Listen to the Weekly Radio Readings by Sheila Winstead, RCHS Board Member
Recorded November 2020
November 1, 8, 15, 22, & 29, 2020:
Roseau County Museum recently received a copy of the autobiography of Jean Duncan Robinson Haugtvedt from one of her daughters, Marlys Olson. It’s very well-written and interesting. I’ll read some parts of it to you, and hope it inspires you to write your own family story. Then share yours with the Museum, too, so future historians will have access to it. Jean called her story “The Canadian Transplant”.
Jean Haugtvedt started her story by telling about her parents, her mother from Sweden and her father from Scotland. Her mother Nanny Johanna Mortenson had first settled in Pencer, Minnesota, where her oldest sister Hannah and some other relatives had settled a few years earlier. Nanny had hoped to work with Hannah when she arrived, but found that Hannah had married Herman Wold in the years since she emigrated from Sweden, so Nanny found work at a hotel in Baudette. Her father Denton Duncan became a blacksmith in Scotland, but had asthma and was advised to find a drier climate. He moved to Saskatchewan first, and then to Rainy River, Ontario where he got work in a mill. Her parents met there and were married in 1910. Fire destroyed the mill where her father was working and they moved first to Baudette briefly before moving to Barwick, Ontario where her father had a blacksmith shop. Their two oldest girls were born there before they moved to Elphinstone, Manitoba, where Jean and her brother were born.
In 1922, they found the climate Mr. Duncan needed for his asthma in Alberta, living for a time with her dad’s brother Jack Duncan, and his wife Jean, who lived on a farm sixteen miles northeast of Viking, Alberta. That little town was about 9 0 miles south of the capital city of Edmonton. Her dad found work in a blacksmith shop in town and they soon moved into a small house a block away from his job.
As Jean described it, “Viking was a small town. Main Street consisted of two general stores, one grocery store, three Chinese restaurants, a meat market, a hardware store, a hotel with a beer parlor and a small office where a lawyer had set up his business.
At the other end of town there was another blacksmith shop, owned by Fred Ross, the skating rink, which was part of the curling rink, the United Church where we went to Sunday School and a Lutheran Church where the sermons were preached in the Norwegian language. Viking was primarily a Norwegian settlement.
On the way out to the hospital, which was about half a mile out of town, were the Elks Lodge, a show hall, an Anglican Church, and a flour mill, which was operated by a Seventh Day Adventist family. On Saturday the mill shut down while their Sabbath was observed. Their children were never allowed to go out to play that day.
The big white schoolhouse stood about three blocks and across a vacant lot from our end of town. That vacant lot now houses a big new school.
There was also a creamery, where farmers brought their cream to be made into butter. The Post Office was in the rear of Hilliker’s general store. In the middle of town there was a well where people who did not have a well on their lot went to get their supply of water for the day. There was a natural gas well outside of town and gas was piped into town. There were natural gas lights on all the street corners. We had gas lights in our house and a gas range.
When I was a little child, the blacksmith shop was one of my favorite places to be. I would watch my father crank up the forge and make big sparks fly up in the air. He sang while he worked and often it was a gospel song. One of his favorites was “Shall We Gather at The River”. He had his own version of that song which went like this: “Shall we gather at the river, the Rainy, Rainy, Rainy, Rainy River? Gather with the boys at the river, that flows from the Lake of the Woods”. He must have been thinking of his friends in Rainy River.
The only time we could not go to the blacksmith shop was when Dad had horses to be shod. Some of the horses would kick while Dad worked on their hooves. More than once he had received a quick kick that sent him flying across the room.
My dad worked hard and his wages were not very high. His work consisted mostly of shoeing horses and sharpening plowshares. He would put the plowshares on the burning coals in the forge until they were a bright red. Then he took them over to the anvil where he pounded them until the tips were sharp. Then they were cooled in the water tank. The big trip-hammer stood in a corner of the shop. When he used it, the sound could be heard all over town. Sometimes in my dreams I still hear the sound of it.
Dad’s blacksmith work kept him busy during the summer. When there wasn’t much to do in the winter my dad went to a logging camp in Chisholm, which was north of Edmonton, Aberta, where he shod horses and helped with the logging.”… listen for the rest of the story.
Thank you to for letting us share the history of our county with your listeners.