Tuesday, December 16, 2014

History of Fredericksheim

This story was written by Rudolf Grunwald, a distant cousin, and appeared in the book entitled From the Frontier Days in Leduc and District, which was published by the Leduc Historical Society to commemorate Alberta's 75th anniversary.

My Schalin great grandparents immigrated to the Leduc area of Alberta in May 1893 and settled in the area that became known as Fredericksheim. My grandmother was their first child born in their new country.

My great grandfather, Wilhelm Schalin. Personal

Rudolf Grunwald's story movingly tells why they came and the hardships they faced:

"Our parents left middle Europe for various reasons. Among the complaints were overcrowded conditions, lack of personal and church freedom and generally poor government. Owing to the ban on religious gatherings the church sent Rev. F. A. Mueller to Canada to look around for a place in which their people could locate. Upon his return to the Old Land he recommended the district of Leduc in the far off Northwest Territories of Canada. Thus the first group of settlers landed in Leduc in the spring of 1893, homesteading nine miles southeast of the depot and railway siding that then constituted the place called Leduc. The second group of settlers arrived in the fall of 1893 and took up land in the same locality as the first group.

Needless to say there were no roads, only deep-rutted wagon trails winding through the timber from house to house, and the wagons being drawn mainly be oxen, with scarcely any horses in the new community. Much of the moving about was done on foot. But gradually small clearings were chopped out of the bush and attempts made at growing wheat and coarse grains. At the first early frosts and even snowstorms ruined most of the grain, especially wheat, and flour had to be ground from the frozen darnels. First threshing was by means of flails, or by having horses trample on the straw on frozen ground, after which it was thrown against the wind to remove the grain from the chaff. It the spring grain was sown broadcast by hand and covered with harrows or brush drags. Not many years went by however before improvement was made in seeding equipment and a horse-powered threshing machine was secured to take care of enlarged fields, and within a few seasons steam-powered threshing engines were brought into the settlement.

A German farmhouse in then the Volhynia region of Russia; photograph
courtesy of Lucille Effa Fillenberg

The first dwellings at Fredericksheim, as in other parts of the entire Leduc district, were made of logs but instead of sod such as most other settlers used, the German immigrants often thatched their house roofs with straw and hay but there were no windows at first and heat came from open fireplaces built of clay. Hardships were common and constant. Quite often families had to live without any bread or flour for two or three weeks at a time, the main food supply being the native rabbits. These were caught by digging deep holes on rabbit trails or near hay stacks and covering the top with logs and wild hay which the animals dearly loved. The only work available for the men was whip sawing lumber by hand for which the going wage was $0.25 a day, the workman providing his own grub.

Bush fires were frequent until the wet seasons came along in 1899, and while the fires helped clear the land they often got out of hand and all night vigils were necessary to save the log buildings. The first settler was John Frederick and after the first school was built about the close of the last century the district was named Fredericksheim in his memory. The first church was build in 1894 of hand sawn lumber with Rev. F. A Mueller as pastor. The first dinner guest was a big black bear which came out of the woods to investigate a kettle of rabbit stew cooking over an open fire. It's worthy of note that many of the settlers in Fredericksheim took up homesteads that had been filed earlier and abandoned by people from Ontario, Minnesota and the Dakotas. The first teacher in the Fredericksheim school was Charles Richardson.

Photograph taken in 1903 in front of the First Baptist Church in
Fredericksheim. My great grandfather helped build the church;
photograph courtesy of Lucille Effa Fillenberg

Fearless Females: Religion
Fearless Females: Immigration
Being German in Tsarist Russia: Why They Left
Moving Halfway Around the World in 1893

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