Swedish Settlement – Alpine

The district of Alpine lies next to the Porcupine Forest Reserve, ten miles south of Benito, mainly on the east side of Highway 83.

Though a few settlers, Knowles, Vogel, Mayers, Bartons and a family named Smith trickled into the area from the Yorkton way previous to the early 1900’s the main flow of settlement got underway with the arrival of a small group of Swedish settlers in 1903. This was the start of a steady flow of these hardy pioneers lasting until about 1912. Until the mid 1950’s the district remained predominately Swedish but from around that time, families of other ethnic origin have moved into the community, making it almost as homogenious as most parts of the Valley.

As in most European countries in the late 1800’s, the economic climate was not very promising in Sweden. The search for new citizens by the Canadian Government had reached Sweden in the form of advertising, brochures, and newspaper articles to entice immigration. The Swedish Canadian Colonization Company of Winnipeg had as president Victor Wallin. Elmer G. Johnson was Secretary. Mr. Hallonquist was the land-agent that assisted most of the Swedish settlers in the Valley. It appears Mr. Norland acted as sub­agent in Swan River, later joining the immigrants at Alpine as a homesteader himself.

Sometime around 1907, after settlement had begun a group of people met at the home of Johan Palm to discuss naming the district. F. E. Carlson, Mr. Hagglund, Otto Gustafson and several others participated in the meeting. Some wished to name the district “Mal­ung” after a place in Sweden but the final choice was “Alpine,” a word signifying, a mountainous, hilly, forested terrain. The name was well chosen, for the area for settlement was covered with heavy tamarack and spruce, interspersed with poplar. The Swedes thought the evergreens were Pine, lending even more accountability for the choice of name. One settler recalls his family, mother, father and children, spending three weeks clearing the woods between their house and the lake, a distance of about twenty feet.

Some of the Swedish immigrants took jobs constructing railways, working in logging camps or mines in other parts of Canada and the province to make a few dollars to get started before taking a homestead. For reasons similar to the Ukrainians, some family names were changed. Often spelled differently by customs officials, the person found it easier to go along with the change than explain each time he had to sign papers, etc. Others wished to have a name change, as spelling and pronunciation was too difficult for others and they thought this made them more Canadian faster.

The first contingent of settlers in 1903 consisting of the families of Hagglund, Dahlberg, Gustafson, (could be others) who arrived in Swan River by train in August, eager to make the thirty five mile journey to their homesteads in the block of land later known as Alpine. The trip was to take two days with ox team and wagon, hired at the livery stable.

These first families set about getting a home ready before winter set in. Too late in the year for a garden, they had to rely on what they brought with them along with what the land provided. The Hagglunds constructed a log and sod house and prepared to spend the winter with another family that helped them. In all probability this was the Dahlbergs as Mrs. Haggulund was a sister of Mr. Dahlberg. Here in this lonely place, in a confined housing arrangement the two women with their children remained while the fathers worked elsewhere in a lumber mill. Bush work was familiar to the Swedish, having come from a country whose main industry was forestry products. Most had to take other jobs the first few years. Others did some trapping and hunting. During the wnterthe fire dried out the sod in one comer of the dwelling and soil began to drop until a hole in the roof was created. A fire was made in the meadow to thaw the earth enough so a new sod could be cut for replacement.

By 1905 others had arrived increasing the settlement to about ten families. The Palm and Carlson families came in 1907 and made use of an old ranch house on secton 34-22-29 on the west side of Olive Lake (Knowles ranch) until they could build on their homesteads nearby. Their first homes were constructed of logs. Fire had previously been through an area leaving a large quantity of fire killed tamarack and spruce. These logs were as dry and hard as stone, making excellent building material. A barn constructed of these logs was tom down years later. The logs were found to be in excellent condition. By 1913 there were as many as thirty-eight families in the district. Residents say the Swedish population was possibly fifty families at the maximum.

Because of the heavy bush, the task of clearing land was slow and arduous, done in the first year by hand cutting, and pulling stumps with oxen. A settler purchased a milk cow for $30 agreeing to clear land in payment. To pay the amount, he worked a whole month. A number of ranchers had settled near Bearhead Lake in the later 1800’s. Steers were purchased from Mayer or Vogel to be trained by their new owners to do farm work. Horses were purchased later when finances permitted. Mayer and Vogel also raised horses but prices of $500 a team prohibited their purchase by the settlers for quite awhile. A few brones at a little cheaper price were brought in from Saskatchewan. Cows too were a precious and much yearned for commodity. Hagglund’s purchased their first from Vogel. Mrs. Hagglund was so overjoyed she felt like kissing the animal. A variation in the diet was soon achieved by using the rich milk, butter and cream.

By 1905 the railway had reached Durban and Benito – another blessing for the homesteaders, relieving them of the long ride to Swan River for supplies. The road from the settlement to Durban wound through the hills to the northeast generally following an old Indian trail, rough, with ruts so deep the high-wheeled wagons would often get mired. Many hours were wasted in the frustrating task of getting them out and on their way. Poles would be cut to pry the wagons up so poles could be placed underneath the wheels in corduroy fashion. Long chains were carried for such emergencies. The oxen would be unhitched and taken to higher, drier ground, the chains fastened to wagon and oxen and a new attempt at progression made.

Metashenko’s home became a stopping place along the trail where men and oxen could feed and rest, before continuing on to Durban. Mr. Metashenko had previously ranched in the Alpine area at a small lake now known as Oliver Lake. The Swedish people on arrival named this lake Russkoya (Russian) Lake to commemorate his time there. Mr. Knowles whose cabin the Palm’s used when they arrived, ranched at Olive Lake.

The first school was built in 1905 by the co-operation of district residents, on NW 21-32-29 and opened with Mr. Norling as teacher. He was also appointed a Justice of the Peace for the district. The only language spoken in the homes then was Swedish. Understandably, one who could converse in both Swedish and English would be better qualified for the teaching job. It would have been difficult to get a teacher from another place at that time. Former students remember being taught by Mr. Norling in a strange variety of the English language well interspersed with Swedish. Mr. Norling was replaced in a short time by Beatrice Mayer who had just arrived from England to stay with her brother Frank. She remained three years at Alpine School, sometimes walking, other times staying in the school. She was succeeded by Clarence Dahlgren. The school was built at a cost of $800.

Consolidation, a new concept in educational administration was instigated shortly after W.W. I. In 1920, at a time when the first little school was bursting at the seams Alpine became a Consolidated District. The district was a large one, leaving those living on the outskirts a long distance from school. A new two-roomed school was built, more centrally located on NE 34-32-29 with transportation provided for the students. A buggy-wheeled wagon pulled by horses was used in summer. Benches along each side provided seats for the children. A type of roof overhead kept them shielded from sun and rain. In winter, a large heated van was used. Routes would be tendered but at times ratepayers were allowed to take turns driving van to off-set taxes. In 1953 another small school was built to accommodate an overflow. This building later became the Thunderhill Ski Lodge when the Division system was established. The original little school was moved across the road to become the home of the Fardo family around 1920.

Church services were held in the school after it was built in 1905. An occassional missionary would preside or Mr. Nordval, a settler, would lead the congregation, until 1911 when the first minister was appointed to the congregation. When the hall was built, it was used for a church until the present church was built in 1919. Initially the congregation was of Lutheran denomination, the church known as the Swedish Lutheran Mission. At some point it became the Swedish Covenant Mission but it can not be determined when and how this transition was made. It has been said that the Lutheran Church “forgot about us” so presumably they were serviced by ministers of the new denomination. Today, it is simply known as the Alpine Convenant Church. Henry Nordin supervised the building of the church. Nils Parson was another who did carpenter work there. Reverend Swanson was minister when the church was built. The bell was given by Mr. F. E. Carlson and Mr. Palm Sr., who ordered it from Montreal.

The cemetery came into being before the construction of the church. In 1905, Frances Emil Carlson gave four acres of land for that purpose. The church was later built on this property. The first burial was that of Mr. Erickson (known also as Anderson).

The first regular minister was the Reverend A. T. Carlson who arrived at Alpine in 1911 and remained six years. He had been a travelling minister to other settlements but decided to homestead in Alpine as well as be a minister. Here he remained, faithfully tending the community with the help of his good wife. On Sunday the oxen were hitched to the Carlson wagon and children gathered up along the way for Sunday School. Most people walked to church in those days, probably a faster and more comfortable way than a rumbly ride in the wagon. Reverend Carlson formed the first Ladies Aid, a group which organized much of the social activities that took place in the district.

Mrs. Carlson is remembered well for her kindnesses to Alpine settlers. Many babies were delivered by her in the community, then later at Benito where she ran a nursing home. At Alpine, she was always on call to help those in need of medical aid – a God send for this isolated community. She travelled to those in need, walking or on horseback.

As the character of the district began to lose its Swedish indentity, people began attending other churches in Benito or Durban until it no longer warranted having a resident minister in Alpine. Today the church is closed except for special occasions such as a wedding. The remaining people of the congregation attend the Covenant Church in Durban built in 1981.

In 1913 the Alpine Public House Society (Foreningen Folkets Hus) was formed with the objective of building a community meeting place. Forty-six people paid a membership of $1 each. A deed of sale was issued the Society for three acres of land purchased from Canadian Northern Railway on NW 33-32-29. A bank loan of $300 is recorded in the minute book, which was used for a lumber permit and other building supplies. Minutes were recorded in Swedish until 1926. The new hall must have been a hive of activity for in 1920, a total of ten dances and a basket auction were held from the middle of July to the end of December. Mr. G. Luken bill supplied the music for most of these dances charging $6 a night. A Mr. Clark was paid only $3 for a similar service. Hall rent was $5 and remained so for quite a few years. W. Kogstrom, Oskar Boquist, Harvey Lake Orchestra, Pete Stevenson, Boggy Creek Orchestra, Mountain Lake Orchestra, Alberta Cowboys and Stenbergs were some that provided music at the hall around this time.

Fire destroyed the hall in 1945. A new, larger one was built on the same site and used until 1967 when it was sold to the Alexsus brothers for $300. Considerable repair was needed to the hall at that time. So the two-roomed school, no longer in use was taken by the community to be remodelled for use as the Community Centre. Over the years Christmas Concerts, dances, weddings, showers, plays, political and school meetings, voting polls and young peoples events, were held in the halls.

Several stores served the distrct, the earliest one, sometime in the thirties, being in the home of Mrs. Isles who lived a half mile south of the present store. She then moved her place of business to a house on the east side of the road opposite the Consolidated School, until 1949-50.

Egil Enge built a store at the cornerof present Highway 83 and road 586. In 1943 local farmers organized what was known as Alpine Co-op store, with Mr. Enge still owning the buildings and hired as manager. The property was by sold by Enge to Maver Gustafson who owned it a short time before Mr. James Thera Sr. became manager in April 1946. The Co-op organization dissolved in 1951 and Mr. Bill Kobelka became owner of the property. A fairly large hall was built by the Kobelka’s as a rental unit, in addition to the store. When the new highway was built the old store had to be moved so Mr. Kobelka converted the hall to a store. Bill and Una Reich are the present owners and operators of this business.

Postal service was first given from the home of John Erickson where mail was delivered by various people, to be picked up when residents were able. Later Mr. Norling kept the post office in his home for a short time, then delivered for many years on the rural route. His wife continued the route after his death. Alpine is one of the few districts still to have a rural route.

Jack Stenberg (quarter of a mile north of store) had the first telephone in Alpine around 1915. It was termed “the government phone.” Others in the district had “peanut phones” which carried sound for approximately twelve miles. With a “peanut phone”, you were able to call other phones of the same kind in the district but to ring out of the area to Benito or Swan River, the Stenberg phone had to be used.

A big event, looked forward to by all, was the Mid-Summer Festival held on June 24 each year. Everyone went all out baking goodies, cooking meats and making salads – a real Swedish Smorgasbord. Sports activities were organized, treats distributed, usually a dance followed.

Today Alpine is like most other communities where people of a number of na­tionalities and religions live and work together. It was unique in that it originally was almost totally populated by a group of people with the same language, religion and background, unlike any other district in the Valley.