Home Town or Home Community:
The Hans Paulson Family Story and The Ohlen Settlement at Stockholm, Sk.
The story of the largest Swedish settlement in Canada and our family’s history on our mother’s side (as we know it) began in Jamtland, Sweden, in 1756 when Jonas Zakrison Dalstedt was born. He married Gunilla Hendricksdotter and they had one son, Zakris Jonsson, born on Sept. 29, 1796. He became known as Bjorn (bear) Zakris because of his skill at bear hunting.
Bjorn Zakris married Karin Jonsdotter. They had twelve children, three of whom immigrated to Canada – Karin Johansson, Erik Zakrison, and Anna Brita Svenson.
An economic depression had begun in the late 1870’s.
At about this same time there were land agents traveling throughout Europe extolling the virtues of a wonderful new land across the ocean. Possibly the biggest attraction of all was the promise of 160 acres of land for the price of ten dollars, if they built a home and lived on the land for three years, breaking land and growing crops. There was also a “loan” of two hundred fifty dollars for supplies. This loan was discontinued just a few years later, but the first-comers were able to take advantage of it.
And so, those who were adventuresome, or desperate, or both, decided to take the big risk of leaving family and friends behind to travel to a faraway, new, untamed country to try to make it their own.
In 1883, Nils and Karin (daughter of Bjorn Zakris) Johansson and two of their children travelled by stagecoach from Strom to Ostersund, by train to Trondheim, Norway, sailed to Hull, England, crossed to Liverpool by train, and finally by boat to Quebec. There they boarded a train and endured still more days of travel to arrive, finally, at Winnipeg, to join the Scandinavians already there.
In 1884, they were joined by daughter, Sara, and sons Jon and Zakarias Bergman. It had become commonplace for sons to take a name other than the old custom of father’s sons, Nilsson, which would have been their name. Many chose names which signified where they had come from, as
Strom – stream Lind – Tree
Berg – mountain Quist – branch
Dahl – dale
Sometimes they were combined as in Stromberg, Lindahl, Stromquist.
In 1885, Emmanuel Ohlen, who was land agent in Assiniboia District of the North West Territories, and Nils Johansson travelled west by CPR to Whitewood. From there they went north to Qu’appelle Valley. They crossed the Valley, climbed to the top, and found a large tract of land just north of the valley that seemed to meet their needs. Encouraged by their findings, they returned to Winnipeg for the winter.
In 1886, the Johansson family, joined by Britta Sivertson, a Norwegian, and the Olson brothers, Jon and Olaus, whom they had met in Winnipeg, journeyed to Whitewood. The family stayed for a few days and bought oxen, a cow, and other supplies, and then left for their new home which they were to call “Ohlen” (named after the land agent) but which later became known as New Stockholm. Meanwhile the others went on ahead. Zakarias Bergman, while still in Manitoba, had bought a yoke of oxen for 130 dollars, and with these had the honor of plowing the first furrow in the settlement. On July 1st 1886, the first homesteaders arrived. This date was celebrated for many years with a picnic and eventually became a combined celebration – the colony’s birthday and Canada’s birthday– a practice continued until 1991.
A noteworthy event of the year 1887 was the granting of a post office, which they named “Ohlen”. It was located in Nils Johansson’s home. He made weekly trips to Kaposvar (near Esterhazy) to pick up mail that was addressed to Ohlen, District of Assiniboia, Northwest Territories. In 1888, the mail began to be delivered from Whitewood.
One of the arriving families in 1888 was the Erik (son of Bjorn Zakris) Zakrison family. Prior to leaving, Gunilla Ersdotter (second wife) had woven a long rug and worked into it the initials of all twelve children. She left this rug with the family who took over the farm. Was it sorrow at leaving that made her want to leave something personal behind? One hundred three years later, Canadian descendants of the family visited the Zakrison home place at Strom and were presented with the rug to bring to Canada. It is now kept in the home of one of her great-granddaughters, Lenore Rein.
The colony continued to grow. Among the arrivals in 1889 was Anna Brita (daughter of Bjorn Zakris) Svensson along with her daughter, Karin, and son-in-law Jens Olson.
By the end of 1889, many other families had also come, but the descendants of Bjorn Zakris, which includes the Johansson, Zakrison and Svensson families, make up a good portion of those who have been in the colony over the last 117 years. A report of the times (1889) includes the information that wheat sold for $1.00 a bushel; seeding started March 22nd and ended by May 11th. A new road had been built from the valley. The road between Whitewood and the valley was a rough, winding trail. A few young men undertook to make a road. With little equipment but axes, and shovels, they felled trees, removed stumps, and filled holes. Later, in 1892, a government grant for $500.00 was received to build a road through the Long Ravine from the valley. The equipment used was a yoke of oxen, two teams of horses, a plow and two road scrapers, plus the usual axes. The Hon. F.W.G. Haultain commented after an inspection, “I have never seen so much excellent work done for so little money.”
At the annual July 1st picnic in 1890, besides the usual speeches and debates, time was taken to report on the progress that had been made. One farmer reported that in 1888, his first year, he had broken 8 acres; in 1889 he had broadcast seed, cut with a scythe and threshed with a flail and stored the seed for the coming year. Altogether, the colony had 49 families, over 200 people. One thousand acres had been broken on 46 homesteads, livestock numbers were increasing, a new road had been built through what was known as the Sahlmark Ravine (presently no. 9 Highway), mail came weekly from Whitewood to Ohlen Post Office, two churches and two school districts organized. By July, 1896, the colony stretched east to west to cover 15 miles.
Education and Religion
Nils Johansson, in 1887, was one of several who wrote to a Swedish newspaper in Winnipeg giving a report on conditions as they found them. Copies were kept of all these letters, as well as reports by Emmanuel Ohlen and others who visited the colony. The language used and imagery expressed indicated a high level of intelligence and a great emphasis on education. The following is a quotation from a short history of the colony written by C.O. Hofstrand in Dec 1895.
“John Bergman, one of New Stockholm’s first settlers, died in 1888. Tired and sickly after his lengthy journey, he was in his parents new house when he started his long rest which none shall disturb before the sound of the last trumpet shall reach even this corner, a hill on the land he had chosen for his homestead.”
In 1888, an application was made to the territorial government for a school. This was granted and the district was named “New Stockholm S.D. #120. In the same year, another application by the colonists was granted, and four miles from the first one, a new school district #139 was named “SWEA” which was an old name for Sweden.
Some of the first settlers formed a church, which became known as the Mission Covenant Church. However, before long many colonists had arrived who were Lutherans. Oct.3, 1889, a meeting was held and Canada’s first Swedish Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church congregation was formed. Meetings were held in homes, and later in SWEA School. In 1894, work on a Lutheran Church was begun. Careful records were kept of the church meetings, and discussions reported word for word. Erik Zakrisson appears to have been an outspoken figure with strong convictions and his ideas often clashed with others to the extent that he was twice excommunicated by the local committee and allowed back each time. He was, though, active in church and community life, a good living man and well respected. He built the pews and the altar for this first church.
In time, the congregation outgrew the building, so in 1913, they began raising funds for a new building. They erected a beautiful large, brick structure, with a high steeple, two very large stained glass windows, and twelve smaller windows of stained glass.
The church is still in regular use. It has become a drawing card for tourists as well as a regular meeting place.
Many of the colony’s social events centered around the Church year. Because of being near the Valley, they began a special tradition on Shrove Tuesday. The hills provided wonderful sledding and skiing opportunities. Several times during the day, they would stop in at a neighboring house to which everyone had brought food. It was customary to eat seven times on Shrove Tuesday.
Each year there were community picnics, especially on July 1st, the anniversary of the day the first settlers arrived. Before long there were Danes, Norwegians, and Scots on the fringes of the settlement, Hungarians at Esterhazy, and Czechs to the east. All were invited to the picnics where they could meet in fellowship, listen to speeches and debates, take part in games, and contests, and share a big lunch.
A Temperance Hall had been built but by 1927 was no longer in use. Recognizing the need for a community hall, a group of local citizens formed a company and bought the hall, moving it to a site donated by Gustav Persson. It was named Pioneer Hall and was the home of the annual July 1st picnic and many other social events from then on.
Music has always been a passion for many of the colony members. In her later years, Anna Brita Svensson would go to church early, sit in a pew and sing hymns. As congregation members came in, they would join her. A school inspector making a visit shortly after New Stockholm School opened was amazed to hear the students singing in four-part harmony. Many of the people in succeeding generations learned to play musical instruments and sang in choirs. Love of music has been a common thread running through the generations from earliest settlement until today.
Nils Dahl and Brita (daughter of Erik) Zakrison.
Nils Dahl was born on June 17, 1851, to Per Jonsson and Ingeborg Nilsdotter in Soderby, Varmland, Sweden. Our earliest records of this family date back to 1718 when his great-great-grandfather was born. Nils grew up on a small acreage that the landowner had leased them in return for his father’s labor. There were nine children in the family. He told of how as a small boy he carried a bundle of food in each hand to his father who worked at Soderby. After he grew old enough, he left home and worked at lumber camps or where ever he could find employment. By the time he was thirty-five he had decided to seek new horizons and so in the summer of 1886, he immigrated to Canada. He traveled on the SS Polynesian, Allan Line, leaving Liverpool Aug. 12, 1886, and landing in Quebec City Aug. 21, traveling further by train to Medicine Hat, Alberta. There he began work on the railroad.
He was very lonely and depressed there being no other Swedes on the outfit. His mother had died shortly before he left. Maria kept all the letters and poems that Nils had sent her, and many years later, after she and her family had settled in Alberta, they were returned to Nils’ eldest daughter, Verda. They were then translated into English so later generations could appreciate them. A violent storm during his Atlantic crossing is recorded in the following poem as translated:
I do not know what Neptune thinks.
He wears so green and grim a cast.
Into the depths the boat he sinks,
But raises it again at last.
He rages mid the ropes, and sails,
Propellers turn with empty blow
For Neptune never follows rules
And neither holds to any law.
After a year, since Nils had learned to speak English, he was made foreman of his crew. It was during this time that he changed his name from Persson to Dahl. When the line from Dunmore AB to Lethbridge was completed, he worked for a winter in the coal mine at Lethbridge and then decided to settle down to homestead. He had saved enough money, even though his letters tell of him sending money to his father and sister through someone in New York, to send tickets to his brother Jon and his family to join him in Canada.
Therefore, in 1891, he came to New Stockholm and filed for himself and Jon on adjoining quarters. Jon and Karin Persson joined him in 1892. Jon needed to make some money in order to keep his family and buy supplies for the farm. Like many others, he was forced to look elsewhere for work. He left Karin and the children to stay over winter with Nils while he went to work in Manitoba. Nils had seen a need in the colony and decided that he would keep a store of groceries and other assorted necessities in his house. One of the items he sold was snuff that at the time came in one-gallon crocks. A crock, which is still in the family, is the only reminder that a store existed.
Nils was an active community man, holding Board positions in the Agriculture Society and the Scandia School Board. Classes were held in his home until the school was built. He was also foreman of the road construction through the long ravine.
On Feb. 18, 1896, Nils Dahl and Brita Zakrison were married. Brita, daughter of Erik Zakrison, was born on Dec. 23, 1872, and immigrated to Canada with the family in 1888. Five children came of this union. Nils’ love of literature and mythology became very evident when the children were named – Carl Napoleon, Erika Verdandi, Maria Florentina, Ihra Gunelda, and Tyro Viola Kristina.
During these early years many more settlers came – Swedes to the west, and Hungarians to the north. Because Nils had a good command of the English language, these people often came to him for help with legal papers. The Dahl home was often a stopping place and many times settlers coming through from Whitewood were treated to supper, a place to sleep, and sent on in the morning after breakfast. On one occasion, an unusual number of people arrived and were bedded down on the living room floor near a stove. Later that night a young couple with a new baby arrived. Because of the crowded house, Nils found them a place in the barn, but Brita learned of this and insisted that they would be too cold out there and must be brought into the house. So Nils went into the living room and pushed sleeping bodies around until he made room for a very grateful young man and his wife and baby.
Nils, and Brita raised their children in a happy atmosphere of sociability and music. Both were good singers, although Brita “hid her light under a bushel” as Verda commented many years later. Nils played violin and organ by ear. They liked to entertain. Their niece, Jenny, in later years recalled going to Uncle Dahl’s place on Sunday afternoons and feasting at picnic tables set under the trees which Nils had planted around the yard.
Nils built a summerhouse at the west end of Round Lake. He loved to fish and swim. He must have been thinking of a growing family because he built it in two parts – a boys’ section, and a girls’. The family enjoyed this home away from home until it was sold in the mid 1940’s.
While in her forties, Brita became ill with cancer in the womb. Nils mortgaged the farm and took her to Toronto for an operation. It did no good. She died in August 1923.
Nils continued to farm until 1929 when his arthritis forced him to quit and sell the farm. With the proceeds, he paid off the rest of the mortgage. He lived the rest of his years with Verda and Hans Paulson, dying in Dec. 1937.
Memories of Grandpa Dahl
Morfar (mothers father) was old and bent and smoked a curved-stem pipe. He had a shaggy chin because he used scissors instead of shaving. One arthritic hand had all the fingers bent sharply to one side – he said he was on a train, and put his hand out the window just as two trains were meeting. I’m not sure we believed that story.
Doris and Orville loved to visit Morfar on his farm. He played little tunes on the organ and sang with them. He liked to hunt partridges and prairie chickens with his shotgun. Orville remembers that he made a blind beside the granary. When the birds came to feed on the oat stacks just behind the granary, he would shoot at them, and at one time killed five with one shot. Mother was not impressed because he wanted them cooked for dinner, and because of all the buckshot, there was hardly any meat.
Morfar was a built in baby-sitter. He rocked the cradle and sang lullabies to us, played cards, and took short walks with us. He taught us to sing little Swedish songs, sometimes making them up or changing the words to make them comical. Although badly crippled with arthritis, he did whatever chores he could. I remember him picking off potato beetles and dropping them into a tobacco can that contained kerosene.
Morfar was with us during most of the Depression. Orville still has the .22 rifle which Morfar had bought him for Christmas, but he died before he could see the happiness this rifle gave Orville. He and his friend, Archie Lindahl, spent many Sunday afternoons terrorizing the gophers and crows in the neighborhood.
Hans and Verda (Dahl) Paulson
The earliest record of the Hans Paulson line is 1661 when Jon Olafsson was born. Four generations later, Britta Palsdotter married Pal Jonsson. They had a family of four sons and three daughters. They were of the Hammerdal area in Jamtland, but in 1881 bought a farm near Ostersund. The two oldest boys had already begun farming near Hammerdal and remained in Sweden. In 1904, after his wife died, Pal immigrated to Canada with his son, Pal. In 1905 Hans, and his sister Kristina arrived. Kristina remained at Stockholm, Sk, while Pal Sr. and Hans bought a strawberry farm at Matsqui, B.C. After a few years, they returned to Stockholm.
During these years, Verda, the second child of Nils and Brita Dahl, completed Grade 10, then went to Saskatoon for a two month teacher training course. She taught for one year at Viscount, one year at Round Lake School, and three years at Scandia School. They were spring to fall positions as there was no school during the winter months.
By this time, Hans Paulson had arrived back in the colony. On February 4, 1921, Hans and Verda were married. After living on one farm for three years where Doris, 1922, and Orville, 1923, were born, they bought a farm in the Swea. S.D. Over the years, rooms were added to the house and the roof raised to allow for upstairs bedrooms. Two more children were born, Lenore in 1931, and Yvonne in 1935. This became their permanent home and the land still belongs to Orville.
The Paulson Home
Our mother and father were quiet, gentle people who enjoyed life. They both had a great sense of humor and Dad’s hearty laugh would often ring out, especially when swapping stories with his friends. Dad had very expressive eyes that twinkled brightly when he was happy. Even when life wasn’t too kind to them, they would often see the ridiculous side. They did, however, have strict views on behaviors, and we were brought up to respect these views.
Dad had a rocking chair beside the kitchen table. He sat in it while reading papers, talking with visitors, or just resting, and at meal times would hitch the chair around to face the table. Eventually the rockers wore flat. I remember sitting on his lap, and getting my braids caught in the clasps of his overall bib. Yvonne remarked that she felt safe and comfortable there, and so did I.
We children have a very special tender remembrance of our mother and father. It was their custom to take turns getting up early to make coffee to serve the other in bed. Always there would be a cup on a saucer with two hard lumps of sugar to be held between the teeth as the coffee was sipped through it. This custom continued until dad got Parkinson’s Disease in his seventies. It was a sign of their love that they took time every morning for each other.
Our home was filled with music. In early years dad played the violin and sang tenor in a male quartet. Mother always sang as she worked and if anyone else sang, she would harmonize. She played the organ for church at times, for choirs and quartets, male and mixed. She had an old piano lesson book and taught us to read music and play by note, although it was usually easier to play by ear. However, she was wise to insist on the reading of music, because it broadened our horizons. It is no wonder we were all interested in and encouraged to play various musical instruments.
We grew up during the Depression. Crops were poor and money scarce, but we had no sense of poverty. Everyone else was in the same state. All the girls had underwear made out of bleached flour bags. Everyone wore clothes that were hand-me-down or reconstructed by our clever mothers. Upstairs bedrooms would be very cold in the winter. With heavily frosted windows, we would hurry into bed under several wool quilts with sometimes a wrapped heated iron to warm our feet. Summer nights were usually hot. Homes were poorly insulated.
Rust and drought were common threats to the crops. One year the crop was so sparse that after it was cut and stooked, there was so little of it that dad made two piles and when the threshing crew arrived, the machine was simply pulled between the piles and the sheaves pitched into the machine. Mother phoned the school and asked if Doris and Orville could be excused to come home immediately, because if they waited until after school, they would have missed the excitement. They would have, because the total fall threshing for that year lasted half an hour.
From our earliest years and especially through our mother’s interest, we became very aware of our natural surroundings. From her, we learned the names of many birds and flowers and became interested enough to collect our own books in order to identify others. We sisters slept in the upstairs room that looked out into the sheltering woods on the west and north sides of the house. We went to sleep at night and awoke in the morning to the sounds of robins and orioles singing and wrens chattering.
The Wren Story – mother’s clothesline was strung along a path through the bush beside the house. One time Dad’s underwear got left on the line for two or three days. When she went to get it, a wren had begun to build a nest in the crotch. Mother laughed every time she recalled this incident.
There were always periodicals coming into our home – the Family Herald, Winnipeg Free Press, Western Producer, and Canada Tidningen, a Swedish newspaper. There was also a substantial collection of books. Authors such as Ralph Connor, Zane Grey, Sewell Ford, Jack London and L.M Montgomery, to name a few, satisfied our thirst for reading.
Though music and reading were important in our lives, we were also encouraged to do hand crafts. Orville was interested in carving and worked with wood from an early age. He often sat on the edge of the wood box and whittled at a small piece of wood. We girls learned to knit, crochet and sew at home and have since become interested in other crafts as well.
To summarize, we would have to say that we lived in a happy home, we were encouraged to develop many interests, felt secure with one another, and can only hope that our children feel as fortunate as we do.
We lived just over a mile away from Swea S.D. #139, which we attended until completion of grade 10, the last two years having been taken by Correspondence courses. The school year was from mid-July until Christmas, and mid-February until the end of June. Hot July days were hard to bear, so often we would bring pails of cold water from the well and slosh them over the wooden floor. It seemed to help temporarily.
Each spring we had ball games against neighboring schools and a track meet. Each Christmas we had a concert – the high light of the school year. Everyone took part and on a very small stage we performed plays, drills, songs, recitations, and, of course, the Christmas Pageant with its blanket robes, tinsel crowns, doll baby Jesus and earnest young people trying to do their best for proud (and sometimes chuckling) parents.
One teacher to eight grades meant that students had to often work on their own. Subjects such as Social Studies and Science were taught to double grades, e.g. grades 5 and 6 taking the grade five course one year and grade six the next. Each subject in each grade had a textbook, which covered the year’s course of studies. The depth of subject matter and research done today was not possible then.
Still, many of these students went on to further education and acquitted themselves well. Perhaps the old country school was a good training ground after all.
The New Stockholm Evangelical Lutheran Church played a large role in our formative years. Our baptism took place very early in life, and although we were unaware of its significance, it was an entry into a society, which would influence us for the rest of our lives. As we grew, we would go to Sunday school, then Confirmation classes, and at the age of 13 or 14 be confirmed and become a full member of the church, being entitled to take Holy Communion. We could also, at this time become a member of the young people’s group, the Luther League, which provided a time of fellowship with other young people.
When church service was about to begin the big bell in the steeple was rung. It had a deep tone, which could be heard from far away. Latecomers walking to church would be reminded that they must hurry. Its full, clanging sound ringing out over the countryside put everyone in a receptive mood for the worship hour, which followed. The church sits in a large grassy area. On the south and the west lie the graves of those who have lived and worshipped here. For every one of these, the church bell tolled the age at the beginning of the funeral service. It is particularly sad when the tolling it short, as it is upon the death of a young person.
Because so many of the colony people were good singers, the hymns were especially beautiful. The church is large with a high vaulted ceiling and the voices would swell upwards and fill the space with four-part harmony. Throughout most of the history of this church, there has been a choir. They have sung ordinary hymns simply and beautifully, but they have also performed cantatas, and have traveled to churches in other areas for this purpose.
There is a quiet faith, which lives on in the people from this area, no matter where they have gone, and though it may waver at times, it is still there in essence.
This writing has been not so much a history as a picture of earlier times. Looking back on it, we realize that nostalgia and memory have softened some of the sharper edges, but essentially, the last 120 years have been, not just a struggle against odds, but an optimistic looking forward while making the most of the present.
In conclusion, we include an excerpt from a letter sent to the colony from the Scandinavians in Ottawa, July 1, 1889: “Your descendants will look back to your time with admiration for your foundation of this great work that you now seek to complete and they shall bless your wise forethought and how proud they shall be to have inherited from you the right to be counted among the owners of the most beautiful jewel in the British diadem, your new fatherland, Canada.”
Hans Paulson – Verda Dahl m. 02-04-21
I Doris Christine
II Paul Orville — Edna (Olson) McAlpine
III Erica Lenore — William Skilnik
1 Patricia Joan m. Kenneth McGown
a. Robyn Joy
b. Amber Kelly
c. Erika Joan
2 Katherine Janet m. Dennis Hobman
3. Heather Kristine m. David McLaughlin
IV Gunill Yvonne m. Jerry Skokan
1 Debra Yvonne m. David Anderson
a. Seann David
b. Devon J
2. Lori Ann m. Glenn McDonald
a. Lauren Jean
b. Nancy Yvonne
c. Jan Kathleen
3. Susan Jane m. Brad Davis
a. Celena Marie
b. Ryan Joseph
Submitted by Lenore Rein and Yvonne Skokan