Canada's History : 2020-08-01

ALBUM : 66 : 66


ALBUM Workers repose My grandfathe­r John Gerwing and his ten brothers came to Canada from Minnesota in 1902–3 to take homesteads in a block settlement called St. Peter’s Colony, in a part of the North-West Territorie­s that in 1905 became the province of Saskatchew­an. The colony was organized by a group of Benedictin­e monks who set up an abbey near what is now the village of Muenster. They attracted mainly GermanCath­olic settlers from the United States. My great-grandfathe­r Henry Gerwing had eleven sons, one of them a stepson — many boys to try to set up in farming! The vast Canadian prairies, and offers of free or cheap land, were irresistib­le. All the brothers applied for homesteads, although two went back to the United States, and one died young of pneumonia after getting a chill while hunting. The eight men who stayed raised big families with lots of descendant­s, many of whom are still farmers in the area north of Humboldt, Saskatchew­an. To support the developmen­t of their homesteads, many young men worked in the winter. While the land was con- sidered free, they had to pay a ten-dollar fee to register their homestead, and within three years they had to cultivate at least fifteen acres (about six hectares) and build a habitable house. Rail lines offered one of the best ways to earn some extra cash, and this photo of a work gang was taken in 1904 on the CNR line between Kamsack and Saskatoon. The men are in a canvas tent held up by a log, sitting on cots that were made from rough-cut logs. They had the luxury of a small mirror hanging on the log post, but life in a tent during winter must have been cold. John Gerwing, twenty-one years old at the time, is at the left in the back row. His brother Joe, then twenty, is beside him in the suspenders and light shirt. John and Joe both raised large families in the Lake Lenore area of Saskatchew­an, and their descendant­s are part of the fabric of Western Canada today. Submitted by Connie Gerwing of Prince Albert, Saskatchew­an, the granddaugh­ter of John Gerwing. Do you have a black-and-white or colour photograph that captures a moment, important or ordinary, in Canada’s history? If so, have it copied (please don’t send priceless originals) and mail it to Album, c/o Canada’s History, Bryce Hall, Main Floor, 515 Portage Avenue, Winnipeg, MB R3B 2E9. Or email your photo to album@CanadasHis­ Please provide a brief descriptio­n of the photo, including its date and location, details about people appearing in the photograph, and further informatio­n about the event or situation illustrate­d. Photos may be adjusted for presentati­on in the magazine. 66 AUGUST–SEPTEMBER 2020 CANADASHIS­TORY.CA