Home Town or Home Community:
Strasbourg, Sask., Neu Elass/Strassburg Colony
JULIUS and JOHANNA SCHWANDT and their descendants
The destination in Canada of the Julius Schwandt family was a settlement in the district of Assiniboia, North West Territories, located in western Canada. By an Order of the Council in 1871, a uniform method of land survey was passed by the Federal Government and then to stimulate settlement in the west the Dominion Land Act in 1872 was passed which entitled settlers to secure entry to 160 acres of land upon payment of a ten dollar fee. Immigration literature in Germany promoting the new settlement named The Neu Elsass/Strassburg Colony advertised the fine land, wood and water and the freedom from military service. Julius Schwandt, living in Rohrkolk, Pressdorf, Germany (1858-1938), was a shepherd working for a landlord with no hopes of ever owning land. His mother’s brother had already settled in the Strassburg Colony so in 1893 Julius emigrated to the new land of promise with his family.
The family of Julius consisted of his 56 year old mother, Auguste Schwandt (1836-1920), his wife Johanna Wudke Schwandt (1853-1914) and their five children: Bertha, Emma, Emelia, Wilhelm and Minnie.
One must marvel at the courage and tenacity of this family of eight who left their home land and friends to strike out for a new country which they hoped would give them land and a chance for a better life. When the Julius Schwandt family arrived in the settlement it was aided by other settlers, namely: Julius’ brother-in-law, Wilhelm Schwandt, the Heck brothers, Carl Klatt and Adolph Christoph. These neighbours provided the family with a haven and would help them to build a log home and a new life in the new land.
An application for a homestead entry was made by Julius Schwandt for the N.W. Quarter of Section number 18 of the 24 Township in the 21 Range West of the 2nd Meridian on February 9,1894. The homesteader had to be a British subject either by birth or naturalization. After residing in Canada for three years Julius applied for and received his naturalizations papers on June 17,1896, signed by Hugh Richardson, a judge of the Supreme Court of the North West Territories. There were other requirements of the homesteader that had to be met. The person had to live on the homestead for three years and had to build a house worth at least $300 within the three years. The homesteader had to break at least 30 acres of land over a three year period. Periodically the homestead requirements were adjusted. The 1901 census with notes by the enumerator Wilhelm Schwandt tells us how the Julius Schwandt family was getting along.
“They had a house of 3 rooms and 2 outbuildings. They arrived in Canada in 1893 and naturalized in 1896. They were all recorded of German origin, Canadian citizenship and Lutheran religion. They could all read and write and speak English.
The family members were:
H. Julius born 06 FEB 1858 C. Johanna born 11 JUL 1853
Auguste born 24 MAR 1836 A. Emma born 13 MAY 1884
W. Emelia born 05 OCT 1886 L. Wilhelm born 10 MAR 1889
P. Minna born 28 MAR 1892 L. Anna born 12 MAY 1895”
All are noted as born in Germany except Anna, born in N.W.T. Anna and Minnie died in Canada when they were young.
The Julius Schwandt family continued to make progress, breaking and clearing the brush, cropping the land and raising livestock. The nearest rail line was about 90 miles to the north, a line from Yorkton to Humboldt, so grain was hauled by horse and wagon to Lumsden. For a number of years the Strassburg colony was somewhat isolated. On the east there were no homes for 30 miles until one reached the Gordon Indian Reserve. On the west was hay land where the prairie fires occurred. It was the job of Wilhelm (Billy), the son, to herd cattle and to keep them grazing on the fenceless countryside. When Billy was eleven years of age a horse kicked him and broke his leg. Julius loaded him into the grain wagon and took him to the doctor in Lumsden who, in a successful operation, set his leg.
The settlers of Strassburg colony were German families with a Lutheran background. Church services were first held in the log schoolhouse and in 1907 a church was built. The family attended church faithfully and Julius was on the church board of the St. John Lutheran Church. The services in German were continued for many years.
The Strassburg School district was established on May 4,1887, and named Last Mountain School #92. The census of 1901 tells us that the school was “one room and 18 scholars”. This was the school attended by Julius’ children.
The settlers were great lovers of music and danced away the night in homes, granaries or the schoolhouse to the rousing music of accordions and violins. I can picture the children sleeping on piled-up coats or perhaps dancing with the adults.
Between the years 1890 to 1905 the popular German Picnic Days took place every summer. At these games the settlers enjoyed baseball and football games, horse races, foot races and dancing amidst all the visiting. What a wonderful respite from all the hard work. I’m sure this was a highlight of their lives, eagerly looked forward to every year. Around 1905 new settlers from U.S.A. and Ontario arrived and these yearly German Games gradually ended.
By 1900 the William Pearson Co. began to advertise the fertile land of the Last Mountain Valley as being so rich that it would pay for itself in a single year. People began to arrive on settlers’ trains and Pearson saw the need for a transportation service so he ordered a flat bottom steamboat. In 1904 the boat arrived by CPR flat car at Craven. It was christened “Welcome” in 1905, changed to “Lady of the Lake” in 1906 and finally to “Qu’Appelle” in 1907. This boat travelled the shore of Long (Last Mountain) Lake receiving and transporting supplies to various harbors and transporting prospectors in to the area. Wilhelm was now old enough to use a horse and buggy and transport people or supplies from the steamboat. On November 7,1903, Julius Schwandt made an application for a patent for his homestead. A sworn statement by another settler Karl Klatt in front of Homestead Inspector J.R. Pollock was given in Regina District. The application answers several questions about the ten years that Julius had been on the homestead. It says that he built his house in May, 1894, and began to reside in it with his family on October 10,1894, and had continued to reside there ever since. The number of acres that were broken and cropped in every year was then given. For the first year, 1894, no acres were broken nor cropped. The following year 5 acres were broken but none were cropped. In 1896 Julius broke 5 acres and cropped 5 acres.
Then in 1897,15 acres were broken and 10 acres were cropped. In 1898 he had broken 5 acres and cropped 25. Julius had broken 6 acres in 1899 and had cropped 30. In 1900 he had broken 5 acres and had cropped 36 so now had 70 acres under cultivation. He had raised horses, cattle, and pigs each year since 1885 and now had 7 horses, 8 pigs and 15 head of cattle. The log house had been enlarged to 16’x 18′ and was valued at $500. A stable 26’x50′ had been built valued at $100 and a well had been dug valued at $50. Julius now owned his homestead NW ^ Sec. 18, Twp. 24, Rge. 21, West of 2nd Meridian.
The German immigrants were becoming more politically aware of the politics of their new country. Mr. Addison Reid, a schoolteacher (circa 1900) has written in records found in the Regina Archives reporting this humorous discussion regarding the upcoming 1900 election campaign when Hon. Walter Scott defeated N.F. Davin. He writes about a discussion that took place between a man named Mr. Simper and one of the settlers.
“Veil denn, you tinks ver should vote for Davin?” asks the settler. “Gans gut. Her Simper, ver votes for Davin, aber not can do dat on alkali water.” Mr. Reid goes on to say, “I found the older men for the greater part honest and conscientious in their thinking. A very fine, decent hardworking, honest people they were. The hardships they underwent and overcame were really remarkable.”
The beginning of another generation of Schwandts began when W.L. (Wilhelm) Schwandt (1889-1970) married B.Louise Heck (1892-1980). Louise’s parents were early immigrants to the New Elsass colony, coming from Hessen, Germany. Indeed the Heck family had aided the family of Julius when they arrived at the settlement. The Heck family were earlier colonists, being delayed in Winnipeg because of the Red River Rebellion and arriving in Regina in the fall of 1885 just as the troops were leaving to return east. Louise’s brother was the first white child born in the New Elsass settlement and received from Lieutenant-Governor Edgar Dewdney a gift of a cow and a portion of land in Regina. The land was refused because they could not afford to pay the taxes. The newly born son was named Edgar Dewdney. When Louise named her youngest son she called him Harold Edgar.
The wedding of W.L. and Louise was the 25th one to take place in the newly established St. John Lutheran Church. The newlyweds built a two-room home on Section#19 and two children, Art (1911-1986) and Hertha (1913) were born there.
In 1914 W.L., Louise and their two children moved back to “the Homestead” to care for Grandmother Johanna who had cancer. She died later that year. In 1919 twin sons Theodore (1919-1997) and Frederick (1919) were born. These identical twins, Ted and Fred, were a great joy to grandfather Julius. He always called them his “schon junge”. The doctor was caught in a snowstorm at Arlington Beach so Aunt Mary (Louise’s sister) again acted as midwife. Louise often acted as midwife for her sister, Mary, also. Mary and her husband, Gus, farmed just down the road and had a family of nine.
Julius lived with W.L. and Louise until his death in 1938 except for a few years when he was remarried to a widow of another early settler, Fredericka Lucke. After her death in 1932 he moved back to the old homestead. He had learned to knit when he was a shepherd and he used five needles to knit gloves for anyone who would supply the wool. His greatest joy was looking after the identical twin grandsons. Julius had his own special driving horse and shiny buggy and cutter, and frequently visited other German settlers after his retirement. He always looked forward to his weekly German paper. He was buried beside his wife, Johanna, in the old cemetery.
W.L. and Louise completed their family when Harold Edgar (1925-2002) was born. The original log and mud house was enlarged to include the extended family of the grandmother, Auguste, the father Julius, W.L. and Louise and their five children.
The farm was a mixed farm. The land was continually being cleared of bush but they always kept animals and when the crops failed the other aspects of their farming operation kept the family going. Butter, eggs and cream were taken to Slim Whittle’s and the Pioneer Store in Strasbourg (the spelling was changed during WW1) to be exchanged for groceries. Ham, bacon and sausage were cured and smoked in the stone smokehouse that still stands. Meats, fruits and vegetables from their large garden, as well as wild fruits, were canned and stored in the dirt cellar along with a box or two of apples as a special treat. Cream was kept fresh by being hung in the well. To supplement the spending money many loads of wood were cut and hauled to be sold in the town or exchanged for skating tickets for all the family – even Louise. The family also enjoyed curling.
To the pioneers water was always a problem and there were many attempts to get a good well. Harold Schwandt, son of Wilhelm Schwandt, submitted this account of a well that was dug by hand in 1918 on the NW VA of 18-24-21-W2ndM. This account appears in a book Water by Dave Aldous in 1999.
“It was started by my dad (W.L. Schwandt) and a hired man between morning chores. In the winter time, after reaching about thirty feet, it caved in and no progress was made for a few months. Then my dad hired a man named John Kulynch, more commonly known as “John the Welldigger”. John built a wooden cribbing and continued the well, working with a pick and shovel inside the crib with a helper on top pulling the earth up in a pail tied onto a windlass. By the next morning there was 18 feet of good water. Later a windmill was installed on the pump in the well. It easily looked after 40 -60 animals on our farm. In the dry 1930’s a lot of the neighbours hauled water to their farms a few miles away at no charge. The wind pumped all the water. This particular spot was chosen in a convenient location for livestock and household use. However, John the Welldigger did witch for water with a y-shaped willow and did find a lot of good wells. My dad farmed four one-quarter sections. He fenced it all so the livestock and horses could all get water from any field and the 70 acre pasture.
The well is still in use for crop spraying and it will supply about 1000 to 2000gallons a day. The depth of water still remains at 18 feet, winter or summer. The wooden cribbing has been rebuilt with concrete and steel. The windmill was 45 feet high and still remains although the fans have fallen off. But the tower has a good yard light near the top, and the well now has a submersible pump run by electricity instead of a windmill or gasoline engine on a pump jack.”
The family carried water to the vegetable and flower gardens that flourished and even in the thirties the growth was abundant.
A John Deere stationary engine was hooked up to a Beatty washing machine that had a wooden tub in the twenties – a luxury few farm women had. W.L. also arranged a homemade shower with an overhead pail in the “separator room”. The house was heated with wood heaters and a cook stove that was fed an occasional lump of coal. This kept the home warm and comfortable in spite of severe weather. There was a gradual improvement in lighting when gas lights replaced the coal oil lamps and they were in turn replaced by electric lights produced by the wind charger erected near the home.
There was a lot of hard work but they knew how to enjoy themselves and socialized with their neighbours. Last Mountain Lake (commonly named Long Lake) was reasonably close so a picnic in the summer (between chore hours) was an exciting outing. W.L. and his friend Slim Whittle built a wooden fishing boat that gave many hours of pleasure. Wieners were a special treat. There were card parties and dancing at the house parties. Harold (“Hal”) remembered his parents practicing their pattern dancing in the farm kitchen. Just as in Julius’ time, the dances were sometimes held in the granary. Fred Bieber would play the accordion and Carl Appel, the hired man, played the violin. W.L. bought a phonograph and a piano. The tennis court made from chicken wire with a sand base was widely used by family and friends. And they played horseshoes, and had ball games. The homemade ice cream attracted many young people from Strasbourg – only two miles away – and the other farm kids who came on Sundays to visit “Uncle Billy” and “Aunt Louise” to share the enjoyable Sundays.
The farm animals were a great joy to the family growing up on the farm. Dogs, horses, cats, geese, owls, magpies, and the lamb were all pets. One of the favourite pets was “Barney” the goat who was taught to suck the cow. Hal remembered the sad disaster to hit Barney. Every time Hal’s mother called the dog for its meal and the dog came running to the house. Barney, being very frisky, came running also. He tried to jump over the walk-through gate and broke his leg right off- it was hanging on by the skin. As there was no veterinarian, the poor fellow had to be put out of his misery. Ted and Fred drew straws to see who had to do this task. Then
Ted and Fred dug a shallow grave and made a small white cross with Barney’s name on it – a very sad end but a lot of fond memories of Barney.
The Shetland ponies were special. Every summer holidays there were at least two or three extra young people from town who shared the work and fun of the farm with the family. Because the farm was so close to the railway tracks, many transients, especially in the thirties, stopped in for a free meal. No one was ever turned away.
W.L. was a member of the East Mount Rural Telephone Company, was on the Co-op Board, and after moving to Strasbourg in 1952, he was a member of town council.
W.L. and Louise’s five children went to Strasbourg School in town. They drove a cart and horses to school or in later years, walked the two miles following the railway track into town. After they finished school, Hertha went to Normal School in Regina, Art worked for the General Motors factory in Regina, Ted and Fred went to technical school in Regina and took drafting. All this was before Art, Ted and Fred went off to war. Hal remembered at age fourteen seeing his big brothers off at the train station on their embarkation leave. Julius, who said that he had left Germany because of the fears of war, now had his grandchildren going off to war to fight the country he came from – Germany.
The war was a trying time for the family. Art, Fred and Ted all served overseas and Louise put large maps on the wall in the kitchen of the farmhouse so they could follow the war battles. Norm James, the druggist, saved chocolates for the many parcels Louise and W.L. carefully packed to send to their sons. The war was trying, also because the manpower was gone from the farm. W.L. gave up his flower garden and with no hired man he had to do the land work himself. Hal, who was still going to school, continued to help on the farm, missing school during harvest and seeding.
Ted was injured in Belgium and spent months in hospital in England, coming home on a hospital ship in 1945. Ted had a career with the federal govt. and retired from Immigration Dept. in Winnipeg. In 1945 he married Wanda Wareki and they had two daughters, Carole and Susan.
Ted, Fred and Art, all looking for work after the war, felt that the German name Schwandt might interfere with their careers and changed their last names to Swan.
Fred Swan (1919) made the army his career and retired as a Major in Calgary in 1968. He married Hazel Krenas in 1946 and they had four children, Darlene, Mervyn, Tricia and Sandra.
After the war the eldest son. Art Swan (1912-1986), moved to Vancouver. He was supervisor of Canadian Fisheries until he retired. He married Grace Martin in 1943 and they had seven children, Ron, Ken, Dennis (deceased), Susan, Karen, Janice and Joan.
Hertha, the only daughter in the family, had a successful career as a teacher and with her husband, Clarence McRae, she raised three sons, Roger, Douglas and Stuart. Hertha superannuated as a teacher in 1974 and retired from Weyburn to Saskatoon in 1987.
Harold Edgar Schwandt (1925-2002) was the only one of his siblings to remain and work in the Strasbourg district. Of all the sons Hal was the one who loved the farm and most enjoyed farming. Hal married Marie Onerheim, a high school teacher from Climax, Saskatchewan in 1951. In 1953 Betty-Ann was born and in 1954 they had William (Bill).
In 1955 Marie and Hal bought the Royal Hotel and Hal became a farmer and a businessman when they bought the Schwandt farm in 1961. In 1958 Douglas was born and in 1960 they had their youngest child, Gina. Hal carried on the farming tradition of hard work and community involvement. He was town councillor, charter member of the Lions Club, manager and president of the Maroons Hockey team and so on.
In 1994 the farm was sold to their son William and he also has followed his father’s footsteps as he and his wife Janette are in business and are very community minded. They have two children, Eric and Jayne. A Century Farm Award was presented to the Schwandt family in September, 2001, commemorating continued ownership of homestead land by the family of the original homesteader.
A reunion of the W.L. and Louise Schwandt descendants was held August 12,13, & 14,1988 in Strasbourg, Saskatchewan and the children, grandchildren and great- grandchildren from points such as Chicago, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Calgary came to rediscover their Schwandt roots. Hats, photo buttons, photo albums and descendant history books were given as memorabilia.
This rediscovery of roots took the family first of all to the Old Cemetery where the original homesteaders, Julius and Johanna Schwandt and Julius’ mother, Auguste, were buried as were Elizabeth and Andreas Heck. This is located on the SW V4 20-24-21-W2nd more than two miles southeast of Strasbourg and was the first cemetery in the Strassburg community. This land was originally applied for by Karl Klatt in 1884.
As the family members walked around in the “Old Cemetery” Hertha (Schwandt) McRae pointed out graves of ancestors including a grave marked by a baby lamb stone where the Schwandt still-born baby of Louise and Wilhelm was buried. Hertha talked of the death of the Grandmother Auguste in the spring of 1920. She told of the casket resting in the front room and the service that was held there. The casket was then hauled through the snow to the Old Cemetery by sleigh.
Oscar Mapes was the undertaker.
The entourage then drove to the “New Cemetery” – Crescent Road Cemetery – located on NW V4 23-24-22-W2ndM. This is where W.L. and Louise Schwandt are buried and as the family stood by, granddaughter Susan Swan, daughter of Ted Swan, dedicated a wreath of Saskatchewan lilies and wheat at their graves.
This touching dedication to both the great-grandparents and grandparents will be transcribed here in its entirety. It is a fitting tribute to not just the Schwandts, but to all pioneers.
“Standing here in the wind and the sun and seeing how this land can be so fickle, I think we can get a sense of the kind of risks and hardships Grandma and Grandpa and their people took to come to Canada.
They left Germany in the late 1800’s – leaving behind friends, family and the land that they knew to come to a country that gave them a chance to own land and carve out a life.
I think it’s a pretty frightening thought for all of us – a foreign country… plenty of risks… hardships… prejudice. But they came – and they settled – and they built their own community based on hard work and strong families and the ability to go on even when things were at their bleakest. We’re going to see the farm next and hear the kids reminisce about all the tricks the Twins played and the good times and it seems pretty romantic… but crops failed, rains didn’t come and babies died.
But Grandma and Grandpa went on … Grandma loved the land -I remember Auntie Hertha telling me that at harvest time Grandma would be cooking for the hired hands in the morning, helping in the fields in the afternoon and having foot races in the evening – it seems she could beat just about anybody.
Grandpa loved the land too – but he also loved his garden and after he worked in the fields all day he tended his flowers – and made the kids haul water from the well for the plants that he took so much care with.
Auntie Hertha called her history of the family “Wheat and Flowers” because of that – Grandma loved the wheat and Grandpa loved his flowers, but to me it also talks about the kind of life they led. The wheat – the hard, often back-breaking work they put in just to survive. The flowers – the dreams and hopes that kept them going and made them come to this strange new country in the first place.
I don’t mean to make out that Grandma and Grandpa were some sort of romanticized New World pioneers, people with a “Vision” – I’m sure Grandma would get up right out of her grave if I left it at that. But they were hard-working people who didn’t want to accept what the old country could give them either for themselves or for their family.
And look at us – from 2 German farm people in rural Saskatchewan we are now a family of over 75 living in cities and towns all across Canada – engineers, nurses, teachers, tradesmen, professionals – married to people from Polish, Japanese, Jewish, Norwegian, Greek and British descendants. But we’re not that different – as I’ve gotten to know people in this family I see the same traits that kept Grandma and Grandpa going – hard work, commitment, a love of family and the vision to do better for themselves and their children.
And as we lay this wreath for Grandma and Grandpa, I want to leave this one thought with you written by a Canadian poet about our ancestors: “They did not come in vain, those that came before us, for we are here.”
#309-915 Saskatchewan Cres. W.
Saskatoon SK S7M 0M7