Homesteading in Saskatchewan

After discovering that Bernhardt Hjalmer Borresen homesteaded in Saskatchewan, Canada, I wondered what I’d learn if I sent for a copy of the homestead papers held in the provincial archives. What I received was a pleasant surprise! (Remember that Bernhardt is a first cousin to our grandfather Emil Borreson.)

“Benjamin Borresen” was the name on the papers filed for a quarter section of land in southern Saskatchewan in October 1908. I even wondered this was the right person until I came across an “Instrument of Cancellation” which established that Benjamin Borresen was in fact corrected to be Bernhardt Hjalmer Borresen. Good. (I think he’d been signing his name as Ben and perhaps an official assumed this was short for Benjamin.)

When Bernhardt filed for his quarter section, he was a single man who had come from Sawyer, North Dakota. That was Ward County where three of his four sisters had settled, meaning much of Bernt’s family from the La Crosse, Wisconsin area ended up within an hour of Minot, North Dakota, at least for a time.

The address for this quarter section was Notre Dame D’Auvergne, a French Catholic settlement later named Ponteix (pronounced pon’-tex). In fact, Bernhardt arrived in 1908, the year this little town was founded.  But of course he had been a farmer in North Dakota, and that’s what he would be in Canada as well.

Homestead west of Moose Jaw

A homestead west of Moose Jaw

The patent for Bernhardt’s claim was issued March 29, 1912, by which time he had spent about three years on his homestead. In fact, by the third summer he was there, 1911, he was cropping 116 acres. On this property he had a lumber house 10 feet by 12 feet in size (value $80) and a granary (worth $350). No land was fenced.

In 1914 a law was passed allowing homesteaders to acquire a second quarter section of land. By 1918 Bernhardt filed and acquired his quarter section immediately south and adjacent to what he already owned.

His living circumstances had changed by then. Not only was he now a naturalized British subject (that’s the language of the papers), but he was married too. There’s nothing here about his wife, but the two reside in a 16’x24′ frame house worth $600. Additionally he had a 28’x32′ barn worth $350, three granaries worth $600, a blacksmith shop $100, and a well $100.

Bernhardt had no livestock, so it appears he was into grain farming. Between 1912 and 1917, his acres under cultivation varied from a low as 118 to as high as 202. After 1914 the homestead law required a certain amount of fencing and he had 55 acres fenced (value $150). The 1924 wheat pool map below shows an elevator at Ponteix (upper right), where Bernhardt likely brought his crop.

A 1924 Saskatchewan Wheat Pool map showing elevators

A 1924 Saskatchewan Wheat Pool map showing elevators

The papers required Bernhardt to show that he was a resident on this land, and the first two or three winters he did not stay there. Here there seems a discrepancy, or least a question. In a form he completed, he indicated he was guest of friends in Wisconsin. On sworn forms from two Saskatchewan neighbors from Bourgogne who knew him, he was said to winter in Minot, North Dakota. With sisters in this area, that would make sense.

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A Borresen in Ponteix

Bernt Borresen, Emil’s uncle and baptismal sponsor at Halfway Creek in La Crosse in 1872, remains something of a tantalizing mystery. He married Clara Olson, had five children, and worked for the railroad in La Crosse, Wisconsin, for some years. But after moving to a farm in nearby Monroe County about 1900, he apparently dies within a few years (Clara remarries in 1905). Any information about Bernt’s death escapes me.

Bernhard Hjalmar, Bernt and Clara’s eldest born in 1885, leaves home in the first decade of the 20th century, and eventually, I locate him and his wife Edna in Ponteix, Saskatchewan, Canada. The town today is still but 600 people, located about 50 miles southeast of Swift Current in what appears to be wheat county. Here’s one current distant photo of the town in a landscape rather like “Big Sky Country” Montana’s just to the south.

Ponteix viewOne interesting fact about Ponteix is that it must have significant French background and population. Of the 605 residents yet today, 175 of them speak both French and English. Perhaps the bilingual character was even stronger when Bernhard and his wife Edna were there in the thirties. It would interesting to know what drew them to this part of the country.

Ponteix Catholic churchReplacing an earlier church that burned, this Roman Catholic Church (Notre Dame d’Auvergne) was built in 1929 when the Borresens would have been farming in the vicinity. There  the (very likely) Norwegian-speaking Bernhard would have lived among many French speakers, an exceptional experience in our wider family.

Actually I have discovered that there is a record of Bernhard homesteading in Saskatchewan. In the section where he owns the SE land, there is a Benjamin Borresen who owns the NE land. What are the odds that two unrelated Borresens would have adjoining land? Could Benjamin be Bernhard’s son? Oh, it seems like I’m close to something here!

Some years later Bernhard and Edna Borresen left Ponteix: I located their death records in Vancouver, British Columbia. I even found a street address for them in Vancouver. But more about their lives in either of these places still eludes me – as well as learning if they had children.

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Borreson Cousins Reunion 2016

On Saturday, June 25, a number of the Borreson cousins and family members met for a reunion in Black River Falls, Wisconsin. The day was a hot one, very hot, but delicious food, good conversation, and excellent planning by Joyce and Judy made for a wonderful day.

The location was Brockway Park Shelter located next to Dale Borreson Field, named in honor/memory of our cousin. In retrospect, I thought this was an excellent location for another reason: the love of the game of baseball in the Borreson family.

Here’s a photo by Joyce of the reunion’s attendees – without names attached – so you can have the fun (or frustration) of guessing their identities.

BorresonCousinsPhoto120160625In addition, on the Photos page on this blog, you will find a photo of “cousins only” in attendance. Enjoy!


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A Tribute to Emil

The photos that feature our ancestors’ daily lives are too few, it seems to me. I’d love to have photos of Grandfather Emil milking the cows, for example, or Grandmother Gina making cheese. Photos of these events, so ordinary to them, would be treasures to us.

I do recall one tiny snapshot of Emil splitting wood for fence posts, the family home in the right foreground and the Fitch Coulee school in the background. I have often thought, Oh, how I would love a good close-up of that scene – Emil in his work clothes, arms extended with the axe, working up a sweat splitting wood for the farm operation.Grandpa Emil - Fitch Coulee SchoolNow, the other side to these thoughts is that I’ve been puttering with some first attempts at flat plane carving, an old Norwegian folk craft. I have a couple how-to books with illustrations and patterns from the expert himself, Harley Refsal of Decorah, and I’ve been trying to teach myself.

While carving my first few attempts, I discovered Harley’s pattern of “The Wood Chopper” and thought to myself, I should really try that in honor of my grandfather Emil. I loved the pattern; I thought it was perfect to remember him. So here is my fifth carving piece or attempt, a little tribute to our grandfather bearing all the marks of a beginner but still fun to do.

Emil the Woodchopper

Emil the Wood Chopper

Mary gave me a the gift of a three day carving workshop with Harley Refsal this fall, so I’m counting on that to work on my skills. In the meantime, this is a bit of fun – and my small tribute to a hardworking grandfather.


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A Bit of Trivia

Here’s a bit of Borreson trivia: What was invented in 1899, the year Emil Borreson and Gina Estenson were married?

The answer: the paper clip. Click this link for more details:

A scientist by the name of Johan Vaaler is credited with this invention, a useful little tool that has become part of our everyday lives (although in 1899 it had a different look to it). In 1999 the Norwegian postal service printed this stamp to mark the 100th anniversary of this achievement.

Paper Clip stamp

As I add this bit of trivia, I do recall that our grandfather Emil appreciated technological advances in farming, so perhaps he would even have had a bit of admiration for the inventor of this humble little tool.

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Look Out Below – a Ski Jumping History

My book on the ski jumping history of Trempealeau County, Wisconsin, is off the press and in my hands! Here’s a snapshot of the cover, designed by my son Erik  in the style of a 1930s ski jumping poster.

LOB Book Cover

If you’re looking for the place your ancestor had in the history of ski jumping in this county, you’re likely to find that name in this book if he (usually he) competed in any one of seven communities: Blair, Galesville, Osseo, Pigeon Falls, Strum, Tamarack, and Whitehall.

Here’s the description of the contents from the book’s back cover:

  • The seven communities in Trempealeau County that hosted competitive ski jumping;
  • The local tournaments that rivaled any in the Midwest for being the earliest on record;
  • The record-setters, national champions, and Olympians who competed in the same tournaments as the local skiers;
  • The names of the many local competitors who loved this sport and whose stories deserve to be remembered;
  • The six brothers who were a key part of “the first family” of Trempealeau County ski jumping;
  • The accidents and the war that impacted the future of ski jumping; and
  • More than 25 photos and illustrations from this bye-gone era – and much more.

The book  is 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches with 156 pages and lists at $12.00 a copy. If you are interested, e-mail me at (In line one of this post, click the words “off the press” for complete order information.)

P.S. The introduction includes the reason the book got its title – from a conversation with a fellow who had seen the Borresons ski jump!

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Coming Soon – A Ski Jumping Book

Little did I know where my genealogical searches of the last few years would lead, and certainly not to the book I will have published later this month.

A few years ago I began researching my family history, including following up on references to ski jumping that I recall my father making to us his children. Not only did I discover he wasn’t “pulling our leg” (Dad liked that phrase), but I learned how deeply his brothers were involved in that sport of our Norwegian heritage. I went on to document five of my uncles’ ski jumping exploits, some described in this blog.

That led me another direction. I learned so much about ski jumping in Wisconsin as a result of researching my uncles that I ventured to write an article that eventually went on to be published in the Wisconsin Magazine of History, our state historical society’s publication. The title was “From Telemark to Tamarack: Ski Jumping in Western Wisconsin,” and the article appeared in the Winter 2013-2014 issue.

Of course, the heart of my research all along had been focus on Trempealeau County, home base to the Borresons. Eventually, I wondered if I could make something more of all my digging, so I began focusing on ski jumping in the various small communities of Trempealeau County — and there were, arguably, more ski jumping communities in this county than any other in the state.

So, briefly, that brings us up to date.

Yesterday, I sent off to the publisher the manuscript for my book, LOOK OUT BELOW: Ski Jumping in Western Wisconsin’s Trempealeau County. Later this month it should be off the press, ready for local history buffs and  family members wanting to document their ancestors’ role in a wonderful episode of our state’s history.

Watch this blog for the book’s availability. (I’m sure you’ll want your own copy as quickly as possible!)

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Rhubarb, Anyone?

My wife makes a killer rhubarb dessert, so this afternoon while enjoying a scoop of it warm from the oven, with vanilla ice cream, I decided I had to reminisce a bit.

Mary's rhubarb dessert - sampled!

Mary’s rhubarb dessert – sampled!

Rhubarb was part of our family’s diet from the time I was a kid. My father Garven especially loved the fresh rhubarb sauce Mom would make at first opportunity in the spring. I myself thought the sauce a bit thin, not substantial enough, and I was never thrilled by it. But not Dad – he was first in line after he would break off those early pink-and-green stalks and come to Mom placing his rhubarb sauce order.

Our mother Cora would dutifully make variations with rhubarb, but whatever she prepared, her consistent verdict over her final product was that it “needs more sugar.” I liked enough tartness to make my tongue curl, but Mom? It always “needs more sugar.” So, when she served rhubarb pie or strawberry-rhubarb pie for the family enjoy, she would quietly but inevitably go to the cupboard for the sugar bowl and generously sprinkle her slice of pie. “Needs more sugar.” I miss being able to tease her about that.

I can imagine both my parents had their fill of rhubarb to eat when they were growing up. The plant was plentiful and free for the taking. In fact, when money was tight, rhubarb must have been just the thing for the table. My father-in-law (who grew up in western Minnesota) had far, far too much rhubarb as a youngster: he detested it so badly you couldn’t have paid him to eat it — not even with extra sugar!

By the way, that great rhubarb Mary used for the dessert this afternoon came from my brother Phil and Yvonne who gathered those juicy stalks from the same patch Dad had planted when we were kids back in North Beaver Creek. That’s a few years ago! And the stalks can still be as thick as child’s wrist! Here’s the secret. The rhubarb patch location was perfect: right below the cow yard where the soil benefited from all those natural nutrients that would run off in a rain storm. Amazing that it’s continued to produce for all these decades.

How about it, cousins: do you have any rhubarb stories to share? I expect you too must have had experience with this unique garden produce which may generate either love or hate (like that other food called lutefisk). I’d love to hear from you.

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Bernt Borresen in La Crosse

One of the family mysteries has been Bernt Borresen, our grandfather Emil’s uncle and his godfather in 1872. Although I have learned much about him, including his marriage and family, his death before 1905 remains an unknown. He and his family did live in La Crosse, Wisconsin, for some years (late 1880s to about 1900), and I recently found a couple relevant photos.

North La Crosse 1887This old photo of North La Crosse, once identified as a La Crosse “suburb,” is from an 1887 book, La Crosse Illustrated. North La Crosse began as lumber town but while Bernt and his family resided there, he worked for the CB&Q Railroad (the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy, a predecessor to the Chicago, Burlington and Northern).

Trinity No LaXThis building in a traditional style of the times is the Norwegian Lutheran Church of North La Crosse. Today, in a newer building, the congregation is known as Trinity Lutheran Church. This is the church where Bernt’s children were baptized and confirmed while the family lived in North La Crosse. (Search his name on this blog for more about him.)

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Borreson Cousins 1942

Just recently cousin Albert mailed me a copy of a find he had made: an old photo of the Borreson cousins when there were but eight of them. He told me Erlin was the youngest – the baby – in this photo, but he left me to figure out each of the others. I think I have done it, but check this out.

Borreson cousins 1942 summerGina and Emil Borreson with their grandchildren. Left to right: David, Erlin (being held), Albert, Marcia, Gertrude (Ann), Naomi, Conrad, and Richard (seated in front). Please correct me if I’m wrong. I thought Spot seemed like a good name for the dog until Conrad let me know this was his dog named Tiny.

Assuming Erlin’s the baby held by his grandmother, my guess is this was taken the summer of 1942, when Erlin was about six months old (he was born December 1941). Conrad, the oldest cousin, would have been 14 later in the year. Emil and Gina would have done well to have all eight grandchildren together at one time, with Gilbert’s family in Curtiss, Wisconsin, and Clara and Mabel’s families in the Chicago area.

Where was the photo taken? That was Albert’s challenge to me. A reasonable guess is the family farm in Fitch Coulee, but I don’t see any identifying landmarks or buildings to help me out. The gate was probably a yard entrance, but may have been long gone before some of us cousins might have seen it. And, are those flowers or a planted shrub on the left edge of the photo? Perhaps one of Odell’s children can figure out the photo location by the lay of the land in the background. Have fun thinking about this!

Thanks, Albert, for sharing the photo.

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