the Army. There were no mixed bars then and a popular place to bring one’s girlfriend was to an ice cream parlour. We may surmise that the Sun Confectionary saw a few romances bloom. The dim light was probably no detriment. The business went well for a time, but when the recruits had finished their training in Saskatoon and were posted, there was a noticeable decline in trade.
When the early settlers came, Broadway was envisioned as the centre of town; instead, business grew across the river. The corner of Broadway and Main was not the hub it was expected to be and was now on the fringe. Added to this, the boom period had gone for the time being competition was fierce and after about two years, Mother had to sell out.
The harness trade began to drop off too during this time, as automobiles became more numerous and farm mechanization progressed. Shoe repairing augmented the harness work and had almost entirely replaced it when Dad retired. He often did specialty items, which he would have to plan and manufacture himself. Making safety belts for linemen was one such project. One day when I came into the shop, a man I recognized was standing at the counter, and lying on that counter, to my astonishment, was an arm! I knew that a glove was always worn on one hand of the gentleman but had no idea the arm was not real. The fastenings of it wore out from time to time and it was brought to Dad for repair, just one of a number of leather jobs he was known for.
My mother died in 1950 at the age of sixty-five. Dad continued at the shop for four more years, retiring at age seventy-four. He died in 1962. His shop was in the Copeland Block, which also housed the Q&S grocery store on the corner and the Red Robin Cafe, with its well-known neon sign featuring its namesake birds. The building was demolished in 1965, closing a chapter in the history of Broadway.
It was not my parents’ intention to have only one child but that is the way it turned out. I was born at 1439 Ave. G. North in Saskatoon, grew up there and attended Mayfair and Victoria elementary schools, followed by Nutana Collegiate. It was always my ambition to be a teacher and I graduated from the Saskatoon Normal School in 1937 when the depression still had us in its grip. Teachers were a glut on the market, especially ones without experience so I was in a Catch-22 situation but eventually went to Lost River School, south of Allan and later to Pearl Lake in a neighbouring district.
While I was in South Allan I met Juel who was one of seven children of Inga and Ludvig Frydenlund. In 1941 he joined the RCAF and was stationed at #6 Repair Depot in Trenton, Ontario where he was trained as an aero-engine mechanic. We were married in Saskatoon in 1943 in Grace United Church. We lived in Trenton until the end of the war when we returned to South Allan and began farming.
Like my parents, his had also emigrated to Canada but they had come from Norway in 1913 as newlyweds. They had been preceded by two of Ludvig’s brothers, Ole and Anton. Ludvig was the youngest of a family of five boys and three girls, children of Ole and Antonette Frydenlund. Norway is a small mountainous country with only 3% of its land arable and many of its younger people headed to North America in the 1880’s and 1890’s settling mostly in Minnesota and the Dakotas and later in western Canada. Ole, the eldest son was the first to embark on this adventure. He was about twenty when he came in 1900 to Duluth, Minnesota. He quickly found work in his trade as a blacksmith. Anton, the next oldest was a store clerk in Oslo. He left Norway in 1905 and came to Cottonwood, Minnesota where he had a cousin who operated a store. He worked for him, and on a farm part-time and in the winter went to school to learn English. They were hearing about the cheap land available for homesteading in Canada and in 1906 the brothers decided to go north where they each filed on a homestead near Zelma, Saskatchewan. In the spring after the prairie fire had gone through they were dismayed to find that the land was too stony to break. They gave up those homesteads and moved to an area south of Allan, now known as South Allan. Again they filed on quarter sections adjacent to one another and each built a small shack on his property that was part of the process of “proving up.” The other conditions for ownership were residence for six months of the year and breaking a stipulated amount of land within three years. They not only proved up but a few years later had added two more quarter sections to their holdings. In 1912 Ole decided to take a trip back to Norway for Christmas. He brimmed with enthusiasm for western Canada when telling of the great opportunities it offered. He urged his younger brother Ludvig to come with him when he returned in the spring. Ludvig was then 23 years old. He had finished his two- year compulsory military training and had attended the agricultural college in Gjovik where his father was a woodworking instructor. Also he was courting 17 year old Inga Grimstad, eldest daughter of Severin and Johanna Grimstad of Vardal. Her father was the barnmaster on a large dairy farm owned by Lars Aalstad who was married to the oldest sister of the Frydenlund brothers. Ludvig worked on the Aalstad farm; Inga worked with her father and had plenty of experience in milking and other farm chores that would stand her in good stead later. Ludvig had no intention of leaving Norway without Inga who was now working in Oslo. To leave Norway and all they held dear was a big decision for the young people to make. They might never see their parents and their homeland again and indeed Ludvig never did, but Ole spoke so glowingly of the new land and it seemed full of promise. Inga turned 18 on December 28, 1912 and on March 6, 1913 they were married in the church at Vardal. The minister was Lorenz Nitter who prepared for them a letter providing information, which became useful later for proving identity. The translation of the letter follows:
“Vardal church book shows that on the sixth of March, 1913 were married Ludvig Frydenlund and Inga Grimstad.
He is the son of homeowner Ole Arneson Frydenlund and Antonette Kristiansen, born Vardal 27th August 1889, baptized 13th of October – same year, confirmed 25th September 1907.
She is the daughter of dairy farm foreman Severin Johannes Grimstad and his wife Johanne Svendsen. Born Vardal 28 December 1894, baptized 27th January 1895 – Confirmed the third of October 1909.
They have signed up to emigrate to Canada North America.
Vardal Parish Rectors Office, 7th March 1913”
Only a week later with Ole they left Norway going by boat to Hull, England, by train to Liverpool, by boat to New York, train again to St. Paul, Minnesota and Winnipeg, Manitoba, arriving in Allan on March 29, 1913. There John and Jim Main, who were Ole and Anton’s neighbours met them, and they completed their journey with a team of horses and an open sleigh.
By 1913 homesteads were hard to find. The quarter they did file on was NW12-31-2-W3rd in the Allan Hills district, but as there was no dwelling on this land they lived with Ole and Anton in what had now become a two-room shack as they had joined the original ones together. Ludvig was fortunate to have two brothers to pave the way and who had seven years of farming experience behind them. Ole and Anton added another room to their place and helped build a two-room shack on Inga and Ludvig’s homestead.
Four oxen were purchased from George Main who had progressed to horses and the hard work of turning the prairie sod commenced. When one of the oxen died, it was replaced with a horse and they worked well together. Ludvig had the same experience with oxen as did countless other settlers, both praising and cursing the mighty beasts.
In the fall of 1915 strong winds blew the top off a burning straw stack a few miles to the northwest of them. The prairie was set on fire. Ludvig rushed to plough a fireguard, Inga hastening along behind to turn under any exposed grass. The smoke was so thick they could not see the shack and inside the shack were their two little boys, Ottar and Sigvald. The fireguards saved the house but they lost all the hay that had been put up on the prairie for the winter.
1918 was a disastrous year for the family. July 25 was a hot day but in the evening it cooled suddenly and a killing frost hit. The only crop that was harvested was on the hilltops. Ludvig then began looking for land in a better location and acquired SW13-32-2-W3rd. By this time, two more children had been born, Alvilde and Juel. Larger living quarters were needed and Bob and Frank Boyak were hired to build a new house and barn. That summer the family lived in two granaries! What a joy it must have been to move at last into a nice roomy house!
Time went on and three more girls were born, Inger, Valborg, and Loreen. Valborg was one of my two beginners when I started teaching at Lost River School and Inger was taking high school by correspondence.
Although life had been very hard for the first few years they never regretted settling in Canada. Once they learned to speak English a very big obstacle was removed although they often conversed in their native language. Inga said she learned most of her English from the Eaton’s catalogue! For the four older children, Norwegian was their first language but they soon learned English at school. Alvilde and Juel can still speak Norwegian.
Inga made one trip back to Norway in the winter of 1935-36 while her parents were still living. She stayed for six months and enjoyed her visit but was glad to get back home for Europe was full of war talk.
Inga and Ludvig lived out their days on the farm except for the last two years of Inga’s life when she was in a care home in Saskatoon where she died in 1987 at the age of 92. When Ludvig died five years previously at age 92, they had been together for almost 69 years.
This has been the story of two immigrant families who have played their part in the settlement and building of Saskatchewan. Their descendants, many of whom have a keen interest in their family histories, are proud of the contributions of these men and women amongst the many early settlers of this province.