OLE MARTIN JACOBSON
Watchmaker and Ferry Operator
"The Way It Was"
By Margaret Bartling
Sometime during the late summer or fall of 1873, Mr. George Jacobson, his wife Caroline, and four children left Trondheim, Norway to seek a new home in the United States.
They settled in the state of Iowa, in a small village called Village Creek, where they farmed for many years. That same year (1873) on December 26, my father, Ole Martin Jacobson was born. At birth he was a healthy child but, at about the age of six he was stricken with an illness, either infantile paralysis or rheumatic fever (he couldn't recall which) which left him with his right foot crippled. He lived with this affliction the rest of his life and walked with the aid of a cane.
In those days, as we all know, medical knowledge was not as it is today. He remembered his eldest sister taking him "pig-a-back" on her shoulders, walking two miles and back each day to visit a Swedish masseur who tried to help his foot -- to no avail; he remained afflicted.
His brothers and sisters were all lively youngsters, romping around, playing games and going places, but my father couldn't enter any of these sports so his childhood must have been a lonely one. However he learned to overcome his affliction to a great extent, as the "old timers" of Elk Point and the surrounding districts will probably recall. He got around with the aid of his cane, which not only served as a walking aid but as a weapon of arms and possibly for a bit of trickery too!
During his teen years, he apprenticed in the jeweller trade, became a good watch repair man, working first in Muskatine, Iowa, and later for Mr. Julson who owned a jewellery shop in Lansing, Mich. Dad's repair bench was at the rear of the shop. It was in Lansing Mich. where he met and married my mother, Rose Ellen Gilroy, in 1903. (My mother was born in Louisville, Kentucky on August 1, 1870.) They raised four children -- Margaret, Wilmer, George and Joe, in order of ages. Wilmer died in the Islay Hospital, April, 1940 at the age of 33.
Most of these years in Lansing he worked for Mr. Julson at a wage of $1.65a day. When Mr. Julson retired around 1916, my father set up a small shop of his own, repaired watches until he left Lansing in 1918 to come to Canada.
In January of 1918, his brother, Henry Jacobson, who lived in Elk Point, paid a visit to Lansing. He related stories of Alberta, including the filing of 160-acre homesteads for $10.00, fantastic news to my parents. He also informed them about the ferry across the North Saskatchewan River, one of the ferry points being at Elk Point; and that the present operator, Charles "Charley" Magnusson, wanted to retire and go into the cattle business -- a good opportunity for my father to apply for this job. Dad's business was not doing too well at that time so he became enthusiastic over coming to Canada. I'm afraid our mother was not all that excited since she had to leave relatives and friends and her parents were to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary that year, and she would not be able to participate.
However, the latter part of April, 1918, we had an auction sale, disposing of things we didn't need, keeping our beds, father's work bench and watch repair tools, and an old upright "Round Oak" heater -- thank the Lord for that heater! (Uncle Hank had failed to mention the severe winters in Alberta, often 60 degrees below.) The first week in May, away we went by train for Alberta, Canada -- the province of sunshine and opportunity, our fare aided by proceeds from the sale and a loan of $200.00 from "Charley" Magnusson. It was a long, weary trip, basket lunches packed for six people, sleeping in the coach seats, etc.
As immigrants we had to go through customs plus a 24-hour stop-over in Winnipeg. We couldn't afford an hotel so we spent the waiting period in the C.N.R. station (most immigrants did) sleeping on benches, etc. As active youngsters will, we became restless, neither Dad nor Mom could get around very well, my mother also had bad legs and feet, but they allowed Wilmer, George and myself to walk around a few city blocks warning us not to go too far, lest we got lost on our way back to the station. This was the first time we had ever been in a city and in our short tour, we saw a woman sitting in an hotel lobby smoking a cigarette; we thought this was something awful; only men ever smoked!
Two days later, May 7, we arrived in Vermilion, considered then to be around fifty miles from Elk Point. A few days before our arrival, Vermilion had had a fire destroying the old Vermilion Hotel and other buildings in that particular part of town -- it was still smouldering. Across from the railway station was the Brunswick Hotel (still there) and since we had to stay over night, we took the only room available with two double beds. It was hot and smoky, all of us were exhausted and our parents depressed. We children slept but Dad and Mom were up all night keeping the "insects" off us.
Uncle "Hank" had made arrangements with Mr. Alf Monkman, the mailman and passenger-coach man, (the only means of transportation, other than by team between Elk Point and Vermilion) to take us to Elk Point. Mr. Monkman was to pick us up at noon --he made two trips between Elk Point and Vermilion, leaving Elk Point Monday and Thursday a.m., returning Wednesday and Saturday p.m.
Having the morning to pass away, we kids took another short tour of the town, being careful not to wander away too far from the hotel. We sauntered down the street as far as the Brimacombe Book Store, entered and purchased some mentholatum drops and sticks of horehound candy! Our parents paid no attention to what kind of candy we were eating, but, believe it, Mr. Monkman did. We started out for Elk Point with him and every few miles he had to stop along the wayside to let either my brothers or myself out -- were we sick kids!
We arrived in Elk Point in the early evening of May 8 1918; our uncle was there to meet us with a team and wagor to take us the last three miles of our journey where our fut ure home would be. He and Mr. Dorral Shovar had been rent mg a hewn log house (not pioneer shack) then owned by Mr McNitt, an uncle of Dorral Shovar. Later it was owned b' Mr. McLeod, still later by Mr. Fogarty and finally owned b~ Sidney Hoithe where he and his family lived until moving in to town.
Across the road from us lived the Magnusson's; to thq north of us, up the hill, the Van Arnam's; to the south of us the Markstad's. These were our first acquaintances an( among our dearest friends all through the years.
During our first week, Dad and my uncle made a trip b' team to Vermilion to get our belongings. The following Mon day, my two brothers, Wilmer and George, and I started t' school (Joe was then only five years old), which was situate' across the road from Tom Aarbo's homestead. In those days school was in session during the summer months since th winter weather was too severe for pupils to walk, and walkwe did.
It was a beautiful summer, lovely, warm, sunny, but unpredictable too! I recall June 12, 1918 -- it was Frank Keitges' birthday and his mother had invited all the EU Point pupils to his birthday party. She met us at the schoo] packed all of us in a car (the car ride in itself was a grea treat) to their place; then, at the end of the party, back agai] to the school house, where we went our separate ways. Sue] a lovely sunny day, but -- we came home in a snowstore looking like drenched rats. My mother cried that day, hem lonely, depressed, and now this! Eventually though, she be came accustomed to her new life and wouldn't have live elsewhere.
The week we started to school, Dad at the age forty-fiv began to operate the ferry. He held this job for thirtee] years. He was considered a good man on the water and de spite his affliction, he could really get in and out of a boa quickly. He was conscientious too, ferried passengers acros whatever the weather -- both Dr. Miller and Dr. Ross wer they alive today, as well as many of the old timers, could te. you how he managed to get them across safely in an emei gency during those years.
Dad lived in a small shack above the riverbank. Here he had his work bench, where he repaired watches, etc. on sla& days. He was also considered a good repair man and too; many a repair job away from the town of Vermilion.
Putting the ferry in, in the spring and taking it out in th fall were hardest. When the river was unsuitable to cross, h took passengers across on the cable via a platform. This plal form was made of 2 x 6's with 2 x 6 cross pieces on bot; ends, log chains attached to the cross pieces on each end t form a sling which was then attached to the two trolleys tha travelled on the cable. Passengers riding this platform coaste down until they started to climb on the opposite side, the. they grabbed the cable and pulled themselves forward unti they reached the tower, and the platform was then tied wit a rope to the tower while loading or unloading.
From this simple idea, some years later, the govemmen designed and sent out powered cages, considered very safe, to be used by the busiest ferry points.
The distance from our home to the ferry was five and half miles. Either my brothers or I made that trip, on foot, twice a week with bread and provisions for Dad. We had our grocery list with us, so from the ferry we walked up to Elk Point, then, laden with our groceries -- sometimes pretty heavy sacks -- we walked home, round trip eleven miles.
The winter of 1918-1919 and also 1919-1920 brought 'the Spanish flu. I think 1918-1919 it hit the hardest. This winter was severely cold; almost everyone was stricken with the flu; many of the old timers didn't survive. Food for cattle and horses was scarce, grazing was poor for range cattle because of so much snow -- animals died by the hundreds.
During this period most of the houses were equipped with stove pipes (no chimneys), real fire traps. It brings this to mind. My mother and three brothers were all in bed with the flu. My father just recovering, needed to go to Elk Point for provisions. The roof of the house caught on fire and, sick as they were, Wilmer and George had to get out of bed, climb on the roof, and in "bucket-brigade" style, the three of us managed to put out the fire.
Everyone was ordered to wear a cheese cloth mask over nose and mouth to prevent the spreading of the dreaded disease -- to no avail, hardly anyone escaped it.
In the spring of 1920, Dad purchased the Amsdan homestead, across from Tom Aarbo's and up the hill from the old school, where we lived several years. He later sold it to the Pinder family and at present time, Don and Grace Pinder own it and reside there. He did file on a homestead, though, situated one mile south of the Amsdan plAce and in th~ northwest corner. It was poor farming soil (very good for blueberries) but he cultivated about forty acres on the south side. Later, Harold Pinder purchased his homestead and our folks moved to town.
By this time, Ole Jacobson had completed his thirteen years as ferry operator. He then set up a watch repair shop in Fik Point, north of Neil Fenton's butcher shop. Some years later he sold this shop to Mr. K. Pollick who remade it into "Mary's Cafe." After selling the shop, my folks purchased Mr. and Mrs. Emerson Eaton's home next to Jack Zarowny's Garage. Since Eaton's operated a beauty salon, the house had been built with an extension on the front portion designed for this purpose. My Dad now used this extension for his repair shop. Some years later, his home was sold to Bill and Jo Bartling who are now living there.
Mr. and Mrs. Ole Jacobson in front of their house in Elk Point.
The Elk Point bridge spanning the North Saskatchewan River was completed in 1950. How very proud our Dad was to be chosen to run the ferry across the river for the last time! With the coming of the bridge, the Old gave way to the New and Ole Jacobson was KING for a day.
My mother passed away September 5, 1957 at the age of 87; father lived alone for four years.
In 1961, he became one of the first residents in the St. Paul's "Sunnyside Manor." The day I took him to the Manor, he spotted a particular chair -- he was getting feeble, his legs were tired, so naturally he sat down. This became his chair and woe betide anyone who dared to sit in it -- one look from him was enough, the chair was given up!
He passed away in the Elk Point Hospital, April 13, 1962 at the age of 89, spending many of his years as an early settler of Elk Point, and - . . That's the Way it Was!
Perhaps the Ole Martin Jacobson family could not be rated as true "Early Pioneers" since much of the clearing of land, etc. had preceeded us. We were, though, among the early settlers and none of us ever regretted our move to Alberta. All of us shared the hardships, taking the bad with the good times, partaking in simple entertainment - card playing, basket socials, barn dances, going by team and cutter or sleighs, packing picnic lunches for berry picking or a trip to a lake nearby. We lived as they lived. Everyone was busy, since most of the work was done by hand, making our own clothes out of anything available and working by lamplight or lantern, yet, there alway' seem'd to be time enough to have a friendly chat with one's neighbor over a good cup of coffee and as my mother used to say, "with good cow's cream in it.,,
Yes, those were wonderful years, living as we did then and gaining the experiences we did. Prom 1918 to the present date, 1976, all of us watched with pride the little hamlet of Elk Point grow into a modern town. We watched its progress -- participated in the building a the railroad (Wilmer, George and Augie helped to build it), the paving of highways, cars taking the place of horses, the discovery of natural gas, the salt industry located at Lindbergh providing work for many besides all the other modern improvements.
This was the place where our futures were shaped and moulded. I was the town where I met and married "Augie" Bartling, my husband now for over fifty years. Though Augie and I rented houses for on first years of married life, he later built our own home. It may interest some of you to know the origin of our house. Augie purchased th old Aucoin store, formally owned by Martin and Selmar Johnson, fc $15.00. It sat on the land now owned by Lawrence and Bea Sumptor He salvaged all he could of that store -- nails, shingles, window boards. My father and brothers helped him to build. We were what they called "squatters" at first, sin ce Dr. P.C. Miller allowed us build on a piece of his land across from the old creamery. It was small house but it was our own! About all the tools they had for building were saws, hammers and a hand plane.
As time went on, we were able to purchase two lots in Elk Poir for $25.00 a lot. After the house was moved, Augie added on to (our family had grown bigger), working nights when his daytime work - draying, etc. -- was finished. Some years later, our daughter Rose remodelled it so that it was fairly modern.
We were very proud of that little home -- it was not a mansion I any means, but it was a place where anyone who cared to enter w made welcome. It was a home where our children could feel free invite their friends, a home where there was music and dancing, laughter and fun; and Angie and I knew where the "kids" were. Today I have many young people, friends of our children, still reminding us the fun they had there.
I think all of our family and our grandchildren, too, loved that tle home. None of them ever seemed to mind the lack of money, ~ the lack of fancy clothes; they enjoyed themselves and were content with things as they were.
Elk Point was where all our children, except Lloyd (he was born St Wallburg, Saskatchewan) were born, where all five of them received their early education, made their dearest friends; where two of our daughters were married and where two of our grandchildren were born; where I taught for twenty years and really cared about that most important of all grades, Grade 1. This is the town that holds so many happy memories for all of us, Elk Point--OUR TOWN!
NOTE: In 1969 we sold our house to Raymond Hammond and moved to Edmonton.